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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

“A Fantasy Medley” edited by Yanni Kuznia (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)


ABOUT A FANTASY MEDLEY:A Fantasy Medley” features the superlative storytelling abilities of four diverse authors:

In “Zen and the Art of Vampirism”, Zoe Takano, the only vampire in Toronto, a city filled with supernatural creatures of Kelley Armstrong’s Otherworld, finds her place in the hierarchy threatened by two interlopers.

Riding the Shore of the River of Death” returns us to the world of Kate Elliott’s Crown of Stars. Kareka, daughter of the begh of the Kirshat, hunts to take a man’s head. It is her last opportunity to prove herself as a man or else she will find herself restricted to the role of woman and wife in the clan forever.

C.E. Murphy takes us to frozen Moscow in “From Russia, with Love.” Baba Yaga’s daughter is a barmaid at a dive when Janx and Eliseo Daisani walk in. They discover, as they compete for the girl’s affections, that Baba Yaga has plans for Janx and that her beautiful daughter had merely been the bait.

Robin Hobb revisits her Farseer world in “Words Like Coins.” Mirrifen, a failed hedge-witch’s apprentice who has married to find security finds that threatened by a severe drought and the appearance of a pregnant female pecksie.

FORMAT/INFO: “A Fantasy Medley” is 136 pages long divided over four short stories and is published by
Subterranean Press in two editions: A Fully Clothbound Hardcover limited to 3000 copies and a Numbered Hardcover limited to 200 copies and Signed by the authors and editor. Dust jacket by Kristy Doherty.

ANALYSIS:

1)Zen and the Art of Vampirism” by Kelley Armstrong. “Zen and the Art of Vampirism” is an urban fantasy tale with all of the usual trimmings including a female protagonist, a contemporary setting, supernatural elements, humor, etc. The story is actually pretty interesting and follows a lesbian Japanese vampire who uses wits instead of violence to prevent two other vampires from running her out of town. To be honest, I’m starting to get bored of the whole urban fantasy craze and didn’t expect to enjoy this story very much. Instead though, Ms. Armstrong’s contribution was a pleasant surprise and made me interested in checking out more of the author’s work.

2)Riding the Shore of the River of Death” by Kate Elliott. “Riding the Shore of the River of Death” is set in the world of Kate Elliott’s epic Crown of Stars saga, but generations later, so it’s not necessary for readers to be familiar with the series. However, for those who have read the books, “Riding the Shore of the River of Death” offers some nice treats including the Quman, stone circles, griffin feathers and references to Prince Sanglant, Bulkezu, and Liath. The story itself—which is told in the third-person by Kereka, a begh’s daughter who wishes to live a man’s life—follows Kereka and two other boys on their Quman rite of passage to manhood. During their journey they are captured by a witch. Eventually Prince Vayek, Kereka’s betrothed, comes to their rescue, but Kereka seeks a different kind of liberation… This story was kind of slow for me, but it was nice revisiting the Crown of Stars setting. Plus, as expected, the story was well written and offers a solid glimpse at Kate’s writing abilities including strong characterization and world-building…

3)From Russia, with Love” by C.E. Murphy. “From Russia, with Love” is an Old Races tale, the setting for the author’s Negotiator trilogy, and features a couple of familiar faces from the series in the dragon Janx and the vampire Daisani. The plot concerns the daughter of Baba Yaga—a fearsome witch of Russian folklore—who catches the attention of both Janx & Daisani. Unfortunately, they catch the attention of Baba Yaga… Though falling under the urban fantasy/paranormal romance umbrella, “From Russia, with Love” reads more like a fairy tale and shines with elegant prose and creative magic. Easily the highlight of the anthology…

4)Words Like Coins” by Robin Hobb. “Words Like Coins” returns readers to the author’s popular Realm of the Elderlings setting, but like Kate Elliott’s story, it’s not necessary to be familiar with Robin’s previous work. In fact, readers will be hard-pressed to find anything recognizable from the Farseer/Liveship Traders milieu. Instead, “Words Like Coins” is basically a YA-friendly fable about being typecast and the power of words. Cleverly written with a timeless moral lesson, “Words Like Coins” was my second favorite story in “A Fantasy Medley”…

CONCLUSION: Serving as both a delicious indulgence for those readers already familiar with the authors and an enticing appetizer for those who are not, “A Fantasy Medley” is a successful and diverse glimpse at the magic and wonders that fantasy has to offer. My only complaint with the anthology is that it was so short . . . but as with anything that brings pleasure, I never wanted “A Fantasy Medley” to end…

ABOUT THE AUTHORS:

Kelley Armstrong is the New York Times bestselling author of the Women of the Otherworld urban fantasy series, the Nadia Stafford crime thriller series, and the Darkest Powers YA trilogy which is set in Otherworld. Forthcoming releases include “The Awakening" (Darkest Powers, April 28, 2009) and “Frostbitten” (Otherworld, October 2009).

Kate Elliott is a fantasy/science fiction author best known for the Jaran novels, the Crown of Stars epic fantasy series, and “The Golden Key” collaboration with Melanie Rawn & Jennifer Roberson. Her next release will be “Traitors’ Gate” which is the third novel in her current Crossroads epic fantasy series.

Alaskan-born writer C.E. Murphy is the author of The Negotiator urban fantasy trilogy, the Walker Papers urban fantasy series, and the Inheritors’ Cycle historical fantasy series. She has also written The Strongbox Chronicles romance trilogy under the pen name Cate Dermody. Forthcoming releases include “The Pretender’s Crown” (Inheritors’ Cycle, April 28, 2009).

Robin Hobb is the New York Times bestselling author of the Farseer, Liveship Traders, Tawny Man, and Soldier Son epic fantasy trilogies. She has also written as Megan Lindholm. Her next release will be “Dragon Keeper” (June/July 2009), a standalone novel set in the Rain Wilds.
Monday, March 30, 2009

“Afraid” by Jack Kilborn (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Official Jack Kilborn Website
Order “Afraid
HERE (US) + HERE (UK)
Read An Excerpt
HERE (PDF)
Read Reviews via Shotsmag

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Jack Kilborn is a pseudonym for J.A. Konrath, the award-winning author of the Jack Daniel series. He is also the editor of the hitman anthology “These Guns For Hire”, and his short stories have appeared in more than sixty magazines and collections.

PLOT SUMMARY: Welcome to Safe Haven, Wisconsin. Miles from everything, with one road in and out, this peaceful town has never needed a full-time police force. Until now…

A helicopter has crashed near Safe Haven and unleashed something horrifying. Now this merciless force is about to do what it does best. Isolate. Terrorize. Annihilate. As residents begin dying in a storm of gory violence, Safe Haven's only chance for survival will rest with an aging county sheriff, a firefighter, and a single mom. And each will have this harrowing thought: Maybe death hasn't come to their town by accident…

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 384 pages and includes an excerpt from Jack Kilborn’s next novel. Instead of chapter breaks, “Afraid” is broken up by several alternating character viewpoints (Sheriff Arnold “Ace” Streng, Erwin Luggs, Fran Stauffer, Josh VanCamp, Dr. Ralph Stubin, Duncan Stauffer, Jessie Lee Sloan, General Alton Tope, et cetera) which are in the third-person. “Afraid” is a standalone novel and comes to a satisfying conclusion. March 31, 2009 marks the Mass Market Paperback publication of “Afraid” via
Grand Central Publishing. Cover art and design by Dale Fiorello. The UK Hardcover edition was first published on November 13, 2008 (Headline).

ANALYSIS: Don’t you love it when a book lives up to its billing? When I first heard about Jack Kilborn’sAfraid” what immediately grabbed my attention was the tagline: “Reminiscent of the best novels of Stephen King and Dean Koontz”. Now I love Koontz and while I’m not as big a fan of Stephen King, I respect the author’s work, so I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into a good old-fashioned horror novel. And guess what, “Afraid” delivers”…

Part horror, part suspense and part techno-thriller, “Afraid” not only evokes the very best of Stephen King and Dean Koontz, but also brings to mind Robert R. McCammon, Thomas Harris of Hannibal Lecter fame, and a little bit of Michael Crichton, resulting in a novel that is balls to the walls terror, unforgiving brutality, and gut-churning gore.

The writing itself is superb featuring breathless pacing; well-rounded characters with convincing narrative voices—Duncan sounds like a ten-year-old boy, Ace Streng an over-the-hill cop and Vietnam veteran, Fran a desperate mother, and so on—and a story that is skillfully plotted and executed, particularly the buildup of suspense and unexpected revelations/betrayals. On top of that, the author’s imagination is incredibly vivid and demented ;)

Factor in five frightening killers who are described as “Hannibal Lecters with Rambo training and transhuman modifications (enhanced strength, speed, sight, instincts, healing, aggression, etc.)”, a body count in the hundreds, high-tech weaponry and science that borders on sci-fi, a faithful beagle named Woof, and a brain-enhanced capuchin monkey named Alan Mathison Turing, and you have a book that is just about impossible to resist.

Granted, “Afraid” does suffer from some of the same problems that plague horror in general like ordinary people somehow overcoming impossible odds and other suspensions of disbelief, stereotypical characters, and familiar plot devices, but these are issues that only affect the book if you let them. Myself, I appreciated the old-school vibe of the novel mixed with a contemporary setting and sensibilities, and just had a blast reading “Afraid”!

In the end, Jack Kilborn’sAfraid” is simply brilliant and is not only “reminiscent of the best novels of Stephen King and Dean Koontz”, but deserves a place right next to the best novels by these masters of horror…
Saturday, March 28, 2009

“Avempartha” by Michael Sullivan (Reviewed by Liviu C. Suciu)

Official Michael Sullivan Website
Order “Avempartha
HERE
Read An Excerpt
HERE (PDF)
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Review of “The Crown Conspiracy

INTRODUCTION: Michael Sullivan’s debut novel, “The Crown Conspiracy”—the first in a planned six-volume epic fantasy series called The Riyria Revelations—has attracted a growing following. I read and reviewed the book last November:

In conclusion, “The Crown Conspiracy” is great fun and a romp end to end. It's a very fast read and I finished it in one sitting. Its characters grow on you and the series has great potential to develop since Book One only explores a relatively small part of the wonderful imagined world of Michael Sullivan”.

Needless to say, when I received an ARC of “Avempartha”, I was quite eager to see if the book would live up to the expectations raised by Mr. Sullivan’s marvelous debut. I am happy to report that not only did “Avempartha” meet expectations, but it took the series to another level, ensuring that the future installments will be must-reads...

The Crown Conspiracy” was essentially a standalone with hints of the larger picture, while “Avempartha” goes straight into the deeper issues of Mr. Sullivan's richly imagined universe and reads more like a series opener than a second volume. The following review is mostly independent of “The Crown Conspiracy” one and contains very few series spoilers.

SETTING: On the alternate Earth-like planet of Elan, the Novronian Empire of legend has sundered centuries ago into many different states, supposedly due to the machinations of the dastardly wizard and traitor Esrahaddon. For almost a thousand years now, the imperial Nyphron Church and its various loyalist nobles and knight orders have been looking for the mythical “Heir” to the Empire, a person of Novron's bloodline and supposedly the only one capable of passing secret tests jealously guarded by the Church.

In the meantime, the kingdoms that coalesced on the Empire's territory developed Nationalist movements of their own opposed to the Imperialist goals and the monks dedicated to the god Maribor that predated Empire and Church. One such kingdom is Melegar and young King Alric has a problem: his older sister Arista is restless, does not want to marry and settle down, and has developed a reputation as a ‘witch’ for being a student of Esra. Since Arista helped save Melegar from the clutches of usurpers, Alric owes her his life, and sends her on an important mission. But he also sends the high ranking Bishop Saldur as an “advisor” who has designs of his own.

Royce and Hadrian are a freelance “object/documents” acquisition and recovery team. In other words, Royce is a skilled thief with a mysterious past while Hadrian is a very good fighter who excels with a sword and bow. Using an impoverished noble as a front man, they peddle their trade to the high & mighty and anyone that can pay. But because they have now attracted the attention of the powerful, they are thrown into the middle of the “great game”.

On the edge of empire, the long-lived but slow-reproducing elves are watching. While the elvish mixed-blood population living in human territory are stereotyped, oppressed and mistreated, the pure-blooded elves retreated millenia ago beyond the border river Nidwalden, and only the abandoned castle of Avempartha remains as a reminder that they are still there, waiting for any sign of human weakness.

The village of Dhalgren technically breaks the human-elvish treaty by being too close to Nidwalden, but it has not been bothered for many years. However, a monstrous being has recently started terrorizing the village and killing its inhabitants indiscriminately.

When a strange armless man called Esra shows up at the village followed by tragedy, Theron's surviving daughter Thrace is sent to the main city of Colnora to enlist the help of Royce and Hadrian...

FORMAT/INFO:Avempartha” stands at 332 pages divided over fifteen titled chapters. The narration is in the third person and takes place into the present of the novel. The main POVs are Royce, Hadrian, Arista and Thrace with Esra stealing the show whenever he makes an appearance. There are other secondary returning characters from the first novel, most notably the dwarf Magnus and the brothers Pickering, Mauvin and Fanen, but the foppish villain I loved to hate, Count Archimbald, is missing. Instead, we get the chilling “Sentinel” Guy. The ending is excellent and solves the main issue of the plot, but this time there is a huge ‘To Be Continued’ sign, so I eagerly await the next installment. April 1, 2009 marks the Paperback Publication of "Avempartha" via Aspirations Media Inc. Cover art is provided by the author himself, Michael Sullivan.

PLOT HINTS AND ANALYSIS: One thing I really loved about “Avempartha” were the superb naming conventions. Quite a few times in sff novels, the names are grating or at best annoying or silly-sounding, and usually I’m happy if they are not too noticeable. In “Avempartha” though, I truly loved how the names sounded with Thrace and Arista pairing very nicely with Royce and Hadrien, while Guy, Saldur, Thomas, Theron and Gilarabrywn are names that evoke both wonder and terror. The names of places like Colnora, Dhalgren, and Nidwalden also roll nicely off the tongue and add to the novel’s depth...

After a superb re-acquittance with Royce and Hadrian in the first several pages, “Avempartha” actually continues more as a series opener with a ton of build-up in the first half of the novel, while the second half is just superb non-stop action, especially when the two threads following Royce, Hadrian and Princess Arista respectively converge at the elven castle...

Meanwhile, the slow unfolding of secrets and tapestries weaved over the centuries since the fall of the Empire—and possibly even before—is very well timed, and there are some unexpected twists and turns, though we also start seeing a little bit of the big-picture outline. In particular, the Imperial succession which clearly dates back to the murder of the last emperor and the possible elvish threat that goes back to the times of legend well before the Empire even existed.

Of the main POVs, Arista, Hadrien and Royce stay in character from “The Crown Conspiracy”, but are written with much more detail and depth, while Thrace is a great addition, bringing an “innocent, regular girl” perspective that contrasts nicely with the other characters. I particularly liked the reintroduction of Magnus and his cynical dialogue and wordplay with Royce who still wants his head for obvious reasons.

Overall, I really loved “Avempartha”. In fact, I immediately re-read “The Crown Conspiracy” the next day to try and catch any little details I might have missed the first time, and I definitely recommend reading the first book again for added depth. In short, “Avempartha” is highly, highly recommended and a novel that raises Michael Sullivan’s The Riyria Revelations to “major league” status...
Friday, March 27, 2009

“Red-Headed Stepchild” by Jaye Wells (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Official Jaye Wells Website
Order “Red-Headed Stepchild
HERE (US) + HERE (UK)
Read An Excerpt
HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: After several years as a magazine editor and freelance writer, Jaye Wells finally decided to leave the facts behind and make up her own reality. “Red-Headed Stepchild” is her first novel.

PLOT SUMMARY: In a world where being of mixed-blood is a major liability, Sabina doesn’t really fit in. And being an assassin—the only profession fit for an outcast—doesn’t help matters. But she’s never brought her work home. Until now.

Her latest mission is uncomfortably complex, and threatens the fragile peace between the vampire and mage races. As Sabina scrambles to figure out which side she’s on, she uncovers a tangled political web, some nasty facts about her family and some unexpected new talents. Any of these things could be worryingly life-changing, but together, they could be fatal…

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 352 pages divided over thirty-one numbered chapters. Extras include an interview with author Jaye Wells and a preview of “The Mage In Black”, the second Sabina Kane novel. Narration is in the first-person present-tense via the main protagonist, Sabina. “Red-Headed Stepchild” concludes the book’s immediate plotlines, but is clearly a setup novel for an overarching series that will have at least two sequels. March 31, 2009 & April 2, 2009 marks the North American/UK Mass Market Paperback publication of “Red-Headed Stepchild” via
Orbit. Cover art provided by Craig White.

ANALYSIS: Jaye Wells' debut novel, “Red-Headed Stepchild”, is an urban fantasy/paranormal romance in the vein of Kim Harrison, Laurell K. Hamilton, and Lilith Saintcrow. Like the books by those authors, and countless others, “Red-Headed Stepchild” features a badass female protagonist, supernatural beings—in this case vampires, mages (mancies), demons and faeries—romance, humor, and many other traits that will be instantly familiar to fans of the subgenre.

For me personally, this familiarity to other urban fantasy was the book’s biggest problem as I just kept thinking that I had read all of this before, and several times at that. I also had issues with the humor which felt cliched or corny, especially the dialogue and the cat; illogical moments like a demon who has never been to our realm suddenly able to watch TV or use a credit card to order informercial products; Sabina and Giguhl acting more like teenagers instead of what I would expect a 53-year-old immortal assassin or a murderous demon would act like; and the tone of the book which is mostly lighthearted and playful, but then is offset by f-bombs, hot n’ heavy sexual tension, and melancholy scenes.

Fortunately, “Red-Headed Stepchild” has a lot going for the book in spite of the aforementioned issues like energetic writing, terrific pacing, and a story that features some interesting twists and drama. Most significantly, the author makes a valiant attempt to shake things up a bit which is best evident by her version of vampires. Basically, the vampires in “Red-Headed Stepchild” are descendants of Lilith and Cain and are distinguished by their red hair, the Mark of Cain. Unfortunately, as interesting as this biblical twist is, Jaye doesn’t do a very good job of explaining the characteristics (Why do they need to drink blood? How does sunlight affect them? Can they reproduce with humans? Etc.) of her vampires aside from their strange weakness to anything apple-related. Jaye also introduces mages who are supposedly bastard spawn of the goddess Hekate, the enmity between vampires & mages, the Caste of Nod and other interesting bits, but once again these ideas are accompanied by very little explanation.

CONCLUSION: Even though Jaye Wells’Red-Headed Stepchild” doesn’t really distinguish itself from other urban fantasy/paranormal romance novels—aside from the vampires—the book is fast-paced, charming and fun. Add it all up and “Red-Headed Stepchild” is a book that I expect will do quite well...
Thursday, March 26, 2009

Winners of The Accord + Ricardo Pinto Giveaways!

Congratulations to Carolyn Dileo (Illinois), Snowee Rojo (New York), Zsolt Farkas (Hungary), Mindy Delisi (New Jersey), and Bonnie Keller (Illinois) who were all randomly selected to win a SET of Ricardo Pinto’s The Stone Dance of the Chameleon trilogy including copies of “The Chosen” (Paperback), “The Standing Dead” (Paperback) and the new book “The Third God”, all thanks to Bantam UK!!! “The Third God” is officially out today in the UK. For more information, please visit the Official Ricardo Pinto Website.

Congratulations also to Cathy Gordon (UK), Teresita Garza (Florida), Elaine Hughes (New Zealand), Maria Ashwell (Texas), Fiona Norman (UK), Vicky Boackle (Alabama), Jeremy Baker (UK), Chloe Nightingale (UK), Anne Tiernan (UK), and Jay Scales (UK) who were all randomly selected to win a COPY of Keith Brooke’sThe Accord” thanks to
Solaris Books!!! “The Accord” was officially released on February 24/March 2, 2009 in the US/UK. For more information, please visit the Official Keith Brooke Website or read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of “The AccordHERE.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009

“Vlad: The Last Confession” by C.C. Humphreys (Reviewed by Liviu C. Suciu)

Official C.C. Humphreys Website
Order “Vlad: The Last Confession
HERE
Read An Excerpt
HERE
Read Reviews via Quill & Quire

INTRODUCTION: When I first heard about “Vlad: The Last Confession”, I thought, “Not again. Just what we need, another novel about the ‘vile deeds’ of Vlad Dracula”. Also known as the Dragon, Vlad Tepes or the Impaler—the great Romanian warlord of the 15th century who dared to confront Mehmed the Conqueror, and almost managed to kill him in the famous Night Attack in 1462.

However, after checking out an excerpt on the author's website, I realized this novel could actually be something special, and immediately ordered a copy. I started reading the book as soon as I received it and was really impressed with “Vlad: The Last Confession” which exceeded my expectations as both an entertaining novel and as a historical reconstruction...

SETTING: In 1481, five years after Dracula's death, when his name became synonymous with terror, depravity and inhuman cruelty, three individuals—the imprisoned Ion Tremblac, Vlad’s former right hand and eventual betrayer; Vlad’s ex-mistress and current monastery abbess Ilona; and the hermit Vasile—are summoned to an isolated mountain fortress to bear witness to Vlad's character and deeds.

From here, the novel follows Vlad Dracula from his days as a young hostage at Sultan Murad's court in Edirne through his tumultuous career as a fugitive, a warlord Prince, a prisoner and a noble in the court of the king of Hungary.

FORMAT/INFO:Vlad: The Last Confession” is 358 pages long divided over fifty-two titled chapters, four parts, a three-part Prologue, and a superb and unexpected Epilogue. The book also includes a Dramatis Personae of the characters in the book, an Author’s Note, a Bibliography, a Glossary and a Map. Narration is in the third-person following Vlad as seen by the three witnesses mentioned above. “Vlad: The Last Confession” is self-contained. March 5, 2009 marks the UK Hardcover publication of “Vlad: The Last Confession” via
Gollancz.

PLOT HINTS AND ANALYSIS: I read tons of Romanian novels that justly remember Vlad as a hero, but due to Saxon & Hungarian-inspired bad press, Tepes’ historical record has been grossly distorted outside of his native country. So “Vlad: The Last Confession” is the first Western novel about the famous historical figure that actually does him justice as a great champion of Christendom, as well as a bringer of peace and prosperity...

The portrait of Vlad as single-minded and willing to go to any lengths in his goal of throwing back the Ottoman tide that seemed poised to engulf Christian Europe is well done and there is no glossing over the terrible cruelties inflicted by the Prince. However, that was a time when people had to be ruthless to survive as one Ottoman character so eloquently put it: “We do it to others, so they cannot do it to us”.

Ion Tremblac as the dedicated companion, right-hand man and later commander of Vlad’s armies, is also drawn very well and his narration, which occupies most of the novel, is very powerful.

Ilona has a smaller part to play overall in the novel, but she is always there for Vlad and her narrative voice is also very well defined. For reasons that will become clear towards the end of the book, the third witness, the hermit Vasile, is not as well drawn, but later turns out to be as important a character as anyone else in the novel.

The Ottoman characters meanwhile, are portrayed with subtlety, none more than Vlad's mentor and later adversary and victim, the (in)famous—at least in Romanian lore—Hamza Pasha. The Sultans, Murad and Mehmet are described accurately and fairly in my opinion, while Radu’s descent into corruption is only hinted at, although the final consequences are shown very clearly.

The recreation of the atmosphere of the times is pitch perfect and the author manages the not inconsiderable feat for a native English speaker of getting most of the Romanian names and expressions right, with only a little mixing of the diphthong “iu” with “ui” as in “Guirgui” for the actual “Giurgiu”. Since my name contains several “iu’s” and I've seen them changed into “ui” countless times across the years, I truly appreciate the mostly successful effort of Mr. Humphreys getting the names right. It's harder for me to evaluate the Turkish names and expressions, but I trust that they are as well done as the Romanian ones.

In the end, “Vlad: The Last Confession” is a superb page-turner from start to finish that offers a captivating look at the true picture of Vlad. Highly, highly recommended. No vampires though...
Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Winners of the Tim Davys/Amberville Giveaway!

Congratulations to Kate Garrabrant (New Jersey), Israel Yeres (New York), Cheryl VanBrunt (California), Amy Deeter (Pennsylvania), Andrew Gordon (Ohio), Ellen Cunningham (Massachusetts), Jennifer Cecil (Florida), Lily Kwan (Nevada), Emily Heinzelman (California), Jake Woodworth (New York), Roxanne Williamson (Missouri), Diane Lenox (Texas), Rita Loy (South Carolina), Janet Wetzel (Iowa), and Barbara Nolan (Kentucky) who were all randomly selected to win a COPY of Tim Davys’Amberville” thanks to HarperCollins!!! “Amberville” was officially released on February 24, 2009. For more information, please visit the Official Amberville Website or read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of “AmbervilleHERE.
Monday, March 23, 2009

“The Dakota Cipher” by William Dietrich w/Bonus Essay (Reviewed by Liviu C. Suciu)

Official William Dietrich Website
Order “The Dakota Cipher
HERE
Read An Excerpt
HERE
Read An Interview
HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Review of “Napoleon's Pyramids” & “The Rosetta Key

INTRODUCTION:The Dakota Cipher” by William Dietrich is the third historical thriller with a touch of the supernatural in what is proving to be a very successful series. It follows the adventures of one Ethan Gage, a rakish American adventurer with a talent for getting in and out of trouble as well as making powerful friends and enemies. Though part of a series, “The Dakota Cipher” is a standalone and can be read independently. The first two books, “Napoleon's Pyramids” and “The Rosetta Key”, were reviewed together HERE and are basically just one big novel split into two parts. “The Dakota Cipher” picks up soon after “The Rosetta Key” ends and provides some back story as well as the intervening events which are depicted in Ethan’s remembrance, but the book features a completely new cast of characters outside of Gage and the man whose shadow looms large over the time period and whom Ethan both admires and fears/detests in equal measure—the current First Consul of France, one Napoleon Bonaparte...

NOTE: The following review will contain only marginal spoilers for the first two books, so it may be used as a springboard for those readers just getting into the series, which is just excellent.

SETTING:The Dakota Cipher” opens in the glittering Paris of late 1800. Napoleon is celebrating after his victory at Marengo which sealed his hold on power. Back into the First Consul’s graces after helping him win Marengo with a timely coup and a desperate ride on the Italian plains, Ethan is celebrating in his own inimitable style by gambling at cards, helping the American diplomats seal a friendship treaty with France, and hooking up with the beautiful Pauline Bonaparte, the youngest and dearest sister of his boss. Of course, Pauline is married to an important general, so it’s a risky business, but an encounter with a strange Norwegian named Magnus Bloodhammer, who professes to being an admirer of Ethan, could be even riskier.

The novel then moves to America, the place of Gage’s birth, at the start of both the Jeffersonian era and the expansion beyond the Appalachians, as well as the erection of the new city named after the first President. Here Ethan arrives to greet the just inaugurated Jefferson.

Presaging Lewis & Clark whom we meet as young promising officers at Jefferson “court”, Ethan and Magnus set up in the wilderness for an ostensibly French-American mission to cement the recently signed treaty.The two cousins, Lady Aurora and Lord Cecil Somerset, hail from the hallowed names of the high English aristocracy, but they seem to prefer the rough wilderness of the Great Lakes where they lead a prosperous Anglo-Canadian trading company. They have some strange friends and acquaintances including reviled American traitor scout Captain Simon Girty, famous Mohawk chief and British war hero Joseph Brant, and ambitious Shawnee rising star Tecumseh. None of course, are very friendly to their new neighboring nation that Gage represents, and later we meet brutal Dakota chief Red Jacket, whose reasons for allying himself with the British are such:

The French do not stay, the British stay lightly, but the Americans stay and wound the earth wherever they go.”

FORMAT/INFO:The Dakota Cipher” stands at 368 pages divided over forty-four numbered chapters and includes a map of Gage's peregrination in the Great Lakes/Mississippi Basin area at the beginning and a historical note at the end of the book. As with the first two Gage novels, the narration is via Ethan's point-of-view and takes place mostly in the present of the novel, with occasional flashbacks fleshing out a bit of the backstory and the intervening year between Bonaparte's coup and the start of the novel. “The Dakota Cipher” is a standalone with a clear ending, but there are many possibilities for future novels. March 24, 2009 marks the North American Hardcover publication of “The Dakota Cipher” via
HarperCollins.

PLOT HINTS AND ANALYSIS: After the in-favor/out-favor gyrations that marked the relationship with Napoleon in “The Rosetta Key”, Ethan is finally on excellent terms with the First Consul. After all, Ethan suggested, in jest of course, the St. Bernard pass Alps crossing that Napoleon used in emulating Hannibal which surprised the Austrians. As Napoleon puts it, idiot savants and their ridiculous ideas have their uses especially at the hands of a bold general. Later, working as a spy ineptly disguised as a savant explorer, Ethan's luck held and he managed to save Napoleon's army—and most likely his career—thanks to some astute observations, his skill at fast drawing a gun, and a desperate ride across the Italian countryside.

But enjoying life as a Napoleonic minion is not enough for the man who beat his current master at Acre, flew a balloon to escape an army, cheated English sailors at cards on their own ship, and finally defeated the archvillain Silano while taking his girl, earning Napoleon's grudging esteem and saving his skin. Of course, Astiza had ideas of her own and left to pursue them, so Gage is now free to liven his life by dallying with Pauline, Napoleon’s younger sister and the beautiful wife of a powerful general.

Things start to become complicated though when a wild card Norwegian adventurer named Magnus enters Ethan's life, prompting Gage to take on a diplomatic mission overseas. From here, our two heroes find their way from New York and Washington to the Great Lakes and the Mississippi Basin. Along the way, they encounter the beautiful siren-like Aurora and the well-mannered but deadly Lord Somerset who make things even more interesting . . . and dangerous.

Meanwhile, Magnus, the giant Norse, seems just like the straightforward Norwegian patriot he claims to be, set on freeing his country from Swedish yoke. However, Magnus has dark secrets of his own and we are left guessing where his ultimate loyalty lies as well as why he specifically focused on Gage to be his partner...

Writing-wise, the Native American lifestyle and its many characters from various tribes are well-described in a very nuanced way, as is the now vanished culture of the valiant French-Canadian trappers and fur gatherers of the Grand Lakes. The wordplay is as witty as always and the interactions between characters are superbly done. “The Dakota Cipher” is also a page turner, one that I finished reading in a single sitting.

CONCLUSION: After the major surprise that was “Napoleon's Pyramids” and the excellent “The Rosetta Key”, I wanted more Ethan Gage adventures and was very excited when “The Dakota Cipher” was announced. A superb continuation of the romp-like style of the original books, with the same witty wordplay, clever interaction between characters, and all around fun, “The Dakota Cipher” fulfilled my very high expectations while dialing up the stakes in the series. Highly, highly recommended...

Bonus Essay by William Dietrich:

While my novel The Dakota Cipher is cheerful fiction, it and the two Ethan Gage novels before it are based on real history and science. The 1801 setting of the novel is fascinating in itself—this is when our modern world began—but the books also explore ancient history and modern speculation that challenge our conventional view of the past.

Let me discuss in turn my fascination with the Napoleonic era, 1801 America, pre-Columbian Norse exploration, and alternative theories of early human history.

Napoleon Bonaparte is a novelist’s dream, and the Jupiter who sucks Ethan into his orbit. A hero to some biographers and a villain to others, Bonaparte appeals to us moderns as a self-made man, the poor kid from Corsica who turns a French military education into mastery of his adopted country and, nearly, mastery of the world. Napoleon is anything but consistent, contradicting his philosophies with his own quotations. He was an opportunist, adapting to circumstance, and at once idealistic and cynical, romantic and ruthless. In his ambition and will he created the template, I would argue, for all the high-reaching politicians, generals, capitalists and artists who have come after him. He was the first successful manipulator of public opinion, the master of propaganda, the creator of a secret police, and so brilliantly precocious that he was a general at 21 and finished by 46. He was so mercurial that even eye-witness descriptions of his appearance differ markedly. He was so brilliant that he reformed not just the army, but law, education, and French public works. He was so blind that he initiated wars that killed millions of people.

Napoleon’s era was, if anything, even more melodramatic than the conqueror’s career. The tumult of ideas had been set loose by the American and French revolutions and society was at a boil. This was the time war enlisted whole nations with brilliant uniforms, gallant charges, and devastating carnage. Dresses were scandalous, gambling epidemic, careers risky, ships magnificent, art romantic, gossip malicious, and invention fertile. This was the start of the industrial and scientific revolutions. People could rise by merit as well as birth, and fight not just for a king but for ideas. A great deal of the world was still unexplored, and the opportunities for adventure were boundless.

I’m equally fascinated by the early history of the United States. In 1801 America was a nation of just 5 million people, largely confined east of the Appalachians. New York was a small city of 60,000. Roads were wretched, distances vast, and the future unbounded. Thomas Jefferson estimated it would take a thousand years to fill the region east of the Mississippi with settlers. Corn, salt pork and whiskey were the foundation of the frontier diet. Only the Senate side of the Capitol was finished, and the White House had just been occupied.

The North American continent was an arena of contending empires: British, French, Spanish, and Native American. Indians still had formidable military power. The tribes also represented an alternative lifestyle that both repelled and fascinated Europeans. White captives describe a world of astonishing freedom, humor and beauty, but a life in which Indians also contended with periodic hunger, war, and torture if captured. The tribes were being destroyed by disease and pushed west by immigration, and everyone was striving for balance in a raw nation still being invented. It is this world Ethan Gage traverses in The Dakota Cipher.

Ethan is on a quest for a mythical Norse artifact, but the novel’s idea that Norse explorers could have reached Minnesota is based on compelling recent research. Whole books have been written on this topic, but I’ll try to summarize.

We know that Medieval Norse established a settlement at Newfoundland’s L’Anse aux Meadows site about 1003. Now there is serious research into the idea that not only did the Norse go on to New England, but that they might have penetrated to the Upper Midwest.

In 1898, a Minnesota farmer unearthed a slab of rock carved with Norse runes, or letters, that reports a westward Norse expedition and has a date of 1362, some 130 years before Columbus. Some scholars dismissed the find as a hoax, arguing that the shape of some runes don’t correspond to those common at the time.

Recently, however, forensic geologist Scott Wolter examined the stone with modern instruments and concluded the weathering of the incisions is consistent with the early date, not a 19th Century forgery. His collaborator, engineer Richard Nielsen, studied grave markers of the period in Gotland, where part of the expedition originated, and found runes that matched the ones carved in Minnesota.

Other rune stones have been found in New England, Oklahoma, Iowa, and the Dakotas. Metal fragments of European weaponry and tools that predate Columbus have also been discovered. Some 200 boulders with mooring holes similar to those used to tie boats in Scandinavia have been discovered in North America. Since many are far from navigable waters, investigators theorize they were used as guideposts. Lines draw between three such stones intersect on the Kensington, MN, hill where the rune stone was found.

New England evidence includes an etched Templar sword and knight at Westford, MA., a stone tower of mysterious origin in Newport, R.I., and more stones with runes, maps and pictures of 14th Century ships from Maine.

How would a Gotlander get to Minnesota? One possibility is that the Kensington rune stone was moved, by Indians or early settlers, from some other site.

But another is that Norsemen actually rowed there. Kensington is near the headwaters of the Mississippi, the Red-Nelson system that leads north to Hudson Bay, and the St. Lawrence-Great Lakes system.

There are legends of pre-Columbian voyages by Ireland’s St. Brendan in 512, Prince Madoc of Wales in 1170, and Prince Henry Sinclair of Scotland in 1398. Early explorers of the West were intrigued by the light skin and blue eyes of some Mandan Indians on the Missouri River, who lived in agricultural villages reminiscent of medieval European villages. Did European genes and technology somehow get to the Missouri?

In my novel, Thomas Jefferson asks Ethan Gage to investigate these reports.

Why 1362? This gets back to the theme of all three Ethan Gage novels, including Napoleon’s Pyramids and The Rosetta Key. We know a small group of French Crusader knights was given unusual access to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount and tunneled there. These Knights Templar then left the Holy Land and in short order became the most powerful military and financial order in Europe. They were crushed two centuries later by a coup by the King of France and the Pole on Friday the 13th, 1309. And the survivors scattered, to places like Gotland and Scotland.

The Black Plague and religious persecution followed. The speculation, among serious modern researchers of Norse exploration, is that some of these Templar survivors ultimately came to America. I invent my own reason for this in The Dakota Cipher, and other investigators have their own.

What, if anything, did the Templars find in the Temple Mount? Theories range from the Ark of the Covenant to heretical scripture, but my novels suggest they found secrets from ancient civilizations that once were powerful and since forgotten.

This idea is not just my invention. One of the mysteries of human history is why civilization started. Judging from the anthropological evidence, home sapiens appear to have had the same brain capacity for at least 100,000 years, yet recorded civilization is only about 5,000 years old. Did people need something to jump-start our progress? Some of the earliest artifacts from Egypt or South America, for example, seem remarkably sophisticated for people starting from scratch.

This brings us to the theory that legends of early gods like the Egyptian Thoth—who taught mankind the basics of civilization—were based on foggy truth: that someone, or something, literally lifted us out of the mud. Were these beings “gods”? Or space aliens? Or representatives of an earlier civilization now entirely lost? Or time travelers?

The great thing about being a novelist is that you can stay comfortably agnostic on the final answer, and just let your hero explore the question. Why do I have fun with Ethan Gage? He’s living in a melodramatic era of real people too eccentric to ever invent, on a planet still full of mystery, and with endless riddles to keep him speculating. I have no idea what he’ll ultimately find, but I do enjoy being invited along on his epic journeys. The adventure will continue with a fourth book in the series—and perhaps many more after that...
Saturday, March 21, 2009

Angry Robot Signs Dan Abnett, Live Webcast Events for Bestselling author Patrick Carman, and Launch Event for “Garbage Man” & “The Absence”...

Angry Robot, HarperCollins’ new imprint devoted to all that’s new in genre fiction including SF, F and WTF?!, recently announced the signing of noted SF & Fantasy author Dan Abnett for three original novels.

Dan Abnett made his name in the tie-in SF & Fantasy fiction field, selling more than 1.2 million copies of his Warhammer 40,000 novels, which have also been translated into ten other languages. He’s also recently made the UK fiction charts with original Torchwood and Doctor Who novels. His comic book scripts, for major publishers such as Marvel, DC and the UK’s 2000 AD, have attracted critical plaudits and strong sales on both sides of the Atlantic.

The three novels for
Angry Robot will allow Abnett to play to all his strengths as a writer. His penchant for wildly imaginative world-building and lovable characters comes to the fore in “Triumph”, a ribald historical fantasy set in a warped version of our present day . . . only with Elizabeth the First on the throne. This will be published by Angry Robot, in both the UK and US, in October 2009.

Next year will see two novels in a stunning new future-war setting. “Embedded” sends a journalist into the frontline of a distant planetary war . . . chipped inside the head of a combat veteran. When the soldier is killed, the journo must use all his resourcefulness to get safely home again, reporting on a live feed all the way. No one writes future war as well as
Dan Abnett, and fans of tie-in series such as Gaunt’s Ghosts and his Horus Heresy novels will be blown away by this bold new move into original science fiction.

For more information, please visit the
Official Dan Abnett Website or the Official Angry Robots Website.

Moving on, bestselling author
Patrick Carman, creator of the multimedia ghost story sensation “Skeleton Creek”, will participate in two LIVE web-cast events on Monday, March 23rd at 10:00AM PST and 4:30PM PST during which he’ll talk about “Skeleton Creek” and answer viewer questions. To participate in the LIVE Q&A, please visit the website HERE during the webcast.

ABOUT SKELETON CREEK:

Skeleton Creek” is a multimedia ghost story—the first in a two-book series. It engages middle-grade readers through a combination of written story and more than an hour of original online videos produced by Patrick Carman’s own PC Studios in Walla Walla, Washington. The story is broken into two parts, created by the book’s main characters, best friends Sarah and Ryan who, after a mysterious accident injuring Ryan, have been separated by their parents. The book is Ryan’s story, which he chronicles in a journal for Sarah. Meanwhile, Sarah sends Ryan messages via videos—links to nine videos appear interspersed throughout the book, accessed online with passwords provided in the book. Together, the book and videos reveal three things: the past is dangerous, the present is haunted and the future is deadly.

ABOUT PATRICK CARMAN:

Patrick Carman is the author of the New York Times bestselling Land of Elyon series, and “Elliot’s Park”, a chapter book series for younger readers. Among his forthcoming projects is Book #5 in the bestselling multiplatform The 39 Clues series.

Finally, on May 7, 2009, authors
Joseph D’Lacey, Bill Hussey and Mathew F. Riley will be hosting a special event in celebration of the launch of Horror Reanimated—a new blog dedicated to the genre in all its forms—and the forthcoming release of the novels “Garbage Man” and “The Absence”. There will be a brief talk and readings from each author followed by a Q&A session. An illustrated, limited edition, signed Horror Reanimated chapbook containing a piece of short fiction by each author will be available FREE for every attendee! Details below:

Thursday, May 7th from 6.45 – 8.15pm
Borders, Oxford Street

Event will followed by drinks from 8:15 onwards at
The White Horse, Newburgh Street.
Friday, March 20, 2009

“This Is Not A Game” by Walter Jon Williams (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Order “This Is Not A GameHERE (US) + HERE (UK)
Read An Excerpt HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Walter Jon Williams has been nominated repeatedly for every major SF award, including Hugo and Nebula Award nominations for his novel “City on Fire”. His most recent books include the Dread Empire’s Fall series and “Implied Spaces”. He has also written both fiction and rulebooks for the roleplaying games “Privateers and Gentlemen” and “Cyberpunk”.

PLOT SUMMARY:This Is Not A Game” is a novel built around the world of Alternate Reality Games (ARGs)—massively interactive games that combine video, text adventure, audio, animation, improvisational theatre, graphics, story and more into an immersive experience, and have become a staple of entertainment marketing.

Dagmar is a producer and writer for an ARG gaming company. Her boss Charlie is an old friend and a multimillionaire. When another old friend is murdered, Dagmar, Charlie and the fourth of their former college gaming circle, BJ, suddenly find themselves the players in a very different kind of game.

Now they must draw on all their resources—not least millions of online gamers—to track down a killer, prevent a financial crisis, and possibly even save the world. They just have to remember TINAG . . . This Is Not A Game and there are no second chances…

CLASSIFICATION:This Is Not A Game” is a techno-thriller seasoned with a tiny dash of cyberpunk and set mostly in a near-future Los Angeles. Because of its cinematic flair, mainstream appeal and cautionary tone, “This Is Not A Game” was like reading a Michael Crichton novel…

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 384 pages divided over three Acts and twenty-seven chapters. Each chapter is titled with a ‘This is Not…’ like “This is the Not the Bat Cave” or “This is Not a Flashback.” Narration is in the third-person, mostly via the main protagonist Dagmar Shaw. “This Is Not A Game” is self-contained. March 5, 2009 & March 24, 2009 marks the UK/North American publication of “This Is Not A Game” via
Orbit.

ANALYSIS: Before 2008, I had never even heard of Alternate Reality Games, but then I read
Cory Doctorow’sLittle Brother” which introduced me to ARGs and much more. In many ways, “Little Brother” is a lot like Walter Jon Williams’ new book, “This Is Not A Game”. Both are smart and skillfully written including believable characters and dialogue, movie-like pacing, clever plotting and cool pop-culture references—Dungeons & Dragons, MMORPGs, comic books and cartoons are just a few that are used in “This Is Not A Game”. Both deal with subjects that are timely to current real-world problems. And both are tremendously entertaining.

Of course there are differences. For one, “Little Brother” is written in the first-person while “This Is Not A Game” is in the third. Two, “Little Brother” is set a bit further in the future whereas the setting for “This Is Not A Game” is almost indistinguishable from ours. And three, “Little Brother” is a YA novel and “This Is Not A Game” is not—although the book is just as accessible as one.

The biggest difference between “Little Brother” and “This Is Not A Game” is in the subject matter and their plots. Where “Little Brother” mostly concentrates on terrorism, the loss of civil rights and a ton of technological info-dumping centered around youthful rebellion, “This Is Not A Game” revolves around financial crises, ARGs, and a thriller plot that involves murder, deception, and revenge. In particular, “This Is Not A Game” explores the intriguing, but disturbing capacity of using ARGs—or in general social networking—to solve real-world problems like extracting an individual from a third-world country that is suffering from currency collapse, finding a killer, driving stock prices up, performing acts of terrorism, and so on. What I liked best about this scenario was how much effort was put into creating a real-life ARG, even going so far as interjecting forum messages and emails into the body of the narrative.

Negatively, it takes a while for the direction of the novel to be revealed—basically the whole first act and then some—certain stuff feels outdated like finding bomb recipes online, and once specific pieces of information fall into place the plot can be a bit predictable. But like “Little Brother”, “This Is Not A Game” is a nearly perfect novel.

Between the two, “This Is Not A Game” is not quite as frightening a scenario as “Little Brother”, and is not as ‘tech-savvy’, but I think Walter’s book will appeal to a wider audience. I also believe “This Is Not A Game” would make a better film, especially in the hands of a director like Ridley or Tony Scott :)

CONCLUSION:This Is Not A Game” is the first Walter Jon Williams novel that I’ve read and it lives up to all of the hype and praise surrounding the author. Masterfully written and executed, scarily relevant, and massively entertaining, “This Is Not A Game” is a gem of a novel and should be on everyone’s reading list…
Thursday, March 19, 2009

“Hammer of God” by Karen Miller (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

Official Karen Miller Website
Order “Hammer of God
HERE (US) + HERE (UK)
Read An Extract
HERE
Read Reviews via The Bookbag

Since the publication of the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker duology, Karen Miller has quickly become one of the more popular fantasy novelists within the past couple of years. “Hammer of God”, released in early January, completes Miller’s second series known as the Godspeaker Trilogy.

The Godspeaker Trilogy is a religious/political court fantasy series set within the fictional worlds of Mijak and Ethrea. “Hammer of God” picks up right where “The Riven Kingdom” leaves off. Rhian, newly crowned as Ethrea's first female ruler, must face head on the dangers that are quickly threatening her kingdom. One of those threats is that of the country of Mijak. Mijak is a desert country thousands of miles away from Ethrea. Mijak’s army is being led by Empress Hekat who is on a warpath to conquer the world and offer her god blood sacrifices along the way. Marching with Hekat is her son Dmitrak who is in possession of a weapon known as the Hammer of God—a device that calls upon the gods’ powers and can quickly destroy anything in its path, even destroying whole cities with a blast of the fire beam. The Mijak army has overthrown Icthia, a port city that sits between Ethrea and the ocean, giving them just an ocean’s ride to starting war with Ethrea. However, something is preventing the Mijak army from setting sail as quickly as they would like.

Meanwhile, in Ethrea, Rhian must not only deal with the threat of war, but also with Ethrea's relationship with other foreign countries. These foreign countries must be convinced that the threat is real and to aid Ethrea against Mijak. As with all political matters, the ambassadors are reluctant to offer help. But one country, the mysterious Tzhung-tzhungchai who are rumored to use sorcery in many of its dealings, is willing to help Rhian. Unfortunately, their support causes many concerns among the other countries and may even prevent some of them from joining in the war.

In addition to all of this, Queen Rhian must also deal with matters that are closer to home, specifically two Ethrean dukes who are refusing to accept that she is queen and are offering her resistance and trouble. Then there are the charters that were drawn up centuries ago which are preventing Ethrea from forming an army, leaving them defenseless in case of an attack and dependent upon other countries for help against any threats. And on the personal front, Rhian has to deal with a husband, Alasdair, who is bitter and distant with her in matters of their marriage and the kingdom

Finally, there is Zandakar, a blue-haired former prince of Mijak who is being held in Ethrea after being banished from Mijak. Although he is a great warrior and willing to train the citizens of Ethrea, questions of his loyalty and willingness to help a country that his mother and brother are trying to destroy, inevitably arise.

Can everyone put aside their differences in time to stop Mijak, or will their differences cause the downfall of the world?

Hammer of God” is the conclusion to the Godspeaker Trilogy and follows a format more similar to that of the second book, “The Riven Kingdom”, than that of “Empress”. For one, Empress Hekat is in the book very little. While at times the plot shifts to Mijak, the main focus is on Ethrea and the people involved in that country. Throughout the series, Karen Miller seemed a lot more confident writing in the world of Ethrea than Mijak, whether it was because Ethrea offers more of a European-influenced setting and therefore more options, or just because Mijak was a newer setting and took more time to develop, I don’t know. But compared to the first book, it seems like there is more growth and less repetition, although there is still some awkwardness present.

One positive in Miller's writing style is the amount of time spent developing characters. In particular, the conversations between characters and their internal thoughts which helps readers see the many different sides to a person. So even though there are many typical characters throughout the book including those that readers love to hate or those that are frustrating, overall everyone has more than one side to them. For example,those characters that are seen as tough and bull-headed, have faults to them or have second thoughts about their actions.

Encountered throughout the novel were two negative aspects: the major focus on talk and politics, and the vagueness of religion and gods in the plot. Of the first, while the pace of the novel was very quick, there is a lot of time spent on having the readers look inside the workings of the courts, specifically Ethrean courts. As insightful as this information is at first because it helps us understand Queen Rhian’s actions, the phrase “all talk and no action” comes to mind. And a lot of the talk is very repetitive, with many questions revolving around the same issue such as who will help if Mijak attacks, resulting in readers hearing the same reactions over and over again. Plus, there is very little action in the book aside from the final clash between Ethrea and Mijak.

The second negative aspect is the focus on religion, which plays such a key role in the trilogy. There is the dark god of Mijak that feeds off of sacrifices, and then there is the god of Ethrea that is more of an understanding god who works through miracles and is happy with just prayer. Apart from the revelation that there is a darker power corrupting Mijak’s god, there is very little depth behind the religion in the book. Instead, the notion of the two gods is very vague, leaving a few gaps and questions within the plot. For example, the whole notion of having a powerful weapon of god, be it used for good or for evil, is never really explored. Instead, it feels as though the Hammer of God is just thrown out there, with very little explanation as to how or why the gods created such a weapon or what its purpose is.

In the end, I found the whole Godspeaker Trilogy a decent read. My major complaint revolves around the ending of the series. Even though the trilogy tops off at 2100 pages, I felt a sense of incompleteness to the series. After so much time spent with these characters, I was hoping for a more satisfying conclusion. Instead, it feels as though there should be a fourth book, or at least more added to the epilogue so that everything is tied up in the end. With that aside, I enjoyed Miller's character development and can't wait to see how she grows with future series...
Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Interview with Sarah Ash (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Sarah Ash Website
Order “Flight Into Darkness
HERE
Read An Excerpt HERE

Thanks to Mihir Wanchoo, I’ve been given the wonderful opportunity to post an email interview that he conducted with fantasy author Sarah Ash. Sarah is a British novelist whose bibliography includes The Tears of Artamon trilogy and the Alchymist’s Legacy which was concluded with the recently published book, “Flight into Darkness” (January 27, 2009 / Bantam Spectra). Read on to find out more about Sarah Ash, her books, her inspiration, her writing and much more:

Q: What made you choose fantasy as a genre to write in?

Sarah: I think that fantasy chose me.

I loved myths and legends from an early age, especially those that inspired musical versions like the Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky ballets (‘Swan Lake,’ ‘Firebird,’ ‘Petrushka’ etc.) I had a vivid imagination and used to scare myself rigid by reading ghost stories and science fiction with a torch after lights out. Somehow, all of these influences eventually coalesced in my own writing. I feel that there’s a certain kinship for me between music and writing fantasy; it’s possible to convey certain things in a fantasy context that won’t work so well in an historical or contemporary novel. I was thinking, for example, of the journey that Kiukiu undertakes into the Ways Beyond, searching for the soul of her lover, whom she fears is dead. Underworld journeys permeate the myths of many different cultures and they are meaningful to us on many different levels. Only in fantasy is it possible to describe such a journey without having to resort to the lame excuse of ‘it was only a dream.’ Fantasy allows the writer and the reader to fly.

Q: To any reader who hasn’t read one of your books, how would you convince them to give one of your novels a try?!

Sarah: When I read a novel, I want to be drawn into the story from the very first page by fascinating characters, intriguing situations, and a swiftly-paced style. So that’s what I set out to do in my own writing; story-telling is an art that’s alive and well in the fantasy genre and it’s my aim to try to tell a story that’s so vivid that you can’t help but be swept along by it.

Q: If you could give one book of yours to anyone in the world to read, which book would it be and why?

Sarah:Lord of Snow and Shadows” is probably a good one to start with: I can promise a snow-covered country haunted by ghosts, a murdered lord, a shadowy drakhaoul-daemon with a craving for innocent blood, unrequited love, imperial ambitions, court intrigue, an ancient legend about a dead emperor’s cursed rubies…

And a dragon.

Q: Your first book came out in 1995 along with a couple of anthology short stories a couple of years earlier. Could you share with us your experiences of first getting published?

Sarah: After years of doing the rounds with novels and amassing a bulging folder of rejection slips, I was very lucky to have the first short story that I ever sent to
Interzone accepted. It had been a disappointing summer (we'd been trying to move houses but the sale fell through at the last minute and so we lost our summer holiday as well) and we were trying to make the best of it by taking our sons on day trips out. We'd been down to Chatham Historic Naval Dockyard (well worth a visit if you’re interested in naval history) and on returning home, I noticed that the answer phone light was flashing. The message was from Deborah Beale, then senior editor at Orion, saying that she'd read the short story in IZ and would I like to send her the novel I had just finished? Would I? You bet I would! So, I'm eternally grateful to Interzone and to Deborah Beale for giving me my first break.

NOTE: For people who are interested in reading Sarah’s first short story, “Airs From Another Planet”, click
HERE.

Q: It’s been nearly 15 years since your first book came out. What advice would you have given yourself if you had the opportunity?

Sarah: Nearly fifteen years; help! Where did the time go? Well, most of all, it would have been to get an agent. I didn’t; I sold my first three books unagented and, with hindsight, it was a big mistake. Thank goodness for John Parker, who took me under his wing in 1997, and who has been wisely guiding me—fighting my corner—ever since.

Q: Where do you find the inspiration for your stories, (i.e.: nature, events, people, etc.)? And is there a particular life experience that influenced your writing?

Sarah: The inspiration comes from somewhere in my subconscious, I guess, from that soup of experiences that we all accumulate as we go through life. But I realize, as I’m outlining several new projects at the moment, that I do like my stories to have a tangible root in the real world, whether it’s a place (Mont Saint Michel has popped up again recently), a legend local to that place, or even something as insubstantial as a phrase of music.

I often make mention of my own experiences as a musician because I’ve created several characters who are performers and/or composers, like Celestine and Jagu and their master/mentor Henri de Joyeuse. In my earlier novel “Songspinners”, the heroine Orial, has been forbidden to learn music by her father because her mother died due to a rare affliction known as the Accidie. To develop the Accidie means that you can hear the music that other people have going round in their heads when they get a tune ‘on the brain.’ After a while, this sends the sufferer insane. The idea sprang from my own ability to be gifted (or cursed) to hear music (and often to memorize it) as my memory replays it over and over again. Loudly. I’m sometimes surprised that other people can’t hear it! Fortunately, it doesn’t seem to have driven me insane so far, although it can be very annoying. In Orial’s case, this inherited gift opens up a new and magical world, when she meets the badly injured composer Amaru Khassian and, defying her father’s wishes, becomes his amanuensis. But it also puts her in considerable peril…

Q: Who is/are your favorite character/characters from your books and why?

Sarah: If I have favorites (and like a good parent, I try to regard all my characters with equal affection) it's not always the ones that readers might imagine. I confess that I have a soft spot for Count Oskar Alvborg, the ‘bad boy’ of the Tears of Artamon. And in Alchymist’s Legacy, Kilian Guyomard was great fun to write, first as a troublesome schoolboy at Saint Argantel’s Seminary, and then a deeply conflicted adult in “Flight into Darkness”. But if I had to pick out one, I guess it would have to be Kiukiu, who starts out as the most insignificant of all the servants in the Drakhaon’s kastel in “Lord of Snow and Shadows”, and, thanks to her dogged determination to believe in her dreams, discovers her gift as a Spirit Singer, and uses it to fight for the man she loves.

Q: What type of writer are you. An Outliner or a freewriter? And could you give us a glimpse of your writing style and schedule?

Sarah: I'm both, in that I need to know a basic outline of the story (the theme, the beginning, the middle and the end) before I begin to write. But I never stick rigidly to a detailed chapter plan; I’m not that organized! No, the real reason is that I like to discover new things along the way. I can write a convincing outline for a story—and then find out that it works so much better trusting my instincts as I go along. However, I’m not advocating meandering vaguely for many chapters; everything I write is focused on the main theme/situation/conflict of the story and building toward the climax.

As to style, I know if I like the way I've written a sentence. I’m one of those picky writers who’ll spend ages putting in a word—and then taking it out again if it doesn’t work for me. I’m a great believer in getting the rhythm of a sentence right.

Schedules? I try to write every day whenever possible, in the same place (my desk in my cluttered little room on the second floor), at the same time of day. The window is on my right and high up, so that I can’t stare out and distract myself. Mornings are best for creative writing, so evenings tend to be more for catching up on emails, reviewing and revising/editing. But if it’s near deadline time, I’ll be up there, typing away till all hours!

Q: The world of Artamon which you have created is quite a vast and intriguing one. Besides the eastern European tinge, how did you go about creating it? What was your inspiration and what were your inventions in context to world-building? And what's your take on the debate of a character-driven story versus a fully realized world?

Sarah: In creating the world of Artamon, I wanted to create a believable, realistic society (not unlike that of our own eighteenth century) in which the growing interest in rationalism and science is countered by the discovery that there is truth in the old folk tales and legends: dragons do exist! I am an avid amateur historian and so many little details culled from my readings of contemporary diaries and historical biographies, or visits to 'old houses' seep their way into the narrative.

Having created a world in which ghosts haunt the living and shaman spirit singers can cross into the land of the dead through their music, it was important to establish the theological/ mythological context very early on. The spirit singers visit the Ways Beyond at their peril; there is a constant risk that they may never be able to return to their physical bodies and become Lost Souls. I was influenced in some ways by Judaic beliefs (seven hells, seven heavens), and so there are many different realms in the Ways Beyond, including the dust-ridden wasteland known as the Realm of Shadows. Each book opens up new layers of these hidden worlds! In Alchymist’s Legacy, the secret dimension that separates the mortal world and the Ways Beyond, is revealed: the Rift of the Emerald Moon.

But all of this world-building would be dry as the dust in the Realm of Shadows without the characters through whose eyes we get to experience these places. Rieuk’s first vision of the Emerald Moon—when rival Imri steals him away from his master, Linnaius—is a life-changing experience, as devastating as love at first sight. Or when Kiukiu has her first glimpse of the Realm of Shadows, we have to feel her horror and disgust at the plight of the souls trapped there. So for me, characters and world-building are inextricably intertwined; ‘you can’t have one without the other!’

Q: What are your plans for the future?

Sarah: Like many other authors at the moment, I’m feeling the squeeze of the ‘credit crunch.’ Every day I read of new cutbacks in all aspects of publishing and this makes me very sad. It also means that it’s incredibly difficult to sell a new project. Everything depends on how well your last book sold at the Electronic Point Of Sale—and even if you sold in reasonable numbers and went to reprint, it doesn’t mean your next contract is a certainty. You may have to reinvent yourself with a pseudonym, which means that you can’t write more about the characters you’ve already used (no sequels) as they are associated with your original identity. Which means disappointing the fans who were hoping for that sequel. Not to mention the necessity of investing a lot of time and imagination in a brand-new project—that may well be rejected. But hey, that’s what writing’s all about! The ups, the downs…

So to all those kind and encouraging readers who email me (and I really love those emails because it’s such a treat to hear from people who have enjoyed the books; please do keep ‘em coming) I have to say it’s not that I don’t want to write the sequels, far from it! It’s just a very difficult market; unchartered waters, maybe. So tell all your friends to buy the books and spread the buzz around—not just for me, but all your favorite authors. Because that’s the only way (unless we’re talking J.K. Rowling or Stephenie Meyer here) that you can be sure the publishers will invite us back to write more.

Q: How do you cope with the stressful nature of schedules & deadlines?

Sarah: Hair-tearing and too much caffeine. No, seriously, a regular writing schedule is essential for me, or nothing ever gets done! In truth, I really enjoy having a routine (at the desk every morning with Radio 3 and a cup of coffee.) Deadlines are always stressful, but they are a necessary stress; there's an extraordinarily exhilarating feeling when coming to the conclusion of a novel, when you're tying up all the loose ends and seeing various plotlines come to fruition. But I found meeting the deadline for “Flight into Darkness” very difficult because I was taken ill about a half of the way through, was in hospital for a week, needed some weeks afterwards to recuperate, and therefore had to ask for an extension. My kind and lovely editor, Anne Groell, was very understanding, for which I will always be very thankful indeed as I was pretty desperate!

Q: If not fantasy which other genre would you have chosen to write in? And do you have any plans to publish books in any other genre?

Sarah: Historical novels are my other love and, indeed, I wrote an historical novel back in the mid 1980's which failed to find a publisher. It was just as well, because not long after I had finished it, I discovered some new research which completely negated my imagined version of the central character's 'missing' years! So, no plans at present, unless it be historical fantasy.

Q: As a writer, what still challenges you and what do you want to accomplish?

Sarah: ‘To get it right' is the constant spur and challenge in writing. Every time I apply fingers to keyboard (or more rarely these days, pen to paper) I'm aware that I'm still learning the craft and there's so much more to be worked at and improved. You never stop learning and experimenting.

Story-telling is in my blood; above all, I'd just like to be given the opportunity to carry on telling the stories that demand to be told. And if other people enjoy reading them, then that gives me such a buzz!

Q: It has been mentioned that you are a comic book & manga fan. Which comic books and characters are your favorites, and do you have any manga recommendations for us?!

Sarah: My elder son Tom is the comic book expert in our family; I can't pretend that I haven't borrowed and enjoyed his X-Men collection—and, of course, Neil Gaiman's amazing Sandman graphic novels too. But manga is my real passion, especially as I feel a great kinship with some of the fantasy and science fiction themes to be found in the work of certain gifted mangaka. As for recommendations . . . at the moment, a couple of current hot tips from me are dark fantasy adventure “07-Ghost” by Yuki Amemiya and Yukino Ichihara (which is so good I can hardly wait for the next volume) and “Momo Tama” by a favourite mangaka of mine, Nanae Chrono, which draws on the traditional Japanese legend of the Peach Boy to create a bizarrely funny and inventive contemporary science fictional adventure.

Q: What book/books have you read recently that have made an impression on you?

Sarah: Two fantasy novels that were published in 2008 particularly impressed me. One was “The Magicians and Mrs Quent” by
Galen Beckett, the first book in a promising new series that manages to combine elements of the novels of the Brontes (the moors, the lonely house, the nysterious owner, the impressionable governess…) with an imaginative and unusual magic system. The second, “Havemercy” is by the impossibly young Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett. Undoubtedly anime-influenced (and none the worse for that!) it deals with a squad of airmen learning to fly mechanical combat dragons, like the formidable Havemercy, to fight their enemy.

Q: Which authors that you have read & are your favorites, would you recommend to your fans esp. in the fantasy/sci-fi genre?

Sarah: Ah, there are so many good authors out there! I’ve loved the works of Alexandre Dumas, Jane Austen, Mary Renault, Mikhail Bulgakov, and J.R.R. Tolkien since my teens. Then I always have to cite Ursula LeGuin, for “The Left Hand of Darkness,” probably my favorite-ever science fiction novel ever, as well as the first three Earthsea novels for fantasy. I shouldn’t omit Anne Rice from a favorites list; “Interview with the Vampire” made a great impression on me with its lushly dark style and the unforgettable creation of Claudia, the child vampire.

I belong to a group of fantasy writers called
The Write Fantastic and we frequently visit libraries and literary festivals to spread the word about the genre. As part of our work, we’ve produced a leaflet with some of our recommended reads; please do visit our site to learn more: http://www.thewritefantastic.com/

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

Sarah: Oh, I’m so embarrassed to admit that I do very little these days that isn’t connected to writing. I used to sing in choirs, I used to play the piano properly, I even used to bake cakes.

But then I also work at a primary school! Primary school generate plenty of extra activities—and running a computerized library of c. 10,000 books, with c. 700 borrowers does take up quite a lot of time and headspace. So my day job is like my hobby. A very rewarding one, too, as working with young readers is endlessly interesting. Never a dull moment!

Q: In closing, any last words for your multitude of fans worldwide and what we can expect from Sarah Ash next?

Sarah: I’m so grateful that readers have enjoyed the books; that’s all a writer can ever hope for, really! So (bows deeply) thank you for your interest and support.

As to what next, well . . . I’m hoping that my next projected series, To the Angelspire, will find a backer. But having already(stupidly) mentioned it in another interview, I now fear the wrath of the gods. It’s happened to me before; I’ve dared to say the name of the project and hint the contents a little, and then the publishers have said a big ‘No.’

ABOUT MIHIR WANCHOO:

Mihir Wanchoo is a physician in Houston, TX who has aspirations of getting his book published in the future. When he' not busy working, studying and writing, he's blissfully lost in the worlds of Jeffrey Deaver, James Rollins/Clemens, David Gemmell, John Connolly, Sarah Ash, George R.R. Martin, Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, and many others...

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