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Friday, August 30, 2013

Interview with Ian Whates (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

The Trojan War - A Reinterpretation: The Troy trilogy by David and Stella Gemmell
Read The Truth Behind A Legend (Guest post by D. E. M. Emrys)
Read A Birth Of A Legend: A David Gemmell short story (exclusive on Fantasy Book Critic)

Since I first heard about a David Gemmell anthology was in the works, I was giddy with anticipation in regards to who all were involved with it and what was it going to be about. James Barclay pointed me in the right direction and I got in touch with Ian Whates who informed me about the anthology. Yesterday I posted about the table of contents for the anthology and today here's a Q&A with the main editorial mind behind it. So go ahead and find out more about LEGENDS and what Ian Whates has planned for all David Gemmell fans...

Q] Thank you for this opportunity and welcome to Fantasy Book Critic. Could you tell us about the inception of this anthology and who all were involved with it?

IW: My pleasure, and thank you for inviting me. The main instigator of the project was Stan Nicholls, who first broached the subject during a conversation we had at the convention Novacon, in Nottingham, in November 2011. Stan had been a good friend of David Gemmell’s (who was Best Man at his wedding) and is Chair of the annual David Gemmell Awards – Stan helped establish the awards in tandem with the wonderful and much-missed writer Deborah J Miller (Miller Lau), who passed away so tragically earlier this year. Stan knew that I had compiled and edited a book, Fables from the Fountain, which paid homage to Arthur C Clarke’s classic Tales from the White Hart and acted as a fundraiser for the Clarke Award. 

His idea was similarly to pay tribute to David and, hopefully, raise some funds for the DGLAs. We subsequently had a meeting in Northampton in the spring of 2012 where we discussed the idea in earnest, and this was really the point at which the notion became a reality. I had originally assumed that Stan wanted to co-edit the book with me, but it emerged that he was quite happy to let me have my head and run with this, which demonstrated a faith that I greatly appreciate.

Q] For any David Gemmell, 2006 was a horrible year and after that it’s always been a difficult time searching for the next author who can match DG. With this anthology, what are you folks aiming for?

IW: Yes, I remember hearing of David’s passing with great shock (and a very selfish “damn, now I’ll never get to meet him!”). I would never dream of trying to commission stories that emulate David Gemmell; I’m not sure that anyone can. I remember chatting to Joe Abercrombie early in his career and commenting that his work had some of the same qualities as Gemmell’s, and I still believe that holds true, though the emphasis is very much on the ‘some’; despite similarities, Joe and DG are very different writers. The idea of this book is simply to pay tribute, which, by my reckoning, is as much as anyone can ever hope to do.

Q] Can you tell us about the lineup of stories assembled in this anthology? How did you go about parsing through the stories for the collection?

IW: I’m delighted that so many very busy people have taken the time to write something for the book. A lot of the contributors were already known to me but various publishers were also helpful in putting me in touch with those I didn’t have contact details for, and I must thank the folks at Gollancz and Orbit in particular in that regard. Inevitably, several authors declined very graciously at outset due to having too many existing commitments, and another couple had to drop out as the project progressed – one in particular was struggling with some very difficult personal circumstances and ultimately ran out of time – but that still left me with sufficient high quality stories that I had some difficult decisions to make when compiling the final contents list.

There are all sorts of things to take into account when choosing stories for an anthology like this – the audience you’re aiming for, whether there is significant overlap or similarity with a story already accepted, whether a given piece brings anything new to the party, etc… but ultimately, for me, it often comes down to one very basic consideration: would I be happy to hand across my own hard-earned dosh to read this? If the answer is ‘yes’, then hopefully the readers will be as well.

Q] Will this anthology be a one-time thing or is there a possibility for it becoming a series?

IW: The initial idea was very much to have this as a one off, but… As you’re doubtless aware, next year marks the 30th anniversary of the release of Gemmell’s classic debut novel Legend, and the response to news of this anthology has been so positive that… Well, watch this space.

Q] I noticed that you have a story in this fascinating collection. Now I know you went through severe pangs about whether even to submit your story for the collection. Can you recount for the reader’s satisfaction the journey this story took before its eventual selection?

IW: From a personal perspective, this was one of the most difficult decisions I had to face when compiling the book. As a Gemmell fan, I really wanted to be in this, but I was afraid it might look narcissistic for the editor to include one of his own pieces, so, if I was going to include something of mine, I’d have to be convinced it was good enough. I've produced three previous ‘Tales of the Fallen Hero’, stories that feature a cynical anti-hero with dubious moral values and a successful past that he’s trying to escape. I always thought him to be the most Gemmell-like character I was ever likely to write, and he seemed the ideal protagonist if I were to write something for Legends. Two of the previous stories made passing reference to events at the Battle of Arden Falls, which had clearly been a traumatic experience for my ‘hero’ but I’d never specified what had happened there; primarily because I hadn't worked that out for myself as yet. This struck me as the perfect moment for my character to revisit Arden and confront his past.

While this story would be very much mine, I also wanted to include an element that could be directly attributable to David Gemmell, and drew inspiration from ‘The Thirty’: the idea of a spiritual, almost other-worldly force that that intervenes in and influences the mortal world when necessary. Having completed the story, I was still undecided about its fate, so submitted “Return to Arden Falls” for ritual disembowelment… I mean ‘critique’, by the Northampton SF Writers Group, which I’m co-chair of and have been attending since 2004. With the likes of Ian Watson, Andy West, and Rod Rees in their ranks, the group don’t hold back. Fortunately, the piece was very favourably received (by no means a given, trust me).

I then sent the story out to three readers, stripped of any identifiers, and asked for their opinions. Two were highly enthusiastic, one lukewarm. Finally, I sent it to Stan Nicholls and asked what he thought. His response was the most positive of all, and he wondered why I had any reservations whatsoever, insisting that the story was perfect for the anthology… So, not without some lingering concerns, I've included it in the anthology.

Q] Were any of the writers (involved) tempted to write stories among any of the worlds created by DG? If yes then why and if not then why not?

IW: No. Or at least if any were tempted, they never mentioned the fact to me. This was something I was determined about from outset. David Gemmell was a very special writer. He created some of the most memorable characters and settings in the history of fantasy. My fear would be that anyone attempting to write in his worlds or with his characters would only detract from the canon rather than adding anything. I’m not including here, incidentally, Stella Gemmell’s completion of an unfinished novel – no one could question that this was a welcome and worthwhile endeavour. But to go in fresh and attempt to emulate the great man…? No. Perhaps I’m wrong about this, but, if so, I certainly don’t consider myself qualified to judge. So, the idea with this volume is very much to pay tribute to the spirit of Gemmell’s writing without any risk of besmirching his fabulous legacy.

Q] Stella Gemmell debuted with her epic fantasy book The City, a few months earlier. I’m curious to know if she was involved in this anthology and its build-up?

IW: Stella was one of the first people I approached regarding the anthology. As you say, she has just debuted as an author in her own right, and I know from experience what a hectic time the period leading up to that can be. Regrettably she had to decline the invite to submit for Legends, feeling that she simply wouldn't have the time to do so.

Q] While we are on the subject of David Gemmell, it’s interesting to know that he had a certain take on his beloved characters. He labeled them as "Rick's Bar characters" and described them in the following way:

"When authors talk of great characters, what they really mean is easy. Some characters are tough to write. The author has to constantly stop and work out what they will say or do. With the great characters, this problem disappears. Their dialogue flows instantly, their actions likewise. A friend of mine calls them "Rick's Bar characters," from the film Casablanca. Some characters you have to build, like a sculptor carving them from rock. Others just walk out of Rick's bar fully formed and needing no work at all."

What is your opinion about it & was this the case for you with any of your character/s?

IW: I think that’s very apt and very true. I also believe that the distinction often has a foundation in how closely a writer can relate to and inhabit his/her protagonist. Often you might craft a character who is important to the plot and that you know has a vital role to play, without fully relating to them or even ‘liking’ them. These can prove to be the characters that are most difficult to portray credibly, the ones that require that extra bit of care to convince both the reader and yourself.

My protagonist in “Return to Arden Falls” is very much the opposite. I've written him, on and off, for many years and feel very comfortable with him. He is a conflicted individual who has done some truly despicable things in his time but is also capable of great heroism. I see no contradiction in this and nor would he. He has his own moral compass, often dictated by expediency, and acts accordingly. Hopefully, this comes across to the reader.

Q] As a longtime David Gemmell fan, I have to ask which is your favorite title of his and why?

IW: Ooh, that’s a difficult one, and I’m afraid that I’m going to duck the issue to a certain extent, in that I genuinely don’t have a single favourite. The very first Gemmell I read was The Last Guardian, which I enjoyed a great deal at the time and have grown even fonder of with the passing years; primarily, I think, because it introduced me to Jon Shannow. I loved the whole interweaving of SF and fantasy with a character reminiscent of High Plains Drifter who could have been lifted straight from a western.

Then, of course, there is Legend, which introduces us to Druss and has its epic staging, fabulous battles and poignant finale; and Waylander, with a protagonist formidable enough to rival Druss, Dakreyas, a man tortured by his own heinous actions despite the mitigating circumstances… Oh, and I love both the ‘Macedon’ novels as well, particularly the first, Lion of Macedon. And now I’m feeling guilty about all the others I haven’t mentioned. Select a single favourite? How?

Q] In closing, any last words for our readers and what can/should they expect from LEGENDS?

IW: What they shouldn't expect is a collection of stories that are pale imitations of David Gemmell. What they can expect is a book crammed full of diverse, high quality fantasy tales, all of which owe a debt to David Gemmell; some very clearly and others more subtly. He created a number of memorable characters in vividly crafted settings, and his stories tend to include a spiritual element that is applied deftly enough to enhance the narrative rather than smothering it: a hint of magic sprinkled over gritty realism. Within Legends a reader will find stories possessing facets that reflect and draw inspiration from different aspects of the great man’s work, without ever attempting to duplicate it. Above all, the reader can, hopefully, expect one hell of a good read.

NOTE: LEGENDS cover art provided by Dominic Harman and title graphics are by Andy Bigwood. LEGENDS cover picture and author picture provided by Ian Whates. Stella Gemmell picture courtesy of Amazon UK.
Thursday, August 29, 2013

NEWS: Legends: Stories In Honour Of David Gemmell edited by Ian Whates (by Mihir Wanchoo)

The Trojan War - A Reinterpretation: The Troy trilogy by David and Stella Gemmell
Read The Truth Behind A Legend (Guest post by D. E. M. Emrys)
Read A Birth Of A Legend: A David Gemmell short story (exclusive on Fantasy Book Critic)

Previously I had blogged about Legends : Stories In Honour Of David Gemmell and how I had heard about it, with a partial list of authors who were to be included. Yesterday Ian Whates revealed the table of contents for the anthology & it’s a star studded one:

1. Introduction – Stan Nicholls 
2. Or So Legend Has It – James Barclay 
3. A Blade to the Heart – Gaie Sebold 
4. Return to Arden Falls – Ian Whates 
5. The Drake Lords of Kyla – Storm Constantine 
6. A Tower of Arkrondurl – Tanith Lee 
7. Who Walks With Death – Jonathan Green 
8. Skipping Town – Joe Abercrombie 
9. Land of the Eagle – Juliet E McKenna 
10. All Hail to the Oak – Anne Nicholls 
11. Swords and Circle – Adrian Tchaikovsky 
12. Fairyland – Jan Siegel 
13. Mountain Tea – Sandra Unerman 
14. The League of Resolve – Stan Nicholls 

Lastly this fantastic anthology will be launched at the reception immediately following this year’s David Gemmell Awards, which takes place on the opening night of World Fantasycon in Brighton, on Thursday October 31st. The book will be available in various formats such as a paperback, an e-book, and a numbered limited edition hardback signed by all the authors.

I’ll be reviewing it soon and forthcoming soon is an in-depth interview with Ian Whates as he recalls how this awesome anthology came to be. Keep an eye out for it over here in the next few days…
Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Winners Of The UNFETTERED Giveaway!

Congratulations to Daisy B. (Australia), Zsolt F. (Hungary) and Daniel M. (USA), who were randomly selected to win a hardcover edition of UNFETTERED edited by Shawn Speakman!!! UNFETTERED was published in North America on June 21, 2013 (Grim Oak Press).
Tuesday, August 27, 2013

GUEST REVIEW: Adi Parva by Amruta Patil (Reviewed by Max Gladstone)

Official Author Website
Order Adi Parva here
Read The Mahabharata: A Recollection and Q&A With Max Gladstone
Read my thoughts on 18 Days by Grant Morrison and Mukesh Singh

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Amruta Patil is a writer, painter and illustrator. She is the author of Kari and Adi Parva; and her graphic short stories have appeared in anthologies and magazines around the world. She has an MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Art, Boston. Adi Parva is based on the Mahabharata and the tradition of oral storytellers. It was selected as one of 2012′s best graphic novels by comic book historian, Paul Gravett. Amruta is currently working on Adi Parva‘s sequel, Sauptik Parva.

OFFICIAL BLURB: From the bestselling author of Kari comes a brilliant new interpretation of mythology. Combining stories from the Adi Parva which precede the main narrative of the Pandav-Kaurav war for succession.

Adi Parva is a graphic novel based on the Mahabharata and the tradition of oral storytellers. The timeline is circular in Adi Parva. The cast includes our ancestors – gods, demigods, queens, sages, seers, seductresses, hermits, kings, warriors, and navigators of the multiverse. With the celestial river Ganga as its narrator, Adi Parva has a backdrop that sprawls across heaven and earth.

FORMAT/INFO: Adi Parva is 276 pages long divided into thirteen titled but unnumbered sections. This is the first book of a graphic novel trilogy and the author is currently working on Adi Parva‘s sequel, Sauptik Parva.

August 30, 2012 marked the hardcover publication of Adi Parva and was published by Harper Collins India.

ANALYSIS: Not all great stories have small beginnings. Sometimes a storyteller meets a tale so vast she can only start with the gods.

Amruta Patil's Adi Parva is a graphic novel retelling of the first sections of the Mahabharata, that shelf-long Indian epic of heroism, love, sacrifice, and magical warfare. The Mahabharata should need no introduction, but it often does, at least in Western circles. This is a story of archers who can shoot down gods, magical weapons that break the world asunder, bridal games and gods of dice and solar raptors and curses and navigators of the multiverse. Pick your favorite fantasy or science fiction novel, go on I'll wait, and the Mahabharata will match it battle for battle, climax for climax, heartbreak for heartbreak. Not bad for a book that doubles as one of the world's great works of religion and philosophy.

Really, that should be enough to convince you to run out and buy Adi Parva now. But, if you need more, let's continue. I call Patil's work a retelling rather than adaptation because she has done more than put pictures to the original text. She's reinvented the story in the voice and person of a traditional storyteller—in this case, the goddess of the river Ganges.

Patil's Adi Parva opens under a tree beside a river. Not far away, smoke rises to the sky, and fiery sparks shoot up to burn the stars: King Jamejaya is burning snakes. All the snakes, in the entire world. He's summoned rishis and magicians to call the serpents into his fire, so to be sure he doesn't miss a single one. The king's mad for vengeance, and a group of farmers have gathered around this tree, where a mysterious woman offers to tell them why.

The goddess (for she is a goddess) begins her story with the creation of the universe—with Vishnu, recumbent in the coils of Anant the world-serpent, and his arguments with Brahma as to which of them is the true creator. The story spirals out from there, threads added and subtracted as her audience asks questions. Character by character, scene by scene, Patil builds the world of Indian mythology, and lays the groundwork for the colossal struggle between cousins that will shake and shape the next two books of her story.

Patil's use of the traditional storyteller as vessel for the tale allows her more formal range than a linear retelling. Individual moments in the long narrative are presented when they make the most emotional sense, as storylets which elaborate on particular themes, only to be set aside until they later reconnect with the main tale.

Her choice of graphic novel as medium is especially cool because of how it connects the Mahabharata to that most chaotic of American literary modes, the comic book. Comic universes are the only literary tradition I can think of in the West to approach the sheer intratextuality of the Mahabharata, with thousands of stories all connecting with and recontextualizing one another. This may just be a happy accident, but it's a nice, subtle thread to an already-impressive tapestry.

And speaking of the graphic novel—the art in this book is great. Patil's not a Juanjo Guarnido-style draftswoman, but she's not trying to be, and the book works better for this decision. Dealing with fluid and mythological characters requires a fluid and mythological style, and the combination of pencils, watercolor, oil, and fabric texture she uses to illustrate Adi Parva (whether real or digitally simulated) is evocative, lush, and lively without objectifying the characters it depicts—a nice trick for a plot that involves as much lust and love as does that of the Mahabharata. The art style also bridges the divine and mortal characters by portraying each with the same evocative and emotional touch. Only the modern framing narrative, set in a fallen time many years after the events the goddess narrates, is rendered in muted charcoal, as a sign of all that's lost.

CONCLUSION: Go find this book. Sit down, pour yourself a glass of something comfortable, and read. And once you're done, join me in waiting, eagerly, for the next volume of Patil's trilogy.


Official Author Website

GUEST REVIEWER INFORMATION: Max Gladstone has taught in southern Anhui, wrecked a bicycle in Angkor Wat, and been thrown from a horse in Mongolia. Max graduated from Yale University, where he studied Chinese. He is the author of Three Parts Dead and its upcoming sequel Two Serpents Rise that are published by Tor Books.
Monday, August 26, 2013

“Chimes At Midnight” by Seanan McGuire (Reviewed by Casey Blair)

Order “Chimes At MidnightHERE

I was looking forward to Seanan McGuire's Chimes at Midnight, but I didn't think I was overwhelmingly excited. But once the ARC arrived in the mail, I smiled. It wasn't next on my list to read by any stretch, but I figured I could just flip through the first few pages to see how everyone was doing—and also because Tybalt is one of my favorite characters ever, and he always makes great entrances at the beginning of Toby books—and then I'd go about my evening.

By this point in life, you'd think I'd know better than that, but every once in a while I slip up. Which is to say, if I am so compelled to pick up a book just to visit with some familiar characters, it's all over. Two hours later I glanced at the clock and realized I was halfway through and was clearly not stopping. Two hours after that I was in a mad scramble to get things done but quite cheerful about the whole thing.

I burned through this book in the best way. So much love.

Chimes at Midnight is not a book that can be read out of context if you want it to make sense. Some series you can come late to, but while Seanan McGuire refreshes your memory, this volume doesn't stand alone. The first book in the October Daye series is Rosemary and Rue (and no, the Shakespearean references in titles are not your imagination).

The October Daye series is urban fantasy; the monstrous element of choice is the fae, and McGuire knows her stuff. She's great at writing amorality (or immorality, depending), how the world works, unique notions of what binds people, how it coexists (or doesn't) with humanity. Other UF series have done this as well, and that's not what makes it special.

Toby, the protagonist, is a changeling, child of a fae and a human, and she is nowhere near the top of the food chain, but events in the series have brought her further from the very bottom. She’s more comfortable working the street than going to a ball, which is another trope we’ve all read before.

The trope that doesn’t fit is that her magic isn’t actually all that helpful to her. It's starting to be, but she has no idea what to do with it and it causes her trouble as often as it helps. People don’t ask her to solve problems because of her power, but because of what she does: namely, she gets things done, and she never gives up, no matter how outclassed she is (and she is always thrown into situations that would be hopeless for absolutely anyone).

Toby is not the smartest character in the world, but she’s street-smart, and even when she has no idea what’s going on, or what she can do, she just keeps going. The problems in the series are not solved by force of magic or cleverness, but by the determination to do what’s right, no matter the personal cost, except that it always matters. The narrative emphasis is always on the characters’ choices, their weight and their consequences, and I love that. It isn’t only magic that has consequences; choices do, too.

Chimes at Midnight sees Toby taking a stand, sort of on a new trajectory in her character's journey.

Toby has now assembled all of her people, she has a group, she has a place, and she very purposefully sets out on a quest with the acknowledgment that she is a hero to take down an antagonist. In other the other books the main goal has been to help someone or find something; in Chimes at Midnight the primary goal is really to defeat the evil villain—which then allows people to help themselves.

Some more minor things: The Borderlands shout-outs were hysterical. I was thoroughly creeped out by some of the approaches to addiction in this book. Holy crap I did not see that coming re: Quentin's heritage.

I really don't want to say too much about this particular book, because I want you to read the first six volumes in the October Daye series, with every single book worth your time.

NOTE: Chimes At Midnight is 368 pages long and is the seventh volume in the October Daye urban fantasy series. September 3, 2013 marks the North American Mass Market Paperback publication of Chimes At Midnight via DAW. Cover artwork provided by Chris McGrath.
Thursday, August 22, 2013

"Black Swan Rising: Black Swan Rising #1" by Lee Carroll (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

 Visit Carol Goodman's Official Website Here

Note: Lee Carroll is a pseudonym for the collaboration between Carol Goodman and Lee Slonimsky.

OVERVIEW: When New York City jewelry designer Garet James stumbles into a strange antiques shop in her neighborhood, her life is about to be turned upside down. John Dee, the enigmatic shopkeeper, commissions her to open a vintage silver box for a generous sum of money. Oddly, the symbol of a swan on the box exactly matches the ring given to her by her deceased mother. Garet can’t believe her luck and this eerie coincidence until she opens the box and otherworldly things start happening. . . .

That evening, the precious silver box is stolen. When Garet begins to investigate, she learns that she has been pulled into a prophecy that is hundreds of years old, and opening the box has unleashed an evil force onto the streets of Manhattan and the world at large. Gradually, Garet pieces together her true identity—one that her deceased mother desperately tried to protect her from. Generations of women in Garet’s family, including her beloved mother, suffered and died at the hands of this prevailing evil. Does Garet possess the power to reclaim the box and defeat this devastating force?

On her journey, she will meet the fey folk who walk unnoticed among humans and a sexy vampire who also happens to be a hedge fund manager that she can’t stop thinking about. But the fairies reveal a desire to overpower mere humans and the seductive vampire has the power to steal the life from her body. Whom can Garet trust to guide her? Using her newfound powers and sharp wit, Garet will muster everything she’s got to shut down the evil taking over her friends, family, New York City, and the world.

FORMAT: Black Swan Rising is the first book in an urban fantasy trilogy. It combines vampires, supernatural characters, fantasy, and a little romance. It stands at 396 pages and was published by Tor Books on August 3, 2010.

ANALYSIS: The minute a book is labeled 'urban fantasy' and the main character is a woman, people automatically assume they are going to get this smart-ass, sassy heroine who can do anything and everything under the sun. Mix in a few werewolves/vampires or a handsome guy who works for the FBI/law enforcement and you have the whole book wrapped up in a nutshell – but Black Swan Rising is not like that.

Black Swan Rising shows that urban fantasy – good urban fantasy – doesn't have to follow the cookie cutter layout that has become so popular. It has an interesting plot, mixture of everyone's favorite vampires, fairies, demons, and the like, the use of history/art and modern-day NYC, and characters that are written in a way that readers almost instantly fall in love with them.

The first thing that attracted my attention upon reading Black Swan Rising was the characters. There was just something about Garet James – our leading lady – and her friends and family members that just clicked. I found them likeable and easy to relate to, which lead to the easy ability to connect with this book.

Garet James is strong, but not in the sense that she would win a fist fight or be the class bully. She's strong and independent in other ways. I think this is where Black Swan Rising veers from other urban fantasy books, as it has a relatively normal, yet strong woman in the lead. The novel was able to stand on its own without having this major, super-strong, sassy woman at the wheel of the ship and it did just fine.

Another intriguing aspect of Black Swan Rising was the setting of the novel. It takes place in NYC. There are lots of major landmarks and attractions used in various scenes throughout the novel, which really added character to the whole book. It was nice to see a novel that focused on the historical aspect, without drowning readers in boring, dull facts.

There were a handful of times where I did feel a little like an outsider with the whole NYC setting. I have never visited there and have no ability to reference some of the locations mentioned, but I was able to breeze through those sections and not feel totally lost.

While Black Swan Rising is an amazing novel, it is not without its faults. Some of the novel revolves around Garet discovering all these magical elemental skills. I have to admit, this part wasn't as captivating as I would have imagined. Maybe it is because some of the stuff was so technical and out there that it was hard as a reader to follow along or maybe I just couldn't seem to follow it. Either way, it wasn't – in my opinion – one of the stronger parts of the book.

Another weakness of the book was its habit to throw multiple fantasy creatures at the reader. There are vampires, fairies, and demons. While all play a part in the plot, they do seem a little 'thrown out there'. I would have liked to see them a little more integrated into the book and not so random.

Overall, Black Swan Rising was a surprising novel. I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected and found the artistic elements, underground fantasy world, and loveable characters captivating until the last page. This is definitely a gentler/slower urban fantasy, but do not let that prevent you from reading it.
Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Three More Books of Great Interest, Ryk Spoor, Eleanor Catton and D.K.R. Boyd (with comments by Liviu Suciu)

A quick post about three recent or upcoming books that somewhat unexpectedly took over my reading and displaced some books that were quite high on my asap list like the third Thomas Cale novel, The Beating of His Wings by Paul Hoffman or the other upcoming trilogy ending, MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood.


First is Spheres of Influence by Ryk Spoor, sequel to the excellent Grand Central Arena (see updated review with comments on Goodreads too)

Spheres of Influence picks up where GCA ends, though the immediate aftermath is just summarized for good reasons - action better than politicking, though there is some of that later.
A lot of backstory about the Hyperions, new awesome characters in addition to the usual, some human villains for once and some Molothos dialogue for ages (available in the free Baen snippets btw), some twists an a good ending at another stop point, but I was really disappointed that the novel ended at all as I could and would have read another 500 pages of our heroes adventures in the Arena and the Solar System and a few other places tbd; also the big promise form earlier on (read to see what) is for volume 3 and I really want to read that adventure!

Excellent stuff, top 25 of mine, full review later and I hope the series goes on for a long tim.

Spheres of Influence will be published in November but the earc is available for sale on Baen's site today! 


Long-listed for the 2013 Booker Prize, The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton is the one novel of the 13 book list that truly interested me and so far it is living up to the high expectations and I believe it will be another top 25 of mine.

Exceptionally well written and while the subject did not really interest me that much at least to start with, the writing and the structure of the novel are keeping me hooked.

"On a blustery January day, a prostitute is arrested. In the midst of the 1866 gold rush on the coast of New Zealand, this might have gone unnoticed. But three notable events occur on that same day: a luckless drunk dies, a wealthy man vanishes, and a ship's captain of ill repute cancels all of his business and weighs anchor, as if making an escape. Anna Wetherell, the prostitute in question, is connected to all three men.

This sequence of apparently coincidental events provokes a secret council of powerful townsmen to investigate. But they are interrupted by the arrival of a stranger: young Walter Moody, who has a secret of his own...

THE LUMINARIES is an intricately crafted feat of storytelling, a mystery that reveals the ways our interconnected lives reshape our destinies.


The Reflecting Man by D.K.R. Boyd, billed as the first volume of a duology about the "antic, ribald journey of a loquacious and unreliable narrator, Kurtis De’ath, whose unusual talents lead him into the innermost circles of Hitler’s Third Reich and Churchill’s British government." came out of nowhere and the first person irreverent narration just took over. The novel promises a lot and I will finish it soon with a detailed review as I just saw it by chance.

It starts like this and it kind of hooked me from the first page:

"'My name is De’ath.
You can say it all in one breath…Deeth, as they do in Essex in England. Or you can double the syllable and have…Dee-ath, which is how we say it in the Maritimes in Canada.
Accent on the ‘ath, please. Invariably I am asked to spell it aloud.
Most don’t note the apostrophe if they’re writing it down or pretend to omit it, especially when it gives them a chance to be clever at my expense. Almost no one can avoid remarking upon it.
I thought Death himself had come for me! Isn’t that something? Death himself standing right here in front of me. If that don’t beat all…etc. etc.
I find no humor in it. From snotty bureaucrats—the ilk infesting Whitehall in war-poor, crapped-out London instantly come to mind—to the ashes of the sadists in the recently extinguished Reich chancellery in Berlin, there has been an overwhelming fascination in meeting Death…and joking about it.
Meeting De’ath is not quite the same thing.
Almost, but not quite.
Death, as I learned, is as easy as falling down a well. You make a little splash and that’s the end of it. Death in war is conducted under different rules. It is my task to explain why this is so and how and why I found myself so tangled up in the one which just ended.
Yes, I am the notorious Herr Death, mysterious confidant of the F├╝hrer.
Yes, I am the famous Schokoladenmann, chocolate maker to the Wagners.
Yes, I am Kurtis De’ath, a young man from the Maritimes, and your unreliable, opinionated narrator, leading you through the labyrinth of what Lord Beaverbrook now refers to as World War Two..."

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

GUEST POST: More Than Seven Days by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Official Shadows of the Apt Website
Read FBC Review of "Empire in Black and Gold"
Read FBC Review of "Dragonfly Falling"
Read FBC Review of "Blood of the Mantis"
Read FBC Review of "Salute the Dark"
Read FBC Review of "The Scarab Path"
Read FBC Review of "The Sea Watch"
Read FBC Review of "Heirs of the Blade"
Read FBC Review of "The Air War"
Read FBC Review of "The War Master's Gate"
Read FBC Interview with Adrian Tchaikovsky

It's a weird thing but "world building" can be a dirty word(s) in some corners of the genre. To spend time and effort lovingly crafting a setting for your characters and stories to play out in is regarded as a bit juvenile, I sometimes feel. There's a suggestion it's all a bit Dungeons and Dragons (and is that necessarily bad?), and not the occupation of a serious novelist, and people look down their noses at the maps and apparently feel the whole business relegates your work to a sort of lesser canon, not fit to contend for a Hugo, and most certainly not Literature. The setting, such a standpoint seems to suggest, should be a mere hobbling servant whose job it is to bring the lounging characters the cakes and wine of plot. "Excuse me, m'lord, but might I recommend the magic '72?" It's has a fruity symbolism and an aftertaste that acts as a foil to your inner nature..."

Or something. Enough hyperbole, anyway, but it's a harsh truth for a writer of epic fantasy that people get damned sniffy about fantasy worlds sometimes, and the level of detail that writers such as yours truly, like to put into 'em. It's as if a detail that is not direct and immediate fuel for the surging locomotive powerhouse of the plot is nothing but wasted words. They look at the big tomes of the epics, I sometimes feel, and tut tut tut, surely there are 20,000 words of description that could have been cut with nobody being the wiser. Dear oh dear...

Well, OK, my last few have been rather big, I hold my hand up on that one. It's not because I spent too long staring at the scenery, though, honest.

I am a writer who spends a great deal of time on my setting: the history and political entities; the factions, philosophies and races; the magic and metaphysics. For me, that's a big part of fantasy fiction. This also goes for me as reader. I love a well-crafted, immersive setting. It is not a crime to take that world away with you, as a reader, and want to return to it. It's perfectly all right to want to know more than the writer tells you. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that good settings are a major reason that the genre is popular. People remember great characters, certainly. They remember moments of high drama and tragedy. But equally they remember settings, and it is the settings that mark out fantasy. They are where the author's imagination is unleashed to its very fullest.

Counter-argument. A setting indulged for its own sake, for the author to show how very clever they are, how well-researched it all is, how elaborately constructed, that's toss, surely? Well, yes, I suppose it is, and probably it is a thing that happens. I just don't think it happens anywhere as often as the naysayers say. But it is true that setting is often used in a way that does not serve story in a direct and simple way. Setting creates somewhere for the story to happen, yes, but very often it is the minutiae of that setting that makes the stepping stones without which the story would either fail, or be simply far more mundane and less remarkable than it is.

Setting often provides the toolkit for both author and characters to navigate the story, provides the 'why' to the fantastic elements to prevent them seeming contrived and jarring, and opens the door onto any metaphor and meaning whereby the work reflects the real world. And is it truly an offence against the writer's craft to suggest that an immersive, living world is in itself a piece of art? These are the worlds that extend beyond the trammels of the pages themselves, the worlds that have a history and a geography and an existence that doesn't stop where the story stops - the worlds that let you know there's more than you've seen, ergo the worlds that you can return to, speculate about, write fanfic about. These are the worlds I love to read about. These are the worlds I try to write.

This is, for me, the core of fantasy fiction, the fount of possibility. Lord of the Rings is the story of Frodo, Aragorn & etc, but it is also the story of Middle Earth; A Song of Ice and Fire is about Westeros (and the wider world) as much as any individual character; Perdido Street Station and its sequels are set in a vast, rich world of intricate detail. These are worlds of the imagination in the truest sense, because they become worlds of the reader's imagination. They are in no way lessened or made trivial by this fact.

Such settings are grand and complex memes all on their own. And, very often, they are made so by those little throwaway references that serve only the setting itself, and so open a brief door onto that wider world, so that when Martin writes of Asshai falling "under the Shadow", or Mieville of the difficulties of acquiring the wings of an assassin beetle, there is a moment of connection with a greater creation. And even if that greater creation has never been formally set down by the author in any notes or schemes, it is still there. The single reference creates that mental space between reader and writer, to be populated by the dreams of either, a kind of Schroedinger's Nation unless and until the author chooses to collapse the waveform by going there on a later visit.

In "A Tough Guide to Fantasyland" Dianne Wynne Jones talks about those fantasies where every inch of the map gets visited in the heroes' slogging progress towards prophecy-assisted catharsis. For me, it's always about the places you never go, but that you know are out there.

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Adrian Tchaikovsky is the pseudonym of Adrian Czajkowski, a British fantasy author. He was born in Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire and studied zoology and psychology at Reading, before practicing law in Leeds. He is a keen live role-player and occasional amateur actor and is trained in stage-fighting. “Empire in Black & Gold” was his debut novel and since then he has gone on to write eight more books in the Shadows Of The Apt series. He currently lives in Leeds with his family.

NOTE: All cover art pictures courtesy of Stefan of Civilian Reader blog and Adam of The Wertzone. Author picture courtesy of Adrian Tchaikovsky and Jo Perridge.
Monday, August 19, 2013

"Obsidian Mirror: Chronoptika #1" by Catherine Fisher (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

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OVERVIEW: Jake's father disappears while working on mysterious experiments with the obsessive, reclusive Oberon Venn. Jake is convinced Venn has murdered him. But the truth he finds at the snow-bound Wintercombe Abbey is far stranger ... The experiments concerned a black mirror, which is a portal to both the past and the future. Venn is not alone in wanting to use its powers. Strangers begin gathering in and around Venn's estate: Sarah - a runaway, who appears out of nowhere and is clearly not what she says, Maskelyne - who claims the mirror was stolen from him in some past century. There are others, a product of the mirror's power to twist time. And a tribe of elemental beings surround this isolated estate, fey, cold, untrustworthy, and filled with hate for humans. But of them all, Jake is hell-bent on using the mirror to get to the truth. Whatever the cost, he must learn what really happened to his father.

FORMAT: Obsidian Mirror is the first novel in a proposed YA trilogy. It does not really fit into any one category. It has a combination of sci-fi, fey characters, mystery, adventure, and historical feel. There is also reference to people traveling from the future and special magical powers. It stands at 384 pages and was published in the US on April 23, 2013 by Dial.

ANALYSIS: Every so often a fantasy/sci-fi book comes along that just sweeps you off your feet and you honestly don't know why. Obsidian Mirror is one of those books, at least for me, for the year. And it should come as no surprise considering who the author of this book is – Catherine Fisher.  

Catherine Fisher has made a name for herself throughout the fantasy/sci-fi community for creating detailed, highly original novels and Obsidian Mirror is no exception.

Obsidian Mirror has a little bit of everything. There are the fey creatures, wonderful historic London, time traveling, love, greed, mystery, action, and adventure. Think of it almost as a combination of a time traveling novel/sci-fi/fantasy novel, but its set in the modern world.

I was unsure how I liked this combination of genres and elements. I was undecided at first, but by the end of the novel I was loving it. It really just came together and worked. I think for some authors this combination of elements and genres could have been disastrous and appeared forced, but Fisher has made it work and turned out an amazing novel which will hopefully be the start of a great YA series.

Readers just venturing into Obsidian Mirror might get slightly confused at first. In classic Fisher style there is a lot going on, but readers are not given any real backstory or explanation of what is going on. Readers are forced to go with the flow and learn as they read. Everything is nicely put together and explained eventually, but it can be a tiny bit confusing at first.

Very similar to other novels that Fisher has penned, the characters in Obsidian Mirror are a bit of a mystery to readers. They are extremely detailed and react honestly to situations with intense emotions, but they this mysterious vibe to them. Readers throughout the novel will slowly start to get to know the characters, what makes them tick, what their motives are, and what role they may or may not play in this entire novel.

The mysterious element, just like the slow unraveling of the plot/back story, can be slightly frustrating, but Fisher works her magic and really pulls it all together. The pacing of the novel, eloquent writing style, and unique feel of the novel really makes this novel stand out from the rest.

This novel is a part of a trilogy and does end with a cliffhanger. The main plot elements are temporarily resolved, but there are dozens of unresolved plot elements that leaves readers wanting and craving more. Unfortunately, they have to wait for the next installment.

Overall, Obsidian Mirror is another wonderful addition to the YA sci-fi/fantasy world. It is definitely a top novel for 2013 and I have high hopes for the series. I hope Fisher has learned from the Incarceron series, where it started out with a bang and fizzled out to a disappointing end.   

If you are looking for something new, unique and fun, yet not too overly complicated, a fan of Fisher's previous workers, or like adventure, sci-fi, and time travel, this is definitely a novel for you to try. The pacing is quick, the characters detailed, and the plot is one is not filled with the same old, same old.

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