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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"Ex-Patriots" by Peter Clines (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Read FBC’s review of Ex-Heroes
Order Ex-Patriots HERE
Read an excerpt HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Peter Clines was born and brought up in Maine, he moved to California when he grew up and worked in Hollywood for a number of years. He has also been a prop master for several movies and TV shows. He has written reviews for the Cinema Blend website as well as for the Creative Screenwriting magazine. He has previously interviewed many famous film personas such as Frank Darabont, Paul Haggis, Kevin Smith, George Romero, Akiva Goldsman, David Goyer, Mark Herman, Nora Ephron and many others. He lives in Southern California.

OFFICIAL SYNOPSIS: It’s been two years since the world ended.

Two years since the dead rose and the plague of ex-humanity decimated mankind. For most of that time, the superhero called St. George, formerly known to the world as the Mighty Dragon, has protected the people of Los Angeles at their film studio-turned-fortress, The Mount. Together with his fellow heroes—Cerberus, Zzzap, and Stealth—he’s tried to give the survivors hope and something like a real life. But the swollen population of the Mount is becoming harder and harder to sustain, and the heroes are feeling the pressure.

Hope arrives in the form of a United States Army battalion, based in a complex a few hundred miles away in Arizona. This is not just any base, however. The men and women of Project Krypton are super-soldiers, designed and created before the outbreak to be better, stronger, and faster than normal humans. They want the heroes and all the people of the Mount to rejoin America and have normal lives again.

But can the military be trusted? And is there even a country left to rejoin? There is a secret at the heart of Project Krypton, and those behind it have an awesome power that will help them keep that secret hidden. The power of Freedom!

FORMAT/INFO: Ex-Patriots is 292 pages long divided over a prologue, thirty-two numbered/titled chapters, and an epilogue. All chapters are either divided into “Then” or “Now” sections. Narration is in the first-person for all “Then” chapters and in third person for all the “Now” sections. The POV's both first person and third person are via Stealth, Dr. Emil Sorenson,Staff sergeant Kennedy, Sergeant Harry Harrison, Cerberus, Zzzap, Captain John Carter Freedom, John Smith, First sergeant Paine, Platoon sergeant Johnson, Private Kurt Taylor, St. George and a few minor characters. Ex-Patriots has a self-contained plot and is the second book in the Ex Trilogy. Readers can read this book without having read the first but there will minor spoilers for the first story as well some confusion in regards to certain plot & character developments.

September 4, 2011 marked the paperback and e-book publication of Ex-Patriots via Permuted press. Cover art is provided by Garret DeChellis.

CLASSIFICATION: Mixing zombies with superheroes in a desolate world. Peter Clines’s world of Ex-Patriots is George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead meets Matthew Reilly’s Area 7 meets The X-Men.

ANALYSIS: After reading Peter Clines' excellent debut Ex-Heroes, I was very excited to see where he would take the characters and the world he had written about, in the next book. As is the case with most successful debuts, the sequels come up high anticipation and therein lies the quandary for the author as to come with a story which will resonate with the readers and give them something from the previous book and also at the same time head the characters in a new direction. It’s a tight rope act and one which has to done precisely as there are no second chances.

Peter Clines’ sequel to his exhilarating debut is titled Ex-Patriots and focuses on events a year later after what has happened in Ex-Heroes. The Mount community has more than doubled in its size due to the influx of immigrants from the other side. The Heroes have had their share of losses but their workload has even increased and now there’s a bit of resentment being aimed at the heroes by someone who believes they are taking away their civilian choices and rights. Things however look up as they celebrate Independence Day and people have a good time. Their celebrations are noticed by a military drone which brings out two choppers of US soldiers. These soldiers aren’t just the ordinary kind, they are from the project Krypton headed by Dr. Emil Sorrenson. They prove their capabilities and invite the heroes to their base as the Cerebrus armor is something which would be invaluable to them. On arriving at the Krypton base, things start going southwards as the heroes learn of certain things. But the main question is who is the real villain amidst all these events and what does this mean for all the humans still living in the Mount?

Sequels are always hard things to write however the author does the smart thing by sticking to his original successful formula of structuring his story and making sure that the readers instantly feel reconnected with the characters, however the new thing which he does is that he shifts the location of the action from Los Angeles to Project Krypton out in the Arizona desert. This shift causes a change of scenery as well as helps in widening the focus of the story and giving the readers an outward look at the events which have been happening. This pattern was very reminiscent of Matthew Reilly’s Scarecrow novels wherein the first two books had a similar plot structure but were in diametrically opposite environments.

The characterization is again top notch as we re-enter the lives of the POV characters picking up from where the readers were left off & the fit is smooth. This time however the flashback then sections focus more on the newer characters thereby giving us a fresher look at the story but this move also detaches a bit of the attachment to the primary characters. As this time around its the new characters who are the recipients of the "Then" sections.

This book had a primary drawback which was that during the middle portion, it tends to have a lull in the action and robs the story of some of its energy as well as the tension. This move while explained in the climax seems premeditated but somehow doesn’t quite come across so clearly. There’s also the addition of the new characters which aims to bring new zeal but some of the these characters aren’t as intriguing as the earlier POV ones. Also some of them don’t get enough time to develop as the story restricts their flashbacks. These points might be something which were noticed only by me and many wouldn’t be bothered by them however anticipation often is a double-edged blade. The ending however redeems these points completely as the author reveals his final twists which will definitely surprise many a reader and continues the tie-in with the overall all series arc.

CONCLUSION: Peter Clines’ sequel aims to please all new as well as the previous readers however the overall execution didn’t come across as envisioned. But the book is still a great effort and continues the excellent story begun in Ex-Heroes. Ex-Patriots is a crackerjack of a sequel, continuing in the same vein and yet delivering a thoroughly refurbished product in which readers can get lost in. Its an excellent middle book & now I can’t wait to see how it all ends in Ex-Communication.
Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Interview with Anne Sowards (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

BIOGRAPHY: Anne Sowards is an executive editor at Penguin Group (USA) Inc., where she primarily acquires and edits fantasy and science fiction for the Ace and Roc imprints. Some of the great authors she works with include Jim Butcher, Patricia Briggs, Anne Bishop, Ilona Andrews, Karen Chance, Jack Campbell, and Rob Thurman. When she's not reading, she listens to Chinese rap and spends way too much time playing video games. She recently won the ESGR Patriot Award as well. Follow her on twitter.

In the past decade I have come across many authors whose books have thrilled me to the core. Over a period of time, I noticed one similarity in all of them, they were all thanking one person profusely i.e. their editor Anne Sowards. I happened to also notice that the imprint wherein she works also produced some of the best books in urban fantasy currently and since I have an active interest in this specific sub-genre. I was looking forward to hearing her thoughts on many subjects. I would like to thank Liviu my senior editor for his acumen and insight with this interview and some of the questions, also a extra, special THANK YOU to Ilona Andrews for agreeing to participate & coming up with their own set of questions for Anne and lastly to Anne herself for taking the time amidst her hectic schedule. The interview has been divided into three sections, so read forth to know more about Anne & her views...


Q] Welcome to Fantasybookcritic, You’ve been editing for a while now. Where does your love for writing/editing arise from and what events led you to pursue a career as an editor?

ANNE: I was always reading as a child—and I’d read whatever was around the house, even the cereal box or encyclopedias. In my quest for reading material, I soon expanded to my parents’ bookshelves. My dad was a major science fiction fan so I discovered authors like Frank Herbert and Robert A. Heinlein through his book collection.

In college I majored in English but wasn’t sure if I wanted to teach, so I started thinking about what else I could do, and considered publishing as a career. I joined our student-run science fiction magazine and found I really liked it, so a few months after graduation I moved out to New York City to look for a job. I was hired as the assistant to Susan Allison, the editor in chief of Ace, and worked my way up from there.

Q] Earlier you were a senior editor and since May 2009 you have ascended to the position of an Executive editor, how many responsibilities have increased with this shift? Conversely what are the perks you now enjoy that you didn’t earlier?

ANNE: In editorial a change in title is partially a recognition of your value to the company, and your actual day-to-day job may not change radically. I still find books for the company to publish and work with my authors through the whole publication process. That being said, I’ve become much more involved with scheduling (deciding which books we’ll publish when). As far as perks, I’d love to tell you all about my jaunts to London on the company plane but the truth is, I don’t think Penguin even has a company plane. I did get new business cards, though!

Q] With editing being your profession, you must often get very little time for personal reading. But if & when you do, what are the genres you like to read in? Also who are your favorite authors besides the ones you work with?

ANNE: It’s true, I have less time to read for pleasure than I used too—most of my reading time is taken up by the books I’m working on. When I’m reading for fun, I like historical fiction, romance, fantasy & science fiction, Young Adult, and narrative nonfiction.

Q] Could you please describe a typical day in your professional life? How much of your work do you bring home with you?

ANNE: There are three aspects to my job:

1) acquiring new books for the company to publish.

2) editing the books I acquire and working with them throughout the entire publication process.

3) everything else—a lot of resolving problems and answering questions.

I read submissions on the train, and primarily edit at home. The “everything else” takes up the bulk of my time when I’m in the office. I’m the point of contact person for the book and the author, so any questions the author or agent have for different departments (publicity, sales, etc.) go through me—and any questions in-house departments have about the book go through me. This results in a lot of questions! I spend a surprising amount of time composing emails and responding to questions.

I write marketing materials and put together sales information, selling points, quotes praising the author or the book, a description of the story, etc. and combine it into what we call a TI or Title Information sheet. These are used by all the other departments.

Also: attending meetings. We have a meeting to decide on a cover approach, a meeting to strategize the book with the sales department, and a meeting to discuss publicity for current titles on sale. There are also meetings to decide on the pricing of a book, to decide how many copies to print and reprint, and the list goes on and on. Again, since I’m the point of contact for the book, I go to many of these meetings.

Q] I hear you are an avid gamer, so which system do you have/prefer and what are your favorite games?

ANNE: I am definitely a gamer. I don’t know if I’m allowed to call myself an avid one; I’ve been so swamped lately I haven’t had a lot of time to play! Of the current gen consoles, I have a PS3. But I have a GameCube and Xbox kicking around and my Nintendo DS is still getting a fair amount of play. I love RPGs and puzzle games so some of my all time favorites are STAR WARS: KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC and THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: OCARINA OF TIME.

I just finished DRAGON AGE 2, started MASS EFFECT 2, and am also working on unlocking decks in MTG 2012: DUELS OF THE PLANESWALKERS (Archenemy mode is so fun!). My brother tried to teach me to play HALO but I kept falling off the stairs and getting stuck in corners—something about the first-person view in FPS games gives me trouble. Plus I admit shooting things and boss fights are not usually my favorite parts of a game.

Q] On your penguin page you have mentioned that only terrific storytelling can make you go forward with stories involving cannibalism, incest & circuses. Could you give us examples of each wherein the story (you read) involved one or more of the unreadable trinity? Lastly I’m curious, the first two subjects are icky and understandably gruesome, why circuses though? Circuses don’t seem to be in the same league.

ANNE: The opening line to Jeff Carlson’s PLAGUE YEAR is “They ate Jorgensen first.” In spite of my dislike of cannibalism, I pressed on, because you have to admit that’s a killer opening sentence. And Jeff’s terrific post-apocalyptic story, of people struggling to survive after a nanotech plague kills off everyone below 10,000 feet, won me over. George R. R. Martin’s rich storytelling and characterization drew me in even though there’s a brother-sister affair between Cersei and Jaime Lannister. I’m still looking for the Great Circus Story. Though to be honest, since circus storylines don’t generally appeal to me, I’m not looking super hard.

I agree, on the surface circuses don’t seem to be nearly as disturbing as cannibalism or incest. But you’re forgetting the clowns.

Q] You are also known to watch Bollywood which is very cool to know, especially for a non-desi. How did this fascination arise? which films are your favorites & who are you favorite actors (if any)?

ANNE: My interest in Bollywood came about serendipitously, like many things. I was channel surfing one day and came across a Southeast Asian entertainment program that was showing videos of dance numbers from popular Bollywood films. I was fascinated. I’ve always liked musicals and dance movies, and have also had an interest in India ever since I read my mom’s copy of SHADOW OF THE MOON by M. M. Kaye (historical fiction set in India during the time it was under British control).

So this was a great chance to learn more about India while watching movies that were all musicals (even when it sometimes seems incongruous). I started renting Bollywood films, kind of randomly. These days sometimes people give me specific recommendations but I rely a lot on Netflix reviews. Some of my favorites are DHADKAN, JODHAA AKBAR, GANGSTER, OM SHANTI OM, and (of course) DHOOM 2. As far as actors, I particularly like Hrithik Roshan, Aishwarya Rai, and Shah Rukh Khan.
[Photo Credit: Myke Cole]


Q] What are the factors/elements that you look for in any new submission which you receive? Are they genre-specific or something which work across the spectrum?

ANNE: I am looking for a story I can fall in love with and characters I care about. It doesn’t matter if it takes place on a spaceship or on horseback if it has those qualities.

Q] Do you have any specific reading habits or methods for evaluating submitted manuscripts?

ANNE: I read my submissions on my trusty Sony e-reader, on the subway going to and from work. Generally, I read until I have a sense of the story, quality of writing, and commercial appeal. Sometimes I can determine this after a sentence or a page; sometimes I need to read the whole book to decide whether it’s right for us.

Q] Who is the one author (either living or dead) that you would give a limb to work with? And what is it about her/his writing that makes it special for you?

ANNE: I admire the late Octavia Butler tremendously. When I read her Xenogenesis trilogy (now in an omnibus as Lilith’s Brood), I was gripped by the story she created—a frighteningly plausible story of an alien invasion. But these aliens haven’t come to kill, but to assimilate. They survive by finding new partner species to trade genes with—it’s how their race evolves. So humans are faced with joining the Oankali, knowing their children will no longer be human, or resisting and fighting against them. It’s an amazing series, so powerful and thought provoking.

Q] While evaluating manuscripts in the past couple of years, did you ever have a conflict between your personal preferences versus that of being the executive editor? If so how did you resolve it?

ANNE: Certainly there are sometimes submissions that are not necessarily to my own personal reading taste. (Maybe the story involves clowns.) Acquiring manuscripts is very subjective, and my list is a reflection of my tastes and what I think will interest readers. I’ve had to pass on books that I loved but that we didn’t think were viable commercially. I’ve also passed on books that were commercial but just didn’t do it for me as a reader. Part of my role is to get everyone else at the company excited about a book, and it’s hard to do that if I don’t fall in love with the story.

Q] What is your opinion on an imprint having an "image"? Is it advantageous as that means you have a stable of committed readers, or is it sometimes limiting in a way or another?

ANNE: Well, since Ace and Roc are science fiction and fantasy imprints, it means I can’t publish something wildly off base (like nonfiction about the history of Laundromats). It’s just not what retailers and readers expect or want from us. That being said, I feel lucky to work on science fiction and fantasy. The kind of books we can publish are so varied, I rarely feel limited.

Q] What are your thoughts about online book promotion? What roles do social media (Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads) and review blogs play?

ANNE: Review bloggers are so important! There are not as many print reviewers covering books these days, and even when there were more, their focus was usually not on genre titles. So it’s great that online reviewers are filling in the gaps and discussing fantasy and science fiction titles.

Goodreads is also valuable; it’s amazing how early buzz can start there. One of my YA books, FALLING UNDER by Gwen Hayes, got put on some lists in Goodreads pre-publication and I definitely think it helped to increase awareness about the book.

Online book promotion can be incredibly powerful, or incredibly annoying. It all depends on how it’s done. For me, it’s about connection, and also about being genuine. I have a Twitter account but I don’t tweet BUY THIS BOOK 24/7. I would unfollow anyone who did that!

Sometimes readers fall in love with a book and want to find out more about the world, what’s coming next, the author, or what other people thought about the book. So they might seek out the author’s website or Facebook page or Goodreads listing, or [and here’s where I come in] the publisher’s or editor’s website or Twitter feed.

The trick is to be interesting, engaging, and real (hence, no endless BUY MY BOOK posts). My feeling is that readers want to connect with authors via social media because they liked the author’s voice / storytelling; if you’re just doing BUY MY BOOK posts they won’t necessarily stick around. They want to know YOU.

So I talk about books and what I’m working on. But I also talk about laundry, what video games I’m playing, my knitting, and my current obsession with K-dramas. I post links to stories about the publishing industry and links that are funny or quirky or possibly interesting to no one but me. I have a lot of fun with it, and hopefully the people who look at my Twitter feed do too. And by coming to know me and my tastes, they may become interested in the books I like and the authors I’m working with and want to check them out.

Q] Ace & ROC are pretty much the leaders in urban fantasy, not surprising you also publish Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files which by almost universal fan opinion is the best UF series out there. How did this occur? Was it a conscious decision on the part of Ace to specifically focus on UF? What more avenues will be looked upon in the future?

ANNE: We were in on the ground floor with the urban fantasy movement, because of our success with Laurell K. Hamilton, Jim Butcher, and then Charlaine Harris. As their sales grew, we recognized that readers wanted more stories that were set in our world, but with vampires / werewolves / magic in them, so we looked for authors writing those types of books. As a result, today we have one of the strongest urban fantasy line-ups in the industry.

But our list is quite varied, and we don’t limit ourselves to urban fantasy. We’re always looking for the next thing, whether that is military science fiction, steampunk, or edgy fantasy. Publishing is a business, and we want to bring people the books they’re interested in reading. We do our best to keep up with what’s coming out and paying attention to what’s successful—with the goal to continue publishing the books readers want.

Q] What are some of titles which are coming out in the second half of 2011 & the forthcoming year which you are excited about?

ANNE: This is a toughie! We have lot of great books and there’s no way I can cover them all, so please check our website or Facebook page to see everything we publish.

Here are a few highlights:

In December, check out--

Kelly McCullough’s BROKEN BLADE, which is the beginning of a terrific new series about an ex-assassin trying to make his way in the world after the goddess he served is destroyed.

Ilona Andrews’s FATE’S EDGE is a fabulous and romantic story about an ex-thief and a con man who team up in the Edge, a unique world where the mundane world of Wal-Mart and technology is on one side and a magical realm of Changelings and Blueblood warriors is on the other.

Upcoming in the first quarter of 2012 we have--

SHADOW OPS: CONTROL POINT by Myke Cole, first in a hard-hitting military fantasy series. Imagine today’s ultra-realistic modern combat combined with magic and you get Shadow Ops. Myke Cole is currently an officer in the US Coast Guard Reserve and also served three tours in Iraq, so he’s the real deal and that authenticity comes through in his writing.

FAIR GAME, the new Alpha and Omega novel from Patricia Briggs, about the hunt for a serial killer targeting werewolves and fae. There are events at the end of this book that will have major ramifications for this series and the Mercy Thompson series, since they share a world. Exciting!

FATED by Benedict Jacka, which is a tremendous new urban fantasy series about a mage in London. Alex Verus is a diviner or probability mage, which means he can sense likely futures, and it is awesome. Definitely check this out if you’re a Jim Butcher fan and suffering from Dresden Files withdrawal.

There will be many more fantastic books coming, so please do check out our website or Facebook page if you’d like to be aware of what’s in the pipeline.

[Photo Credit: Elze Hamilton]


Q] You edit many authors in the Urban Fantasy sub-genre such as Jim Butcher, Patricia Briggs, Karen Chance, Ilona Andrews, Devon Monk, Lisa Shearin, and many others. When you started out, have you ever imagined you would be an "urban fantasy" editor?

ANNE: My career has definitely taken unexpected directions! Back then, I thought of myself as more of an epic fantasy girl—I was a huge fan of authors like Robert Jordan and David Eddings. But then I read Laurell K. Hamilton’s first Anita Blake novel, GUILTY PLEASURES, and it blew me away. I hadn’t ever read anything like it before, and my love for urban fantasy was born. I feel so lucky to be able to work with all the amazing authors that I do.

Q] When you offer editorial suggestions, how extensive are the changes you usually request?

ANNE: It completely depends on what the project needs. For some books my suggestions are miniscule, for others, they could be 20+ pages of suggestions.

Q] Do all authors implement the changes you suggest, or have you had instances of someone refusing to make the edits?

ANNE: At the end of the day, it’s the author’s name on the book, and it’s their story. So it’s their decision how they respond to my suggestions, and some authors prefer to handle the issues in a different way.
Monday, November 28, 2011

“The Emperor’s Knife” by Mazarkis Williams (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo & Robert Thompson)

Order “The Emperor’s KnifeHERE (US) + HERE (UK)
Read Civilian Reader’s Interview with Mazarkis Williams HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Mazarkis Williams has roots in both Britain and America, having been educated—has earned degrees in history & physics—and working in both, and now divides time between Bristol and Boston. The Emperor’s Knife is his first novel.

PLOT SUMMARY: There is a cancer at the heart of the mighty Cerani Empire—a plague that attacks young and old, rich and poor alike. Geometric patterns spread across the skin, until you die in agony, or become a Carrier, doing the bidding of an evil intelligence, the Pattern Master. Anyone showing the tell-tale marks is put to death—that is Emperor Beyon's law . . . but now the pattern is running over the Emperor's own arms.

His body servants have been executed, he ignores his wives, but he is doomed, for soon the pattern will reach his face. While Beyon's agents scour the land for a cure, Sarmin, the Emperor's only surviving brother, awaits his bride, Mesema, a windreader from the northern plains. Unused to the Imperial Court's stifling protocols and deadly intrigues, Mesema has no one to turn to but an aging imperial assassin, the Emperor's Knife.

As long-planned conspiracies boil over into open violence, the invincible Pattern Master appears from the deep desert. Now only three people stand in his way: a lost prince, a world-weary killer, and a young woman from the steppes who saw a path in a pattern once, among the waving grasses—a path that just might save them all...

FORMAT/INFO: The Emperor’s Knife is 352 pages long divided over a Prologue and forty-two numbered chapters. Narration is in the third-person via four main characters: Prince Sarmin; the emperor’s Knife Eyul; the Lord High Vizier Tuvaini; and Mesema, a Felt bride for Prince Sarmin. The Emperor’s Knife is the first volume of the Tower and Knife Trilogy, but reads as a standalone novel with most of the major plot points wrapped up. The trilogy will continue in Knife-Sworn.

December 2011 marks the North American Hardcover publication of The Emperors Knife via Night Shade Books. The UK version was released on October 27, 2011 via Jo Fletcher Books.

MIHIR’S ANALYSIS: Mazarkis Williams’ The Emperor’s Knife is a debut book which has been under the radar for most fantasy readers. The book’s blurb details an empire which has been rotting and rests upon three individuals to stop the events, which might lead to its annihilation. Such a blurb wouldn’t necessarily give a clear picture of the actual book and it does seem to make the plot out to be very generic as well.

That’s the first mistake you make about the book assuming that the plot will be generic. While the book’s plot does feature court intrigue, a traditional story structure and individuals who have the power to change the course of events, there’s much more to The Emperor’s Knife including a plague that causes colorful geometric shapes to appear and make them mindless drones who act as a singular entity.

The story opens with a prologue set years in the past and details a crucial event which shapes Prince Sarmin’s life from that moment onwards. The book then shifts to the present time as he awaits his life within an environment that he does not fully understand, but is comforted by. From here, the plot begins rather suddenly as the reader is thrown into the world of the Cerani, the Felt people, etc. and the reader has to pick up on the clues and descriptions provided by the author and connect the dots to gain an understanding of the story and the problems which are occurring. The main mystery thread consists of the aforementioned plague and the Pattern Master.

At the core of this story are the three main POVs of Prince Sarmin, Mesema and Eyul. Mesema is a Felt girl who has been chosen by her father to be a bride to Prince Sarmin of the Cerani empire. Mesema is not thrilled by this decision, but cannot disobey her father. Eyul meanwhile, is an assassin who’s the only person appointed by the emperor in the line of the Knife-Sworn to wield the royal Knife with which royal blood can be spilled and the wielder is not damned. There’s also Tuvaini, the court vizier who wants to do right by the empire and shares an important part of the story, although whose side he’s on is never made
abundantly clear. There are a few other supporting characters who take part in the plot, but they do not get their own POVs and it would be better for the reader to find out about them via the book.

As a whole, characterization is a major plus as each voice is distinct from the other, with each chapter opening up a new facet for each character. Prose, though good, is a bit spartan in its approach; while the author provides the bare requirement when it comes to world-building, which can hamper the reading experience at times. Another point which undermines the novel is the pacing of the story. On the plus side, the overall mystery is wrapped up satisfactorily with most of the plot threads reasonably concluded except for a couple. Which of course lead to the second book in the trilogy, Knife-Sworn.

Overall, I enjoyed The Emperor’s Knife for telling a story of people broken by the psychological nature of past events and their striving to do the right thing. Even though Mazarkis Williams’ debut did not possess the gritty violent aspect of the Prince of Thorns or the fast-paced nature of The Whitefire Crossing, The Emperor’s Knife is a very good book, especially for those who like to be surprised by plot twists and enjoy clean economical prose. In short, I am looking forward to the second book in the Tower and Knife Trilogy as I am very curious to see where Mazarkis Williams takes the characters and plot next...

ROBERT’S ANALYSIS: The Emperor’s Knife by Mazarkis Williams first came to my attention thanks to an interview I did with Night Shade author Teresa Frohock. Because of Teresa’s glowing comments about the book and Night Shade’s recent track record with debut authors, expectations were high for The Emperor’s Knife, and for the most part, Mazarkis Williams’ debut lived up to those expectations.

What impressed me the most about The Emperor’s Knife were the characters, specifically the main POVs of Prince Sarmin, the assassin Eyul, the Lord High Vizier Tuvaini, and the Felt bride Mesema. At a glance, these characters may seem stereotypical—Sarmin possesses a unique magical ability, Eyul is torn between his duty to the emperor and guilt for those he has killed, Tuvaini has aspirations for the Petal Throne, and Mesema is a stranger in a strange land—but traits like Sarmin’s imprisonment/insanity and Tuvaini’s ambiguity as well as unexpected character development over the course of the novel helped offset the familiar elements, while making it easier to feel sympathy for the various protagonists. This is important since The Emperor’s Knife is a character-driven fantasy in the vein of Daniel Abraham’s The Long Price Quartet.

Speaking of The Long Price Quartet, there are a number of other similarities between The Emperor’s Knife and Daniel Abraham’s debut series, including sparse yet elegant prose, methodical pacing, minimal world-building, and a lean page count, at least for a fantasy novel. Plotting meanwhile, is a lot like the characters in The Emperor’s Knife where familiar elements such as court intrigue are offset by creative ideas like a magic system that revolves around patterns. The end result is a story that may seem familiar, especially to veteran readers of the fantasy genre, but is compelling nonetheless.

The one problem I had with the story is that events happen a little too quickly. In the space of 350 pages, thrones are usurped, the identity of the Pattern Master and his grand plan are revealed, a major confrontation between the protagonists and the Pattern Master occurs, and several characters meet their maker including two of the main POVs. Normally I find it refreshing when a fantasy novel can provide answers and a payoff as quickly as The Emperor’s Knife does, but in this case I felt Mazarkis Williams could have spent a little more time fleshing out certain aspects that would have made the novel even more rewarding. These include relationships that develop between characters (Mesema & Banreh, Mesema & Beyon, Eyul & Amalya, Sarmin & Grada, etc.), the Pattern magic, Mesema’s windreading ability, Eyul’s Knife, the emperor’s law regarding Carriers, a proper sendoff for the main characters who fail to survive, the gods introduced in the book (Herzu, Keleb, Mirra, Mogyrk), and the world itself which at times felt more like a traditional fantasy setting than a Persian/Arabian-influenced backdrop.

Even though the novel could have benefited from improvements in the areas mentioned above, The Emperor’s Knife as a whole is a very impressive debut by Mazarkis Williams, who immediately ranks among the year’s most exciting new fantasy authors. In the end, like Mihir, I greatly enjoyed The Emperor’s Knife and look forward to reading the rest of the Tower and Knife Trilogy...
Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thoughts on "El Prisionero del Cielo" by Carlos Ruiz Zafon and "The Lover's Dictionary" by David Levithan (by Liviu Suciu)

Some weeks ago the third installment of the awesome series that started with The Shadow of the Wind and continued with The Angel's Game has been published in Spain. As FBC is an English language site, I usually refrain from talking about books that are not available in English, but in this case as the UK publication of "El Prisionero del Cielo" has been tentatively set on June 2nd, 2012 and presumably the US publication will soon follow, I will note several things about the novel with a full review to follow next year as I sometimes do with (English language) advance review copies of great interest.

"El Prisionero del Cielo" is shorter than the previous offerings in the series and is also thematically different, forgoing the dual - past/present - love affairs of the first two books. However the novel keeps the past/present threads but this time they are more political than anything else and they are clearly divided with Daniel and Fermin - narrator and sidekick of The Shadow of the Wind - as the respective narrators.

Since the title character is
David Martin (!) - the narrator of The Angel's Game - it should be clear that familiarity with both earlier installments is necessary and I found myself darting back and forth through The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel's Game too.

Great prose, great characters and all that you expect from a CR Zafon novel, the one niggle I had is that "El Prisionero del Cielo" is the least self-contained of the novels so far both as backstory goes which I noted above and with an ending that while not quite a cliffhanger, definitely begs the fourth and presumably last "Cemetery of Forgotten Books" novel.

Still a clear Top 25 novel of 2011 for me and I am really looking forward to the English language version to see the subtleties I missed.


As it somewhat unexpectedly for me, "The Lover's Dictionary" made the Goodreads Choice final ten fiction category and was my second choice there, I decided to talk a little about it here. Written in short non-linear chunks arranged as alphabetical definitions, the book is extremely compelling. The prose is lyrical and the book just took over my reading unexpectedly when I opened it and could not put it down.

The story itself is less of importance than the way it is told; the atmosphere - two relatively young professional Manhattanites meeting on a dating site, moving together, etc, etc reproduces the joys and frustrations of living there as I experienced them years ago also, so that was an added bonus.

I think the book could have worked in a different location so from that point of view the location is not crucial, but on the other hand Manhattan gives a specific flavor to the novel that is harder to reproduce in other places.

Highly recommended for a fast, lyrical read that will stay with you; the first entry in the novel gives a flavor of how it goes and I really found myself turning the pages after this until the end; there is joy and sorrow, mundanity and exceptional, and generally life happening.

"aberrant, adj. “I don’t normally do this kind of thing,” you said. “Neither do I,” I assured you. Later it turned out we had both met people online before, and we had both slept with people on first dates before, and we had both found ourselves falling too fast before. But we comforted ourselves with what we really meant to say, which was: “I don’t normally feel this good about what I’m doing.” Measure the hope of that moment, that feeling. Everything else will be measured against it"

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Spectyr by Philippa Ballantine (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order “SpectyrHERE
Read the first chapter HERE
Read FBC’s review of Geist
Read FBC interview with Phillipa Ballantine
AUTHOR INFORMATION: Philippa Ballantine was born and brought up in New Zelaland. Shen then graduated from Victoria University of Wellington with a BA in English and Political Science. She also holds a Bachelor of Applied Science in Library Studies from The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand. She is an avid Podcaster and has often released podcasts of her own books. Her podcasts have been short listed for the Parsec Awards, and won a Sir Julius Vogel award. She has had three books published before this one. She is married to Tee Morris, the co-author of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series. They both currently reside in Virginia.

OFFICIAL SYNOPSIS: Though one of the most powerful Deacons, Sorcha Faris has a tarnished reputation to overcome. She and her partner, Deacon Merrick Chambers, find themselves chasing down rumors of geists, but long for a return to real action. So they jump at the chance to escort a delegation sent to negotiate the terms of the Emperor’s engagement. Their destination: the exotic city of Orinthal.

But a string of murders has Orinthal on edge, and Sorcha and Merrick are asked to investigate. Meanwhile the Emperor’s sister has unwittingly released a cruel and vengeful goddess, one who it bent on destroying her enemies, including the geistlord who resides inside the shapeshifting rival to the throne—Sorcha’s lover….

FORMAT/INFO: Spectyr is 310 pages long divided over thirty numbered/titled chapters. Narration is in the third-person omniscient view via Sorcha Faris, Merrick Chambers, the Young Pretender Raed Rossin, Grand Duchess Zofiya, the Goddess Hatipai and the Rossin. Spectyr is the second book in the Chronicles of the Order and contains a lot of references to its predecessor hence its important to read it only after Geist.

June 28, 2011 marked the North American paperback and e-book publication of Geist via ACE books. Cover art is done by Jason Chan.

ANALYSIS: After thoroughly enjoying Geist , the first book in the Chronicles of the Order by Philippa Ballantine. I was eagerly looking forward to Spectyr and since I had bought both books together, it wasn’t a long wait at all. The book's blurb promised another exotic journey and further revelations in to the world of Arkaym and for me the expectations were heightened.

The story begins with Grand Duchess Zofiya, sister to the new Emperor Kaleva, who is a follower of one of the small Gods. Her object of worship is a entity known as Hatipai. Zofiya had a crucial role to play in the climax of Geist and now ascends to the status of POV character. She however feels a metaphysical pull and soon is introduced to the person whom all her prayers are directed to. Hatipai deems her mortal appearance necessary to save this world from the Rossin and all other Geistlords. She demands that the Rossin and his mortal shell must die and Zofiya is to be her instrument through which the evil will be vanquished. Sorcha Faris and Merrick Chambers return hardened and wiser from their previous sojourn, however Sorcha is surprised to find her husband recovering and willing to claim his spousal status. To add to this complicated point, Raed Rossin finds himself forced to do what he hasn’t done before and try to regain his family as someone is trying to gain revenge on the Rossin family. Lastly to add to it all, the Emperor is also seeking a bride and princess Chioma of Orinthal is the most eligible contender, so the stage shifts to the city of Orinthal and it will be here that the fate of worlds, past and present will be decided.

To begin with Spectyr is easily the better book than its predecessor. It again has a twisted storyline that serves surprise after surprise and in the end manages to end on a terrific note making sure that readers will be left anticipating Wrayth desperately. The pace is also another strength which adds to the story as it never loses its zip. Making sure that the reader is constantly surging ahead. A crucial part of the story also deals with a certain character who appeared in Geist and also makes this story a prequel and sequel at the same time. This part of the story was something which made tremendous sense and also gives a rather long look into the past of the world which deepens the dangers inherent within. The cover art again is by Jason Chan and is possibly better than his freshman effort, we get another close look at the lead pair and this time it’s the turn of another rune, possibly one which is close to Sorcha’s heart. Lastly the magic system as well as the world history is better explained and this only serves to raise the stakes for the next two books.

In the last book, I thought that the characterization wasn’t up to the its optimal standard, however the characterization in this book is degrees better and of course helps the reader gain a closer understanding of the characters and their motivations. Another funny point which I noticed was that the Rossin has made appearances in both books and has never properly shown his true potential in crucial situations exactly. In both books there have been instances wherein the Rossin passes the buck to Raed and I hope this trend doesn’t continue in the remaining two books as well. To better put it, its like watching the Hulk make an appearance and just when you hope that he does what he does best, all you get is Bruce Banner, this confusion might seem feasible a couple of times but should it occur any more, it could be considered as a narrative weakness. This book was an excellent page turner and it was very hard for me to point deficiencies in this one.

CONCLUSION: Spectyr further raises the standards first encountered in Geist. It’s a page turner and a book which will make the wait for the next one a bit harder. Philippa Ballantine’s Chronicles of the Order is a series which is action packed, cleverly plotted and an entertaining one as well. Give it a try if you are a fan of thrilling action and an enticing plot.
Friday, November 25, 2011

Kiss of Frost by Jennifer Estep w/Bonus Review of Halloween Frost (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Read FBC's review of Touch of Frost
Read FBC'S review of First Frost and Q/A with the author about the series
Read the first two chapters HERE
Order the Book HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Jennifer Estep has a Bachelor’s degree in English & Journalism, and a Master's in Professional Communications. Her bibliography includes the Elemental Assassin urban fantasy series, the Mythos Academy YA urban fantasy series, and the Bigtime paranormal romance series. She is also a member of Romance Writers of America, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and other writing groups.

PLOT SYNOPSIS: At Mythos Academy, teen warriors in the making train to take up their roles protecting humankind. With her snarky, self-deprecating voice and strange gift of psychometry - the ability to know an object's history just by touching it - Gwen Frost is an outsider both to the students of the Academy and the rest of the world. But now that she's taking private tutoring with the Academy's most notorious young Spartan, and has Nike's own sword to protect her, she's ready to make mark....

Gwen also has to deal with the fallout of what happened in Touch of Frost and the various changes it has brought into her life. To add to the overall pressure Gwen realizes that a Reaper of Chaos is trying to kill her, and that if she doesn’t figure out who it is, the Reaper just might succeed...

FORMAT/INFO: The e-ARC of Kiss of Frost is 296 pages long divided over twenty-eight chapters. Narration is in the first-person, exclusively via the protagonist Gwen Frost. Kiss of Frost is the second volume in the Mythos Academy series and can be read separately as the author provides enough of the backstory through out the story. The book also contains Gwen’s schedule of the Winter carnival as well as a Who’s Who reference guide of the people, places and mythology of the series which can be useful as a quick reference.

Kiss of Frost will be released in paperback and e-book format on November 29, 2011 via Kensington Books.

ANALYSIS: I thought the first book Touch of Frost was a decent start to a YA series about a gypsy girl who has the gift of pyschometry. Gwendolyn Frost is the protagonist and narrator of the series so far and has faced a very traumatic event in her life which changed all her perceptions and forced her to go to Mythos Academy, a place which is out of her imagination. In the review below there might be minor spoilers for the first book so proceed ahead if you have read the first book or if you don’t mind minor spoilers.

The second book Kiss of Frost opens up a few weeks after the events of the first book, Gwen has now been thoroughly exposed to the problems which are caused by Loki and his Reapers. She learns after the events of the climax in the previous book, of her role as a champion to her Goddess and what is required of her. Thus set with a task of sorts she will have to undergo training and learn more about the martial arts to better deal with Reapers who are trying to kill her. She of course is flummoxed when the person chosen to train her is Logan Quinn, the apple of her eye. Another fact which isn’t helping is the fact that her friends Daphne and Carson are going steady and have no reluctance in displaying their affections. Lastly to stir up the pot, at the upcoming Winter Carnival she discovers that there’s a new Reaper of chaos who is trying to kill her. So it will be up to her to sharpen her detective skills if she has any wish to survive.

The second book opens the world of Mythos academy and gives us a sort of panoramic view into the events of the world. The background of the world is explained a bit and especially what is currently happening and why the Reapers are in so much of a tizzy. There are also further revelations on Gwen’s role as a champion. Particular details are revealed about the events of First Frost which I’m sure will be of severe importance in the future books of the series. Characterization is a particular strength of Jennifer Estep's books and it is no different in the Mythos Academy series. However in this book this positive becomes a negative of sorts as Gwen’s character comes across as a bit annoying due to her constant fretting over whether Logan will return her affection. But this particular thread also powers the story as this attraction is a main part of the story and fans will get a particular wish fulfilled. The author has also carefully introduced a third angle to this plot and thereby increasing the tension. The character cast is also increased and the other characters such as Daphne, Logan & professor Metis are given more face time. I believe this is a good thing as they will play prominent roles in the future volumes.

The biggest fallacy I noticed of this book and the series so far, is its utter predictability. From the start of the book to its emotional climax, events occur and with clockwork precision most readers will be able to guess what happens next. This robbed much of my reading pleasure and I realize that this book is aimed at YA readers but sometimes I think the author can definitely up the ante by introducing a few more plot twists. There’s also the constant repeating of facts about many of the characters, which though from the mind of a sixteen year old girl might be explanatory but can be curbed as it occurs all too frequently. This curious habit is also seen in the author’s other books which I have read however it is a bit limited in those books and therefore wasn't much of an issue.

CONCLUSION: Kiss of Frost delivers in its promise of exciting romance tinged with action and continues to give the readers a fun tale. Jennifer Estep nicely shows her skills whilst entertaining and drawing the reader in the world of the Mythos Academy. If a few of the aforementioned fallacies can be eliminated then surely this series will be a better one. Recommended for readers who want a light-hearted read and for Paranormal Romance readers.

Read An Excerpt HERE
Order the Book HERE

OVERVIEW: Halloween Frost is a short story which was featured in the Entangled anthology which is a special story collection wherein all the proceeds go to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. More information about the collection including the contents of the collection as well as the official press release can be found over here.

Halloween Frost is a short story which is set after the events of Touch of Frost, the first book of the series. It is roughly 15 pages long in the e-book form. The book details a small event which occurs around Halloween. Gwen and Daphne are on their way from a Halloween party and suddenly attacked by a mythical creature. Faced with near impossible odds and possibly no warrior backup, it will be up to Gwen to use her wits to save their lives.

This short story again follows the pattern of the earlier Frost short story giving the readers a small view in to the world of Gwendolyn Frost and showcasing a brief but important event. In this case it shows how she has been coping with her recent introduction to the new world and especially after the events of Touch of Frost, where she stands in Logan Quinn’s eyes. The story gives an important indicator for the events of Kiss of Frost and like the previous story, it's not mandatory reading for understanding the overall story however for readers who have enjoyed the series. Its something which serves as an excellent extra to the overall story and more importantly this story is a part of an initiative for an extremely important cause.


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