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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Spotlight on April Books

This month we are featuring 42 books. There are probably twice as many new sff and related releases this month but we are limiting ourselves to books that will be reviewed here or are similar with such. For the full schedule of April titles known to us, you can consult the Upcoming Releases page.

The release dates are US unless marked otherwise, though for books released in the UK and US in the same month but on different dates we use the earliest date without comment and they are first edition unless noted differently. The dates are on a best known basis so they are not guaranteed; same about the edition information. Since information sometimes is out of date even in the Amazon/Book Depository links we use for listings, books get delayed or sometimes even released earlier, we would truly appreciate if you would send us an email about any listing with incorrect information.

Sometimes a cover image is not available at the time of the post and also sometimes covers change unexpectedly so while we generally use the Amazon one when available and cross check with Google Images, the ultimate bookstore cover may be different.


"1636: The Saxon Uprising" by Eric Flint US April 1, 2011. Baen. (SF)
“Sea of Ghosts” by Alan Campbell. UK April 1, 2011. Tor UK. (FAN).
“Among Thieves” by Douglas Hulick. UK April 1, 2011. Tor UK and Roc (US) (FAN).
“Rage” by Jackie Morse Kessler. April 4, 2011. Graphia. (YA).
“Betrayer” by C. J. Cherryh. April 5, 2011. DAW. (SF).
“The Shining City” by Fiona Patton. April 5, 2011. DAW. (FAN).


“Alien in the Family” by Gina Koch. April 5, 2011. DAW. (SF).
“Element Zero” by James Knapp. April 5, 2011. Roc. (SF).
“City of Fallen Angels” by Cassandra Clare. April 5, 2011. Margaret K. McElderry. (YA).
“Red Glove” by Holly Black. April 5, 2011. Margaret K. McElderry. (YA).
“Faerie Winter” by Janni Lee Simner. April 5, 2011. Random House Books for Young Readers. (YA).
“Huntress” by Malinda Lo. April 5, 2011. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. (YA).


“The Dragon’s Path” by Daniel Abraham. April 7, 2011. Orbit. (FAN).
“A Kingdom Besieged” by Raymond E. Feist. April 12, 2011. Harper Voyager. (FAN).
“Camera Obscura” by Lavie Tidhar. UK April 7, 2011. Angry Robot. (STPK).
“Infernal Devices” by K.W. Jeter. UK April 7, 2011. Angry Robot. (STPK/ R).
“Morlock Night” by K.W. Jeter. UK April 7, 2011. Angry Robot. (STPK/ R).
“The Unremembered” by Peter Orullian. April 12, 2011. Tor. (FAN).


“Hybrids” by Whitley Strieber. April 12, 2011. Tor. (SF).
“After the Golden Age” by Carrie Vaughn. April 12, 2011. Tor. (FAN).
“Akata Witch” by Nnedi Okorafor. April 14, 2011. Viking Juvenile. (YA).
“Odin's Wolves” by Giles Kristian. UK April 14, 2011. Bantam UK. (MISC).
“Santcus” by Simon Toyne. UK April 14, 2011. HarperCollins UK. (MISC).
“The River of Shadows” by Robert V.S. Redick. April 19, 2011. Del Rey. (FAN).


“Eona” by Alison Goodman. April 19, 2011. Viking Juvenile. (YA).
“The Black” by D.J. MacHale. April 19, 2011. Aladdin. (MG).
“Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti” by Genevieve Valentine. April 25, 2011. Prime Books. (STPK).
“Retribution Falls” by Chris Wooding. April 26, 2011. Bantam Spectra. (STPK/US 1st).
“The Alchemist in the Shadows” by Pierre Pevel. April 26, 2011. Pyr. (FAN/US 1st).
“The Noise Revealed” by Ian Whates. April 26, 2011. Solaris. (SF).


“Ember & Ash” by Pamela Freeman. April 26, 2011. Orbit. (FAN).
“Heaven's Needle” by Liane Merciel. April 26, 2011. Pocket. (FAN).
“Burn Down the Sky” by James Jaros. April 26, 2011. Harper Voyager. (SF).
“Phoenix Rising: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel” by Pip Ballantine & Tee Morris. April 26, 2011. Harper Voyager. (STPK).
“The Hidden Goddess” by M.K. Hobson. April 26, 2011. Bantam Spectra. (FAN).
“Theories of Flight” by Simon Morden. April 26, 2011. Orbit. (SF).


“Future Imperfect” by K. Ryer Breese. April 26, 2011. St. Martin’s Griffin. (YA).
“The Dark Zone” by Dom Testa. April 26, 2011. Tor. (YA)
“The Last Four Things” by Paul Hoffman. UK April 28, 2011. Michael Joseph. (FAN).
“Embedded” by Dan Abnett. UK April 28, 2011. Angry Robot. (SF).
“Hamlet’s Father” by Orson Scott Card. April 29, 2011. Subterranean Press. (Novella).
“Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy 2” edited by William K. Schafer. April 30, 2011. Subterranean Press. (ANTHO).

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

“The Winds of Khalakovo” by Bradley P. Beaulieu (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Official Bradley P. Beaulieu Website
Order “The Winds of KhalakovoHERE
Read the First Fifteen Chapters HERE (ePub) or HERE (PDF)
Watch the Book Trailer HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Bradley P. Beaulieu is a winner of the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Award, while his short story, “In the Eyes of the Empress’s Cat”, was voted a Notable Story in the 2006 Million Writers Award. Other stories have appeared in Realms of Fantasy Magazine, Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, Writers of the Future 20, and several anthologies from DAW Books. The Winds of Khalakovo is his first novel.

PLOT SUMMARY: Among inhospitable and unforgiving seas stands Khalakovo, a mountainous archipelago of seven islands, its prominent eyrie stretching a thousand feet into the sky. Serviced by windships bearing goods and dignitaries, Khalakovo's eyrie stands at the crossroads of world trade. But all is not well in Khalakovo. Conflict has erupted between the ruling Landed, the indigenous Aramahn, and the fanatical Maharraht, and a wasting disease has grown rampant over the past decade. Now, Khalakovo is to play host to the Nine Dukes, a meeting which will weigh heavily upon Khalakovo's future.

When an elemental spirit attacks an incoming windship, murdering the Grand Duke and his retinue, Prince Nikandr, heir to the scepter of Khalakovo, is tasked with finding the child prodigy believed to be behind the summoning. However, Nikandr discovers that the boy is an autistic savant who may hold the key to lifting the blight that has been sweeping the islands. Can the Dukes, thirsty for revenge, be held at bay? Can Khalakovo be saved? The elusive answer drifts upon the Winds of Khalakovo...

FORMAT/INFO: The Winds of Khalakovo is 464 pages long divided over two Parts and sixty-seven numbered chapters. Also includes a Dramatis Personae and maps of the Grand Duchy of Anuskaya and the Duchy of Khalakovo. Narration is in the third person via Prince Nikandr Iaroslov Khalakovo; his lover, the Aramahn Rehada Ulan al Shineshka; and Nikandr’s betrothed, Princess Atiana Radieva Vostroma. The Winds of Khalakovo is somewhat self-contained, concluding the novel’s major storylines, but it is the first of three planned books in The Lays of Anuskaya series. April 2011 marks the Trade Paperback publication of The Winds of Khalakovo via Night Shade. Cover art provided by Adam Paquette.

ANALYSIS: It’s hard to come up with anything original anymore, especially in epic fantasy, but Bradley P. Beaulieu makes a valiant effort in his debut novel, The Winds of Khalakovo.

What immediately distinguishes The Winds of Khalakovo is the setting, which features a Grand Duchy heavily influenced by Czarist Russia, complete with Russian names, Russian language (nyet, da, nischka), Russian clothing (cherkesska, ushanka), Russian military (streltsi, sotnik, desyatnik), Russian weapons (berdische axes, shashkas) and Russian traditions. Besides the Russian influence, there’s also an Arabian flavor with the monk-like Aramahn—the archipelago’s native people—who also possess Buddhist qualities like their belief in reincarnation, while the elementals (earth, air, fire, water, and the raw stuff of life) the Aramahn are able to control seem inspired by Greek mythology and Hinduism. Windships, soulstones—stones given at birth that hold the essence of a person’s life—firearms (muskets, cannons, flintlock pistols) and those who can navigate the aether are thrown into the mix as well, creating a fantasy world that may seem familiar because of its individual components, but is unique and refreshing because of the unconventional combination.

Woven into this fabulous milieu is a story made up of intriguing court politics (arranged marriages, coups, war and betrayal among the duchies), moving personal drama (tangled love triangles, dying from an incurable wasting disease), relevant topical issues (food shortages/riots caused by the blight, the Maharraht religious splinter group), and sweeping adventure involving a boy caught between the spiritual & physical realms of Adhiya & Erahm, and a rift in the aether that could destroy the world. Much the way he did with the novel’s setting, Bradley P. Beaulieu takes a bunch of familiar elements and combines them in such a way to create a story that feels new and exciting. This feeling is aided in part by brisk pacing and unpredictable plot developments, like the novel’s tragic and unhappy ending.

The real key to the story’s success though, is with the three main characters: Prince Nikandr Iaroslov Khalakovo; his lover, the Aramahn whore Rehada Ulan al Shineshka; and Nikandr’s betrothed, Princess Atiana Radieva Vostroma. Nikandr is arguably the novel’s most important character because of his unique connection to the boy Nasim who lies at the center of all the book’s major plotlines—the wasting disease, the blight, the rift, the war, etc.—but Rehada and Atiana are more interesting. Rehada because of the revenge she harbors for her daughter, the love she feels for Nikandr even though he represents what she hates, and the dangerous tightrope she walks between Maharraht/Aramahn philosophy, while Atiana intrigues because of her ability to navigate the aether, the difficult choices she has to make between her family and Nikandr’s, and the complicated relationship she develops with her rival, Rehada. All three characters though possess likable personalities, evolve realistically over the course of the novel, and help anchor the story’s more fantastic moments with compelling intimate concerns.

Negatively, supporting characters are one-dimensional; action scenes are sometimes clumsily executed, requiring additional rereads to fully grasp what happened; and the world-building is thin with only a few sentences devoted to concepts like the Aramahn & Maharraht, hezhan (elementals), the aether, soulstones, Adhiya/Erahm, etc., making it difficult to understand things that are integral to the novel. Like an Aramahn’s bond with a hezhan, the different kinds of hezhan, the purpose of soulstones, why only certain people can navigate the aether, and so on. Plus, Nasim’s history and connection with Ghayavand, Muqallad, Sariya, Nikandr and the Maharraht could have been explained much better, especially considering the boy’s importance.

For the most part though, I was impressed by the skill and creativity displayed by Bradley P. Beaulieu in his debut. In particular, I enjoyed the author’s accessible writing style, was drawn to his compelling main characters, and found the novel’s unique setting and unpredictable story refreshing and exciting. In short, Bradley P. Beaulieu is another terrific addition to the Night Shade lineup, while The Winds of Khalakovo is one of the year’s better fantasy debuts...
Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"1636:The Saxon Uprising" by Eric Flint + 163* Series Overview (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Eric Flint Website
Order "1636: The Saxon Uprising" HERE or HERE (ebook)
Read "1632" and "1633" free at the Baen Free Library
Read Most of the 163* series free at the unofficial but approved Baen CD Repository

INTRODUCTION: The 163* series has debuted quietly in 2000 with the standalone 1632, a book that nobody expected to take off in the huge way it did, spanning a series that consists of 7 mainstream novels, 4 side (sort-of) novels, 2 main anthologies with a third upcoming in July and 30+ Grantville Gazettes, a mostly electronic journal dedicated to the series and consisting of both fiction and non-fiction.

While Eric Flint is the creator of the series and keeps general control, quite a few people contributed to the universe in the Gazettes and Anthologies, while some of the novels have been co-authored with David Weber (1633, 1634 The Baltic War) and Virginia de Marce (1634 The Bavarian Crisis and 1635 The Dreeson Incident) in the mainstream series that consists so far of 1632, these four and the one big volume split into parts: 1635: The Eastern Front and 1636: the Saxon Uprising.

The side novels (some are structured as a collection of related series following one another to achieve the unity of a novel) have also various authors but are less important and of varying degrees of quality and interest, so I will focus on the mainstream story threads here. Before discussing the series, I would like to add that this thread that follows the major characters is also treated in some of the Ring of Fire I and II anthologies, but the necessary backstory is recounted in the 7 novels above which form the backbone of the series and are as superb as anything in sff today.

If the series would consist only of those 7 plus the aforementioned stories, it would rank as a co-#1 ongoing sff series for me alongside the Honorverse and Safehold, but the generally lower quality of the side novels and the amateurishness of many Gazette stories takes it down a little. Eric Flint often mentions the experimental nature of the 163* project including all those amateur contributions, so it depends on how you look at things - as a sf series for the ages, keeping it to the 7 so far mainstream novels and related stories would have been much better, but as a fictional recreation of a different 17th century the experiment is quite interesting.

In the following overview, I will present only the "big picture" that results from the first 5 main books (1632, 1633, 1634 The Baltic War, 1634 The Bavarian Crisis, 1635 The Dreeson Incident). In this way you can jump directly to 1635: The Eastern War and its second half 1636: The Saxon Uprising and follow the action there. If you plan to read the series from the beginning, be aware that what comes below will have massive spoilers for the first 3 books especially.

SERIES OVERVIEW: The fundamental premise of the 163* series is that a cosmic event - The Ring of Fire - exchanged a small portion of modern day West Virginia, USA containing the mining town of Grantville and its nearby surroundings, cca 1999-2000, with an equivalent portion in 1631 Germany. This was due to accidental space-time manipulations by ultra-advanced human race offshoots from the far future and resulted in the split of the historical line at that date so now we have a new universe with an Earth that was the historical 1631 one plus the up-time Americans and the physical stuff that came through with Grantville, while "our regular" universe continues on its way from 2000 on...

This is as good as an explanation for the series premise as it gets and from now on we are plunged in the middle of the action which will see a complete remake of the 17th century history as we know it...

At the time Germany was in the middle of the terrible 30 Year War (1618-1648 our timeline), the most devastating continental war until Napoleon and for Germany until WW2 actually - and in 1632 and 1633 we see how Grantville survives and then thrives by accepting as more-or-less equals and mixing with all "down-timers" that appreciate its tolerance and 20th century values, leveraging its technology and allying with the most enlightened local king, the Lutheran Gustav Adolf of Sweden, to essentially create a modern federal German state that will later be named The United States of Europe (USE) under the Swedish (now) Emperor and essentially bring peace to Germany and ending the 30 Years War "early" in 1633 with several crushing defeats of the catholic Imperial armies of Spain and Austria.

But Gustav Adolf's patron, the powerful Cardinal Richelieu of France - who despite being a high ranking prelate of the Catholic Church was the main financier of the Protestant cause in the 30 Years War as prime minister of a France that had as goals breaking the (Spanish and Austrian) Hapsburg "encirclement" of France and keeping Germany weak and disunited - is deeply unhappy with all of that as per the second goal above, so he manipulates all of Gustav Adolf's many enemies into the league of Ostende (catholic France and their avowed enemies the Spanish, protestant England and Denmark and various smaller fish) which starts hostilities by a spectacular smashing of - USE allies - Dutch naval power by treachery.

However the USE did not sat idly and created a modern volunteer army and a powerful ironclad navy and in 1634 The Baltic War, the USE navy destroys the allied fleets of Spain, England and Denmark, while its army smashes the French in battle leading to a peace congress in Copenhagen 1634 that enshrines Gustav Adolf as the most powerful monarch of Europe with a triple crown of Sweden (more or less absolute king), USE (constitutional Emperor) and the Scandinavian States (Emperor and suzerain).

In England an imprisoned Oliver Cromwell (everyone has read the histories of the future so took measures accordingly) escapes from the Tower with American help and is ready to start the English revolution some years early, in France, Richelieu has to use his only modern surviving troops under young Turenne to face the challenge to his power from the treacherous king's brother Gaston and Spain's success in the Netherlands ironically leads to a break of all the Low Countries from the Spanish rule under a Hapsburg prince true but with strong protestant support and leading to the creation of another powerful buffer state, a reborn Burgundy of yore.

In the meantime, former enemy general Wallenstein (who read the future histories too and saw his assassination on his boss, the Austrian Hapsburg Emperor's orders and obviously did not appreciate it) made allies with the USE and carved an independent Bohemia with capital at Prague and started expanding into the east with USE support in return for religious tolerance and the end of serfdom.

So this is the big picture at the beginning of the duology 1635: The Eastern Front and 1636: The Saxon Uprising when Gustav Adolf decides to deal with some of his treacherous former allies in Saxony and Brandenburg (Prussia), theoretically part of the federal USE but who tacitly supported the Ostende League.

Unfortunately, Gustav Adolf has a thing with the Polish king too - a cousin of the same Vasa family, with the two lines having deeply felt grudges against each other - while the progressive Fourth of July Party has just lost the USE election of 1635 to the Conservatives and the new PM is busy playing politics. Against strong up-timer (American) opposition, Gustav Adolf is ready to invade Poland at the head of the powerful USE German army, despite that Poland was the only major European power that did not meddle into Germany during the Thirty Years war.

However, the Polish-Ukrainian Commonwealth of the time is a huge if ramshackle state and defeating it is a different kettle of fish than smashing a concentrated opposing army on the field of battle as many would-be conquerors found out when marching into the vastness of Eastern Europe...

So of course the invasion of Poland starts to go wrong soon and the resulting events combined with the clear lines of conflict in the USE between the ultra-conservative nobility and the progressives inspired by American ideals - conflict that was mostly subdued when the USE fought for its life against the Ostende League but which now after the decisive victory is coming to the forefront and of which the issues of citizenship eligibility/voting rights and established church are the main focal points - create the backdrop against which the dramatic events of "1636:The Saxon Uprising" take place.

ANALYSIS: The 163* series is such a big time favorite of mine for three main reasons. The most important ones are the superb cast of characters and the pitch perfect integration of the Grantville brought modern elements into the 17th century we know from history and the consequent creation of a coherent and very interesting alt-history path. I discussed the second point extensively above, though I will add that the research that goes into the books - a lot of which is published in the non-fiction part of the Grantville gazettes - is staggering as it covers all aspects of 17th century life, from religion, social mores, politics, to technology, science and art.

Almost anyone who is known from the period appears at least as a cameo and personages like Rubens - artist and diplomat - play a pretty major role here and there. In recent volumes there is a clear trend towards a fusion of the modern technology and scientific knowledge brought by Grantville with available 17th century methods of production and of course the speculations incline towards massive use of steam power - internal combustion engines are just too dependent on modern infrastructure - hydraulic computers - semiconductors dependence on the whole infrastructure of today is even clearer - and other "what ifs" of technological history that have been relegated to footnotes or hobbyist interest by the path our civilization has taken.

Let's move now to the characters and in 1636: The Saxon Uprising most of the major favorites appear and play important roles, while many of the rest have at least a cameo. First and foremost of course it is Mike Stearns - the former union leader who took charge of Grantville after the Ring of Fire, defeated and then co-opted his political adversary, in-law and ex-CEO John Simpson, so insuring that Grantville became the seed for the United States of Europe not for a racist apartheid state in which the American up-timers lord over the German down-timers, became Gustav Adolf's valuable ally, first prime minister of the USE until his recent electoral defeat upon which he accepted a major-general commission in the USE army and started learning the ways of war guided by a superb handpicked staff and his former semi-pro boxing instincts...

Then of course his wife, the highly educated Rebecca Stearns nee Abrabanel of the renowned 17th century Jewish international finance family, former secretary of state of the USE and current leader of the Fourth of July Party - the main progressive party of the USE as the name indicates. Mike and Rebecca are also the proud parents of 3 children, with the adopted three year old Barry just stealing the show whenever he appears (aka the little boy who would have become Baruch Spinoza in our timeline and whom the Jews of Amsterdam had expelled for heresy as a baby handing him to Becky when she was helping the besieged city before the peace - as mentioned, everyone read the future histories...).

Also playing a huge role in the novel is the leading revolutionary of the day Gretchen Richter, who has seen a large part of her family massacred in the war by mercenaries and was forced to become a "camp follower" of one of their leaders to protect the survivors and whose quick seduction of and marriage with young Jeff Higgins - currently the CO of the "Hangman" Regiment in Mike's division - was the first test of how Grantville will co-exist with the local people and gave us such memorable scenes in 1632.

And let us not forget the 9 year old Christina of Sweden, heir of the triple crown , her betrothed Ulrik, prince of Denmark and their retinue - the Norwegian adventurer Baldur and the up-time German-American Caroline who became by chance Kristina's governess and surrogate mother as well as being the future Countess of Narnia as Kristina's whim was approved by an amused father...

Other main players in the books are Colonel Hand the cousin of the currently incapacitated Gustav Adolf, while from the villains Prime Minister Wettin gets a better role than I expected, though the Swedish Chancellor Oxiensterna is shown considerably stupider than he seemed - though of course the rush of events can make anyone lose it.

In bit-roles, Mad Max - aka Maximilian of Bavaria who makes such an entertaining villain in the Bavarian Crisis and whose turn is next as we are promised in the last pages of the book and the brutish Swedish General Baner are also superb in all their scenes, while there is a chilling moment with the young Sultan Murad just fresh from conquering Baghdad with his Janissaries and his aerial blimp fleet, announcing to the cheering soldiers the march on Vienna and the West in the spring...

Of course the above just scratches the surface of a huge cast and for more details you can check the Wikipedia page of the series where 80 characters, fictional and historical, have biographical sketches though the cast of the series is considerably larger considering the Gazettes.

The book is also very entertainingly written with so many moments that make one laugh out loud, with action galore, but also with tragedy, suspense and the occasional heartbreak. Just to name some random scenes that show the breadth of the action - Kristina and her retinue cooking at the Magdeburg "Freedom Arches" for cheering crowds or blithely announcing "I am having a party at the castle, everyone is invited" to the consternation of the "brass" aka Rebecca, Ulrik, mayor Gehricke - Magdeburg is the USE capital and a modern rebuilt city after its 1631 sack by the Catholic Imperial armies - or Mike sending a telegram to General Baner that starts like:

"To Johan Banér, general in command of the Swedish army besieging Dresden
From Michael Stearns, major general in command of the USE Army Third Division
Your assault on Dresden is illegal, immoral, treasonous, and ungodly.",

message that is followed on the next page by:

"Banér was not a particularly large man, but he was quite powerful. That blow and the ones that followed with the leg of the shattered stool that remained in his fist were enough to reduce the desk to firewood.“I’ll ***** kill him!"

All in all "1636:The Saxon Uprising" (A++ together with its first half 1635: The Eastern War) show why the 163* epic series has been so successful, but it also contains a powerful message about freedom, equality, progress and how hard is to bottle them when unexpected events open the door, message that is quite relevant today...

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Welcome to the new Fantasy Book Critic!!!

It’s been over four years since I first started Fantasy Book Critic. Since then, the website has grown and evolved in ways that I never imagined. For one, what began as an outlet for a single person’s opinions is now a venue for many different voices. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg :) Considering all of the changes that the website has undergone over the years, we decided it was time to come up with a new look. Something a little more sleeker and more organized, but still unmistakably Fantasy Book Critic.

So thanks to Anton, the awesome designer from GameSiteTemplates, Cindy, Liviu, Mihir and everyone else involved in the template’s installation and indexing FBC’s content, we are proud to introduce the new Fantasy Book Critic!

To ensure greater organization, the new website now offers links to individual pages indexing Fantasy Book Critic’s vast amount of content, including Book Reviews, Interviews, Monthly Spotlights and much more. We’ve also introduced a new feature: a comprehensive list of Upcoming Book Releases that extends from April 2011 all the way through December 2011 and beyond. FBC’s contact information and Review Policy can be found under the Contact Us section, while details about the website and the individuals who make up Fantasy Book Critic can be found in the About Us section. Finally, we are in the process of updating our Blogroll so if you have a website/blog that you would like us to add, please leave a comment below or email us HERE.

From all of us here at FBC, we hope you enjoy the new Fantasy Book Critic. Thank you for your support and much love & respect...
Friday, March 25, 2011

“The Dragon’s Path” by Daniel Abraham (Reviewed by Robert Thompson and Liviu Suciu)

Official Daniel Abraham Website
Order “The Dragon’s PathHERE (US) + HERE (UK)
Read An Excerpt HERE
Read Reviews via A Dribble of Ink + The Wertzone
Read A Dribble of Ink's Interview with Daniel Abraham HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Daniel Abraham has been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy Awards, and was awarded the International Horror Guild Award. His bibliography includes The Long Price Quartet, Hunter’s Run (w/ Gardner Dozois and George R. R. Martin), the short story collection Leviathan Wept and Other Stories, the Wild Cards: The Hard Call comic book miniseries, and The Black Sun’s Daughter urban fantasy series written as MLN Hanover. Upcoming releases include Leviathan Wakes (w/Ty Frank) under the pen name James S. A. Corey, and the comic book adaptation of GRRM’s A Song of Ice & Fire.

PLOT SUMMARY: Summer is the season of war in the Free Cities.

Captain Marcus Wester wants to get out before the fighting starts. His hero days are behind him and simple caravan duty is better than getting pressed into service by the local gentry. Even a small war can get you killed. But a captain needs men to lead—and his have been summarily arrested and recruited for their swords.

Cithrin Bel Sarcour has a job to do—move the wealth of a nation across a war zone. An orphan raised by the Medean Bank, she is their last hope of keeping the bank’s wealth out of the hands of the invaders. But she’s just a girl and knows little of caravans, war, and danger. She knows money and she knows secrets, but will that be enough to save her in the coming months?

Geder Palliako, the heir of the Viscount of Rivenhalm, is more interested in philosophy than swordplay. He is a poor excuse for a soldier and little more than a pawn in the games of war and politics. But not even he knows what he will become after the fires of battle. Hero or villain? Small men have achieved greater things and Geder is no small man.

Falling pebbles can start a landslide. What should have been a small summer spat between gentlemen is spiraling out of control. Dark forces are at work, fanning the flames that will sweep the entire region onto The Dragon’s Path—the path of war...

CLASSIFICATION: Influenced by the likes of Alexandre Dumas, George R. R. Martin, Joss Whedon, J.R.R. Tolkien, and J. Michael Straczynski among others, The Dagger and the Coin is Daniel Abraham’s take on traditional epic fantasy. Regarding The Dragon’s Path specifically, the novel brought to mind elements of GRRM’s A Song of Ice & Fire, Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Shadows of the Apt, and Abraham’s very own Long Price Quartet, minus the melodrama and Oriental-flavored setting.

FORMAT/INFO: The Dragon’s Path is 592 pages long divided over a Prologue, an Entr'acte, and forty-five chapters with each chapter designated by the name of a main character. Also includes a Map, an Interview with Daniel Abraham, and an excerpt from The King’s Blood, the second volume in The Dagger and the Coin. Narration is in the third person via Captain Marcus Wester; Geder Palliako; Cithrin Bel Sarcour; Dawson Kalliam, the Baron of Osterling Fells; Dawson’s wife, Clara Annalie Kalliam; and the Apostate. The Dragon’s Path is the first volume in The Dagger and the Coin—a projected five-volume series. April 7, 2011/April 21, 2011 marks the North American/UK Trade Paperback publication of The Dragon’s Path via Orbit Books.

ROBERT'S ANALYSIS: There are many reasons why I’m such a huge fan of Daniel Abraham’s writing, but the quality I most admire about the author is his versatility. Fantasy, science fiction, superheroes, urban fantasy, multi-volume series, standalone novels, short fiction, collaborations with other authors, shared worlds, mosaic novels, comic books . . . Daniel Abraham has taken on all of these different formats and subgenres and done so successfully. Daniel Abraham can now add traditional epic fantasy to his resume with The Dagger and the Coin, a promising new series kicked off by The Dragon’s Path...

In The Dragon’s Path, Daniel Abraham introduces readers to a secondary world once ruled by dragons, but is now populated by thirteen different races of humanity: Firstblood, Cinnae, Tralgu, Southling, Timzinae, Yemmu, Haunadam, Dartinae, Kurtadam, Jasuru, Raushadam, Haaverkin and the Drowned. Unfortunately, world-building was never one of Daniel Abraham’s strong suits, and it continues to be a weakness in The Dragon’s Path, especially regarding the thirteen races of humanity. At first, I was intrigued by the different races and hoped they would bring something new to the table the way Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Insect-Kinden does in the Shadows of the Apt. However, so little information is provided about the races over the course of the novel that I never even got a sense of how these races differed from one another apart from superficial traits—the Cinnae are “reed-thin” and “snow-pale”; the Tralgu have “hound-like ears”; Kurtadam possess “oily, bead-adorned fur”; Jasuru are “bronze-scaled” with pointed teeth; Timzinae are “chitinous”; the Yemmu have jaw tusks; Dartinae are “glow-eyed” and “hairless”; etc.—let alone finding anything that actually added value or uniqueness to the book. Thankfully, Daniel Abraham has posted a taxonomy on the different races HERE which is much more informational, although it would have been better if the information had been included in the novel itself.

Compounding the world-building problem is the novel’s lack of history, religion, mythology, etc. You would think with thirteen races to choose from, The Dragon’s Path would be rich with diverse cultures, religious beliefs and myths, but that’s not the case. Not only does the author focus primarily on Firstbloods—the clay “from which all humanity arose”—but the kingdom of Antea with its nobles and court politics is disappointingly familiar, while religion, history and mythology hardly factor in the novel at all. There’s also very little magic in the book, which I’m okay with except what magic can be found in The Dragon’s Path is unimaginative and a little boring—being able to determine truth from lies and bending a person’s will in a manner akin to the Force.

World-building issues aside, there’s a lot to like about The Dragon’s Path starting with the characters. At first glance, Captain Marcus Wester, Geder Palliako, Cithrin Bel Sarcour and Dawson Kalliam seem like conventional fantasy stereotypes—there’s the veteran soldier haunted by his past, the pudgy noble ridiculed for his incompetence and the “roundness of his belly”, the young orphan who is coming of age, and the loyal noble who believes in traditionalism—but there’s much more to these characters than initial appearances. Especially Geder and Cithrin, the two most fascinating individuals in the novel. The former because of his unpredictability and the dangerous tightrope he walks between good and evil. The latter because of her unique skills as a banker and the trials endured on her journey to adulthood. And both of them because of their remarkable transformations from the characters introduced at the beginning of the book to the very different individuals found at the end of the novel.

Clara Annalie Kalliam, Dawson Kalliam’s wife, is another fascinating character even though she only has two chapters in the book, but hopefully she will receive more face time in the sequel. On the opposite side of the coin, Marcus Wester and Dawson Kalliam are the novel’s weakest characters, offering the least amount of growth and development, but even they have their redeeming qualities. Marcus for example, has a very complicated, but intriguing relationship with Cithrin, while Dawson is portrayed as a good guy even though his traditional beliefs seem outdated and misguided. Then there’s the Apostate who is largely a mystery, but factors heavily in the book as a supporting character. The rest of the supporting cast is shallow and one-dimensional, but my biggest complaint is how all of the main characters are Firstbloods apart from the half-Cinnae Cithrin. As a whole though, characterization is definitely an area of strength in The Dragon’s Path, much the way it was in Daniel Abraham’s The Long Price Quartet.

Story-wise, The Dragon’s Path is full of recognizable fantasy tropes like a caravan, bandits, an acting troupe, a girl disguised as a boy, king’s hunts, duels, a seer, prophecy, coups, etc., while the politics and intrigue of Antea’s court reminded me of GRRM’s A Song of Ice & Fire. Yet for all of its familiarity, the story is still a compelling one, highlighted by unpredictable twists and interesting subplots like the one involving Cithrin, the Medean Bank and economics. At the same time, the story is stamped with Daniel Abraham’s own unique personality—methodical pacing, the swift passage of time, drama emphasized over action, self-contained subplots—all elements that can be found in the author’s Long Price Quartet. The bigger picture meanwhile remains a mystery after The Dragon’s Path is over, but no doubt it will involve the spider goddess, the Apostate and the Medean Bank. Hopefully it will also involve more of the thirteen races of humanity, and perhaps even the dragons—or at least their legacy—will have a larger role to play in future volumes.

As far as the writing, Daniel Abraham’s prose is more straightforward and less elegant than it was in The Long Price Quartet, but the author’s performance overall remains skilled and polished, led of course by Abraham’s characterization and clever plotting.

In the end, The Dragon’s Path may suffer from shallow world-building and concepts that are underutilized like the thirteen different races of humanity, but because of main characters who are interesting and well-developed and a story that consistently surprises despite its familiarity, The Dragon’s Path is a very solid start to Daniel Abraham’s new fantasy series, The Dagger and the Coin. A series that I believe possesses the potential to appeal to a wide range of readers, including fans of traditional epic fantasy, fantasy that challenges the genre's conventions, and Daniel Abraham’s own particular brand of fantasy. From a personal standpoint, I did not find The Dragon’s Path as engrossing as A Shadow In Summer, the opening volume in Daniel Abraham’s The Long Price Quartet. However, considering how much The Long Price Quartet improved as the series progressed, I’m confident that The Dagger and the Coin will follow a similar trajectory, and excitedly look forward to experiencing the rest of Daniel Abraham’s ambitious new saga as it unfolds...

While previously I have enjoyed some of Daniel Abraham's short fiction, I am not a fan of The Long Price Quartet, so I had a mixed feeling about The Dragon’s Path when it was announced - an extremely tempting premise, but what if the author's style just does not match my taste at novel length?

Happily, I really loved The Dragon’s Path and the book quickly vaulted to my ongoing Top 25 2011 novels list and so far it is the only new fantasy series to do so.

The Dragon’s Path
is traditional fantasy as best as it gets for me : nothing that we have not seen before as content goes, but pitch perfect execution, vivid characters that we get to know and love during the course of the book and ones we are eager to spend more time with, beautiful writing, action, intrigue and well thought world building with great expansion potential.

The book is also tightly written so despite its almost 600 pages, it does not feel long and I strongly regretted when I turned the last page - the review copy I got has the traditional Orbit "goodies" from the finished product including an interview with the author and an extract from the next book and I just lapped that up and was really sad that I won't get to read the next installment for a while.

The structure of the novel is discussed above with four main threads following
Cithrin, Marcus Wester, Geder Palliako and Dawson Kalliam, while several other characters play important roles too, most notably Dawson' wife Clara, the master showman Kit who leads a performing troupe that will have its destiny intertwined with our heroes and Marcus' sidekick, his Tralgu faithful companion Yardem Hane, but the cast of the novel is large and varied as befits an epic.

The younger heroes, Geder and Cithrin who are set to be the main drivers of the action - however unwittingly - combine both expected traits: destined, try and achieve hard things despite the odds against them, with some unusual ones:

Geder is not in that great physical shape to start with, he is both the "nerd" and the lowest ranking noble of his small circle and the butt of the jokes for both reasons, not to speak of his secret interest in "speculative fiction" that sparks derision from his peers and superiors, but which of course will prove important as the story progresses.

Growing up as the ward of an important banker, Cithrin is manipulative and in love with numbers and with finance, so she is determined to have her own trading house which again is not quite what usual fantasy heroines who tend to be princesses or magicians desire...

Of the older heroes, Marcus is probably the most stock - the silent strong type with a tragic past, a cynical but generally accurate view of life and who finds himself doing the "right thing" despite all. While in
The Dragon’s Path, Marcus is outshined by Cithrin and Geder, I expect him to play an increasingly important role as the series goes on.

Dawson on the other hand is an unapologetic ultra-conservative noble with clear ideas about his well deserved importance in life, ready to commit what is essentially treason to further his class' interests against the upstart "new men" who compete for the king's influence by among other things daring to promote the interests of the common people... And the author' skill is such that what in other books would be the quintessential villain who opposes progress, turns out here to be an interesting character who also fights the "good fight" in his own way, however ideologically wrong it reads for us modern readers from a democratic age.

The Dragon’s Path world building discussed above by Robert at greater length is actually very good in my opinion - sure it is not yet spelled out in full detail, but there is enough to give a clear impression of what's what and to achieve a sense of the big picture, while of course leaving a lot of scope for expansion in latter installments. To me this is ideal since one of the things I dislike about fantasy series is predictability and conversely one of the things I appreciate the most is finding out new unsuspected things about the universe in cause and here we just scratch its surface, so this is another reason the next book is such a huge asap.

The Dragon’s Path (A++) is a first superb installment in a series that has established itself already in my top level of current ongoing fantasy series and moreover one I easily see becoming one of my top-top if the promise implied here continues to be fulfilled.
Thursday, March 24, 2011

Interview with Rachel Aaron (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Rachel Aaron Website
Read FBC’s Review of "The Spirit Thief"
Read FBC’s Review of "The Spirit Rebellion"
(Photo Credit: Marshal Zeringue)

Last year was a good year for me in terms of discovering new authors. Among those authors I had the pleasure to chance upon was Rachel Aaron. Rachel Aaron’s Spirit series was acquired by Orbit in 2008 and published in quick succession in the last quarter of 2010. In this interview, Rachel touches upon various topics such as her hobbies, the evolution of her ideas, and what the future holds for the remainder of the series. Please note, there are a couple of very mild spoilers in the interview, but these should not detract anything from the reading experience. Lastly, on behalf of Fantasy Book Critic, I would like to thank Rachel very much for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions. Now on to the interview!

Q: Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic. To start with, could you tell us what inspired you to be a writer in the first place, what experience you went through in finding a publisher, how you ended up with Orbit, and anything else you’d like to share about yourself?

Rachel: Well, I've yet to meet an author who didn't always want to be one, and I'm no different.This was all I wanted to do. I even chose English as my major thinking it would help me become a writer. Turns out English majors spend most of their time picking apart other people's books rather than writing their own, but it was still a good choice. After I graduated from college I got a job with low expectations and lots of downtime and started writing in earnest. Four years and two books later, I got “The Call” from my now agent offering representation. This was the happiest day of my life, beating out the day I was married and the birth of my son (sorry, family!). We sold The Spirit Thief and two sequels to Devi Pillai at Orbit a few months later.

I'd like to take a moment to say that I've been amazingly lucky in my publisher. As a new author I've only worked with one, but if you hang out around author blogs you hear some publishing horror stories. Orbit, however, has been nothing short of 110% amazing for me and my series. I really could not fantasize a better publisher. Even if they hadn't bought my series, I'd be a total Orbit fangirl. Their covers are beautiful, their books are amazing, and their people are incredible.

Q: It has been mentioned that you are a Manga/anime fan. Which books and characters are your favorites, and do you have any manga recommendations for us?!

Rachel: Oh wow, you've done it now. Let's see, where to start? First off, I like fighting shows for pure cheesy fun. These tend toward the adolescent and ridiculous, but they can also achieve dramatic heights that simply can not be reached without a hundred episodes of back story. Of these, my personal favorites have been Hajime no Ippo (which is about boxing, and amazing), Bleach, and the ever astounding One Piece. I've been watching One Piece for eight years now and I still haven't caught up to the current episodes. The show can be really silly at times, but if you can get past the absurdity it's got some of the most emotional, uplifting, and kick ass stories in anime.

Outside of fighting stories, the shows I would recommend without reservation are Death Note, which is the smartest, twistiest thing I've ever watched, Serei no Moribito (incredibly beautiful and moving), Mushi-shi (quiet and ethereally beautiful), and my all time favorite ever, Legend of the Twelve Kingdoms (Juuni no Kokki). Twelve Kingdoms has everything: an amazing and interesting world, an incredibly strong female lead, high drama, dynamic characters who not only change, but change multiple times through each season. I first watched it when I was in high school and I still watch the series through once every two years.

Q: Your five-book series seems tailor-made to be converted into films and if this were to happen (say on an unlimited budget) who would you cast as Eli, Nico, Josef and Miranda?

Rachel: I would be lying if I said I hadn't thought about this, but unfortunately some of my people aren't actually actors. Still, since this is a fantasy scenario, Eli would be David Tennant, Josef would be David Beckham (I know, I know, but have you seen that man sneer? Perfect Josef. Also, his body is the perfect kind of musculature for a swordsman.) Nico would be a scared Zooey Deschanel, and Miranda would be a very determined Felicia Day.

These are, of course, only my first choices. I'm sure I could come around to any well cast choices a production company could find for an Eli movie or mini-series (Syfy, Disney, HBO, CALL ME!)

Q: Your blog has a rather funny title. Is there any particular reason for choosing it?

Rachel: That's actually a very old joke. Back when I first decided I wanted a writing blog, I spent days trying to think of a clever, funny, erudite name. After almost a week with no strokes of brilliance, I gave up and called it “Pretentious Title Goes Here.” This eventually got shortened to blog's current name, Pretentious Title. I like it; I think it conveys a certain understanding of the nature of blog titles. Also, I still haven't come up with that clever name.

Q: You have created quite a delightful world in your books. The quirkiness in it is very reminiscent of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. What was your inspiration for its creation?

Rachel: I want to say it was something deep and meaningful, but really it was as simple as “OMG what if everything could talk?” And then I started working out how that would work, how these objects would interact, what would the hierarchy be, who would keep order, why did they talk, what did they talk/care about, and so on and so forth. By the time I was done poking at all the angles, I had a complete magical system. Unfortunately, I didn't have a story for it at the time, so I shelved it for years until I got the idea for Eli. The two went together like it was meant to be, and after that the story flowed on its own.

Q: Whilst reading your books, even though they are fantasy, one also gets quite an SF-al feel from them. This is especially felt in the third book (for eg. the scene with the Shepherdess and the claws). Will you be exploring more about this in the remaining books?

Rachel: Yes. I don't think I'm spoiling anything here by saying that The Shepherdess and the “what is going on with this world” questions are the big plot of the series, and the closer we get to the end, the bigger these problems get. They play a big roll in book 4 and book 5 pretty much is nothing but dealing with these problems because things are really going to hell. That said, I'd like to mention that the title of Book 5, which is now "Spirit's End", was originally The Other Side of the Sky. Anyone who's read book 3 will know what that's referring to :D

The best part of writing fantasy is that you're free from any of the rules of the real world that don't fit your story. Want to throw physics out the window? Go for it, but be prepared to deal with the consequences. Setting your own rules means playing by them, and when you build a world from scratch, you've got to think all the way to the edges or the world is going to ring false. For example, the Eli world, while it has a sun and moon, does not actually orbit a star. This means it has no seasons. I knew this from the very beginning, but it was only when I started planning book 2 that I knew what I was going to do with that. But whatever I was going to do with it later, the no seasons thing was always a fact, and it was reflected in the story from the very beginning. This way, when it did become important, everything is consistent. Good planning is the foundation of fictional godhood!

Q: The first three books were released in such quick linear fashion. I, of course, thoroughly enjoyed reading them back-to-back. What was the thought process behind this? How much time did you take/get to write the first three?

Rachel: I can claim no merit, it was Orbit's decision to release all the books back to back. From a book seller's perspective, it makes sense. After all, if you've got a book that encourages people to run out and buy the sequel, but the sequel isn't out for a year, the number of people who are going to still remember they wanted that book a year later is much smaller. It's in everyone's interest to release a series quickly: readers get books faster and publishers get higher sales. Also, it lets the publisher spend their ad budget for a series all at once rather than break it up for each book as it releases. This means instead of three small campaigns you get one large one, which is a lot more bang for your buck when it comes to reaching people. It's just a great system all around, I actually don't understand why more publishers don't go this route.

Of course, this also meant there was a 2 year gap from the sale of The Spirit Thief to actually seeing it on shelves, but it was totally worth it. I got to work on three books with the luxury of being able to go back and change things it I needed to, which you don't get when the books are already out. It was a great safety net for writing my first series and totally worth the wait.

Q: I loved the idea of a thief who wanted to have a huge bounty on his head. What do you think is the reason for Eli’s fascination with the number one million and will he get there?

Rachel: Eli chose the one million mark when he was pretty young. It's one of those nice, round, highest-number-you-can-think-ofs that kids like so much. Because of circumstances that I get into in book 5 he's stuck with it more fervently than he might have otherwise, but since Eli equates bounty with self worth, he'd always be shooting high. As for my thoughts on whether or not he'll get there, I can only answer this: Eli will get to a one million gold bounty or die trying. The real question is whether he'll get there before the series end, and on that point I'm keeping my mouth shut :).

Q: Even though your series embraces a number of fantasy tropes, you also have made a rather strong effort to twist reader expectations and keep them entertained. What are your thoughts on fantasy tropes in general and how did you decide what tropes you wanted to utilize, to entice the reader?

Rachel: I love fantasy. LOVE IT! I've read fantasy since I started reading, I play RPGS, both console and dice varieties, I just can't get enough of it. I also love the tropes of fantasy – the hero, the quest, the vague medieval setting. They're part of what gives fantasy its flavor. But even delicious foods get boring if you eat them all the time, so I try to mix things up. Fortunately, the ubiquitous nature of fantasy tropes makes this easy. I can count on my audience to have certain expectations, which means I can pull off jokes and arrange surprises just by twisting things around and we can all be in on the joke.

But even though I do poke a lot of fun at fantasy, the Eli books are true to their adventure fantasy roots. My goal was to create a world that felt extremely comfortable and familiar, but was new and exciting at the same time. I wanted people to laugh along with me, to have as much fun as I was having and to remember why we love fantasy.

That said, I still haven't figured out a way to get dragons in. Epic fantasy fail!

Q: Recently I have heard that books four and five in the series have been pushed back to 2012, any particular reason this happening?

Rachel: A couple reasons, most of them boring. The long and short of it is that the series has changed. If you've read the first three books, you've noticed they get darker, longer, and much more serious as they go. This was because I set myself up with some very powerful main characters right from the get go. As any GM knows, if you're going to challenge powerful characters, the stakes have to get higher and the situations have to get more desperate or your characters are just going to bash their way through any problems without being forced to really fight, which is no fun for anyone. Also, all of the characters in the Eli books have fairly dark pasts. If they were going to grow, they were going to have to deal with their demons, Nico literally! Also, the cast grew, so the complications got more complicated because there were more people involved. All of these things added up to bigger, darker books, and the light humor covers and marketing Orbit had set up wasn't really right for the series any more. So Orbit, being awesome, decided to rebrand my books to be truer to what was actually inside. But rebranding takes time, so the books had to be pushed back. The first three will be re-released in omnibus format with a new cover that has a more serious tilt to it in Spring 2012. Books 4 and 5 will follow quickly after that, and readers can expect the whole series to be out by the end of 2012.

I'm sad that people have to wait so long, especially since I think book 4 is one of the best things I've ever written and I want people to read it RIGHT NOW, but I think this method will be good for the series in the end. You'll be able to buy the whole thing in three books rather than five, and hopefully changing the photo covers to illustrated ones will help people stop thinking the books are urban fantasy, which was another problem.

Book selling is hardly an exact science. Sometimes you've just got to tinker with things. Fortunately for me, Orbit is 100% behind the series. Have I mentioned how amazing they are?

Q: You once posted about a writing quote by Hemingway. Why do you think it is so sacrosanct to this field?

Rachel: Because it's so freaking true. As I said earlier, I've always wanted to be a writer, but, like most people who want to be writers, I didn't actually write much. It wasn't that I didn't want to, but I was busy. I had school, I had work, etc. Then, one day, almost by accident, I saw the quote in question. “Those who say they want to be writers, and aren't writing, don't.”

I don't like Hemingway much, but those words hit me right in the gut. Here I was saying I wanted to be a writer, but I wasn't making any time in my life to actually write. I was failing at the verb from which the noun I wanted to become was derived. So, I changed. I started trying to write every day. I didn't always make it, but I tried, and the more I tried, the more I became a writer.

All writers write in their own way. I can't teach someone else how to tell their stories more than anyone could have taught me how to tell mine. But there is one thing all writers do; they write. Writing is what makes a writer a writer, and if you're not doing it, then no matter what you call yourself, you're not a writer. So whenever people email me saying they want to be writers, that's the quote I send them. Want to be a writer? Write. Everything else comes later.

Q: Could you explain how the genesis of the Spirit series occurred? How long have you been working on it and how much has it evolved from its original idea (if any)?

Rachel: As I said earlier, I came up with the magical system for Eli long long before Eli himself entered the picture. The idea has matured greatly from “what would a world where everything could talk be like?” but the two things that really took the magical system from a fun thought experiment to the world setting for a five book series were the idea of demons and the Shepherdess, Benehime. Once these two elements, a predator and a controller, entered the picture, the world's power structure and all the problems that go with that sprang into being.

Slightly off topic, I'd like to confess that I often feel guilty about the Shepherdess. I'm a feminist and as such I try not to play to female stereotypes, one because they're boring, and two because I don't want to give them any more power through repetition. That said, Benehime is manipulative, emotionally abusive, and obsessed with a boy. Siiiigh! Don't worry though, as with everyone else in this series, she's not that simple. Book five is as much Benehime's book as it is Eli's, and I'm REALLY looking forward to letting all the big secrets out.

Q: You have listed Sarah Monette as your favorite writer. What is it about her books that you find so appealing and read-worthy?

Rachel: I love Sarah Monette because everything that comes out of that woman's mouth is genius. I read her blog, and even her posts about taking her cats to the vet has some observation or turn of phrase that just makes me want to give up and never write again because I can never be that clever. Her books are so visceral, so physical, you can smell them and taste them and feel them. I can't even call it reading, her books are an immersive experience. Whenever I want to be transported to another world, I read Melusine.

I think I enjoy her work so much because it's nothing like mine. Lots of times I'll read books and think of what I would change or I'll pick apart the story, but with Sarah Monette I just experience and enjoy. She's a very personal favorite, and I'm not holding Melusine up as the best book ever written from a craft standpoint (that honor is shared by The Last Unicorn and Ender's Game so far as I'm concerned), but she is the author I enjoy more than any other when it comes to reading for fun.

Q: You have this wonderful Three hooks test. Can you summarize what this is for our readers and also give an example of how you utilized it in your books?

Rachel: The three hooks are three standards I apply to my scenes. See, I tend to fall in love with my own writing. This is dangerous as an author because you start including scenes just because you like them, not because they're good for the book. To prevent this, I created the three hooks as a sort of mental checklist to make sure I didn't have my head up my ass. For any scene to be included in a book I write, it must:

1) advance the story
2) reveal new information
3) pull the reader forward.

For example, there's a scene in The Spirit Thief where Miranda (the cop to Eli's robber) is explaining how magic works to Marion, a young woman from a country where wizards have been banished and magic isn't allowed. Now, this could be the baldest sort of info dumping, (Why hello ignorant person! You don't understand how magic works, you say? Let me explain!) but with the three hooks, I was able to save it.

First, I put Miranda in a tight spot – she's a wizard in a country that is not only ignorant of what she does, but extremely prejudiced against any sort of magic. Miranda's attempts to find Eli on her own have been fruitless. To keep going, she's going to need help. Unfortunately, Marion, the one person in the kingdom who's actually interested in magic and willing to listen to Miranda, has some rather wrong ideas about how wizards work. So Miranda has to set her straight all while keeping her own prejudices against magic ignorant people under control. This tension keeps the scene rolling and turns an info dump into a sort of social combat between Miranda and Marion, one that eventually wins Miranda an important ally.

So, we've advanced the story by winning Miranda an ally and moving her Eli investigations forward, we've revealed new information through the talk about how magic actually works, and we've pulled the reader forward through the tension created when two people have to examine conflicting long held beliefs. Bam bam bam, three hooks, scene stays in. Most scenes hit the three hooks without trying, but when a scene has problems, the hooks are the first thing I check. Sometimes just thinking about the base roll a scene has to play in a story can be enough to unstick things and move your novel forward. The three hooks are less a rule and more a tool, a way of breaking down story to see the flaws so I don't have to constantly rely on my gut to tell me if something works.

Q: Besides Sarah Monette, who are some of your other favorites? Also, what types of books do you like to read, and lastly, who do you feel is an underrated writer that deserves more attention and why?

Rachel: I love imaginative worlds beautifully described. This means I read a lot of China Mieville (the grand master of this sort of thing), Sarah Monette, and Jeff VanderMeer. I also love books that fundamentally change the way I look at fiction and the world, so I love Ender's Game (God that book is so good) and anything N.K. Jemisin touches. Seriously, “The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms” and “The Broken Kingdoms” have changed the way I think about divinity, gender, and love. Full disclosure, Nora and I blogged together at The Magic District and are both Orbit authors, but none of that matters a jot when it comes to her books. If you haven't read 100k Kingdoms, go read it. You owe it to yourself.

Of course, I also love classic epic fantasy/scifi – Robert Jordan, Ann McCaffrey, Frank Herbert, Elizabeth Moon, the YA giants – JK Rowling and Diane Wynne Jones, and the genre bending masters Ursula Le Guin and (very different but still mind blowing) Tanith Lee. But these people don't need me to sing their praises. (If you haven't heard of them, I'm very interested in the protective qualities of your rock.) As for the author/books I feel aren't getting the attention they deserve, I'd have to say T.A. Pratt's Marla Mason books. I can not understand why these books are not best sellers. They have everything – dark magic, an amazing world, terrifying evils, and a leading lady who is one of the most innovative and fun to watch asskickers in urban fantasy. Just goes to show that great books don't always get the sales they deserve.

Q: In closing, what are you working on now and do you have any parting words for your fans?

Rachel: I'm writing the final Eli book right now, and while I'm sad it's ending, I'm very excited to go on to a new project. I'm playing with a couple of ideas, including a SciFi/YA romance with battle armor, a story about girl raised by unicorns, and an urban fantasy/horror about a changeling. What I eventually end up writing will depend on which of these ideas are ultimately strong enough to hold up a whole novel, but I'm having a great time figuring that out.

When I first got my book contract and started talking to other authors, everyone told me that the best part of this business was the fans. They were totally right. There has been such an out pouring of love and support for Eli and his little team, I can't even think about it without grinning. To everyone who reads my books, especially those of you who have written comments and reviews, all I can say is THANK YOU! You are the reason I keep writing. It's so easy when you're writing to get lost in the daily grind of word counts and seemingly unsolvable problems and forget why you're doing this, but then I go to GoodReads or Amazon (or Fantasy Book Critic!) and it all comes back into focus. My goal is always to create the most entertaining experience for you, and my greatest hope is that you enjoy it. It's a rare and beautiful thing to find your purpose in life. Thanks to my readers, I've found mine, and I will always, always be grateful for that.

Thank you to everyone for sticking it out through my giant walls of text, and thank you especially to Mihir and Fantasy Book Critic for hosting this interview and asking such lovely, thought provoking questions. I had a great time! If anyone has any other questions for me, please feel free to ask and I'll do my best to answer. As always, thanks for reading!

-Rachel Aaron


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Click Here To Order “The Starless Crown” by James Rollins!!!
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