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Friday, July 31, 2009

“Dark Time” by Dakota Banks (reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Dakota Banks Website
Order "Dark Time" HERE

Book & author information: This is the 1st book in the Mortal Path series written by Dakota Banks which may or may not be a pseudonym as the author writes in her biography. She has previously published 6 high-tech thrillers before venturing into urban fantasy territory. The first foray is published by Avon books and stands at 320 pages divided into forty five chapters.

Overview/Analysis: The book is narrated from a third person POV and features the primary protagonist in all but a couple of chapters in the book. The book begins in the year 1692 with the background of the infamous Salem witch trials.

Sussanah Layhem who is an expectant mother in the ultimate stages of pregnancy, gets accused of witchcraft by a jealous village woman. The trial goes horribly wrong for Sussanah and she gets sentenced to the stake instead of the usual hanging.

During this precipitous time and due to her prenatal miscarriage, she gets introduced to a demon known as Rabishu, who then gives her an option of dying under the false accusation or returning to punish her accusers by becoming the "real thing". Sussanah, of course chooses life and revenge, and then transforms into an immortal assassin for Rabishu, who is then revealed to be a chaos beast from the ancient Sumerian mythology.

The story continues until Sussanah finally snaps off her yoke and decides to quit. This is where things get interesting as Rabishu offers her a deal which is even more enticing than the previous one. She is given the opportunity to fight for her soul by trying to balance the lives she wrongfully took, with the catch that for every life she saves, some of hers will be taken away in the process.

Sussanah agrees to this bargain and then reincarnates herself in the present time as Maliha Crayne[ Pronounced Ma-lie-hah], a writer of pulp romance crime novels and a female version of Bruce Wayne without the Wayne Industries background but with the array of cool cars and hi-tech gadgets, she embodies the same carefree outlook towards life as the one falsely perpetrated by Batman's alter-ego.

The story then hurtles forward with a murder case investigation, which then turns into a run to stop a corporate head from unleashing a technological weapon to the highest bidder. And in the midst of such a complicated background are the mandatory action scenes and he-loves/he-loves-me-not romantic angle which keeps the reader engrossed. With such interesting jumps in the plot, I was most saddened to realize that my ARC copy has the last 14 pages missing. I eagerly await the release of the book to find out what actually happens in the end. My best guess would be an explosive twist, and an excellent hook for the second book as well.

What drew me to the book was the premise which while similar to many within the UF genre still seemed a bit different. The author has written a good story and with her clear prose, it does make a fast & interesting read. It is also refreshing to read about a different mythology than the usual biblical, British or Celtic variations which form the underlying foundation in many UF books. The book is divided into small chapters akin to a James Patterson book, although it contains about half the chapters found in a typical Patterson book. The author also utilized a not-so-famous historical character which was quite a surprise to read about. This is another positive about the book besides the Sumerian mythos background.

The negatives according to me were the predictable characters and cliches: the team of supportive but quirky characters, the handsome but difficult boyfriend, the wise-cracking, cynical girlfriend, the megalomaniac villain, etc. This is what makes most of the books in this genre predictable & it is the same with "Dark Time" as well. Another complaint was that the Sumerian mythology was never properly explained beyond a basic premise. Many readers like me would like to know more behind the Gods' structure.

However, since this is the 1st book in the series, I believe this avenue might be further explored in the future books. This book does not pretend to be unique literature-wise; it is a good old fashioned UF with a sexy, smart heroine who has every reason to act the way she does but unlike most other contemporary characters has to pay an unprecedented price.

In the end what any reader will find is that this is a well-written book set within the parameters of its genre. Readers with no preset assumptions will definitely enjoy this book. The blurbs by James Rollins and David Morrell are refreshingly correct. To sum it up, it was definitely a fun read for me and I look forward to the next book in the series to find out more of the struggles of Maliha Crayne, the Sumerian Gods & their underlings.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Booker Longlist and Guardian "Not the Booker" answer for the public

Via Cheryl Morgan of Emerald City fame and current Hugo big-wig I found both the Booker Longlist for 2009 and Guardian's answer "Not the Booker" which is open to the public for a first round of nomination ending August 9 and then a round of voting August 11-23 to select a "public" shortlist of six. The "Not the Booker" shortlist will be debated for a while, with the public voting for the winner in a short October 2-4 period.

All public nominating and voting is done via comments on the Guardian Blog Post in cause and requires free login and I suggest everyone heads there for great ideas about books as well as nominate/vote if they have a favorite that satisfies the eligbility rules.

The eligibility rules are the same as for the Booker, so generally they are encapsulated below plus some extra fine print which can be found in the full rules linked above:

6.Only publications eligible for the 2009 Booker prize are eligible for the Competition. Which is to say, broadly speaking, novels published for the first time in English between 1 October 2008 and 30 September 2009, written by Commonwealth citizens."

I nominated "Spirit" by Gwyneth Jones (FBC rv) while my second preference is "White is for Witching" by Helen Oyeyemi (FBC rv) and my third is "The Quiet War" by Paul McAuley (FBC Rv) both nominated also for "Not the Booker" and I plan to vote for "Spirit" unless one of the other two drums a lot of support before I vote so I add my vote to increase their chance of making the shortlist.

So go and check out "Not the Booker" and nominate and vote!!!

Regarding the actual Booker longlist it contains one novel of great interest for me: AS Byatt' "The Children's Book" which I have just ordered from the Book Depository not being able to wait for its US release in October and which I plan to review here asap.

I read and reviewed in a capsule another nominee "Little Stranger" by Sarah Waters (FBC Capsule Rv) of which I loved the style but disliked a lot the way the story went, especially the main characters which seemed "dumb in the novel requires it" way that I dislike a lot.

Another novel of interest is Hilary Mantel's "Wolf Hall" though its subject of Henry VIII, the Boleyns and the rupture with Rome is much less of interest to me than the French Revolution about which Ms. Mantel has written a novel that I enjoyed a lot many years ago on publication: "A Place of Greater Safety". So
I will await the US October publication to check it out and see if I want to read it.

I am also interested in checking out "Heliopolis" by
James Scudamore, "The Glass Room" (out of print as far as I can see) by Simon Mawer and "How to Paint a Dead Man" by Sarah Hall if/when they are released here in the US and I can browse through them.

Edit later: I will link this post to the Essay Index and update it with the link to the candidates for the "Not the Booker" shortlist and all relevant information.

"Purple and Black" by KJ Parker (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

K.J. Parker at Wikipedia
Order "Purple & Black" HERE

INTRODUCTION: Pseudonymous author KJ Parker has made a name in fantasy with 10 novels so far - of which I read 8, all this year and plan to read the other two quite soon and then do a full overview of her work before her next novel is published in early 2010.

There are 3 trilogies: Fencer, Scavenger, Engineer and one standalone: The Company that share some characteristics: military setting in a generic pre-industrial society with Roman/Byzantine overtones and naming conventions, dark humor, detached narration, love of details especially about metal working, sword fighting and pre-industrial engineering, themes of betrayal, civilization versus "barbarians", group of extraordinary friends.

Overall there are two major strands in the novels - the Fencer and Engineer trilogy emphasize the lone hero, deep schemes and betrayal, while the Scavenger trilogy which is my favorite so far, though I still have the last two Fencer books to read, and "The Company" follow a small group of unusual friends in unusual circumstances and their cohesion vs betrayal powers most of the narrative. It may not be immediately obvious in "Shadow" but the last volume "Memory" is all about that and illuminates the earlier two volumes.

"Purple & Black" falls into the latter category and can serve as a great introduction to this superbly talented author.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Set in a Byzantine like setting though with some more modern 17-18th century like trappings too, "Purple & Black" consists of a set of dispatches between two scholars. Due to unusual circumstances they had to leave their academic jobs more or less against their will and became emperor and military governor respectively.

Nico is the accidental heir - younger son of younger son - who becomes Emperor on the deaths of the rest of his family
in fratricidal war and Phormio is his best friend whom he dispatches as military governor in the one troubled province on the Northern ice-cold border where an unknown enemy attacks.

The Empire has had over 70 emperors in the last 100 years with the army making and un-making them, but Nico's grandfather, a tough "steelneck" general became a brilliant emperor who reigned over two decades and seemed to have stopped the disorder in the Empire.

He made only one mistake acceding to his wife's pleas and not executing all his children and their families but his older son and his family, as he was intending to assure the succesion. So Nico's father and his family survived as did the Emperor's other children and in due course they went to war against each other and exterminated themselves throwing the Empire once more in chaos. Nico safely tucked away as a professor in a provincial academy survived and the army acclaimed him Emperor as the last dynasty member - an offer that literally could not be refused unless Nico was feeling suicidal.

From his university days there was a circle of friends around Nico and Phormio with the brilliant Gorgias the only one now dead in the civil wars. Nico appoints the other three friends to important posts in the capital reserving the hardest task for his best friend. Phormio has no choice but to try and learn how to be a great general since Nico wants to break the power of the "steelnecks" and the army and return the Empire to stability. But the unkwown enemy has other plans...

If you have read more KJ Parker you will get an inkling of what is going on faster though the novella will still keep you in suspense for a while. Even so it's brilliant, almost perfect (maybe 20-30 extra pages were needed) and a great introduction to her work too
. Also do not be fooled by the novella designation and the 100 page count since "Purple & Black" packs content as for a 400 page novel, a refreshing change from the 2000 page trilogies that pack 400 pages content that are so common in the field.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009

"Patriot Witch" Traitor to the Crown Series by C. C. Finlay (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

Visit C. C. Finlay's Website Here
Order Patriot Witch from Amazon Here

Every American at one point in their lives has studied the Revolutionary War. Even those from other countries has learned something about the war that gained America it's independence from the British. What would happen if people found out that what they believed to be true wasn't the complete truth? What would happen if both sides during the war used a secret society of witches and magic to try and better the chances of winning. C.C. Finlay takes readers on a journey through what would happen if the British and the Colonies had used magic during the Revolutionary War in his series Traitor to the Crown.

Patriot Witch, the first of three books in the series, starts out with Proctor Brown. Brown is an ordinary young man living in the colonies helping out his family on the farm, and joining the local militia as tensions are growing strong with the British. However Proctor Brown's family holds a secret that could result in death if it became known: there is a long family history of witchcraft. Trying to keep that a secret Brown goes on with his daily living.

One afternoon while in Boston, Brown runs into a bunch of British officers but something isn't right. A flash of light from around one of the British officers neck leads Brown to discover that the British may be using other methods in order to make them stronger and resistant to any type of physical harm.

A bunch of events lead to the start of fighting between the two sides. Brown realizes that with the British using magic the Colonies may not stand a chance at all of winning any type of battles. What Brown doesn't know is how far the magic goes and who is behind it.

As the tensions grow, Brown will learn more about the magic that he yields and how best to use it in the fight against the British. With battle scenes, a romantic storyline, and plenty of magic Patriot Witch starts a great trilogy.

Patriot Witch is a quick historical fantasy that packs a lot into a little book. Although the beginning of the book starts off before the first shots of the war has begun and the last event of the book is the fighting at Bunker Hill, the book stands at 327 pages. There isn't a total conclusion to the story and the rest of the series will be required to fully understand the storyline.

Although the setting of Patriot Witch is during the Revolutionary War, and even though there are brief appearances from some of the famous names in history, the bulk of the novel revolves around fictional characters during that time period.

Sometimes historical fantasy can come across as a little cheesy. Patriot Witch is anything but cheesy, and makes for a quick read.

There is a pace to the book that is quick and doesn't dwell on the little details. The constant action keeps the storyline moving and never growing stale. Although it takes a while for the main character, Brown to learn how to use his witchcraft, once he has established some form of control over the magic the book starts moving along.

There is a small downside to the quicker pace. With the exception of Proctor Brown and later in the book Deborah, most of the characters are a little one sided. This can be attributed to the fact that the book doesn't dwell on unnecessary scenes, so characters pop in and pop out of a section of the book. This helps in having more time for readers to get to know the main character but if for some reason the main character doesn't bond with the reader it may be a problem.

Another element of the book that is very well done are the fighting segments and the setting. From the moment I picked up the book, I was transported to 1775 Boston area. Finlay does an excellent job of taking readers right to the area and making the conversations, and actions around the character believable. It's hard to incorporate magic with a setting that everyone is very familiar with, but the magic fits right in and doesn't appear to be awkward.

The battle scenes are very realistic. Along with the setting, this takes readers right to the heart of the battles. There is just the right amount of length spent on the battles and the descriptions put you right in the heart of the fighting. Although one side does have a magic protection spell, the fighting isn't done with magic and adds to the reality of the fighting.

Overall I was very impressed with Patriot Witch. C. C. Finlay kicks off a great series and sets the bar pretty high for the rest of the Traitor to the Crown series. Although there aren't a lot of characters to choose from the quick pace of the novel makes for an enjoyable read. Anyone who is a history fan, or just those that enjoy reading fantasy will enjoy this book, I look forward to seeing where the series takes us.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

“Shadow Magic” by Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Jaida Jones Blog
Official Danielle Bennett Blog
Order "Shadow Magic" HERE(US) and HERE(Europe/Overseas)
Read FBC Review of "Havemercy" HERE

INTRODUCTION: The authors' debut, "Havemercy", introduced us to a wonderful world of magic and metal dragons with a story that ended quite conclusively while leaving a lot of room for more. "Shadow Magic" picks up where "Havemercy" ends, but it has completely new characters and a new setting so it can be read as a standalone.

This time we have magic and an oriental like society, with the defeated Ke-Han seen through the eyes of two Volstov diplomats coming to their enemies' devasted capital to negotiate a lasting peace, while a prince of the Ke-Han and his trusted retainer bring the perspective of the "Havemercy" "bogeymen", showing brilliantly how the notion of "hero" and "villain" essentially depend on perspective.

OVERVIEW: The generations long on and off war between Volstov and Ke-Han of which the dramatic last part has been chronicled in "Havemercy" from the Volstov perspective has just ended with the dramatic dragon attack on the capital of Ke-Han. The defeated emperor sued for peace and committed ritual suicide, while his older son Iseul assumed the throne. The delegation sent form Volstov to negotiate a lasting peace has just arrived but it is clear soon that the diplomats may take a long time to hammer an agreement.

The four narrators, all men as in Havemercy, are Volstovian diplomats Alcibiades, a gruff officer and Caius, a young spoiled aristocrat and Mamoru and Kouje the younger prince of Ke-Han and his personal retainer respectively
. Their destiny will intertwine in quite unexpected ways, while some of the "Havemercy" main characters have cameos later in the novel.

"Shadow Magic" stands at about 400 pages and it features a map of Volstov and Ke-Han with an ending that ties all its main threads together. I definitely want more books in this very entertaining milieu.

ANALYSIS: If you loved "Havemercy", you will love this one as I did both, if you disliked "Havemercy" for whatever reason I would suggest to try something else since I see no reason this one will change your opinion. If you are new to the authors, you can definitely start with "Shadow Magic" since the necessary background is introduced quickly, and the book has a completely different focus, with its own story only marginally related with the first novel.

In many ways "Shadow Magic" is a better written novel, much more balanced and the gambit of introducing new main charcters and the completely different Ke-Han setting worked extremely well for me. On the other hand the main characters of "Havemercy" were more vivid to some extent - and that is more due to the choices made as to their identities and role in the universe and story, so that is why overall I thought the novels comparable for me though this one is more technically accomplished.

But I like larger than life characters that take over a book and here Caius is flamboyant but hard to take seriosuly, Alcibiades is the typical farmer turned officer with his grufness, insecurity in aristocratic refined company and straight-out manners, while the Ke-Han duo, Mamoru the young sheltered prince, veteran of war but so naive as "real, day to day life" as it behooves someone kept at a distance from society due to his position and Kouje the loyal-at-all-cost retainer are again precisely what we expect however unusual is their path in the novel. That indeed will change all four and they grow on you, especially Mamoru and Alcibiades.

The sexual overtones of "Havemercy" are muted here and there is a lot of magic but no dragons, while the resemblance with Sarah Monette's work but less dark or explicit is still strong. The world building is just exquisite based on an oriental Chinese/Japanese mix and it is one of the major strengths of the novel - Ke-Han is another "fantasy" place you feel "real", not just squiggles on paper.

The ending is bit rushed, a lot happening fast and at once, but otherwise the novel is a pleasure to read, very entertaining and highly recommended
Monday, July 27, 2009

"Best Served Cold" by Joe Abercrombie (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Order "Best Served Cold" HERE(US) and HERE(Europe/Overseas)
Official Joe Abercrombie Website
Read FBC Review of "The Blade Itself" HERE
Read FBC Review of "Before They Are Hanged" HERE

INTRODUCTION: Bursting upon the epic fantasy with his superb First Law trilogy, Joe Abercrombie became the "perfect" representative of the "new gritty" epic fantasy for me, so much so that I broke my rule of not listing an author as "favorite" until I read a minimum of 4 and preferable more books by him/her that impressed me.

"The Blade Itself" was a top 5 fantasy for me in 2006 and "Before They Are Hanged" was my #1 fantasy of 2007, while the ending of the trilogy "The Last Argument of Kings" was a notable 2008 book. I read the trilogy several times so far and the only book that was less than an A+ like TBI or an A++ like BTAH, though still an A, was LAOK since it had too much combat and magic for my taste, while I think Mr. Abercrombie' strengths lie more in great characters, intrigue and superb dialog than in action scenes. Still I loved the first and last 100 pages of it quite a lot too.

"Best Served Cold" is a triumphant return to Mr. Abercrombie' strengths and it's a co-#1 fantasy novel for 2009 for me so far and highly likely to remain there untill the end of the year.

OVERVIEW: For a general overview of the setup and the undertones of "Best Served Cold" I would strongly recommend checking out the reviews of the earlier First Law novels linked above. While "Best Served Cold" is a standalone, with a clear beginning, clear ending and a main thread, it has a lot of subtle touches that need the original trilogy for appreciation. However this novel may be a perfect introduction to Mr. Abercrombie' s work since it showcases his immense strengths in one volume and it can be read without any reference to the earlier novels.

Styria is a sort of Renaissance Italy from our history, a country of city-states, ambitious princes, mercenaries and two strong external influences, the Union and the Gurkhish who are involved in a long conflict that often flares in outright war.

Duke Orso of Talins is the most ambitious of these princes and in the previous trilogy we met him as a strong Union supporter, even becoming the King's father in law.

Monza Murcatto discovered her talent for war early on and she attracted the attention of famous mercenary leader Nicomo Cosca who took her and her younger brother Benno under his wing; in due course Monza became the most feared, admired and reviled general of Styria, while Cosca faded away as a drunkard though we met him as Glotka's mercenary in the Trilogy so we should not be surprised to see him here too.

As a "daughter" of Talins, Monza leads Orso's armies to the brink of defeating all its rivals; she has only one passion, her brother Benno who seems to be loved by all and is her confidante, "agent" and second in command. Unexplicably for her, Orso accuses the two of them of treachery and tries to kill them in his palace; Benno dies but Monza, believed dead and thrown of a window to shatter on the ground below, is saved by the sinister "Bone-Thief", though she is crippled to some extent and disfigured. From then on she has only one goal - to kill all seven men present at the attempting murders.

Assembling a team of killers and poisoners and using the secret fortune hidden across Styria by Benno and the cover of being assumed dead, she embarks on her "vengeance at all cost" mission. Of course things are not quite what they seem and soon she is embroiled in the intrigue and wars for the domination of Styria as well in the larger struggle of the mages that have been using the Union and the Gurkish as their front for so long.

Shivers is a named Northman that refused to participate in treachery at the end of LAOK since he wanted to become a "better man". Coming to Styria believing some tales about making a "honest living" there, he immediately finds himself easy prey to robbers and tricksters until he gets mad; falling in with Monza may be either the best or the worst thing that have happened to him...

"Best Served Cold" stands at over 600 pages and is divided into seven main parts based on which Styrian city the action takes place in or around. The narration is from various POV's but Monza, Shivers and later Cosca are the most important. The ending is great.

ANALYSIS: The structure of "Best Served Cold" is a little bit different than the First Law trilogy since it focuses strongly on Monza and the group around her as they try to kill the seven men above.

While the POV jumps for a while mainly between her and Shivers, the action proceeds linearly in one thread; only at the end the focus fragments in several sub-threads involving various (surviving) characters. In a way that is the inverse of the First Law structure which took a bunch of characters and "shook them like dice", splitting them in various groups involved in various threads which connected, split, reconnected to end in an unifying grand-finale.

There is back-story inserted at crucial moments that almost, though not quite, pulls the rug out of what came before, the understanding of which is strongly colored by Monza's view.

But first and foremost Best Served Cold is about two characters that take over the novel, one new in Abercrombie's universe and starring from the beggining, the second an old acquintance appearing first in the back-story and later taking a more and more central part. Cosca and Monza, "the teacher and her protegee", well Abercrombie' style so do not expect quite the usual, are why the novel succeded so magnificently for me..

The other main lead at the start, Shivers is a pale shadow of the two and I think the author realized that after a while, wisely letting him fade in the background. Shivers is the least satisfactory of Abercrombie's main characters in the four novels so far, his "I do not want to be Bloody Nine" gets tiresome quickly and after all we saw that before since Logen did not want to be "Bloody Nine" either; it just happens that in the First Law universe, as a "named" Northman you are "Bloody Nine", or you are dead or a runaway. But it does not matter since the supporting cast as well as the cameos of Vitari, Carlot and Jezal more than make up for Shivers "B-rate actor cast as a star" inadequacy.

Location-wise, "Best Served Cold" set only in one place - Styria - though with hints and rumbles of the big universe picture in the background, showcases another of Abercrombie's great strength, "local" world building as opposed to the big picture which is still somewhat sketchy. We saw that many times in the First Law with great locales like the Union capital Adua, the North, the Southern city of Dagoska and so many others, all that had an undeniable "reality" to them. Here we travel the main cities of Styria and we believe they are "real places" rather than squiggle on paper.

The cynical dialog and "thoughts" are still there and form another highlight of the novel, while the action scenes and (mercifully few) battles are well done too with the twists and turns at the end absolutely great. The ending is perfect this time, though of course it begs a new "First Law Universe" novel...

Highly, highly recommended
, showing once more why Joe Abercrombie *is* "new gritty" for me.
Sunday, July 26, 2009

Non Traditional Space Opera Universe - Mexica/Japanese: "Wasteland of Flint" & "House of Reeds" by Thomas Harlan (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Thomas Harlan Website
Order "Wasteland of Flint" HERE
Order "House of Reeds" HERE
Pre-order highly awaited 3rd series book "Land of the Dead" HERE

INTRODUCTION: When the long-awaited third installment of the Sixth Sun series by Thomas Harlan has finally had a firm publishing date in early August 09, I was very excited. I got an arc and not only I loved it a lot and it became a co-#1 sf novel for 2009 so far, but it motivated me to re-read the earlier two books and then I decided that a full post is needed to discuss the series at length before reviewing "Land of the Dead" in early August.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: In the late 1200's Kublai Khan the most famous Mongol Emperor, founder of the Chinese Imperial Yuan dynasty and grandson of the famous Genghis Khan, tried to invade Japan twice. Before 1945 that was the only planned serious invasion attempt on the Japanese main islands in historical times and it could have succeeded but the Tai-fun - the divine wind - scattered the main Mongol fleets twice and the samurai made quick work of the few survivors.

What if it turned out differently and the Mongols conquered Japan, while the remains of a Japanese evacuation fleet washed out on the shores of Central America, where the survivors allied with the rising Mexica power and gave them horses, steel and a ruthless way of making war. That is the premise of this wonderful series and while it starts some 1200 years later in a human interstellar empire dominated by the Mexica/Japanese alliance, there are many flashbacks to earlier times as well as a lot of Aztec folklore and Japanese tradition.

As another tidbit, the Skawts allied themselves early with the dual empire and now they form the backbone of the Imperial Eagles, an elite force that acts as bodyguards to the Mexica ruling family, while the Anglish are history, the only serious European resistance coming from the Russo-Scandinavian alliance that was ultimately crushed after a limited WMD war that led to immense destruction on Earth.

In addition to the unusual setting, there is also another difference from most space opera, humanity being a relatively puny power that needs strong allies to thrive in the ruthless galactic game of power. The fabled "First Sun" species who are rumored to have had the power of gods left scattered ruins with artifacts of immense power and the official chartered archaeological "Company" investigates them.

The main heroine of the first book and a very important character in the two followups , Dr. Gretchen Andersen single mother of three, born in a politically dispossessed class (Scandinavian exiles on a Skawt planet) is an employee of it, though she is slowly drawn in the intrigues of the Nauallis and the Mexica secret service, "The Mirror".

The Nauallis - "roving imperial judges" - all male though there seems to be a women organization too - have only one mission, namely the protection of the human race in a hostile universe; at all costs, with individual or even mass deaths if necessary. Another main character of the series Green Hummingbird is an elderly Nauallis who will become a sort of mentor to Gretchen and protector to Navy Captain Hadeishi who is the other main series character so far. And then we have the second component, military hard sf with star-ships, their crew, action, repairs, lots of details about ship-life and such.

And to my surprise the two components - space opera mysteries, fabled all powerful races, archaeological investigations and weird aliens on one hand and the mil-hard sf part on the other mix quite well overall and the result is a very absorbing series, a dense but very compelling read that you do not want to put down until finished.

The series starts with a bang in "Wasteland of Flint" when Gretchen Anderson is diverted to the strange planet of Ephesus where The Company has an archaeological dig that has been finding First Sun artifacts but has been out of contact for a while.

Arriving on the scene in an Imperial Cruiser Cornuelle commanded by Hadeishi, which was very unusual in itself since the Navy does not act as civilian transport for the likes of her, Gretchen discovers the exploration ship abandoned in orbit with everyone dead except the shuttle pilots who have been luckily stuck in an airlock for a while, and later they find the bulk of the archaeological party on Ephesus alive but running dangerously short of supplies.

When Green Hummingbird makes his presence on board Cornuelle known to Gretchen and Cptn. Hadeishi discovers a possible Russo-Scandinavian rebel mining operation in the system, the stakes are raised a lot.

"Wasteland of Flint" solves the main threads and leaves the reader wanting for more.

Starting two years later, "House of Reeds" takes place on the very old planet of Jagan, home of an alien race that has seen nuclear wars, false space exploration starts and is rumored to have been around when the First Sun people roamed the Galaxy, with the House of Reeds of the title maybe the oldest continuously inhabited building in known space.

The problem is that now Jagan is under Mexica "protection", some native leaders are getting restless, some Scandinavian rebel groups see an opportunity to bloody the Mexica so supply the local nobles with modern weapons and to top it all the "Flower Priests" have chosen Jagan to bloody the disolute Mexica Prince Tezozomoc about whom tabloids on Earth have been having a field day recently. So under the leadership of the elderly priestess/agent Itzpalicue, they are preparing a local war in which Tezozomoc will "cover himself with glory", his survival being optional.

And the agents/priests need a ship to sacrifice in the ritual war, so when the battered Cornuelle arrives in the system and Itzpalicue realises Hadeishi is a pupil/agent of old enemy Green Hummingbird, what better sacrifice. And the fact that all the present Mexica squadrons are clan based and are commanded by European officers since a French admiral needs taking down a peg too, so Hadeishi is the only Japanese senior officer around does not hurt either, since Hadeishi and his crew are supposed to die honorably fighting against huge odds.

Gretchen is also sent to Jagan to investigate the digs there and especially the House of Reeds so she is in the thick of things when the expected mayhem starts.

"House of Reeds" solves its threads and the sequel "Land of the Dead" picks up where this one ends and takes the series to even a higher level.

Just great, great books, dense but compelling and highly, highly recommended.
Saturday, July 25, 2009

“Inspector Chen Short Stories” by Liz Williams (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Liz Williams at Live Journal and at Facebook
Read FBC Interview with Ms. Williams HERE

Liz Williams has been publishing her novels since 2001 & her short stories since 1997. Her earlier books were Sci-fi books with a bit of socio-political commentary. Her short stories however were all over the place genre-wise. In 2005 she published the first book in the Inspector Chen series. This was technically her first foray into urban fantasy genre however her primary effort was not marred by newbie mistakes as she successfully combined Chinese mythology with a futuristic world & gave readers worldwide a truly unique reading experience.

The Chen series is published by Nightshade Books & has had some really fantastic covers. The books are featured in 2 editions when they are released. There is the hardcover edition & the special numbered & signed edition which also features an Inspector Chen short story as well.

I’m going to be reviewing these short stories featured in each of the 4 books in the series released up till now. Also in 2004 she released a short story collection “Banquet of the Lords of Night”, which featured 2 stories, also set in the Inspector Chen series. They will be reviewed here as well.

Here are the stories with the wonderful covers of the books containing them!


This is the story published in the special edition of "Snake Agent". It begins with Chen & Zhu inspecting a scene with a strangely murdered person & two crickets, one dead like the human, the other alive & kicking! This story deals with the underbelly of Singapore Three in the form of illegal betting on crickets fighting each other. Suffice to say it's a humorous piece & with an ending line which will draw a chuckle from many a British reader.

"And Taxes"

This is the story encased with the special edition of "Shadow Pavilion". We are again introduced to a murder but in this case of a tax collector who seemed bound to Heaven to the surprise of all present; however due to some malevolent black magic he has landed in Hell. This short story has a small twist in it which will surprise most readers & was my favorite from all of the short stories here.

"No Logo"

This is the story featured in the "The Demon and the City" special edition. It features Sergeant Ma along with Zhu & Chen & Ma makes a welcome addition to the duo. His ability to be upright & his absolute cluelessness about fashion makes this story quite funny to read. It also features sweat shop exploitation & while this might be a serious topic, Liz Williams does turn this story around on its head in the end to make it my second favorite story amongst all.

"Willow Pattern Plate"

This is the story published in "Precious Dragon" & with it there is a change in the characters featured as the focus is shifted to Inari & her demonimal "Badger". Inari has taken up art classes to make & paint plates. The plate which Inari focuses on, has a tragic love story attached to it & the art teacher Ms. Ho does seem to have an agenda of her own. Inari of course learns that all is not as it seems in the beginning & we get an unexpected ending. This story didn't draw my interest so much as the others.

"Adventures in Ghost Trade"

This story was published in "The Banquet of the Lords of Night and Other Stories" the short story collection by the author. It is the first story from the book and is actually a chapter in the first book of the series, "Snake Agent". It stands on its own, however it will make much more sense to read it in the 1st novel . It features a mother beseeching Chen to help search for her daughter as she is not to be found either in Heaven or Hell.

"The Man from the Ministry"

This story also appeared in "The Banquet of the Lords of Night and Other Stories". It is the last story from the collection & it focuses upon the various under-goings in the Inspector Chen universe namely between Heaven & Hell. It introduces Tang a young man who tries to get his mother cured of her debilitating disease. The story then veers off into Hell due to a certain past debt & in the end it also features Kuan Hin, the Goddess of compassion who was also a character in "Snake Agent" & "Precious Dragon". The story is a pleasant departure from the primary characters of the series & shows us a nice slice of the world created by Liz Williams & as always the concluding paragraph does feature Ms. Williams' sharp wit & gives a sense of completion to the reader as well.
Thursday, July 23, 2009

Author Guest Blog Post: Mighty Gods of Myth by JC De La Torre

Visit The Official Rise of the Ancients Website Here
Order Rise of the Ancients: Annuna Here

Author Jc De La Torre has stopped by Fantasy Book Critic with a guest blog spot. On July 31st De La Torre's second installment
of the Rise of the Ancients series titled Annuna, hits bookshelves. Rise of the Ancients involves the ancient Greek gods and with so many books lately incorporating the ancient myths it seemed a perfect topic to bring up to discussion.

Mighty Gods of Myth
by JC De La Torre
Search the name Zeus in Amazon and you’ll be amazed at the amount of fantasy literature that comes up regarding the gods. From Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series to Dan Simmons Olympos saga, the gods must be crazy for fantasy writers.

The myths of old are big business now-a-days. Certainly, everyone has at least heard of the greek and roman deities. Zeus and Jupiter, Poseidon and Neptune, as they share responsibilities, they share a renewed interest in authors’ minds. Today, the gods run amuck in America (American Gods by Neil Gaiman), are living comfortably above the Empire State Building (Percy Jackson), live on Mars (Olympos), get frisky in London (Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips) are running a boarding school (Chronicles of Chaos series by John C. Wright, and are freed from their underwater prison of Atlantis and reigning hell on the world (as in my own Rise of the Ancients saga), mythology is the new vampirism.

When Twilight became the next sensation, everyone was writing teen vampire love triangles. Now, Percy Jackson bursts on to the scene (and will be a bigger force once hit hits the movieplex in 2010 with the Lightning Thief), everyone wants to invite Zeus to the party.

It’s funny, when I began writing my first novel in the summer of ‘04, Ancient Rising - Rise of the Ancients Book I, the gods and Atlantis were a subject that had been ignored for a long time. Sure, comic books had tackled Atlantis and the gods, there were a handful of novels that had Atlantis or the gods as a major theme including Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Avalon series and Clive Cussler’s Atlantis Found but interest in mythology seemed to deaden out in the 90’s. No one was interested in retelling or re-imaging the old myths.

My own personal interest in Atlantis came from my love of ancient history and reading a non-fiction (or semi-fictional, depending on how you view the subject matter) novel by an author named Herbie Brennan called the Atlantis Enigma that introduced me to the mythology of Atlantis and the theory of ancient astronauts. As I researched Atlantis, I grew interested in Greek mythology as a method of distribution for my own ancient astronauts fiction. Similar to the way Stargate used Egyptian deities posing as gods called the Goa’uld, I used our known Greek mythology, combined it with the ancient Sumerian and Babylonian stories of the Annunaki (another Brennan inspiration) and even sprinkled in Jesus Christ. I threw it all in a pot, stirred until I came up with a wild tale about a devastated widower who was greeted by the Greek god Hermes and set on an Indiana Jones-meets-Clash of the Titans type adventure.

I spent a year and half promoting the book, then took some time off. Amazingly, since Ancient Rising was published in 06, there have been sixty-one books dealing with Atlantis and another whopping eight hundred and fifty have something to do with mythology.

While my first novel focused on the Greek gods and the adventure to find Atlantis, the next in the series Rise of the Ancients – Annuna (coming July 31st) focuses on the Annuna (another name for the Sumerian/Babylonian Annunaki), the rise of the gods on Earth, and how Atlantis fell. I was stunned to see the explosion in the subject I had all to myself just three short years ago.

While I’d love to believe I started the trend, I know its more due to the success of Riordan’s Percy Jackson series and Thomas Greanias’ Atlantis saga that have brought mythology back into the mainstream. Video games like God of War introduced Zeus and the other gods to a new audience.While we know Percy Jackson’s movies are coming, I also recently saw an article that said that Dreamworks optioned Scott Mitchell Rosenberg’s comic mini-series Atlantis Rising.

I have a feeling that the gods are going to be with us for awhile.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Gary Gibson and Ask our Input in Choosing a Cover

One of my favorite sff authors of recent times Gary Gibson, author of the superb standalones "Angel Stations" and "Against Gravity" and the trilogy opener "Stealing Light" has just handed in his third Dakota Merrick installment "Empire of Light" (tbp 2010) to and the publisher is graciously allowing us the fans to choose from one of the two covers below:

You can go to Mr. Gibson website and vote in the poll there or go to the site and follow their instructions.

I started reading Mr. Gibson from his 2004 debut "Angel Stations" which made me a big time fan, with his second and quite different novel "Against Gravity" consolidating my opinion, while the first Dakota Merrick book "Stealing Light" has been my top sf novel of 2007 and the second installment "Nova War" is one of the 4 highly, highly, of the "beg and whine for an arc kind" anticipated sf offerings of Fall 09 with a review to come as soon as possible here, review in which I will discuss "Stealing Light" too.

So even if you have not read "Stealing Light", I still think you should avail of this rare opportunity in having your voice heard in this crucial but rarely touched upon subject of book covers about which I have done a post illustrating with various examples how they influenced my book buying and reading choices.

Interview with Liz Williams (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo with several questions from Liviu Suciu)

Introduction: Liz Williams gothic sf with a strong feminist tinge is a big time favorite of Liviu and Robert as you can see from the reviews below, while Mihir is a fan of the Inspector Chen series so Ms. Williams was a perfect fit for an interview here with Mihir's review of her latest Inspector Chen novel, "Shadow Pavilion" to be posted soon.

Read FBC Review of Darkland
Read FBC Review of Bloodmind
Read FBC Review of Winterstrike

Mihir asked most questions, while Liviu contributed 3 questions which are clearly labeled as such. We are deeply grateful for Ms. Williams' candid answers and we offer thanks to her publicist at Night Shade, John Joseph Adams for the help in setting up the interview and to her editor Marty Halpern for the extra details. Enjoy!

1) Can you tell us more about yourself especially for readers who are as yet unacquainted with your encompassing bibliography of novels & short stories?

I was born in the west of England, and have lived in Brighton, Cambridge and Central Asia. My father was a stage magician (as a hobby, not as a profession) and my mother wrote Gothic novels, so I basically took off from there. I now live in Glastonbury, England, with my partner.

We run a retail business selling witchcraft items, and I also teach English at Bath Spa University. Best way to get to know me is through my Live Journal or my Facebook page
I will befriend pretty much anyone who asks! It's a random mix of cats, dogs, writing, witchcraft and anything else that happens to amuse me.

2) What do you do when you are not writing or reading books? Any Hobbies?

I read a lot, and I do a lot of gardening and walking. I don't have much spare time at the moment, but enjoy traveling to far flung places when possible.

3) To any reader who hasn't read one of your books, how would you persuade them to give one of your books a try?!

They're unusual and rather odd. If you like feminist, sociological SF, you'll probably like the SF novels. If you like dark fantasy with a detection edge, you'll hopefully get on well with the Night Shade series.

4) Where do you find the inspiration for your stories, (i.e.: nature, events, people, etc.)? And is there a particular life experience that influenced your writing?

Inspiration comes from all over the place. It's almost impossible to say where ideas come from, unfortunately. I wish I knew! Images, things I misread, folklore, articles in the Fortean Times, my personal esoteric experience…

5) You have quite an esoteric background and you include other activities ranging from having a PhD. in Epistemology to running a pagan ritual store in addition to being a full time author. How do you manage your time & how do these various interests influence your writing?

I work most of the time. My pagan and folklore interests' link into the writing, and for the SF novels, I try to draw on philosophical themes and ideas.

6) What book/books have you read recently that have made an impression on you?

I'm reading a lot of nature books at the moment, also a lot of esoteric non-fiction like the history of the Golden Dawn, and it's probable that some ideas may come from this.

7) What was the specific spark of inspiration which lead to the development of the Inspector Chen series? What made you contrive Chinese mythology along with futuristic SF elements to develop the world of Singapore 3? With your most recent book "Shadow Pavilion" featuring parts of India, will you be featuring other global mythologies as well?

The Chen series comes from some visits I made to Hong Kong, where a friend of mine lives. She had a houseboat, which is Chen's houseboat (the big junk in PRECIOUS DRAGON is a real boat, of the same name), and was dating a cop in the HK vice squad. So all of these things fitted together!

(LS) 8) I loved the settings of Darkland and Bloodmind series, as well as the loosely related novel Ghost Sister. While I think Bloodmind brought the story to an excellent conclusion, I am curious to know if there are plans for more novels set in that universe?

Thanks! I've no plans as yet, but it may happen. I have been writing in this universe since I was about 13 and will almost certainly return to it at some point.

(LS) 9) In my notable 2008 books post on FBC, I described Winterstrike as: "Mothers, daughters, unsuitable males on future Mars and Earth". How does this one line description above sound to you? And when can we expect the sequel?

Sounds accurate to me! A sequel will depend on my publishers, who are holding off for the moment. The industry has been badly hit by the recession.

(LS) 10) Winterstrike has been criticized in various places for the similarities of the voice of 2 main narrators - Essegui and Hestia, who though cousins and childhood friends have had quite different life-experiences since. I found the voices a bit too similar too, though it did not bother me since the novel was outstanding in so many respects, the voice similarity was just a minor niggle. How would you answer the criticism?

I think it's fair, to be honest. They are supposed to be very similar, and that does come out in their voices.

11) With each limited edition of the Inspector Chen series, there has been a short story released with it. Do the following short stories supplement the novels and/ or are they individualistic stories of their own standing? And if so, are they meant to be read in any particular order?

[For those not so familiar with the series, the following stories have been released so far:

The Man from the Ministry(BANQUET collection)
Insecticide(SNAKE AGENT)
Willow Pattern Plate(PRECIOUS DRAGON)
Adventures in the Ghost Trade (BANQUET collection, Snake agent Chapter)

No particular order, but they can be read as standalone pieces. They're not really connected with each novel.

12) Do you have a fixed number of books planned in the Inspector Chen series? If so how many? Have you envisioned the end of the series or would it be decided along the way?

Two more books are commissioned: IRON KHAN and a book that is currently titled MORNINGSTAR, which features Chen and Inari's daughter. After that, we'll have to see. I would like to revisit the world at some point in the future, but there are a few other things I'd like to turn to first.

13) Many of your earlier books have strong female protagonists. Was it by choice or just an aspect of your writing which suited the story to be seen through a female perspective?

No, it's a deliberate choice. I am a feminist and I wanted the SF, at least, to reflect ongoing concerns about the role of women.

14) You have written a short story called "Caer Cold" which is set in a very fascinating world. Will we get to read more about this world & will you be ever writing a full-fledged story set in this world?

There are a number of other stories set in an earlier time in this world, and I would not be averse to doing something full length in it. I'm doing a number of quasi-Arthurian Dark Ages short stories, quite bleak, and this is in line with those.

15) What are your plans for the future? As a writer, what still challenges you and what do you want to accomplish?

It's always a challenge to come up with new ideas. I'm hoping to start a novel set in an alternate 18th century, which features a somewhat unsympathetic aristocratic protagonist. The tone of the short stories in this world so far is similar to the tone of the Chen novels. And I am doing a series of sort-of steampunk short stories, again in an alternative (but non-magical) Britain. I'd also like to do a contemporary novel set in Somerset with fantasy elements. So, there are a number of things in mind at the moment!

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