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Friday, June 28, 2013

Winner of the Ian C. Esslemont Malazan Empire Set Giveaway!!!

Congratulations to James Evans (Illinois) who was randomly selected to win a SET of the following Malazan Empire novels by Ian Cameron Esslemont courtesy of Tor:

Night of Knives (Trade Paperback)
Return of the Crimson Guard (Trade Paperback)
Stonewielder (Trade Paperback)
Orb Sceptre Throne (Trade Paperback)
Blood and Bone (Hardcover)
Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Mini-Reviews: It Began With Ashes by D. E. M. Emrys and The Remortal by Ramsey Isler (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order the book HERE
Read my review of From Man To Man by D.E.M. Emrys
Read The Truth Behind A Legend by D.E.M. Emrys (Guest post)

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: I was introduced to D. E. M. Emrys’ writing when I read the prequel short story From Man To Man. It focused on Draven Reinhardt, a retired warrior who has been under some stringent conditions due to his current status as a simple worker. It intrigued me enough to give It Began With Ashes a shot. This story was a fuller one focusing on more characters and was a good debut.

There are many POV characters in It Began With Ashes, we have Draven Reinhardt, then his son Kale Reinhardt who adores his father but will have his own role to play in the events to come. Astartes is the son of Nicolas the tax collector who is rather unnerved as he travels along his father and sees things that have only been mentioned as roadside tales. Morganna is Draven’s wife and a person who stabilizes his home and has maintained his sanity. Kale is a young kid who idolizes his father and wishes to grow up and be exactly like his father. All of them will be tested in several different ways as they face an attack from the Vikir. The Vikir are a race of warriors who were defeated a long time ago and since then have only been part of folklore. Things change when they invade and and the story line actually begins.

The best part of the story is that the book’s pace as we are quickly introduced to all the characters and the situation. But it doesn't feel rushed; we are shown what afflictions the characters have faced so far. The book very strongly explores a vast character cast who are facing turmoil psychologically, physically and financially. The story opens with almost everyone in stage of transition and then before we know it, chaos strikes in the form of the Vikir invasion. The characters react in various ways and it’s clear that this book will be as much a heroic fantasy as a coming-of-age one. Kale and Astartes are clearly the two main protagonists through whose eyes we see most of the story, they are both young and often a bit clueless about their surroundings. The author very conveniently switches each POV chapter so as to show how much confusion that ensues in the story and how unsettled everyone is because of it.

Lastly there’s the characterization which is handled well by the author and gives the reader some intriguing accounts to follow and the characters that are very interesting. The reader will be completely enthralled and thus it makes for the last hook. Moving on to the inadequacies of the story, the biggest one is the world building front. The world and back history are only hinted at and never clearly revealed. The characters often spout things that mean something but because the readers are not clued in, the impact doesn't come through entirely. I’m sure with the second book the author will remedy this front but in this one, it was lacking. Another point was the story is on the shorter side and this could be something that many readers might find a bit disconcerting (for those who love their fantasy to be on the longer side).

It Began With Ashes is a good debut, it showcases some deft writing skills on the author’s part. This book is one for those who love fast paced, action packed stories with intriguing characters. Namely if you like Jim Butcher, James Barclay or Jennifer Fallon then you might enjoy D. E. M. Emrys’ debut as well so give it a shot.

Official Author Website
Order the book HERE
Read an excerpt HERE

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Remortal by Ramsey Isler was another surprise pick for me. This was a review request that pinged my interest purely based on the blurb. The book is about immortals living among us and about a teenage runaway called Telly that encounters them, the read was a surprising one to say the least.

The story begins with Telly who is a runaway and a part-time junkie, his best friend is Mattie who is also a runaway like him. On one of their most recent food excursions they run afoul of some gangsters and are almost about to get a lethal beating when a person called Van intervenes. His arrival saves their lives and he offers Telly an intriguing proposal. This is where the story really kicks in and the reader gets hooked on the premise. The story then opens up that premise and we get to see how the author explores the issue of immortality.

There is only a singular POV character Telly and hence the story is really on his shoulders. We get to see his transformation from an unsure runaway into a person who can plan for his future. Telly is an intriguing character who transforms in small and large ways and the entire story is about the journey he takes. Van is his eternal mentor and spurs him on with his suggestions and tasks. Van is a brutally fascinating character in himself and gives out some very curious tidbits about his past as well as the history of the immortals. This history is only teased and I’m hoping that there will be more revealed in the sequel as otherwise this would be a very very sore point for the book.

The story opens up with Telly as his transformation is the pivotal focus of the story and while it is taking place, the reader will be intrigued as to where it is heading as the blurb contents reveal what the end might be. Van’s death at Telly’s hands is the main event that the readers are promised however along the way there are few other subplots as well. Mainly the other immortals are quite wary of Van and his final agenda and they pursue Telly to acquaint him fully to their cause. There’s also Mattie and his troubles that keep Telly occupied and thus with all these subplots, the final climax doesn't quite precisely resolve all of them.

The ending while a complete one also leaves quite a few threads hanging and so it’s my hope that the author conveniently made it so for the sequel as otherwise it would be a bit unsatisfactory. The plus points of this book are its engaging protagonist, streamlined plot line and intriguing setup but what also lets the book down partially is the weak back story and incomplete plot resolution. The Remortal is a book that showed a lot of promise but didn't quite fulfill it. It's a good book but one that falls short of being fantastic.
Tuesday, June 25, 2013

"Article 5" by Kristen Simmons (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

 Visit Kriten Simmons' Official Website HERE

OVERVIEW: New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., have been abandoned.

The Bill of Rights has been revoked, and replaced with the Moral Statutes.

There are no more police—instead, there are soldiers. There are no more fines for bad behavior—instead, there are arrests, trials, and maybe worse. People who get arrested usually don't come back.

Seventeen-year-old Ember Miller is old enough to remember that things weren't always this way. Living with her rebellious single mother, it's hard for her to forget that people weren't always arrested for reading the wrong books or staying out after dark. It's hard to forget that life in the United States used to be different.

Ember has perfected the art of keeping a low profile. She knows how to get the things she needs, like food stamps and hand-me-down clothes, and how to pass the random home inspections by the military. Her life is as close to peaceful as circumstances allow.

That is, until her mother is arrested for noncompliance with Article 5 of the Moral Statutes. And one of the arresting officers is none other than Chase Jennings—the only boy Ember has ever loved.

FORMAT: Article 5 is the first book in a series of books. It is a mature YA novel that mixes adventure, romance, and dystopian elements into one. It stands at 362 pages and was published by Tor Teen on January 31, 2012.

ANALYSIS: There are literally dozens of dystopian novels hitting the shelves at a pace that makes it nearly impossible to keep up with. Article 5 is a YA dystopian novel, but it is not what one would automatically expect from this soon-to-be oversaturated genre. It is dark, gritty, and unique.

Article 5 is set in an America that has fallen at the hands of an extremely conservative militant government. A government organization known as the Federal Bureau of Reformation, or the FBR, has been created with the sole purpose to make sure citizens do not engage in 'dangerous' activities. Dangerous activates can range from reading old magazines and books to showing public displays of affection.

Article 5 starts off with Ember (our protagonist) and her mother being arrested for failure to comply with the FBR's article 5: outlawing children born out of wedlock. Ember is separated from her mother and taken to a reformatory to 'reform' her behavior. It is at the reformatory that Ember starts to see the FBR and the country for what it is, for not everything is as it appears.

Article 5 takes readers on a journey as Ember struggles to understand what is going on, runs for her life, and starts to uncover exactly what is going on with the government.

This novel is Kristen Simmons' debut novel and it really is a smashing debut. The writing is strong, gripping, and fast paced. Yet, it is not so fast paced that things are sacrificed for the sake of moving the story along.

The world building at first may seem a bit confusing, but it starts to fill itself out as you read along. There are also not as many answers to the hows and whys of things as I would have liked, but I think all that will be answered in upcoming books. For example, I was not sure why the FBR was really in place or how it got the power it did. This was almost addressed by the end of the book, but it should come to light in other books.

One of the elements of writing I felt Kristen Simmons captured was the dark side to dystopian novels. Many novels are glossing over elements and downplaying factors in an effort to make them age appropriate novels, but Article 5 does not do that. There are references to abuse, torture, graphic killings, and other elements that make it extremely dark. Some of the scenes are definitely intense, which makes this book definitely for the more 'mature' and older side of the YA spectrum.

While the novel was strong and surprisingly a lot better than I expected there was one weakness I just could not get past. I found the protagonist, Ember, extremely frustrating. There were multiple times throughout the novel that I just found her ignorance of what was going on frustrating. You know the type of frustration you feel where you just want to take a character and shake her? Yes. This was my interactions with Ember.

For example, she escapes the reformatory and is on the run. She decides she'd be better of 'on her own' so she slips out and just goes trustingly up to a random stranger's house. It frustrated me because she had already seen the depth of the world and how people acted, yet just blindly acted like nothing else was going on.

Overall, I feel Article 5 was a great debut novel. It by far is not a perfect debut and I believe the subject content in Article 5 makes it a book that is not for everyone, but it is worth a try. You will know within the first 250-50 pages if you like it or not. I see Kristen Simmons going far in the literary world. The style of writing, tone, and ability to bring details to a story is amazing.
Friday, June 21, 2013

Spotlight On Some Recent and Upcoming SFF Titles of Interest (with comments by Mihir Wanchoo)

I haven’t been able to get much reading done in the past few months due to a family medical situation and now I’m slowly trying to get back into the reviewing mode. While that hasn't gone as smoothly as I hoped and so as in the past I’m doing a quick spotlight on four titles that have pegged my interest along with a few comments. I will be trying my best to review them in the coming months over here so until then be sure to take a look at them.

Inheritance (Heir to the Blood Throne duology) by Tim Marquitz

Book blurb - What's a vampire to do when he's afraid of the dark and passes out at the sight of blood?

These are but two of the problems that face thirteen year old Rupert Bartholomew Cooke. After growing up in England's Foster Care System, Rupert is at last adopted. Then what should be the happiest moment of his life turns into the most terrifying day imaginable. His adopter, the same man whose bite turned Rupert into a vampire, is none other than the infamous Jack the Ripper.

To make matters worse, Rupert is left to watch over Jack's mansion, under which is buried a portal that leads to the Source of all magic. Untrained and coping with the stresses of his new and terrible existence, Rupert is forced to defend the Source against Jack's enemies, the necromancer Mobius and his secret accomplice.

With his newfound friends, Lorelei the thrall, Alistair the diminutive werewolf, and Horatio the gruff housekeeper, Rupert must battle Mobius and preserve the fragile truce between the Vampire Nation and the Legions of the Dead; all without giving Jack a reason to kill him when he returns home.

Thoughts: Tim Marquitz tries his hand at the YA genre and with his comedic writing skills, this book is one that figures quite high on my TBR list. The story while being YA will still have a touch of the weird as well as more than a spot of darkness to it. I've yet to be disappointed by any of Tim’s works and so I’ll be starting this one soon to see how he fares in this genre.

City of Scars (The Skullborn Trilogy, #1) by Steven Montano 

Book blurb - It’s been three decades since the Blood Queen led her legions on a brutal campaign of conquest and destruction, and the Empires are still struggling to rebuild. Now, in the distant aftermath of the war, the real battle is about to begin.

Haunted by the crimes of his past, fallen knight Azander Dane ekes out a mercenary existence as he drifts from one city to the next. His latest job is to hunt down Ijanna Taivorkan, a powerful outlaw witch desperate to escape her destiny.

Dane and Ijanna find themselves in Ebonmark, the City of Scars, where deadly crime guilds and shadowy agents of the White Dragon Empire prepare for a brutal confrontation. Pursued by apocalypse cults, mad alchemists, exiled giants and werewolf gangs, Dane and Ijanna soon learn a deadly lesson – in Ebonmark, only the cruelest and most cunning can survive.

Thoughts: With Steven Montano, one can never be too sure as to what genres the story will mix and how will it all end. After five volumes in his terrific Blood Skies series, he turns his mind towards dark, epic fantasy and this is the result. Steven has blogged a bit about the series setting as well as the characters and the magic system. After reading all about this new series, I’m very excited to see what the author has planned in this new series of which the first book will release on June 28th. So be on the lookout for its review soon.

The Life and Times of Emperor Croesus Black: Volume One: Exodus (The Emperor's Journals) by Matthew B. Wolcott 

Book blurb - I feel I must begin with an apology, but not an apology for the cities I have razed, the men I have killed, or the children I have left fatherless. No those things, while they weight heavy on my mind some nights, needed to be done. This apology is to you: the potential reader, I apologize because I have lived an incredible life and wish to tell you this amazing story but sadly I lack the skills to do it justice. My writings in the past were hurried notes to battlefield commanders, orders to underlings, perhaps a note to an old friend, and an occasional letters professing my love to a woman of incredible beauty and character who I had the fortune to know and love. I am not a wordsmith; I lack the prose of a poet, the rhythm of a bard, and the smooth continuity of a novelist.

As I have gotten older my stories take a meandering jaunt that jumps from one event to the next. In my mind these stories are crystal clear and make perfect sense, but I fear my listeners are often left scratching their heads and looking for a polite way to exit the room, and trust me it is no easy feat to excuse yourself from a rambling Emperor. So it is with a good deal of trepidation that I put these words to paper to tell a tale that should not be left to legend and speculation. Already I hear deeds and stories attributed to me that make me sound like a god on earth. Some consider me a savior, others a devil. Neither is the case; I am merely a man who continually tried to make the best out of the situations I found myself in. Sometimes I failed; many times I succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. It is these successes that have bought me the throne I now sit in, but it is the failures that taught me the most. 

Fate has been exceedingly kind to me and on occasion remarkably cruel. I in turn have been the same. As you can see I wandered a bit from my apology here. This marks the fifth attempt I have made to put my story to paper and I lack the energy to try again if I fail this time. I hope that you walk away from these pages with a better understanding of me and the empire I have built and the man who built it. I have consulted the best writers I could find and all tell me to simply start at the beginning. So with an apology for my less then skillful scribbling, I give you the autobiography of... Emperor Croesus Black.

Thoughts: This one was a review request and the blurb while a bit profuse, seemed very K. J. Parker-ish which snagged my interest. I read the first two chapters from the kindle sample and requested the book based on all the aforementioned reasons. I have high hopes from this one and only time will tell how it pans out, but based on the blurb and the sample I read, it seems to be a good read. Watch out for the review next month.
Boy Nobody by Allen Zadoff 

Book blurb - Boy Nobody is the perennial new kid in school, the one few notice and nobody thinks much about. He shows up in a new high school, in a new town, under a new name, makes few friends and doesn't stay long. Just long enough for someone in his new friend's family to die -- of "natural causes." Mission accomplished, Boy Nobody disappears, and moves on to the next target.

When his own parents died of not-so-natural causes at the age of eleven, he found himself under the control of The Program, a shadowy government organization that uses brainwashed kids as counter-espionage operatives. But somewhere, deep inside Boy Nobody, is somebody: the boy he once was, the boy who wants normal things (like a real home, his parents back), a boy who wants out. And he just might want those things badly enough to sabotage The Program's next mission.

Thoughts: I would have missed this title if it were not for Maja of The Nocturnal Library, it’s entirely due to her smashing review that Boy Nobody came on to my reading horizon. Firstly go read her review as it very strongly explains why this book is not to be missed. I've followed her recommendations for the past some time and they have been spot on. So this book instantaneously became a must read for me after reading her review and I’ll be doing my best to review it ASAP.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

"The Testing: The Testing #1" by Joelle Charbonneau (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

Visit Joelle Charbonneau's Official Website Here

: Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Isn’t that what they say? But how close is too close when they may be one in the same?

The Seven Stages War left much of the planet a charred wasteland. The future belongs to the next generation’s chosen few who must rebuild it. But to enter this elite group, candidates must first pass The Testing—their one chance at a college education and a rewarding career.

Cia Vale is honored to be chosen as a Testing candidate; eager to prove her worthiness as a University student and future leader of the United Commonwealth. But on the eve of her departure, her father’s advice hints at a darker side to her upcoming studies--trust no one.

But surely she can trust Tomas, her handsome childhood friend who offers an alliance? Tomas, who seems to care more about her with the passing of every grueling (and deadly) day of the Testing. To survive, Cia must choose: love without truth or life without trust.

FORMAT: The Testing is the first book in a series of YA dystopia novels. It has a mix of adventure, action, romance, and sci-fi/futuristic elements. It stands at 336 pages and was published on June 4, 2013 by Houghton Miffin Books for Children.

ANALYSIS: Dystopia novels like Divergent and Hunger Games have caused the literary world to go into a craze. Publishers are looking to jump on the bandwagon and find the 'next great' hit to land in the dystopia genre.

The Testing is the first book in a proposed trilogy of dystopia YA novels. While I would like to say it certainly compares to Hunger Games and Divergent, I feel there are certain elements that are lacking that give it the star power these two wonderful series had.

The Testing had all the elements that can be found in virtually any dystopia novel. There is the big, bad government that knows what is best for all the citizens, the select few who are 'chosen' to be the ones to lead the world, and horrific testing/challenges that younger children have to go through in an effort to prove they can be great leaders of the future world. This is of course all mixed in with young children meeting horrific deaths and of course, the mandatory love story. Yes, this is all here in The Testing.

Unfortunately, what is not in The Testing is the ability for readers to form an emotional connection with the characters. No matter how hard I tried, I failed to form a connection with any of the characters. This included all the characters, from the main characters Cia and Tomas, to the secondary characters; there was just no connection there. I felt no warmth, no love, not even hatred for the characters. I felt nothing.

Does the lack of character development mean it is a bad book? Not necessarily so. If you enjoyed Hunger Games and Divergent or are in the target audience for this novel, I really believe you will enjoy this series. There is just enough of a unique twist to keep those readers satisfied. There's action, adventure, betrayal, and love. All of which satisfy the target audience of the book, and that's the main purpose of it. Isn't it?

However, if you are looking for a story that you can really root for the characters and feel a connection/bond with them, I am not really sure you'll find it in this novel.

Overall, The Testing was a quick read, a page turner, and had a slight unique twist. I just wish there was more warmth, emotion, and character development. I think it works for its target audience, but probably will not have the huge appeal Hunger Games or Divergent has. Will I read the second book? I will probably pick it up to see if the characters change or develop over time.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Interview with M. L. Brennan (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order the book HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Generation V

Generation V is a debut that I enjoyed because of its characterization, vampire mythology and central premise. M. L. Brennan made her debut with this book and it was one that differentiated itself among the urban fantasy genre. Here the author talks about how the series came to fruition, why she chose Providence, RI as the primary setting and what to expect next. So read on and find out why M. L. Brennan is an author you should definitely check out.

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic. For starters, could you please introduce yourself and what inspired you to write in the first place? 

MLB: Thanks for having me! I've always been a huge fan of speculative fiction – sci-fi and fantasy were basically my favorite things to read when I was young. I’m also pretty well steeped in a lot of the primary areas of geekery – growing up, one of the most important days of the week was when I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation with my brother and mother. I vividly remember watching “Encounter At Farpoint,” (okay, mostly I remember Q’s bizarre judge hat) and those episodes really had a big influence on me. The finale aired when I was twelve, and while sometimes the ideas and themes behind Star Trek could be a little clunky, they really affected the way I looked at the world in terms of fairness and justice.

Writing Generation V really stemmed out of a lot of ideas that I was interested in writing about – the idea of heritage and family, of responsibility, of equality within relationships, and of morality. I wanted a character who was still struggling with a sense of self, and because I teach a lot of college first-years, I've sat through a lot of lectures about this idea of a more delayed adulthood. All of that really rolled together and became Generation V.

Q] Could you elaborate on the journey you underwent from first when the idea for the book germinated to ultimately finding a publisher for it, what were your initial thoughts when Roc signed you for writing it and what do you think the publisher saw in your book proposal? 

MLB: Sure. I probably spent about two years really batting the basic idea around – I had a pretty huge pile of notes that I’d written on scrap paper and things like that. What happened is that I’d been working on another book, which I was really excited by, but ultimately my agent and I had to agree that it just wasn’t showing any signs of selling. So it was time to sit down and write something else, and I had all of these notes and ideas that I’d been playing with. I wrote the first solid draft of what became Generation V in about a month. It was different than what I’d been working with before, but when I showed it to my agent she agreed that it was good stuff, and she got to work trying to sell it. A few places turned it down, but then we basically got the dream email from Anne Sowards at Roc.

My initial thoughts… well, you know those sounds that dolphins make when they’re playing? That was basically my inner monologue for the entire month that the book sold. Seriously, though – it was really an ideal fit. So many books and series that I love have come out of Roc, and working with an editor like Anne Sowards was really just about everything I could’ve hoped for when my agent started trying to sell Generation V. It was very Cinderella-esque – we’d been trying to sell Generation V for a few months, and I’d just started to put together the pieces to start a third new project, and one email just changed my entire career trajectory.

In terms of what Roc saw in it – funny enough, I think they saw the same things that had made a few other editors pass on it. It’s not a cookie-cutter urban fantasy novel – my main character is male, he’s really the opposite of powerful at the beginning of the book, my vampires are pretty different than anything else out there, and the first book doesn't have any sex in it. It’s different – and that doesn't mean that it’s any better or worse than other books in the genre, but it means that a few editors weren't quite sure if they wanted to take a chance on it (or I’d get notes like, “I wish it had been more gothic”). Every editor who turned it down was always complimentary about my writing, but it ultimately came down to content. I was just really lucky that Roc was interested in what I was working with.

Q] Your debut novel is the first volume in a series. Could you give us a progress report on the next book, offer any details about the sequel “Iron Night”, and outline your plans for the series as a whole? 

MLB: I’m currently finishing up the edits on Iron Night right now, and it will be published in January 2014. I've had a lot of fun with this book – at first I was really worried about writing a sequel, and the first 30,000 words were probably the hardest I've written, because I was so intimidated at the thought of re-introducing readers to characters. But once I got through that first chunk, everything else went really well – I was getting to explore the underbelly of my world a lot more than I had in the first book, plus the characters from the first book were getting to grow up and stretch from their first incarnations. I don’t want to give too much away, but here’s something – Fort’s sister Prudence will be making much more of an appearance in this book, and the reader will learn a lot more about her motivations.

For the series as a whole, I’m interested in the idea of a world that’s in the process of changing. Fort is a character who has to take ownership of his own life and accept his heritage in order to move forward, but once he does that I don’t want things to ever be easy for him.

When I think about book series that I loved over long period, or that I can still come back to years later and enjoy just as much as I did the first time, they are the ones where the author was willing to take the world and characters in new directions. Also, nothing drives me more nuts than an author who isn't willing to do damage to characters and worlds – one thing that always riveted me about watching Battlestar Galactica was the feeling I had every week that main characters were in potential danger, and might actually be killed. It makes consequences real, and the characters are forced in directions that challenge their established morality or worldview.

Q] Let’s talk about your Vampire mythology, while you have them in a UF setting, their background is absolutely different from most of the vampire fare I’ve read so far. The roots seemed to be grounded in horror and you pulled it off brilliantly. How did you go about re-structuring this mythos? 

MLB: Thanks so much! First, I was really fascinated to see vampires as I’d seen them portrayed as a teenager and young adult on Buffy the Vampire Slayer morph into the vampires that are seen on Twilight. I felt like the Meyers vampires had dropped a lot of the horror roots, and become more of a romantic… well, I don’t want to say “ideal,” because to me the Meyers vampires seem to have a lot more in common with Peter Pan’s Lost Boys with the rejection of aging and changing than they do with shows like Buffy or Angel, which ultimately were about the painful process of growing up.

So one of my first goals was that vampires had to be monsters. These weren't cuddly or sweet, and they definitely didn't have love or empathy for humans. Humans, to my vampires, are either conveniences or obstacles that need to be dealt with.

My other goal was to make my vampires less static characters. A creature that is immortal and ageless is fairly uninteresting to me – what pressures are really on this character? They have an eternity to do whatever they want. But a character with a lifecycle, and an aging process, and the prospect that they will someday die – that is a character who has a finite time to achieve their goals and desires. This was something interesting to me, so making vampires a separate species (and an endangered species, at that) was one of the first and most important changes that I made.

Q] Speaking about vampires, I was glad to see that you didn’t stop just there. You also introduced bits of Japanese mythology in your debut. So could you talk us through your decision and how did you happen upon Kitsunes amid all the creatures in Japanese mythology? 

MLB: I love shapeshifters in urban fiction, but it felt that just about everything I was reading had werewolves in it, and that there was almost an agreed-on pack structure and mythos concerning them. After making my vampires so different, I didn't want to have cookie-cutter werewolves, plus I wanted to avoid a sense of Eurocentrism in terms of what kinds of myths I was making use of. Once I decided that I didn't want to use wolves, the Kitsune really sprung to mind, and it was a perfect fit.

I first encountered the Kitsune myth when I was a teenager and I read a beautiful fantasy short story that was set in medieval Japan, and then later in college when I read Sandman: The Dream Hunters. Yoshitaka Amano’s amazing illustrations really stayed with me, as well as the loveliness of Neil Gaiman’s story. When I decided to use Kitsune in my writing, I reread both of those materials, but I also researched further. Since I don’t speak or read Japanese, I was restricted to translations of fairy tales and ghost stories rather than primary sources, but it’s a really fascinating mythos with so many layers and nuances. Probably my favorite source was a wonderful graduate thesis on the topic by Michael Bathgate called The Fox’s Craft in Japanese Religion and Folklore. I’m looking forward to building up my version of the Kitsune in future books.

Q] Titles are often crucial to a book, some authors choose them first before writing and some never know even after the book is finished. What about you, where do you fall in this regard? What made you choose this title? 

MLB: I always view my title as a very fluid thing – I have a working title that I start the project under, and that might change a few times during the process of writing if I come up with something I like better. I’m unfortunately one of those people who is absolutely horrible at choosing titles, so pretty invariably the comment after I deliver a manuscript is, “Could you please come up with some other title options?” Generation V as a title was the brain-child of Anne Sowards and her team over at Roc, and I absolutely love it. My title ideas are always painfully pedestrian, but Generation V really stands out on a crowded shelf, and it suggest family and age issues, along with this great idea of a changing world.

Q] In one of your interviews you mentioned Betty White as the actor to portray Madeleine Scot. That while seemingly oddball-ish, is a great choice. What’s the one quality that you think she has that makes her the best candidate to visually represent Fortitude’s mother? 

MLB: I sadly can’t take credit for that one – a friend of mine made the suggestion, but I do think that it’s perfect. The quality that Betty White has is the ability to project this façade of a lovely, slightly dotty old woman, but you always get the sense that there’s a lot more going on beneath the surface.

Q] I noticed that yours is a pseudonym. What sparked this move? 

MLB: I work in academia, teaching college writing, and that’s a fairly conservative field when it comes to speculative fiction. I’m an adjunct instructor, but ideally I’d someday like to have fulltime work, with all those cushy perks like job security and health insurance, so I wanted to make sure that if any of my employers knew about Generation V, it was because I’d chosen to disclose that to them. At the time Generation V was published, I was working at two colleges – I told one of my bosses, but not the other, and those choices were based on what I knew about those individuals’ outlooks and opinions.

I’m certainly hugely proud of Generation V, and it would be wonderful if enough people enjoyed my work that I was able to be one of those writers who is able to support themselves solely from writing, but after some serious consideration (as well as discussions with my agent and several of my colleagues) I made the decision to use a pseudonym.

Q] This is a general phenomenon I have noted in Urban Fantasy, that mostly female authors write about female protagonists, there are a few male protagonists however they are still in the minority, what made you decide to go along this route? 

MLB: Urban Fantasy is very full of take-charge kick-ass women, it is true. And I love reading those books, so I’m probably part of the reason that it’s become almost a trope (though a very positive one, I think). But I think when a new writer is trying to break in, it’s important to be aware of what the stereotypes and tropes of the genre are, and to make deliberate decisions about what you want your book to be. I really didn't want to be writing a book or a series that was almost interchangeable on the basic level with a lot of other work out there, which heavily influenced a lot of the fundamental elements of Generation V when I was first constructing it. One of those things was that I chose a male protagonist, and that I work entirely within his narrative voice – this series is first-person POV, and will remain that way.

Beyond what I see as a great desire to write awesome and powerful heroines, though, I think a lot of female writers might also feel a subtle pressure to stay within a female narrative voice. There can be pushback when a woman writes about a male protagonist, just as sometimes readers might complain when a man writes from a female POV – and I’m not talking about quality of writing, but about some people who fundamentally disagree about anyone hopping gender, and they can be extremely passionate about it.

It’s kind of funny, because no one ever argues that people shouldn't be writing from vampire POVs, or werewolf POVs, or whatever. But wouldn't those experiences be just as different as an opposite gender writer?

Q] What was the reason/s for you choosing Providence, Rhode Island as the primary setting for the books? 

MLB: Oh, that’s a great question! I actually spent a lot of time thinking about my setting – it was probably the last fundamental storytelling decision I made, because I kept going back and forth. I didn't want to write about a city that I personally associated with other writers – so that eliminated places like New York or Chicago. I also wanted a place that I had at least some familiarity with, because otherwise I would've been spending hours looking over maps and reading up on local history (and believe me, I spent enough time doing that as it was).

I seriously considered Pittsburgh, but even though it has the three rivers, I wanted to keep my long-term storytelling options a little more open if I wanted to bring in marine monsters. I then almost completely settled on Nashua, New Hampshire (friends of mine live there, and I really loved how some of the natives refer to Nashua as “Nash-Vegas”), but it wasn't completely working. I wanted what I was writing to have a city grittiness, but I also felt like I wanted to do something different and interesting with where my older vampires were living. Once I started playing with that line of thinking, it led me straight to Newport, RI.

My family has spent one week every summer in Newport since I was about four, and I actually lived there for an entire year on my own. It’s really an amazing and beautiful town, really distinctive, and I love how balanced it is between its own history and contemporary pressures. Once I put Fortitude’s mother in one of the amazing mansions on Ocean Drive, everything else fell into place. Thanks to how small Rhode Island is, I get to have every setting I could possibly want – the remnants of Gilded Age splendor, small-town New England, urban collegiate living, and all of the alleys and city convenience that Providence provides – all accessible within fifty minutes of driving. (I sound like a shill for the Rhode Island tourist bureau, but it’s true!)

Q] What do you do when you aren't writing, what hobbies and proclivities keep you engaged? 

MLB: It’s funny, because right now I have so many writing projects on my desk that it’s hard to actually answer that question. I feel like I’m having to think back to an older time, when I had free time! But I’m a fairly voracious reader, so that occupies quite a lot of my spare hours. I like playing tabletop games with my friends, and a friend recently showed me an episode of the animated series Archer, so I’m currently catching up on all the older seasons on DVD.

Q] In closing, do you have any last thoughts or comments you’d like to share with our readers? 

MLB: Just how very grateful I am for the wonderfully positive responses people have had about Generation V! Thanks so much for checking it out!

NOTE: Vampire picture courtesy of Filmweb. Betty White picture courtesy of Ikon Magazine. Providence picture courtesy of Boston Web Marketing.
Tuesday, June 11, 2013

“Gameboard of the Gods” by Richelle Mead (Reviewed by Casey Blair)

Order “Gameboard of the GodsHERE (US) + HERE (UK)
Read Excerpts HERE, HERE + HERE

I wasn't really sure what to expect from Gameboard of the Gods, the first in a new series by Richelle Mead. But now I'm really excited for the rest of the Age of X series.

The story is set in the future after the “Decline” when a virus struck down most of humanity. Now the world is recovering, but this period accounts for the still-relatable rate of technological development. The Republic of United America (RUNA, or Canada and parts of the US) and the Eastern Alliance (China and Russia) are the major political players. The RUNA holds three things responsible for the Decline — biological manipulation, religion, and cultural separatism — and so it aggressively combats all three. There is, however, a caste system, and people are assigned genetic ratings.

Enter protagonist #1/3, Mae Koskinen, a woman raised to, essentially, be a debutante, who instead fled to join the most elite fighting force in the world. Mae immediately seems to be the stereotype of the ice princess, but Mead dispels that idea almost before it fully congeals. It can be hard for audiences to empathize with a character who supposedly has no emotions, but right in the first scene we see evidence both of her façade and of the emotions beneath as Mae compulsively braids and unbraids her hair.

It must be said that, although RUNA denies that gods are real and disbands churches, that doesn't actually stop people from worshipping, and it certainly doesn't stop the gods. Enter protagonist #2/3, Dr. Justin March, whose resemblance to Sherlock Holmes is unmistakable. His greatest asset and weakness is his ability to notice everything and put the clues together, and in true Sherlock Holmes fashion, he also has an accompanying drug problem. Justin was a professor of religion and made a living investigating and shutting down churches, before he was exiled. He was an atheist, so the raven spirits now living in his head are something of an ethical dilemma.

During his exile, Justin grew closer to the family of Tessa, or protagonist #3/3. Tessa is a genius with no prospects, but Justin recognizes a kindred spirit, and when he returns to the RUNA he gets her a student visa to go with him. Tessa is my favorite, and she is integral to the plot. I suspect she will only become more integral to everything as the series progresses. The aftermath of her near-arrest is possibly my favorite scene in the whole book. Her character has a gift for putting everyone and everywhere's BS into perspective without actually pointing it out to them. Her treatment of and by the RUNA are especially poignant to those who have lived in an unfamiliar setting.

In all of these characters, I love the refusal to allow anyone else to control their fates, be they god or human.

I did have one suspension of disbelief problem, in terms of March's ability to identify gods. I suppose the rest of the paragraph could be slightly spoiler-y, but if you have any knowledge of mythology you'll have figured it out well before our characters, anyway, and that's really the cusp of my problem. If you make a living dealing with religious organizations and have been a professor of religion, it's not going to take you longer than a couple seconds to identify a clever male god who uses two ravens as messengers when you're as smart as March is supposed to be. It's certainly not going to take five years and the course of a book. Likewise, when you have Celtic knotwork, crows, and lots of death, it isn't a huge stretch to guess which deity might be involved. Norse and Celtic mythologies are not so unknown that these should have been insufficient clues.

I also think there was a bit too much telegraphing the meaning of what characters say, re-stating implications explicitly. As a reader, I prefer to be expected to make those inferences rather than having them force-fed. Of course, my reading is based on the ARC, and this may have been adjusted somewhat in the finished copy.

I'm not much one for post-apocalyptic or dystopian stories, and although Gameboard of the Gods has roots in each, it also crosses into science fiction and mythology, so I'm not really sure how to categorize this book in terms of subgenre, and I love that. Overall, Gameboard of the Gods has a fascinating and well-thought-out setting, thorny and complex problems, and top-notch characters, and I'm really happy with this book.

NOTE: Gameboard of the Gods was published in North America on June 4, 2013 via Dutton. The UK edition (See Above) was published on June 6, 2013.


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