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Thursday, May 31, 2012

"Princeps" by L.E. Modesitt (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

INTRODUCTION: After the trilogy consisting of Imager, Imager's Challenge and Imager's Intrigue that introduced us to Rhenn, one of the most enchanting narrators in recent fantasy, LE Modesitt goes back in time before the unification of Solidar to give us a tale that introduces another great character, scholar and secret imager, Quaeryt Rytersyn. 

 This time we will be treated to five Quaeryt volumes in the next few years - all written and all but the last titled and edited to go - so Princeps which picks up exactly where Scholar ends is the second volume of a huge five volume novel.

I will try to keep spoilers for Scholar at the minimum but obviously there will be some, so if you have not yet read the first Quaeryt novel and do not want to find out some major developments there, check my review of Scholar above instead.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS:  First a quick refresher of the setup: the island continent of Lydar - in Rhenn's books named Solidar - separated in various states since time immemorial has recently been consolidated into three countries, of which big bad Bovaria in the East under sinister Rex Kharst plans to unite the whole continent with fire and sword and cleanse it of undesirable elements like the Pharsi minority - darker hued merchants, industrialists and seers famous for their beautiful and beguiling women as we have seen Seliora, Rhenn's wife in the original trilogy - the learned scholars and the magic wielding Imagers.

Opposing it, Telaryn is the other main continental power which has expanded to conquer most of the Western part of Lydar under its warlord Yaran dynasty, while the smaller southern Antiago stands for now mostly due to the reputation of its war Imagers and dreaded Antiagon Fire weapon.

Married with beautiful Pharsi women, so their prophetic capabilities run also in their family, the lords of Telaryn, brutal and unforgiving as they may be, are still better than the alternatives, and current Lord Bhayar is actually milder than his father and grandfather, though of course that invites ambitious governors with armies at their back to plot against him as some feel they offer a better chance to fight bigger Bovaria.

But Bhayar has a secret weapon - not that he fully knows it to start, though as the master manipulator he is slowly revealed through the first two books, he soon realizes it and becomes ruthless in using it -and of course that weapon is his former childhood classmate, Quaeryt, orphan raised by scholars, blond but with Pharsi blood so making him one of "the lost ones" as he keeps hearing it, super competent trouble shooter, scholar and secret Imager.

And as Quaeryt starts solving some of Bhayar most pressing internal problems, while keeping a semi-official correspondence with Vaelora, the headstrong and very intelligent youngest sister of Bhayar, what better way for the manipulator lord to marry the two and get rid of a potential domestic problem and tie Quaeryt even stronger to Bhayar's reign - not that Quaeryt does not realize it but as this dialog with Bhayar shows it, that's how it is:

"Quaeryt could not have expected anything else, he supposed. “Not Vaelora. Don’t bring her into it—”
“I won’t, not so long as I can count on you.”
You truly are a bastard. Quaeryt didn’t speak those words. “What other choice do we have?” He kept his voice level.
“Not much. You more than anyone should know what Kharst—or any other ruler—would do … has done to imagers and scholars.”
“Why do you think I’ve done what I’ve done—even before Vaelora?”

While keeping the same essential structure as "Scholar" - third person narration focusing on Quaeryt and storyline divided into three parts with the short first, more of an introduction, and the second and third parts being the "meat" of the book all ending with a concluding few pages at a good "to be continued" point, "Princeps" has  a few differences, most notably the addition of Vaelora as main character whom we see quite a lot of as Quareyt's wife and the clearer division between Quaeryt as problem solver and Quaeryt as soldier since they roughly correspond to the second and third parts respectively.

I actually quite like that in this series - unlike the usual genre approach - rather than having the hero's love interest suffer unexpected reverses and the two being apart for contrived reasons, the author has the hero getting engaged and married fast so there are two main characters, and possibly kids to come too.

Another good point that is driven very well home in Princeps is that competence is not necessarily appreciated in a society that does not follow a democratic capitalist organization like ours, as being good at what you do may be threatening to the vested interests and may also rub them in the face with the fact that money or noble blood does not really make one superior. 

"Still, as he waited, Quaeryt couldn’t help but ponder about the situation in which he found himself. For far more than the first time, he wanted to shake his head. If he provided flour at a reasonable price for the poorer inhabitants of Extela, the factors and holders complained. If he didn’t, the poor complained."

This very sfnal approach to fantasy - which is a trademark of both the Imager and the long running Recluce series is also something I really like and it is part of why with around 30 books read from his 56 or so published to date, L.E. Modesitt is second in living authors ranked by how much I read from and any new book of his is at least a "try" if not a  must.

Overall Princeps is a top 25 novel of mine for 2012 and I will end with the one phrase summation from Goodreads that could stand in place of the longer review above: "excellent sequel to "Scholar"; Quaeryt and Vaelora solve one problem at a time until the **** hits badly the fan."

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Interview with Joseph Robert Lewis (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Read FBC'S Review of Omar The Immortal

My introduction to Joseph Robert Lewis happened through Goodreads and for that I'm eternally grateful. Omar The Immortal was the first book I read and I was hooked on to the world created. Since then I've been reading the other books in the Other Earth saga in Joe's preferred order & I'll be reviewing them over here soon as well. Until then read ahead to know more about Joe, his interests and the reasons for Other Earth creation and much more...

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic. So to begin with, for someone who hasn't read any of your novels, how would you describe the type of stories that you write? Could you also give us a bio? 

JRL: Hi, and thanks so much for having me. My books say I’m “Joseph Robert Lewis” but that’s not because I’m pretentious, I just figured my names were so common that I would need to use all three to be remembered! Anyway, I have a terribly exciting degree in English literature, and by day I lead the wild life of a technical writer, working with scientists and engineers to build cool things and then explain them to the world. And we have the classic novelist bio closing line: I live in Maryland with my wife and daughters, a needy cat, and a zombie fish. 

But at night I write novels that I like to call “historical fantasy” because they are set in an alternate but familiar world, a world of historical people and events, but also fantastical creatures and devices. 

Q] In the past couple of years there has been a heady discussion about self-publishing. Many of my favorite authors such as J.A. Konrath and Barry Eisler have supported e-books and self releases. What were your thoughts in going indie for your Other Earth series? Did you try traditional publishing? 

JRL: Prior to 2010, I had been submitting my work to agents and editors for several years, and I received a lot of personal, positive feedback, but no offers. So finally I decided that I would try self-publishing. It was a bit of a no-brainer actually, because in my day job I have worked as an editor, designer, and publisher already. The “work” was pretty easy for me.

But my rationale was essentially this: I can keep submitting novels to agents and probably achieve nothing (most books fail in the traditional system for one reason or another), or I can self-publish and probably achieve a little. And a little is better than nothing, so here we are. Eighteen months later, I have published twelve novels and novellas. I’ve made some friends, I’ve won some fans, and I’ve earned some extra income. It’s been wonderful. 

If I had to guess, I’d say that history will probably look back and view the twentieth-century publishing companies (in books, music, and everything else) as a blip, an aberration, between the earlier and later periods of self-publishing where creators controlled their work and connected with their readers, listeners, and fans far more directly. 

Q] When you started out did you have an overall plan for the Other Earth series, such as a set number of books (eight, as it turned out) to be written? How much of the plot do you plan out, or to quote George R.R. Martin, “are you a Gardner or an Architect” when it comes to your writing? 

JRL: The Other Earth saga is the most accidental eight-book series ever. Before this, I had a laundry list of the types of books I wanted to write across all sorts of genres. I didn’t plan on writing any series because I personally find it a little boring when you have book after book of the same characters having painfully similar adventures in the same place. Remember how great The Matrix was? And remember how disappointing the sequels were? I wanted to avoid that. 

But then I realized that if I created a truly diverse world, then I could write many of my different genre stories in this one shared setting. So I created the Halcyon Trilogy: The Burning Sky (steampunk), The Broken Sword (swashbuckler), and The Bound Soul (revenge). This was followed by the Europa Trilogy: Omar the Immortal (murder mystery), Freya the Huntress (Vikings versus werewolves), and Wren the Fox Witch (zombie horror). And lastly I wrote the Chimera Duet: The Dragon and the Lotus (mystical medical mysteries) and The City of the Gods (Egyptian mythology). 

Each book shifts the focus to a different main character and a different setting, but all of the books are tied together by overlapping casts and story lines, which come together in the final book. Altogether, the series spans the adventure, mystery, horror, paranormal, fantasy, science fiction, and even superhero genres. Trust me, I was as surprised as anyone. 

I do plan out each individual book, but those plans rarely survive to the end of the story. My outlines change all the time, but there is always a working outline so I know what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. This really helps to maintain the pace, structure, and focus of a story. I guess I’m a Gardner who builds a trellis, then when I see the book growing off in a new direction I redesign the trellis! 

Q] What inspired you to fuse steampunk and alternate history to create the Other Earth books? 

JRL: I was inspired by an awkward mixture of embarrassment and anger, specifically about racism and sexism in popular media. We keep seeing the same tropes over and over, and I think it usually reveals a sort of laziness or entitlement on the part of the creators (the writers) or the publishers (executives). So in my infinite pride and bravado, I figured I could do better. 

I knew I really didn’t have the insight or the perspective to write a truly progressive or powerful book regarding race or gender (I’m the prototypical Straight White Male), but I knew I could at least try to write books with fewer tropes and more positive images and characters. So I tried. At that time I was interested in steampunk, which is usually focused on Victorian England or the Wild West, so I set out to write a steampunk adventure set in Morocco, with a matriarchal society, and a cast of heroes and villains that were mostly women. And it went on from there. 

I have no illusions that I’ve created some beacon of equality in modern media, and I’ve probably used a few of those tropes I wanted to avoid, but I think for the most part that I have created a series that is full of diverse and positive images that I would be happy to see my daughters reading and emulating. And this concludes the After School Special portion of our interview. 

Q] Speaking of research, I’m curious about how you approach a new novel. For example, do you start from scratch when you’re working on a new book or do you have a pile of ideas that you can choose from when you’re deciding what to write next? 

JRL: I have a To-Write list as long as my arm, and it gets longer every day. So when I finish one project, I always have the next one lined up. And whenever I’m not writing but I still want to be productive, I go into my notes to develop new characters or book outlines, or hang out on Wikipedia trying to discover new ideas for characters, settings, or stories. By the time I’m ready to write the new book, I already have all the characters and outlines finished and I’m really excited to hit the ground running. 

Q] So far you have dabbled in Alternate History, Fantasy, YA, Horror, and SF, and your books have been set in locations as varied as Spain, Morocco, Egypt, India, etc. Why this wanderlust in terms of genre and setting? 

JRL: There are two reasons for my wanderlust. One reason is noble. The other reason… not so much. 

First, the noble reason. I think a lot of books and movies today are fairly repetitive and unoriginal in their choice of settings. How many TV shows are set in New York or Los Angeles? Answer: All of them. (I rounded up.) So I think it’s well worth the effort to bring readers the sights and sounds of other places, other continents or cities or cultures. We live in a big world full of amazing things and it’s a little ridiculous that so much of our entertainment is filled with the same people in the same places. 

And now for the less noble reason. 

This may shock and surprise some people, but some writers like myself are a bit introverted. My idea of a great vacation is staying home and working on a book. (I also have the standard job/family situation that makes it hard to do much globe-trotting.) But at the same time, I love learning about our world and its history. So my compromise is to travel in my books, in my writing. And thanks to the Internet, you can do this in incredible detail. For example, I've combed through vacation photos on Flickr to see the glaciers of Iceland and used Google’s Street View feature to see every bench and tree in Paris. It’s not as good as being there, but it’s pretty good nonetheless. 

Q] Your first series has had elements of Nordic, Russian, and Egyptian mythology in the main plots. How do you go about choosing these various mythologies and enmeshing them within your central plot structure? Do you pick these myths and then try to fit them within your plots, or do you structure your plots around these mythical aspects? 

JRL: I’ve been mildly obsessed with world mythology since I was forced to read Edith Hamilton’s book Mythology (1942) as a child. I even took multiple (multiple!) classes in Norse mythology and poetry in college because I knew that one day that knowledge would be really, really useful. So basically I’ve been collecting all of these stories from ancient cultures, from Quetzalcoatl to Inari to Krishna, and now I’m really excited to have a way to tell these stories myself. 

In Freya the Huntress, I retell the story of Odin’s violent self-sacrifice as told in the Poetic Edda. In Wren the Fox Witch, I visit Baba Yaga’s chicken-leg house of horrors. And in The City of the Gods, I explore the dysfunctional family relationships of the Egyptian deities. Sometimes these are just interesting asides, and sometimes they are central to the plots.  

Q] Please tell us about the books and authors who have captured your imagination and inspired you to become a wordsmith in your own right. Similarly, are there any current authors whom you would like to give a shout out to? 

JRL: To keep this short, I’ll limit myself to four answers. The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle, which is a lovely fairy tale full of lyrical language and lovely imagery. The Princess Bride by William Goldman, which is as exciting and romantic as it is genuinely funny. Hyperion by Dan Simmons, which explores an amazing science fictional universe using the story-telling techniques of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The Wreck of the River of Stars by Michael Flynn, which presents a huge array of fascinating character studies with a lot of solid science and research. READ THEM.

Q] Your new YA book has a titular character who shares her name with an iconic videogame character. Was this coincidental? 

JRL: There are no coincidences. I have played nearly every Legend of Zelda title since my brother and I scraped together the money to buy the first one for our NES in 1987. And for whatever reason (probably just basic childhood nostalgia, but let’s pretend it’s something more mystical), those games have been lodged in my brain for over 25 years now. But it’s always bugged me that it’s the same story over and over. Link saves Zelda, fade to black. Not anymore! 

So in my new series, the young lady who saves the day is named Zelda (no one is named Link). I like the name so much that I tried to convince my wife to name our daughters Zelda, but she voted me down both times. Sorry girls, I tried.

Q] You have previously mentioned on your blog that when younger, you had no interest in English. However, you graduated college with a degree in English literature even though you had an aeronautical engineering major when you started. What instigated the change and could you expound on this major transition? 

JRL: In high school I had some mean English teachers and a love of fighter jets, so my path in college was clear: aerospace engineer! And I’ll tell you what went wrong. I didn’t like the folks in my engineering classes, and I realized that I didn’t want to be around them, or become like them. 

On the other hand, I loved my English classes. The teachers were funny (and seemed happy to be there) and I liked the people in those classes, so I decided to stick with English for the next four years. And things seemed to work out pretty well… 

…except that I became a technical writer, and now I hang out with engineers all the time. But only the cool engineers! 

Q] You are also writing and heavily involved in this fantastic project called “The Drifting Isle Chronicles.” Can you tell us about its inception, its growth, and anything else you wish for us to know? 

JRL: Last winter I made a writer’s bucket list of projects I wanted to do. Movie scripts, comic books, and collaborative projects… and I decided to take a stab at that last one. So I put out a call for authors to write and publish a complete fantasy series together. And within a few days, I had my team. Over the last few months, I’ve been working with four other authors to invent a new fantasy world that combines steampunk styling with some original magical elements. 

Now, we’re each writing our own novels in this shared world. Our plan is to publish our novels together later this year as a five-volume series, and then work together to cross-promote it. I’ve heard of other projects where authors contribute short stories to anthologies within a shared world, but this may be the first time ever that a group of authors have contributed whole novels simultaneously into a complete series. 

So I hope everyone will check out the Drifting Isle Chronicles later this year. 

Q] You currently write vastly different series. How do you go about writing them (do you delineate different time periods for writing them or do you write depending on how you feel each day)? Could you tell our readers about your writing methods? And particularly about the discipline required to produce more than 2 or 3 books a year? 

JRL: Stephen King pointed out many moons ago that if you write just one page (300 words) per day, then you’d have a novel in one year. If you write three pages (1,000 words) per day, then you can write three to four novels in one year. Currently, I write anywhere between 1,000 and 5,000 words per day. 

Yes, that sounds like a lot. But it’s not that difficult. I work all day, and spend all evening with my family, so I don’t even get to start writing until the kids are in bed around 8 or 9 at night. But then I write like the Dickens! I did have to give up some hobbies like channel surfing, but I think it was the right choice. 

Q] You have continued to have a very active online presence via your blog and social media. Tell us about the chaotic nature of these tasks, which fill up an author's life nowadays. 

JRL: I am pretty clueless about social media. My SEO is terrible. My blog post titles are not optimized, nor are my keywords. I have no idea what makes for a good tweet. And I’m pretty sure that I’m blogging and tweeting at the wrong times of the day, so no one is even seeing what I write. 

I’ve set some simple rules for myself: Blog about things I actually care about, and try to make them relevant to my books. And the good news is that this does bring in readers who care about the same things I care about, and who do have an interest in my books, so I’ve been able to build a small community of folks with the same interests in stories, history, culture, media, and social issues. 

Q] In closing, are there any final thoughts or comments that you'd like to share with your readers? What can we look forward to you in the future? 

JRL: I’d just like to tell my readers that I’m tremendously grateful for their support, from all the kind reviews to the interviews and even the fan-art! Looking ahead, we’ll definitely be seeing more of Zelda Pryce and her magical machines, and then I hope to visit Japan at the birth of the Tokugawa Shogunate, and eventually return to science fiction with a sequel to Heirs of Mars. And that’s just for starters!
Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Guest Post: Dragoneers Saga Answers from my Twitter DM box by M. R. Mathias

Dragoneers Saga Answers from my twitter DM box.
When I published The First Dragoneer I had no idea what I was doing. The Sword and the Dragon was getting a small amount of attention, but no one wanted to invest $8.88 in an unknown author. I put The First Dragoneer out as a free sample of my writing, and even though it wasn’t perfect, it was pretty cool.
People started to pay attention then.
Fast forward to now. When people read book one of The Dragoneer Saga – The Royal Dragoneers, they wonder why March and Brendly from the free novella, are not there. This has caused several folks to growl and snarl at me. Well to clear this matter up, I am here to tell you that Marcherion, “The First Dragoneer” was in fact flying across continents on the back of his dragon, Blaze the whole time Jenka, Zahrellion, Rikky, and their dragons were battling Gravelbone in book one.
In Cold Hearted Son of a Witch – Book II,  The fifth Dragoneer also arrives, and together 5 dragons with 5 riders try and win the day.
I’ll not even start to tease you about book III – The Confliction, which came out a few months ago.
The next Dragoneer issue that people flood my twitter DM box with questions about is Crimzon & Clover and how the two adventurers fit in with the Dragoneers.

This is easier. The Crimzon & Clover Short Story Series is now 4 episodes long and growing. A few hundred years after Clover (a human woman’s) life has ended, her dragon Crimzon still lives. Clover and her big red wyrm battled the sarax long before the Dragoneers do. I can say no more because it will spoil all the fun.

Oh, and if Liviu, and Mihir will let me, I’d like to slip in a “Mickey”  …well a “Mik” in this case. The fully revised edition of The Sword and the Dragon became available for kindle and their apps today. It is FREE for Prime members.
Thank you for your time, M. R. Mathias aka @dahgmahn
Monday, May 28, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises Fan Art (By Mihir Wanchoo)


2012 is an epic year for all fans when it comes to comic book movies, with Avengers being the awesome movie that it is. Anticipation is running high for the second big release of the year The Dark Knight Rises. So fans all across have taken matters in their own hands and shown their exuberance and creativity with these wonderful posters.

So here are a few images that caught my eye and show the awesomeness of bat fans all around:

 - The first one is Batcrusher by JLoy on Deviant Art

The rest of the fan art can be viewed over at GEEK TYRANTS  and Buzzfeed so enjoy!

 Note: Cover Pic courtesy of Geek Tyrants.
Saturday, May 26, 2012

"Metropolitan" and "City on Fire" by Walter Jon Williams (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS Metropolitan: Inspired by the digital recent reissue (as noted on FBC HERE) I read again, probably for the 5th time, the Metropolitan/City on Fire sequence. The one distinction this time was that I read the two books the first time after a heavy dose of fantasy reading from 2008-2011 when to a large extent I exhausted my interest in most of the genre the way I did with mysteries 20+ years ago.
Metropolitan was still fresh and interesting and did not read like a fantasy of 2012 or of 1995 for that matter, showing once again how much ground is to explore if people - both writers and readers - would stay away from the usual rut of faux-medieval or vampires/zombies somehow thrown together with modern tech, while still having superb worldbuilding, great characters etc...

And despite the author's insistence on calling Metropolitan a fantasy, its mindset is still sfnal and that imho is the fundamental divide between the two - fantasy - conservative, pre-modern based on the superiority of blood and lineage "you are who you are born" though of course you may just be of noble blood in disguise, sf - progressive, modern, based on the superiority of human intellect expressed in science and technology, "you are what you can achieve".

Back to the book, this is the story of a World City, though still racially diverse and divided into many states, and of Aiah a 25 year old born and living in Jasper, an ordinary bureaucratic and stale state of the World City, but being from the Barkazil, a despised stateless minority usually relegated to the dole and petty thieving. Aiah managed to improve somewhat her Barkazil lot and continue school, work for the government - still better than the dole after all - have a Jasperii lover with whom she bought an upper middle class apartment in a new tower...

Having a talent for plasma work - the magical source of power of the universe -  Aiah could not continue her studies at a more advanced level, but at least after a few years of field work, she now works as the most junior investigator for the Authority, the government department in charge of regulating the plasma use - metered like electricity in our world, but with pockets of "wild plasma" here and there plus with the usual thefts and contraband.

When an outbreak of wild plasma manifests itself spectacularly and deadly, the Authority brass decides it must come from some usually troublesome area, but Rohder, an old hand at dealing with plasma with great seniority though now in a sort of "golden parachute exile" in the Authority, feels differently and with whatever clout he still has, manages to get the brass to appoint someone to investigate - and of course it is the most junior and unimportant investigator, namely Aiah.

One problem is that the place (an abandoned factory and train terminal) is in a slum, but one populated in part by the racist "Jaasperi nation" gangs where Aiah's brown skin is unwelcome; still with two Authority field hands at her back - the sort of blue collar workers of the time as opposed to the white collar Aiah - and despite the usual heckling, snubbing (eg Aiah is refused food from a stall under some silly pretexts), Aiah does her duty and by chance discovers a very powerful source of wild plasma in the area, luckily when her helpers were somewhere away.

Thinking hard about the future and pressed by financial troubles as her fiancee Gil is on an assignment away which keeps his cash flow under stress so his contribution toward the mortgage etc are less than expected, Aiah decides to conceal her discovery and try and sell it.

In the meantime Jaasper is also home to exiled former Metropolitan (President/Supreme Leader etc) of half way around the world Cheloki, one Constantine - black skinned racially as it happens, opposed to the white Jaasperi and the brown Barkazil - plasma wizard, very rich, but whose semi-idealistic New City movement scared Cheloki's conservative neighbors so badly that they ganged up, invaded and deposed Constantine some decades ago.

Living a seemingly idle life of a rich retired magnate, Constantine still has some devoted followers, some from idealism as the New City ideology is still very appealing to many, especially the poor and downtrodden, though as we see later it is mostly a form of our democratic capitalism btw, some from habit, some like his right hand woman, lover and confidant with a pet black panther, Sorya, from believing Constantine still not washed out and a ticket to power.

And while secretly sponsoring shows that keep his name in the "news" and plotting with various disaffected factions in various states, Constantine is still mostly washed out until of course Aiah comes around with her offer (money for the wild plasma).

And as a very corrupt state Caraqui, not quite near Jaasper as even Constantine is wise enough to know that he cannot *** off the Jaasperi who give him asylum how much he despises their fossilized bureaucratic government, is teetering on the brink of revolution, Aiah's plasma may make all the difference between another chance at the New City and final defeat.

And of course Aiah's part idealism, part cynical realism is caught with Constantine's charisma and his offer to teach her "real" plasma use, so Aiah starts becoming involved in the "great game" too; not to speak that despite their ineptness, the Jasperi police cannot ignore the obvious at some point (running a plasma war machine from Jaasper tends to be spectacular) so Aiah may find herself into trouble there too.

All in all just a masterpiece and with a great ending to boot; lots of interesting secondary characters (Barkazil mostly as in Aiah's extended family, but also the Caraqui, some quite strange as the city is watery so has sentient dolphins, and genetically deformed humans among its inhabitants), though Aiah, Constantine and Soryah in her occasional appearances just shine.

After all there is a reason I read this book 4-5 times so far and I expect I will read it a few more times..



As I do not want to spoil too many things just a few notes.

City on Fire starts where Metropolitan ends with Aiah taking Constantine's offer and arriving in liberated Caraqui - though not a native, Constantine is one of the new leaders though seemingly of less importance than the officer leading the coup and the slimy cleric who turned his cloak and supported the revolution - where somewhat to her surprise she is appointed head of the new "Plasma Recovery" department under minister Constantine.

Using the skills learned in Jaasper and finally having carte-blanche to bust the local mafia and the plasma black market in the name of the revolution, Aiah soon shines in her job and slowly she becomes a magnet for Barkazil from all over, while deftly navigating the treacherous waters of Caraqui where the various groups compete for power

But the revolution is under peril as the survivors of the former kleptocracy and the dons of the busted mafia convince the neighbors that they are better back in power, while internally the conflicts between the various Caraqui interests also threaten its survival and of Aiah, Constantine etc too.

Constantine's New City ideals are still powerful and together with Soryah's skilled intrigue capabilities and Aiah's recovered reserves of plasma and her new found fame as some mercenary Barkazil brigades are renowned all over the World City and they may just follow a Barkazil "world figure" hoping to recover their native state now under foreign protector-ship may make the difference between death or survival; on the other hand Constantine has his dark secrets, not to speak that there is space for only one powerful woman in his life and Soryah does not like competition...

City on Fire is even better in some ways than Metropolitan and I so wish the author will write more as the ending while at a decent point and not on a cliffhanger, with its main threads solved, promises so much about what was supposed to come before the series' untimely cancellation.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Blood Of The Underworld by David Dalglish (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order Blood Of The Underworld HERE
Read the First Two Chapters HERE
Read FBC's Review of “A Dance of Cloaks” 
Read FBC's Review of “A Dance of Blades” 
Read FBC’s Review of “A Dance of Death” 
Read FBC’s Interview with David Dalglish
AUTHOR INFORMATION: David Dalglish was born in Missouri and graduated from Missouri Southern State University with a degree in Mathematics. He is the author of the popular Half Orcs series, The Shadowdance trilogy and The Paladins series. He has previously worked as a manager and as a para-professional for Spec-Ed students. He lives with his wife and children in Missouri. 

OFFICIAL SYNOPSIS:You told me I would inspire fear from the shadows, yet you would be the light to banish all shadows. You still can. Be stronger than them. Be stronger than any of us. Prove to Veldaren that you can stand against the darkness, without mask or cloak, and live.” 

Haern is the King’s Watcher, born an assassin only to become the city of Veldaren’s protector against the thief guilds. When Lord Victor Kane attacks the city, determined to stamp out the thief guilds in revenge for past crimes, foreign guilds pour into the city to take advantage of the chaos in an attempt to overthrow the current lords of the underworld. 

And when a mysterious killer known as the Widow begins mutilating thieves, paranoia spreads until it engulfs the city. Haern knows someone is behind the turmoil, pulling strings, and if he doesn’t find out who, and soon, his beloved city will burn. 

CLASSIFICATION: The Watcher’s Blade trilogy is a dark, gritty, character-driven fantasy trilogy in the vein of works by David Gemmell, Brent Weeks and Peter V. Brett.

FORMAT/INFO: Blood Of The Underworld is 304 pages divided over thirty-one numbered chapters with a prologue, epilogue and an Author note. 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, Zusa, Lord Victor Kane, Guild lord Thren Felhorn, Grayson of Mordeina, Antonil Deathmask, Nathaniel Gemcroft etc. Blood Of The Underworld is the first volume of the Watcher’s Blade trilogy.

The trilogy itself is set in the same world as The Shadowdance trilogy, and is the sequel to that series with mild spoilers within. May 9, 2012 marked the independent publication of Blood Of The Underworld in multiple E-book formats. Cover art is provided by Peter Ortiz.

ANALYSIS: David Dalglish’s previous trilogy was a revelation for me as it introduced me to the author as well as his dynamic storytelling prowess. The series was supposed to focus on Haern’s origins and explore his need to become the person he is currently. It was a dark and unforgiving series that was tough on all of its characters, ruthless in character deaths and perhaps the author’s homage to  Batman's beginnings. The final book however didn’t complete the arc as set by the first book and the author has spoken a bit about it in this guest post.

The trappings of the trilogy was that a son rebelled against his father’s wishes and that was the underpinning that powered the main character as well as galvanized the readers as they wanted to see how it would end. While the original trilogy didn’t exactly end on that note, the current trilogy plays out to that very end. It also serves as a bridge between the Half-Orc series, the Shadowdance trilogy as well as the Paladin series. The main theater of action would be set in the city of Veldaren primarily and also focusing on other regions as per the story dictates. The book also aims to bring together all the characters and infuse the story to make it an explosive one.

The story begins the king of Veldaren receiving a letter of intent from Victor Kane, lord of a nearby region who wishes to accomplish a task that no one has attempted so far. He wishes to rid the city of all its thieves, murderers and other scum. To do so, he has brought his own private army and is ready to start his mission. Alyssa Gemcroft has recovered from the events of the city of Angelport nearly two years ago and she has learnt to be more cunning while also growing in her economic strength. She however is unprepared for a new surprise that awaits her in mansion of a fellow trifect member. Zusa is resilient and has constantly been the pillar of support for Alyssa in many ways however she will have to face demons and problems from her past as well and this time it might just be enough to break her. Then there’s Thren Felhorn, the greatest and most feared guild lord who is still trying to regain his lost glory and lastly there’s the Widow who is going around on a killing spree motivated by reasons stranger than most men can fathom.

Thus begins the first volume of the Watcher’s Blade trilogy which attempts to fuse the character driven storyline of its preceding trilogy with the epic action and intrigue of the sequel Half-orc series. This powder-keg is all set to explode and explode it does, in a spectacularly brutal onslaught. The prologue opens with a riddle and a murder and then quickly the plot threads and characters are introduced with enough of a background presented for all new readers to get caught up adequately and for returning readers to whet their memories. The highlights of David’s previous books are spectacularly present, beginning with rapid pace of the story, multiple plot lines, intriguing characterization and sharp plot twists.

The best part however, is the characterization beginning with Haern and his troubled past, this series is basically about the confrontation that has been ordained between Haern and his father. The seeds for the confrontation were laced in the first two books of the Shadowdance trilogy and it’s in this book can the reader see them coming to fruition. There’s also Alyssa, Zusa, Thren, Victor Kane and a few other characters who each have their own plans and work towards their own ends. The equally awesome part is that while the series is about the Watcher, in this book the focus is shared by many characters each of whom can be confidently considered as a compelling protagonist or antagonist (depending on how you view their story).

This multifaceted character approach makes this story come alive tremendously as the reader is kept guessing on all fronts and something is happening in each POV character thread to keep the plot tension high strung. In this regards, the plot confusion and the thriller aspect of the story really shine through. The pace of the book also seems to make the book more akin to a thriller and this is another plus point in regards to the book. I can’t say that this book has no drawbacks to it but for the type of story I like to read, it had everything; tense mystery, believable characterization, epic action and lastly a strong authorial grasp on the story. All of this along with the book’s humor that is present but in minute amounts and is character specific which makes this story a fantastic read. 

Lastly while this is a sequel trilogy, newer readers will have no problems jumping in and picking up the story, and for the older, returning readers this book is a crossroads of all the three previously written series thereby giving them a big crossover high. The author has commented upon this aspect in the afterword and it shows in the book as we come across a wide array of characters that confabulate and conflict to give the readers a rousing tale. The plot threads come to a reasonable conclusion at the end of this book and the reader is left with a big hint of the story direction of the next book Blood Of The Father.

CONCLUSION: David Dalglish is an anomaly of sorts, his books while seeming generic are turning out to be a unique combination of dark fantasy and exciting thriller modes, thereby giving the readers a potent story and making sure they are left wanting more. I was hooked with the previous trilogy and this one does more of the same in spades. If you truly wish to discover a fantastic new author, give this book a try or if you want, start with book I of the Shadowdance trilogy and experience the origin story as its unfolds epically.
Thursday, May 24, 2012

"More Detail on Three Upcoming Novels of the Highest Interest: Lawrence Norfolk, K.J. Parker and Peter Hamilton" (by Liviu Suciu)

 A little bit to my surprise I have recently been extremely lucky to obtain advance reading copies of three of my most awaited books for 2012 and as they cover the 3 areas of English language fiction that is of most interest to me today - sumptuous historical fiction, secondary world fantasy that is closer to historical fiction than to traditional lots of magic genre and modern space opera - I decided to talk a little about each below with reviews to come later in the year.


In September, Lawrence Norfolk returns to fiction after many years with John Saturnall's Feast. I read this book a few weeks ago, essentially the day I obtained my e-arc and I talked a little about both the author and the book on Goodreads. For now I will just present my final point from that "raw thoughts" mini-review.

"The novel is also very visual - I was picturing quite a lot of it as a Peter Greenaway movie, more precisely the mixture of the period of The Draughtsman's Contract and the feasting of The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover - both movies that I've watched a number of times. Though now the cook is the lover too and he does not end on the dinner table..."

Since my first two readings, the novel kept staying with me and  I plan at least one more end-to-end read later this year. The blurb below is reasonably accurate though it does not convey the richness of the book.

"A beautiful, rich and sensuous historical novel, John Saturnall’s Feast tells the story of a young orphan who becomes a kitchen boy at a manor house, and rises through the ranks to become the greatest Cook of his generation. It is a story of food, star-crossed lovers, ancient myths and one boy’s rise from outcast to hero.

Orphaned when his mother dies of starvation, having been cast out of her village as a witch, John is taken in at the kitchens at Buckland Manor, where he quickly rises from kitchen-boy to Cook, and is known for his uniquely keen palate and natural cooking ability. However, he quickly gets on the wrong side of Lady Lucretia, the aristocratic daughter of the Lord of the Manor. In order to inherit the estate, Lucretia must wed, but her fiancé is an arrogant buffoon. When Lucretia takes on a vow of hunger until her father calls off her engagement to her insipid husband-to-be, it falls to John to try to cook her delicious foods that might tempt her to break her fast.

Reminiscent of
Wolf Hall and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, John Saturnall’s Feast is a brilliant work and a delight for all the senses."


 In July, K.J. Parker's novel Sharps will be out and as two days ago I have just received a bound galley which I plan to enjoy with my usual "read 100 pages, reread them, read another 100, then read the first 200 again" that KJ Parker's novels deserve in order to tease all their subtleties before being hit with the expected hammer of unbelievable twists and turns, I can only say that so far it is just vintage author with the darkly ironic view of human nature and the generic world building and naming conventions familiar from earlier novels.

For a discussion of K.J. Parker's earlier work here on FBC you can look at my review of The Hammer and the links there - to date I have done 7 review posts about the author's work. The blurb below seems accurate from what I see.

"For the first time in nearly forty years, an uneasy truce has been called between two neighbouring kingdoms. The war has been long and brutal, fought over the usual things: resources, land, money...

Now, there is a chance for peace. Diplomatic talks have begun and with them, the games. Two teams of fencers represent their nations at this pivotal moment.

When the future of the world lies balanced on the point of a rapier, one misstep could mean ruin for all. Human nature being what it is, does peace really have a chance?"


                                               (click to enlarge for full enjoyment)

In  September (UK), Peter Hamilton's new standalone mammoth space opera Great North Road will be published and just yesterday a limited edition trade paperback review copy that stands at 1087 (!!) pages arrived in my mailbox. While the text is nicely large so the published book may stand at somewhat less, it still should clock close to 1000 pages. 

 I have only browsed a few pages so far but the book seems vintage Hamilton with the usual exuberant, sense of wonder style that justly made him one of the premier voices of today's SF. I will present the blurb below, while the image above should be seen at full resolution (click on it) for full enjoyment as it conveys what one expects from a P. F. Hamilton novel!

"In Newcastle-upon-Tyne, AD 2142, Detective Sidney Hurst attends a brutal murder scene. The victim is one of the wealthy North family clones – but none have been reported missing. And the crime’s most disturbing aspect is how the victim was killed. Twenty years ago, a North clone billionaire and his household were horrifically murdered in exactly the same manner, on the tropical planet of St Libra. But if the murderer is still at large, was Angela Tramelo wrongly convicted? Tough and confident, she never waivered under interrogation – claiming she alone survived an alien attack. But there is no animal life on St Libra. Investigating this alien threat becomes the Human Defence Agency’s top priority. The bio-fuel flowing from St Libra is the lifeblood of Earth’s economy and must be secured. So a vast expedition is mounted via the Newcastle gateway, and teams of engineers, support personnel and xenobiologists are dispatched to the planet. Along with their technical advisor, grudgingly released from prison, Angela Tramelo. But the expedition is cut off, deep within St Libra’s rainforests. Then the murders begin. Someone or something is picking off the team one by one. Angela insists it’s the alien, but her new colleagues aren’t so sure. Maybe she did see an alien, or maybe she has other reasons for being on St Libra "

Edit: A reader using Internet Explorer noticed that earlier versions of the covers here and in a few other posts were not displayed in that browser and I looked into it and fixed the problem. I think there are some compatibility problems between the new Blogger interface and IE that led to that, but as I use Mozilla and have not been using IE for many years now, please notify us with a comment or email of any such display problems in any browser you use.

Thank you!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

"No Going Back" by Mark Van Name (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS Mark Van Name's debut "One Jump Ahead" introduced Jon Moore mercenary ex-soldier and a man of many secrets that are so dangerous that he must live alone and make no attachments, and partner Lobo, personal AI warship (PCAV) mooning as park statue/exhibition on an obscure world, an AI ship of many secrets of its own, secrets that would not do for anyone to know either.

"No Going Back" is the 5th Jon and Lobo adventure and it came two years after the previous installment rather than at the one year schedule of the first 4. The novel returned to the more classic adventure feel of the first three books and while the darker and weightier Children No More was very good, I think the original tone works better especially now that the author has it down pitch perfect.

What makes No Going Back stand out is precisely what the title literally means, namely that from now on it is no going back to the older days as the series finds here focus and a narrative pillar. The super-competent hero with extraordinary powers trope revived so well in this series gets one more dimension, a clear goal and I am really interested to see how the author handles it.

Of course Jon and Lobo are such great characters as the first person narration of which Lobo gets a little share here in this book, has worked so well to have established and any new series installment is still a huge asap, get the e-arc on the spot and read it immediately notwithstanding how many other books I have in the queue.

As style goes, the novel is a gripping read from the first pages when Jon is in the process of trying to crash a party of rich old pedophiles - party where 10 children are auctioned off - on an obscure planet with great natural beauty but harsh physical characteristics. In the link above you can read the first 15 chapters on Baen's site and see how smooth everything goes.

 The structure of No Going Back is a bit different from its predecessors, with chapters numbered "x days from the end" mixed with the 100+ year old backstory that continues Jon's memories from long ago, now from the time in his youth immediately after escaping the hell of his native - now quarantined - planet when he was not understanding his powers and trying to get the time needed to do so, while Lobo's interludes offer more insight into the AI's special human-like personality, the why's of which having been set-up in "Overthrowing Heaven".

 No Going Back functions well as a standalone as all earlier books' story lines are recounted briefly here and there, while the salient facts about Jon and Lobo are also gone through, so you can start delving in the saga here, though from the way things end, I suspect the next volumes will become much more tightly connected in both plot and secondary characters.

As my usual, positional rankings go, this series is in my top tier, get/read asap any installment, while No Going Back is probably the best executed to date, though Children No More was "more serious". The clear series focus established here should only add to the pluses in the future when new Jon and Lobo adventures will appear.

Overall No Going Back still remains a pretty classical
space adventure sf novel with modern style and sensibilities and with the the generally expected stuff implied by such, very well done but nothing previously not seen and it is one of my highly recommended novels of 2012.


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