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Sunday, July 31, 2011

"Anticopernicus" by Adam Roberts (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Adam Roberts Website
Read FBC Review of Yellow Blue Tibia
Read FBC Review of New Model Army
Order "Anticopernicus" HERE

INTRODUCTION: I never made a secret of my admiration for Adam Roberts the science fiction writer, whatever disagreements I have with his opinions as a reviewer. Mr. Roberts will soon have out By Light Alone which is a big expectation novel of mine to be bought and read on publication and on a recent visit to his website to see if an excerpt of that one is available, I stumbled across the announcement for his first experiment in independent e-publishing, the "dwarf" novel Anticopernicus. Of course that was an immediate buy. Anticopernicus is available on Amazon or for a very modest price and it is also available on Wizard's Tower if you want an epub.

"A brief novel by the author of "Yellow Blue Tibia" and "New Model Army". 4-chapters in total; only available for e-purchase. First contact: despite our cosmic littleness, the aliens have come to visit. But they have parked their interstellar craft on the outskirts of the solar system, and despite friendly interaction (their English if fluent and idiomatic) they will come no closer. So an Earth ship, the "Leibniz", crewed by the best and the brightest, begins the slow haul towards the Oort cloud, in the hopes that meeting these alien creatures will answer the most profound questions humanity can ask. “Anticopernicus” is not their story, though. It is the story of Ange Mlinko, an ordinary individual working the Earth-Mars trade routes, largely uninterested in the arrival of alien intelligences. And because the focus is on her, it remains to be seen whether this short novel can answer the following questions: why have the aliens come? Why won't they come any closer than the furthest edges of the solar system? What does this have to do with the nature of the mysterious ‘dark energy’ pervading the cosmos? What about the celebrated Fermi Paradox? And most pressingly: could Copernicus have been wrong all along?"

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: At ~15k words I would estimate Anticopernicus is the equivalent of about 40 print pages, but it reads like a true novel and it has enough stuff to satisfy. The novel is a story of first contact including a clever "explanation" of the Fermi paradox and dark energy with the title hinting at what those are, but being an Adam Roberts book, the strength are style, characters and his musings through the eyes on the main character, a solitary divorced pilot Ange Mlinko who was on the long list for the crew of Leibniz, the ship sent by Earth to the Oort Cloud where the aliens, named Cygnics parked their suddenly appearing vessel and sent a message to Earth to come to them.

While ultimately she is not chosen and in consequence she stops having much interest in the mission which is the talk of almost everyone on Earth, as potentially changing life and all as we know them, Ange's pov seems to diverge from the continuing alien saga- it takes a long time for the Earth ship to get to the Oort, so lots of time for the story. But there are bills to be paid, a house to be maintained, so she takes a routine cargo job to Mars with two quite different crew-mates, Ostriker of the loud voice and strong opinions and the elderly, quieter Maurice, and well things happen...

This part is the core of the novel and it combines action with musings about humanity's place in the universe. While the story keeps the characters at arm length emotionally, I really liked Ange and her seeming detachment and solitude, though as the story progresses we come to see her as really interesting and enjoying her life. Ostriker is clearly a foil for both Ange and the author's opinions, so we are inexorably drawn to dislike her, but ultimately she is still a crewmate of Ange and the heroine has to make peace with that.

Anticopernicus (A+) is very good stuff and worth all the money and more, since it offers in those 40 pages what others offer in 300, while it has a great resolution in true sfnal spirit. Despite being self published, the editing was top notch too, with only one typo that jumped at me. Highly recommended as a blend of literary fiction, space sf and musings on humanity and our place in the Universe. Since the style is so Adam Roberts, I think Anticopernicus serves as a very good introduction to the work of the author, so I also suggest to give it a try if you want to see why I rate Adam Roberts in my top 10 list of contemporary sf writers.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Spotlight on August Books

This month we are featuring 36 books. There are probably twice as many new sff and related releases this month in traditional publishing not to speak of the countless indies from Amazon and Smashwords but we are limiting ourselves to books that will be reviewed here or are similar with such. For the full schedule of August 2011 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 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.


“Steelhands” by Jaida Jones & Danielle Bennett. Release Date: August 2, 2011. Published by Bantam Spectra. (FAN).
Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence. Release Date: August 2, 2011. Published by Ace. (FAN).
The Whitefire Crossingby Courtney Schafer. Release Date: August 2, 2011. Published by Night Shade Books. (FAN).
Cold Vengeance by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child. Release Date: August 2, 2011. Published by Grand Central. (MISC).
Circle of Fireby Michelle Zink. Release Date: August 3, 2011. Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. (YA).
A Blight of Mages by Karen Miller. Release Date: August 4, 2011. Published by Orbit. (FAN).


The Last Four Things by Paul Hoffman. Release Date: August 4, 2011. Published by Dutton. (MISC / US Debut).
The Crown of the Conqueror by Gav Thorpe. UK Release Date: August 4, 2011. Published by Angry Robot. (FAN).
Reality 36 by Guy Haley. UK Release Date: August 4, 2011. Published by Angry Robot. (SF).
Awakening by William Horwood. UK Release Date: August 5, 2011. Published by Tor UK. (FAN).
Final Days by Gary Gibson. UK Release Date: August 5, 2011. Published by Tor UK. (SF).
The Magician King by Lev Grossman. Release Date: August 9, 2011. Published by Viking. (FAN).


Isles of the Forsaken by Carolyn Ives Gilman. Release Date: August 15, 2011. Published by ChiZine Publications. (FAN).
The Omen Machine by Terry Goodkind. Release Date: August 16, 2011. Published by Tor. (FAN).
The Moon Maze Game by Larry Niven & Steven Barnes. Release Date: August 16, 2011. Published by Tor. (SF).
The Tempering of Men by Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette. Release Date: August 16, 2011. Published by Tor. (FAN).
The Unincorporated Woman by Dani Kollin & Eytan Kollin. Release Date: August 16, 2011. Published by Tor. (SF).
Low Town by Daniel Polansky. Release Date: August 16, 2011. Published by Doubleday. (FAN).


Ready One Player by Ernest Cline. Release Date: August 16, 2011. Published by Crown. (SF).
Autumn: Purification by David Moody. Release Date: August 16, 2011. Published by St. Martin’s Griffin. (HF).
Legacy by David L. Golemon. Release Date: August 16, 2011. Published by Thomas Dunne. (MISC).
The Edinburgh Dead by Brian Ruckley. Release Date: August 17, 2011. Published by Orbit. (MISC).
By Light Alone by Adam Roberts. UK Release Date: August 18, 2011. Published by Gollancz. (SF).
The Third Section by Jasper Kent. UK Release Date: August 18, 2011. Published by Bantam UK. (MISC).


Bringer of Light by Jaine Fenn. UK Release Date: August 18, 2011. Published by Gollancz. (SF).
A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan. UK Release Date: August 18, 2011. Published by Gollancz. (YA).
Ravensoul by James Barclay. Release Date: August 23, 2011. Published by Pyr. (FAN / US Debut).
Mayan December by Brenda Cooper. Release Date: August 23, 2011. Published by Prime Books. (FAN).
The Measure of the Magic: Legends of Shannara by Terry Brooks. Release Date: August 30, 2011. Published by Del Rey. (FAN).
With Fate Conspire by Marie Brennan. Release Date: August 30, 2011. Published by Tor. (FAN).


The Recollection by Gareth L. Powell. Release Date: August 30, 2011. Published by Solaris. (SF).
Countdown: M Day” by Tom Kratman. Release Date: August 30, 2011. Published by Baen. (SF).
Roil by Trent Jamieson. Release Date: August 30, 2011. Published by Angry Robot. (Steampunk).
Regicideby Nicholas Royle. Release Date: August 30, 2011. Published by Solaris. (HF).
Awakenings by Edward Lazellari. Release Date: August 30, 2011. Published by Tor. (FAN).
The Postmortal by Drew Magary. Release Date: August 30, 2011. Published by Penguin. (MISC).

Friday, July 29, 2011

Interview with Karen Azinger (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order “The Steel Queen” HERE
Read An Extract HERE
Read FBC’s Review of “The Steel Queen
Watch a Video Discussion with the Author HERE

Q: Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic. For those who are unfamiliar with you, could you please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your background?

Karen: I have a degree in chemical engineering from Carnegie-Mellon University. After working for ten years as an engineer, I discovered a talent and a passion for taking the “big-picture” strategic approach to problem solving. I evolved from an engineer to an international business strategist, eventually becoming a Vice-President for one of the world’s largest natural resource companies. I’ve worked on developing Canada’s first gem quality diamond mine in the arctic, on coal seam gas power projects in Australia, and on petroleum projects around the world. So I started as an engineer, and then I became an international business strategist, and now I am an epic fantasy author and it is a dream come true!

Q: What inspired you to be a writer in the first place, how much time did it take to finish your first book, and anything else you’d like to share about your writing endeavor?

Karen: I’d just finished re-reading George R.R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords and like most readers I wanted more. My mind was swirling with thoughts of medieval fantasy. I went for a hike in the Columbia River Gorge and started wondering why more fantasy books do not have the complexity of characters and plots that I crave. So I started thinking about what I would do if I wrote an epic fantasy saga. My subconscious must have been mulling this problem for a long time because the ideas just started to flow. By the end of the hike I knew I had enough original ideas to write a saga. I started writing and never stopped. It took me nine months of solid work to write the first draft, and another nine months to burnish the words and the story to a shine. The Steel Queen is my first book, born from that hike in the Columbia River Gorge.

Q: How would you describe The Steel Queen?

Karen: The Steel Queen is a fast-paced action-packed fantasy with a stunning female lead. Kingdoms and characters come alive as they are woven together in complex plot twists with surprises that draw the reader through each chapter. You empathize with the good and pray they prevail but you truly feast on the bad who are utterly compelling.

Q: You mentioned working as an engineer, business strategist, and Vice-President of “one of the world’s largest natural resource companies.” Did you have any background experience in writing or literature before you decided to take this huge leap of writing your own story?

Karen: In my opinion, the best background a writer can have is to be a reader. In that respect, I am very well qualified! When I was in the third grade, I read Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea based on a dare. It took me more than a month, but when I finished; I was totally hooked on reading, especially science fiction, and later fantasy. I have been a voracious reader ever since, but I don’t just read books, I think about why they work, why the characters are engaging, why the plot twists are surprising, and why some endings work while others fall flat. Once I started writing, I joined Willamette Writers, the largest writing group in the NW, and I started attending conferences and focusing on the craft of writing. But the true bedrock of my writing ability is my life-long passion for reading, and my desire to give back to the fantasy genre some of the joy that reading has always given me.

Q: Originally your fantasy series was slated to be published via HarperCollins UK. but now you’ve decided to self-publish starting with The Steel Queen. Could you explain your reasons for this decision?

Karen: In February of 2009, my five book epic fantasy saga was acquired by HarperCollins Voyager in London. I was over the moon with joy. They were talking hardback books, followed by trade paperbacks, followed by audio books, published “everywhere in the English-speaking world”. It was a dream come true, but then the delays started and my e-mails and phone calls went unanswered. Two years passed and then I got a notice from that my publishers wanted to delay the first book by yet another year! As a business person, I realized the publishing industry was undergoing a massive transformation, creating exciting new options for authors. So I re-claimed the worldwide rights to my manuscripts and formed Kiralynn Epics. The Steel Queen was published in May 2011 and is getting great reviews and performing very well on Amazon. In fact, it is now on sale just about everywhere in the English-speaking world! So my writing journey took some odd twists and turns, as life often does, but the dream finally came true.

Q: You mentioned previously that your inspiration to write was born on a hike in Oregon. Could you explain in detail your eureka moment?

Karen: I’ve always had a dual nature, with art as my life-long hobby, and science/logic as my career. I’ve often wondered if I was a scientific artist or an artistic scientist. On that hike in the gorge, at that eureka moment, there was a strange melding of the business strategist and the artist. The business strategist was analyzing my favorite books, thinking about why they worked, why they were so compelling. Meanwhile the artist was daydreaming about my ultimate fantasy saga, something I’d long to read over and over again. Somewhere on that hike, the daydreaming artist and the business strategist collided, and I realized I had enough original ideas to write a book. I started writing and never stopped. My first book, The Steel Queen, was born from that hike in the gorge.

Q: In a video interview I saw online, you mentioned three authors whose books were a huge influence on you. Could you point out what was gleaned from each of these authors?

Karen: There are three authors who had a major influence on my writing. The first is George Martin, whose work inspired me to start writing. From GRRM’s ASOIAF I studied the style of writing where each chapter is told from a different POV. I love to read this style of writing and I love to write this way. This method allows me to get deep into the hearts and minds of my characters and to weave complicated plot twists that surprise the reader.

From Tolkien’s LOTR I studied the art of creating settings that glow in the mind. To me, the three most intriguing settings of The Steel Queen are the great fortress of Castlegard, the Isle of Souls, and the mystery of the monastery. Readers might think they know the land of Erdhe but there are many more settings to be discovered as the five books of the saga unfold.

And the third master work that I studied was Frank Herbert’s Dune, the way he wove the themes of religion and environmental science into this characters, his settings, and his plots. To me, theme is an author’s secret weapon. Theme elevates a good read to a great read. I wove several major themes through The Silk & Steel Saga. One theme explores the mechanisms of evil. The avatars of good must identify and then foil the mechanisms of evil if good is to have any chance to prevail.

Q: Speaking of The Silk & Steel Saga, how many volumes are projected, how far along are you in the next book, and have you envisioned how the series will end?

Karen: The Silk & Steel Saga will be a total of five books: The Steel Queen, The Flame Priest, The Poison Priestess, and The Battle Immortal. The Steel Queen was published in May 2011. The next three books are written but they still need to be edited and formatted. I’m planning to publish the first four books in six month intervals, so The Flame Priest should be published in Dec 2011. I’ve got about a third of the fifth and final book written. I basically know how it will end, but I still have to write it, and the ending has to be worthy of the saga.

Q: The Steel Queen features a large number of female characters as the main protagonists. Was this done consciously?

Karen: A medieval world is a man’s world, but what if the survival of the kingdom depended on the success or failure of a young blonde princess, a brilliantly strategic Queen, a sexy priestess, and a granny armed with knitting needles and knives? The Silk & Steel Saga is unique among epic medieval fantasies precisely because of its many strong female characters and their surprising role reversals. This saga explores how women gain, keep, and wield power in a medieval world. The women of this saga will weave themselves into your thoughts and emotions and never let you underestimate the “weaker” sex again.

Q: What do you hope the reader reaction will be to such a diverse cast of characters?

Karen: The beauty of having such a complex cast of characters is that there is someone for everyone to like. When I talk to readers about their favorite characters I get a wide diversity of answers from Liandra, Kath, and Jordan, to Steffan and the Priestess.

Q: Liandra was probably my favorite character! I noticed that she always describes herself as “we” when talking to other characters. Is there any particular reasoning behind this?

Karen: Liandra rules alone in a man’s world. Despite the fact that she is a brilliant queen, her crown is constantly at risk because of her gender. As a woman, she uses unique weapons to protect her power. One of her weapons is image. “Few understood that the time spent before the mirror was not so much about appearances as it was about image. In a world dominated by kings and knights, the queen wielded her image like a sword, gaining advantage from every nuance of beauty and power.” As part of her image, she always uses the royal “we” in her speech, constantly reminding her loyal men that she is the queen, and is set above them. As a writer, the use of the royal “we” instantly puts me in Liandra’s character, but the tricky part comes when she gets close to one of her loyal lords. Will Liandra ever trust a man enough to drop the royal “we” and lower her crown?

Q: Who are your favorite characters in the series?

Karen: I have four favorite characters that I love to write. Kath because she let’s me indulge my love of swords and my sense of adventure. Liandra because she is brilliantly strategic and because she is based on Queen Elizabeth I, one of my heroes from history. Steffan because he is so very male and such a walk on the Dark side. And the Priestess because her sexual prowess makes her wicked good fun.

Q: What do you do when you are not writing or reading books? Any other hobbies?

Karen: I love the ocean! My favorite hobbies are scuba diving, snorkeling, and underwater photography. To satisfy my artistic side, I love doing fused glass, acrylic painting, and rubberstamping. When I finished writing The Steel Queen, I wanted to find a way to express the kingdoms of Erdhe using my artwork, so I stamp a series of Art Cards of Erdhe to represent the characters and settings in my books. I had so much fun with this project that I stamped a deck of 90 cards. These cards are featured on my author website while others are posted on my Facebook page  and The Steel Queen page. These cards are a unique way for my readers to see the kingdoms of Erdhe through the author’s own artwork.

Q: Which authors would you recommend to your readers, what books have recently made an impression on you, and what titles are you looking forward to?

Karen: Lately I’ve been reading books by Elizabeth Chadwick. I love historical fiction, especially set in medieval England. Her books are very well written and very well researched. For an avid student of history like me, her books are like candy.

The most recent book that made an impression on me is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, a very fun read with smart female characters set in an intriguing post-apocalyptic world.

And I am anxiously awaiting GRRM’s A Dance With Dragons…like everyone else in the known universe!

Q: In closing, do you have any parting thoughts or comments you’d like to share?

Karen: Yes, the acronym for the saga is SASS! And I hope my readers will agree that this saga is full of women with attitude!
Thursday, July 28, 2011

Winners of Kim Harrison’s “Blood Work” Giveaway!!!

Congratulations to Kristianna Groccia (Massachusetts) and Brenda Kahn (Georgia) who were both randomly selected to win a SIGNED COPY of Kim Harrison’s graphic novel, “Blood Work”, courtesy of Del Rey!!! More information on “Blood Work”, including a Preview and Write-up from Kim Harrison, can be found HERE.

"Steelhands" by Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Jones&Bennett Website
Order Steelhands HERE
Read FBC Review of Havemercy HERE
Read FBC review of Shadow Magic HERE
Read FBC Review of Dragon Soul HERE
Read Jaida and Danielle's Post on Collaboration

INTRODUCTION: After taking a bit of a gamble in following "Havemercy" with "Shadow Magic" that kept the four narrator structure but changed all narrators, the location from Volstov to Ke Han, the theme from metal dragons and war to diplomacy and treachery and alternated the perspective of the "good guys" from the series debut with the one of their long time enemies, in the third series book Dragon Soul the authors returned to the magical dragons and the odd duo of Thom and Rook while expanding the universe to a desert scape and its people, as well as continuing to diversify the cast to include a Volkov magician and a Ke-Han treasure hunter who also were the first female narrators of the series.

Steelhands picks up where Dragon Soul ends but it returns to Volstov's capital, its main college - the Versity - and the Esar's palace while featuring all new narrators to bring the total to 14 in four books, though in this case two are old friends from earlier installments.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: After visiting the desert and finding some startling facts, Rook decided he loves the clan life there and stayed with his new chieftain friend from Dragon Soul, while Thom obediently though not particularly excitedly, followed his brother's lead. However they needed to inform someone of the unexpected and potentially very dangerous things they had discovered, so who better than their former comrades in the Dragon Corps, most notably their chief, the steady Sergeant Adamo.

So we have the natural narrator choices of Adamo, now professor of strategy at the Versity and the biggest statue in the heroic monument commissioned by the Esar to mark Volstov's triumph in the war, and Balfour who has the steelhands of the title - a fusion of magic and technology that replaced the hands he lost in the climax of the war with Ke Han in the first volume.

As main non-pov characters we also see margrave aka magician Royston and his live-in boyfriend Hal who were the other two original pov's in Havemercy in addition to Thom and Rook, with Royston bobbing in and out of the Esar's favor, though now he is "settled" and stays away from the unconventional behavior that led to his exile in that book, while Hal has been appointed assistant professor of magic at the Versity.

But there is the new too, namely the country youngsters pov's: Laure(nce), a tomboyish girl with a boy's name and her "fiance", Toverre, a girlish boy with a crush on Hal, both just arriving from the sticks on the Esar's new scholarships that have been instituted to bring "new country blood" to the capital, a sensible choice on its face considering how Hal, another boy from the middle of nowhere, saved everyone's bacon in Havemercy.

Steelhands starts with Adamo receiving Thom's letter informing him about the events in Dragon Soul; since that is something that has huge possible implications, he starts getting in touch with the survivors of the Dragon Corps, Roy and Hal to discuss how to deal with the possible issues, while being clearly aware of the danger this entails.

In the meantime, Laure and Toverre get used to the capital and college life, make friends with their classmates, while quite unexpectedly Laure finds Adamo's unconventional teaching style very appealing, so she brings herself quite forcefully to his attention - as "an immortalized in stone" hero of the war, Adamo is untouchable by the Versity staid faculty who can only saddle him with a bumbling "graduate assistant", so these scenes offer both comic relief and a wry commentary on academia.

Of course soon things start happening with disappearances and discoveries and the two threads connect, though I have to say that happens in quite predictable ways and I was not really surprised by most of the later occurrences. However the POV's more than made for that since they were fresh and very well realized, while the writing style remained the same flowing and engaging one of the earlier three novels.

The strength of this series is in first and foremost in the "human interest" part, since the authors keep creating convincing and *very different* character voices each book and make us the readers really care for them; sure there is magic and a good world building and a fair amount of action, but getting to see the world from fresh perspectives and caring for the fates of Laure, Adamo and the rest is what makes this book stand out.

The ending is very good too, wrapping up the two converging threads though of course new vistas open and I am really curious where the two authors go from here since I definitely want more! I would also add that while the four books follow each other chronologically and their stories connect, each has its own resolution of its main thread or threads so they can be read as standalones with just a little brush-up on what's what.

As the other series novels, Steelhands (A+) was a book that once opened, it just took me in and I could not stop reading it until the end. There is something "magical" about these books, so despite their switching theme, location, narrators I need only to browse them to be entranced again and again...

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

“A Dance of Blades” by David Dalglish (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order “A Dance of BladesHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE (PDF)
Read FBC’s Review of “A Dance of Cloaks
Read FBC’s Interview with David Dalglish

AUTHOR INFORMATION: David Dalglish graduated from Missouri Southern State University with a degree in Mathematics. He is the author of the popular Half Orcs fantasy series which includes The Weight of Blood, The Cost of Betrayal, The Death of Promises, The Shadows of Grace and A Sliver of Redemption. He is currently writing the Shadowdance Trilogy and The Paladins series.

PLOT SUMMARY: Veldaren aches for a purge, and I will be the one to deliver it. Cry out at me if you wish, but it will change nothing. The gold is spent, the orders are given. Let the blood flow.

It's been five years since Haern faked his death to escape the tyranny of his father. He has become the Watcher, a vicious killer who knows no limits, and whose hatred of the thief guilds is unrivaled. But when the son of Alyssa Gemcroft, one of the three leaders of the powerful Trifect, is believed murdered, the slaughter begins anew. Mercenaries flood the streets, with one goal in mind: find and kill the Watcher.

Peace or destruction—every war must have its end...

CLASSIFICATION: Featuring a world where there are multiple factions at work, the Shadowdance Trilogy is a dark, gritty, character-driven fantasy series in the vein of George R.R. Martin, Brent Weeks and Peter V. Brett.

FORMAT/INFO: A Dance of Blades is 348 pages divided over thirty numbered chapters and an Epilogue. Narration is in the third person via several different point-of-views, both major and supporting characters, including the main protagonist Haern the Watcher, Alyssa Gemcroft, Veliana, Deathmask, Nathaniel Gemcroft, Arthur Hadfield, Oric, Ghost, etc. A Dance of Blades is self-contained, but is the second volume in the Shadowdance Trilogy after A Dance of Cloaks. The trilogy itself is set in the same world as The Half-Orcs, but before the events of that series with mild and major spoilers contained within.

April 2011 marked the independent publication of A Dance of Blades in both Trader Paperback and E-book format. Cover art is provided by Peter Ortiz.

ANALYSIS: It’s been five years since the events shown in “A Dance of Cloaks”. The city of Veldaren is slowly recovering from the catastrophic night in which the Guilds decided to remove the Trifect from the equation. Unfortunately, things did not go as planned for Thren Felhorn because of the valor and dedication of a select few. Since then, the Guilds have fractured even further and now fight amongst themselves in an attempt to regain their earlier powers. The Trifect also suffers, but fare slightly better than their rivals. Complicating matters is a new edition to the city: the Watcher.

The Watcher is Haern, the son of the most famous and devious guildlord. Using his former training, Haern’s  goal is to sow dissent among the Guilds. Meanwhile, Alyssa Gemcroft, one of the leaders of the Trifect, has successfully taken over the Gemcroft estate and now has a son, Nathaniel, from her dalliance in the previous book. Serving Alyssa as her protector is Zusa, the ex-forsaken of Karak and a confidante to Veliana. Veliana’s mission to save the Ash guild was successful, but she is now subservient to the new Guild master. Readers are also introduced to Deathmask, a character from The Half Orcs series, while Lord Arthur Hadfield and Mark Tullen try to obtain Alyssa Gemcroft’s hand in marriage.

The heart of the story unfolds when Haern comes across a devious plot to kill the child Nathaniel. Haern intervenes, but with chaotic results. Word spreads that the child is missing, presumably dead, so Alyssa decides to finish off the Guilds and kill the Watcher, who she believes are the guilty parties behind her son’s death. From here, A Dance of Blades follows Haern as he battles the Guilds, the Trifect, and perhaps his greatest enemy, Ghost...

Compared to A Dance of Cloaks, the prose in A Dance of Blades is remarkably more polished and a major highlight of the book. Pacing is similar to the first novel, meaning non-stop action that reminded me of R.A. Salvatore and David Gemmell, but Dalglish has definitely turned up the excitement level. The story is more linear and streamlined than its predecessor, but there are still lots of machinations and subplots going on, while a deeper exploration of the world of Dezrel is provided. The grimness, which was so prevalent in the first book, has been toned down a bit, although plenty of killing can still be found in A Dance of Blades. Personally, I was glad for this as the author managed to surprise me a couple of times by killing off a certain character, while saving another. Thematically, salvation is a major theme, with many of the book’s characters seeking redemption, with both successful & unsucessful results.

Characterization remains top-notch giving readers a wide variety of characters to follow, including Haern with his psychological scars, Veliana with her toughness and never-say-die attitude, and Alyssa who now understands her father better than ever. What I love most about the characters is how they are all so unique and interesting, which is important in a book that features so many different POVs. Meanwhile, quite a few characters from The Half-Orcs series make an appearance in A Dance of Blades.

Negatively, Haern’s abilities and vigilante actions reminded me of Batman, which made some things in the book easy to predict. Also, because the Shadowdance Trilogy is a prequel to The Half-Orcs series, and features many of the same characters, those who have already finished the books know who will survive and who won’t. For me, this is the single biggest flaw in reading any prequel series, which is why I have purposefully held off from reading The Half-Orcs novels.

CONCLUSION: Overall, A Dance of Blades is an excellent sequel, further establishing Haern’s story, while showcasing David Dalglish’s impressive growth as a writer. So now, after having fully enjoyed the first two books in the Shadowdance Trilogy, I can’t wait to see how Haern’s saga ends in the third and final book, A Dance of Shadows...
Tuesday, July 26, 2011

"A Place Called Armageddon" by C.C. Humphreys (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

INTRODUCTION: C.C. Humphreys came to my attention with “Vlad: The Last Confession”; despite my deep misgivings about it being another stupid rehashing of the myth of Dracula, the novel was actually very well researched and offered maybe the best English language portrait of the real-life Vlad the Impaler and his lifelong fight against the Turks without glossing over his darker impulses, but without any Dracula nonsense either.

So when not that long ago, I found out about Mr. Humphreys' new offering "A Place Called Armageddon" about the siege of Constantinople in 1453, the novel became the number one expected non-sff of mine in 2011 and I bought it the first moment I could and read it asap. Ultra high expectations and what can I say: the author not only delivered but surpassed them and I will explain why next.

Before continuing, I would add two things: despite being a very well researched and reasonably accurate historical novel, "A Place Called Armageddon" is also brimming with the fantastic - there are prophecies, mystic books, alchemists and fortune tellers and while it is a stretch to call the novel speculative fiction, it should greatly appeal to sff lovers for those elements and the superb world building the authors manages in the book's almost 500 pages.

There a lot of nice touches in the novel that tie-in with Vlad: The Last Confession” including recounting of some earlier events there and a prophecy about one of the main characters here that we know how it will be fulfilled in the earlier book. Of course the structure of the two books is very different since "A Place Called Armageddon" is about a moment in historical time, so it essentially takes place over some weeks with a prologue a year before and an epilogue years later, while Vlad: The Last Confession” takes place over decades, so there is no particular order in which to read the two novels.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: "To the Greeks who love it, it is Constantinople. To the Turks who covet it, the Red Apple. Safe behind its magnificent walls, the city was once the heart of the vast Byzantine empire."

When looking at a novel like "A Place Called Armageddon" that is about a pivotal moment in world history, moment that has been studied intensively across time and has been fictionalized in many novels of which in English, Dark Angel by Mika Waltari remains my big favorite, there are several aspects to consider.

Paramount remains reasonable historical accuracy, meaning being accurate about all main events of the siege and getting right the atmosphere of the time since I have never understood why someone writing historical fiction alters major events and says: "well you know, it's fiction"; why bother writing about event "x" rather than write a fantasy/alt-history in which you can modify what happened to your own heart's content?

And here "A Place Called Armageddon" delivers in spades with an impressive recreation of the major moments of the siege; as one of many such examples, the naval battle between the four big Genoese vessels trying to break the blockade and the couple hundred strong Ottoman fleet and the reactions of both the besiegers and Mehmed and his entourage, as the fight turned literally with the wind is done in such a manner that despite knowing very well how things ended, it still felt like reading it for the first time. And I could go on and on, from the firing of the huge siege gun, to the Galata crossing, to the various wall battles, everything is memorable and true to the numerous accounts we have of the siege.

The world building and the little details are pitch perfect: weapons, buildings, ships, armies, historical characters and their psychological makeup - the untried, moody and easily angered but brilliant young Sultan Mehmet whose determination to become Fatih aka "The Conqueror" and practical ideas keep the siege going despite the early reverses and the long history of failed sieges across almost 1000 years, the last major one being led by none other than his father, the late Sultan Murat a warrior of much higher repute than Mehmet at the time, Hamza Bey, the tanner's son from the middle of nowhere who became the Sultan's falconer and confidant and who knows that the siege will make or break Mehmet and his "new men" like himself so he does his utmost to "manage" the Sultan, intrigue with possible Byzantine turncoats and lead soldiers when it comes to crunch time, or the relatively new emperor Constantine who wears the same name as the founder of the city - a bad omen as the last (western) emperor of Rome was Romulus Augustulus after all - a notable soldier but untried as politician and leader of a state and whose continual defiance and determination in face of the steadily worsening odds is also unforgettable.

But "A Place Called Armageddon" is also a human story with four major fictional characters at its center. The twin Lascari brothers with vastly different personalities and destinies: Theon, the smart diplomat, confidant of Constantine and Gregoras, the formerly handsome and valiant soldier, exiled as a mutilated cut-nose traitor, now moonlighting as the Ragusan mercenary "Zoran" in the famous' Genoese condotierre Giovanni Giustiniani Longo's army and who wants nothing to do with his erstwhile native city.

And the women in their lives: Gregoras' former fiance and secret lover Sophia, now (un)happily married with Theon, mother of boy Thakos and girl Minerva who is turning to God for solace and hope amid despair and fortune teller Leilah, a former slave who tries to make her own way in a harsh man's world and whose prophecies inspire Mehmet among others, though of course there is a huge risk in fortune telling for the mighty.

In addition, there are two more important characters: Johannes Grant a Scotland alchemist who is badly wanted by the Sultan (dead) and by Longo and the Byzantines (alive) for his presumed knowledge of how to recreate the famous Greek Fire recipe and Achmed, a huge but gentle poor Anatolian peasant whose much loved daughter Abal's death at 5 mostly due to poverty, leads him to enroll in the "canon fodder" troops recruited for the siege and whose pov shows the siege from the rank and file Ottoman side.

Each of the characters is very distinctive and the interaction between them ranges from the expected to quite a few twists and turns. All these personal threads mix in various ways and produce a lot of emotional moments, sometimes in quite unexpected places. Despite the different and often opposite interests and goals, the author is very skilled at making us care for all his main characters, including the ones who would have been so easy to depict as "evil", like Theon Lascari or the Sultan Mehmet.

Of course by the same token, not everyone can succeed, so there is heartbreak galore, but there is joy too and the ending is just superb with an epilogue 7 years later, followed by one just three weeks after the end of the siege. This offers a chance at a great twist which actually surprised me though I have seen it before in a G.G. Kay novel.

Overall "A Place Called Armageddon" (A++) is a magnificent accomplishment, a novel that is both a recreation of a pivotal moment in history and a tale of interesting characters we get to care and root for.

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