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Monday, October 31, 2011

"Song For A Naming Day" by Sarah Ash (by Mihir Wanchoo)

Read Sarah Ash's interview with Fantasy Book Critic
Read Suvudu article about Lord of Snow and Shadows

Sarah Ash is one of my favorite writers and when I first read her Tears of Artamon trilogy, I was amazed as to how intricately plotted it was and with great characterization along with loads of political intrigue. The series was also followed by a duology which further expanded the events of the trilogy as well focusing on other characters from the trilogy.

Things are further detailed in the article I have written about the world of Artamon, however I along with many others have been pining for a sequel series to this wonderful series. Sarah recently was able to write a small short story focusing on Lady Kiukiu and Lord Gavril of Azkhendir. It particularly focuses on what has happened after the events detailed in the books and resolves a particular question many fans had raised in regards to Kiukiu’s actions in the Children of the Serpent Gate. Sarah first published the story in the “Anniversaries” collection which was published last year to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the The Write Fantastic.

The Write Fantastic is a group of UK fantasy writers who came together since 2005 to maintain and increase fantasy readership through libraries, literary festivals, reader's circles, writers' groups and bookshop events. More information can be found about the book here.

Since then Sarah has decided to go ahead and post the story in its entirety on her website. The story is called “Song For a Naming Day”. The story has artwork provided by Marcelle Natisin who is equally a big fan of Sarah. So hopefully this will be the first of many such collaborative efforts ahead.

Just a small reminder for all readers, the story features certain spoilers for the previous books so be warned and for those who can’t wait to read the story, go over here and enjoy!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

"The Book of Transformations" by Mark Charan Newton (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)


Official Mark Charan Newton Website
Order The Book of Transformations HERE
Read FBC Review of Nights of Villjamur
Read FBC Review of City of Ruin
Read FBC Interview with Mark Newton

INTRODUCTION: The Book of Transformations is the third novel in the four volumes Legends of the Red Sun series, following Nights of Villjamur and City of Ruin. So far the series had a tapestry like structure with new and old characters, action in multiple places and several plotlines that are clearly related but in ways that are still mysterious to some extent.

In the reviews linked above, I talked at length about the setting of the novel and the essential characteristics of the world created by the author - old, multiple disappeared civilizations, forgotten science as magic, incoming ice age, island based imperial setting so less centralization and homogeneity, several extant races including the main two: humans and the longer lived rumel, so I will assume the reader has at least a rough knowledge of what the books are about.

As with City of Ruin, I have received copies of The Book of Transformations at several stages - early final draft, "final pre publication copy" and finished copy - and I had the honor to exchange several emails with the author about the book, while being also mentioned in the acknowledgments to the novel, so the usual disclaimers apply.

While I read The Book of Transformations in the Fall of 2010 (early final draft) and then again in January or so (final pre-publication copy) and the summer of 2011 (final copy), the May-July hiatus from FBC due to my household move prevented my reviewing it for its publication in June. The Book of Transformations is also one of the few books where I sort of know the author - even if only by email - and I generally find it much harder to review such.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Nights of Villjamur introduced the world and especially Villjamur the city, the setting, several main characters and the two main plotlines, City of Ruin shifted the action to Villiren which is another important city of the Empire that stood directly into the path of the alien invaders from the first novel. Now in The Book of Transformations, we return to Villjamur and the local mostly political plotline with the new Emperor and his tenuous hold over the city and empire, the underground rebels and their rumored powerful cultist leader.

After an introductory chapter where an old acquaintance from the first novel, rumel Investigator Fulcrom appears and we realize he will be one of the main leads of the book, we are introduced to the new main character of the novel, Lan who is "different" and has suffered all her life for that. Because you see, Lan has the body of a young man, but inside she feels herself to be a woman in all that counts. So she lives a life of continuous concealment - outwardly and in all the things that define her self-image, a woman - but with the wrong physical parts. Not an easy life even in our contemporary and relatively tolerant society, while in the harsh post-technological world of Villjamur, ice and mostly primitive beliefs and tech, immeasurably harder.

However, Lan gets somewhat lucky and finds out about Ysla, an isolated "cultist" island, where there are people that can perform a gender change operation - at considerable risk to Lan of course - but she desperately accepts and later, finally more or less fully a woman, she goes to Villjamur to make a life in the big city. But the new emperor Urtica has a plan to maintain his slipping grip on power and Lan happens to fit them, whether she likes it or not...

While The Book of Transformations is mostly about Lan, Fulcrom and their adventures and discoveries in Villjamur, there are strong connections with the rest of the series and we also continue an earlier thread dealing with an immortality obsessed cultist and his gone badly wrong search for eternal life. By the end of the novel many things fall into place, the tapestry's outlines are becoming clearer, while the last series novel is a huge one as it promises the convergence of all that came before.

As discussed above, I consider that the main strength of the Legends of the Red Sun series is the superb worldbuilding and extreme inventiveness of the author. While he created some strong personalities in the earlier volumes, I think that with Lan and Fulcrom, Mr. Newton hit on a perfect combination and they are the best characters of the series at least for me.

The writing in the novel flows very well and the pages turn by themselves with vivid description of everything from the squalor of middle of nowhere provinces of the empire, to the lush Ysla and finally to the teeming, unsettled, grim but also luxurious Villjamur itself. There is action galore, the magic - or very advanced technology - intensifies even more and the tension raises continually.

Overall The Book of Transformations (A++) continues the trend of the Legends of the Red Sun novels to date - superb books that fit very well with my tastes in style, while bringing the extreme inventiveness that made speculative fiction the overwhelming choice for my reading.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Odds and Ends: The 2011 Man Booker, new non-profit Gone Reading, first 2012 book (by Liviu Suciu)


Some ten days ago the winner of the 2011 Man Booker prize was announced and for once it was the overwhelming favorite from the shortlist, The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. I have talked a little about the book in this post HERE and I think it was a well deserved winner, considerably better than last year's mediocre choice and maybe the best on the full 13 book long list. Especially that to my surprise, I found The Stranger's Child by Allan Hollinghurst, the other "longlist biggie" that was not shortlisted to loud disapproving noise from the gallery, a boring slog in contrast to how very interesting it seemed from the blurb.

From the other five shortlisted books, I browsed four enough to know I have not the least interest in wasting my time further with them - actually one of these, Snowdrops by AD Miller seemed to me actually so bad, or if you want such a conventional thriller, that I even flipped through the pages to the end to understand how in the world did such mediocre at best novel got on the shortlist and I still did not get it. Though noting that the chairman of the jury was a former UK Intelligence bigwig, she may have wanted to remember the "good old days" of the Cold War when Russia mattered so the choice of this pale imitation of the best Cold War thrillers set in today's corrupt but otherwise unremarkable Russia.

The only other shortlisted novel that I plan to fully read sometime - Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch - which many considered the best of the bunch - starts in a very boring way and while I heard it gets much better towards the middle, I never could get there on several tries so far, when other more interesting books beckoned. But I will get there and see if indeed I will read it or not.

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Looking at this and other lists of books I realized how lucky I have been to live in places with great library systems and I am well aware that many other people are not so lucky. So when Bradley Wirtz, the founder of the new philanthropic organization, Gone Reading International, sent FBC an email about it, I took a look and decided it is a good idea to spread the news.

"In Need of Gifts for Readers?

GoneReading makes unique gifts for readers and book lovers. Whether you need gifts for the readers in your life, or a bookish treat for yourself, you’ll love what GoneReading has to offer!

Gone Reading International, founded in 2011, has pledged 100% of company profits in perpetuity to fund reading libraries and other literacy projects in the developing world. Read more about our philanthropic mission here."

You can find more at Gone Reading's official Website HERE!

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And to get back a little to sff-nal stuff, I want to note that a while ago I got my first advanced reading copy of a 2012 novel and it turned out to be In the Lion's Mouth by Michael Flynn the third installment in his "Celtic based Space Opera". I utterly loved the series' debut, The January Dancer (FBC Rv), but was a little mixed on the followup Up Jim River (FBC Rv) in which the combination of archaic language and strange Vancian places did not quite mesh.

Hoping that In the Lion's Mouth will recreate the sense of wonder of The January Dancer without clogging the storyline with unnecessary lingo, look for a review here sometime in late December, early January.


Friday, October 28, 2011

Winner of Lev AC Rosen’s “All Men of Genius” Giveaway!!!

Congratulations to Kristin Franseen (Wisconsin) who was randomly selected to win a SIGNED COPY of Lev AC Rosen’s debut novel “All Men of Genius”, courtesy of Tor!!! For more information on Lev AC Rosen and “All Men of Genius”, please visit the links below:

Order “All Men of GeniusHERE
Read Excerpts HERE + HERE
Read FBC's Review of “All Men of Genius
Read Lev AC Rosen’s Guest Post HERE
Thursday, October 27, 2011

"1Q84" by Haruki Murakami (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)



Haruki Murakami at Wikipedia
Order 1Q84 HERE
Watch Clips Related to 1Q84 at NYT
Watch The English language book trailer for 1Q84

INTRODUCTION: "The year is 1984 and the city is Tokyo. A young woman named Aomame follows a taxi driver’s enigmatic suggestion and begins to notice puzzling discrepancies in the world around her. She has entered, she realizes, a parallel existence, which she calls 1Q84 —“Q is for ‘question mark.’ A world that bears a question.” Meanwhile, an aspiring writer named Tengo takes on a suspect ghostwriting project. He becomes so wrapped up with the work and its unusual author that, soon, his previously placid life begins to come unraveled.

As Aomame’s and Tengo’s narratives converge over the course of this single year, we learn of the profound and tangled connections that bind them ever closer: a beautiful, dyslexic teenage girl with a unique vision; a mysterious religious cult that instigated a shoot-out with the metropolitan police; a reclusive, wealthy dowager who runs a shelter for abused women; a hideously ugly private investigator; a mild-mannered yet ruthlessly efficient bodyguard; and a peculiarly insistent television-fee collector.

A love story, a mystery, a fantasy, a novel of self-discovery, a dystopia to rival George Orwell’s—1Q84 is Haruki Murakami’s most ambitious undertaking yet."

While I have owned pretty much all the major works of the famous contemporary Japanese author Haruki Murakami for some time now, I have to confess I only browsed several of them along the years, always with an "I plan to read them some day" thought. So when I read about 1Q84 and the considerable hype surrounding it, I thought, well I will take a look and maybe get it for later, but to my considerable surprise, once I opened the book I just could not put it down until I absolutely had to. Some 900+ pages later I have to say that for once hype (masterpiece, Nobel book, genius, etc) is utterly warranted.

1Q84 has been translated by Jay Rubin (books 1 and 2) and Philip Gabriel (book 3).

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: I will talk here about 1Q84 from a sff reader's perspective, while if you want a more "mainstream" discussion, you can check this NYT article. I am making this distinction because when reading 1Q84 I was struck by how much some elements mentioned in the above article - and in a few other similar places - as strange or outlandish seemed to me just regular sffnal stuff, as did a lot of the plot twists and turns, all quite typical of the better secondary world fantasies or space operas out there.

Conversely, 1Q84 brings a very adult attitude to its main characters, attitude which is most of the time missing from sff which either shies away from the topic or goes to the other extreme essentially for shock's value.

The content of 1Q84 is well summarized in the blurb above, so I will refer to it when discussing the structure and highlights next. The novel is divided into three books that each cover three months from 1984 starting in April, when Aomame starts her adventure in the parallel universe with two moons, magic and "the little people" that she calls 1Q84.

In the other thread, former "boy wonder"
Tengo, now living an obscure but fulfilling life as a math teacher at an elite school and aspiring novelist, is so compelled by the fantasy story in a manuscript written by a 17 year old girl, that he accepts a dodgy proposition from his editor, which starts his adventure as the "fantasy story" soon starts looking like it could be real...

The first two books were published simultaneously in Japan and alternate chapters from Aomame and Tengo, each with a subheading that is both appropriate and subtle. These two books are very tightly woven and they twist, turn, amplify and scale down the story perfectly, while ending in a way that would have been maddening were not the third book available immediately.

The last book that is both a prologue and an epilogue, introduces a third viewpoint which at first seems out of place, but it soon integrates well with Tengo and Aomame's. This third pov is crucial to the structure of this part as it provides both the back story and most of the narrative tension, while Tengo and Aomame take a detour so to speak.

As noted above, while the story twists and turns a lot, the experienced sff reader will most likely figure it out well ahead of time with motifs like the destined ones, parallel universes and portals, magical links and prophecies, though here all happens in Tokyo 1984, so we have the mundane world of subways, cars, bars, news, a secretive cult etc. And it works perfectly, while the magic is slowly introduced, first in the "fantasy novel" of Fuka Eri that Tengo ghost rewrites into a masterpiece - though in a nice touch that should resonate, it is snubbed by the main Japanese literary prize as bestselling and genre - and later in revelation after revelation.

Another thing I really appreciated about 1Q84 was that it kept away from the pitfalls of solipsism. Parallel universes, portals and the existence of those special few who know/use them always invite this immediate breaking of the suspension of disbelief by un-substantiating the "real world" but the author is clearly aware of this and discusses it quite a few times:

"Komatsu considered this for a long time, wrinkles forming on either side of his nose. Finally he sighed and glanced around. “What a strange world. With each passing day, it’s getting harder to know how much is just hypothetical and how much is real. Tell me, Tengo, as a novelist, what is your definition of reality?”
“When you prick a person with a needle, red blood comes out—that’s the real world,” Tengo replied."

The novel also keeps things ambiguous enough to allow us to speculate, while the ending adds one extra twist which for once I did not quite see and which deepened my appreciation of Haruki Murakami's genius.

1Q84 contains so much that even enumerating things that are of note in the book would take quite a lot of space and while I think that the novel is one than can be read many times and still fully enjoyed, I will mention only the "levitating clock" that startled quite a few early (mainstream readers) as it marked in a way the clear dividing line where the novel fully moves into the sff-nal space so no one can deny it is a work of speculative fiction anymore, two moons or not...

Overall 1Q84 (A++) is simply the best novel released in 2011 so far.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"The Hour of Dust and Ashes" by Kelly Gay (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)



AUTHOR INFORMATION: Kelly Gay is the author of the Charlie Madigan series. She also writes under the name of Kelly Keaton for her Young Adult series Gods & Monsters. She has held many previous jobs in construction, waitressing, Film theatre, Horse farms etc. before turning a new leaf as a writer. She is also a 2010 double RITA finalist, a three-time RWA Golden Heart finalist, and a recipient of an NC Arts Council Fellowship grant in Literature. She has also considerable experience as a screenwriter winning several final place slots in screenwriting contests such as the Austin Film Festival, Red Inkworks, Hollywood Symposium, Disney Fellowship, etc. She resides in North Carolina with her family.
OFFICIAL SYNOPSIS: To save her sister, she must stop a silent killer. . . .
Protecting Atlanta from the off-world criminals of Underground is tough enough, but now Detective Charlie Madigan and her siren partner, Hank, learn that the addicts of the offworld drug ash have begun taking their own lives. Ash makes humans the perfect vessels for possession, and something or someone is leading them to their deaths. Charlie is desperate to save her addicted sister, Bryn, from a similar fate.
As New Year’s Eve approaches, Charlie makes a deadly bargain with an ancient race of beings and embarks on a dangerous journey into hellish Charbydon with Hank and the Revenant Rex to save Bryn and make it back before time runs out. Only, for one of them, coming home means facing a fate worse than death. . . .
FORMAT/INFO: The Hour of Dust and Ashes is 324 pages long divided over twenty-two numbered chapters. Also included is page # 621 from the Officers Off-World manual (14th Edition). Narration is entirely in the first-person, via the protagonist Charlie Madigan. The Hour of Dust and Ashes is the third volume in the Charlie Madigan series. At this point it’s unadvisable to start reading from this volume as the plot builds up from events occurring in the previous books.
August 30, 2011 marked the North American Paperback publication of The Hour of Dust and Ashes via Pocket. Cover art is provided by Chris McGrath.
ANALYSIS: The Charlie Madigan series was one which was introduced to me by my friend Bastard, he had praised it in regards to its procedural qualities and dark nature of the stories. So this year before the third book was about to be released, I bought the first two to see what the fuss was about. The two books The Better Part of Darkness and The Darkest Edge of Dawn were surprisingly dark and well written stories. I’ll be describing the world situation briefly before starting the review, however be warned since this is the third book, there will be mild spoilers for the first two books as certain plot points of this book directly reference the past events.
The world in this series is one wherein twin worlds of Elysia and Charybdon have been discovered besides our world more than thirteen years ago. Since then there’s been a steady influx of visitors from these alien worlds to ours. However the reverse is almost strictly controlled. Since the events of the past few weeks Atlanta has changed in many more ways than possibly imaginable, it has now gained a new climate courtesy the climatic events of the first book. Charlie and Hank have become their own team within the ATF and now operate under a specific party. They are trying to find out the trail of the banned drug “Ash” and it leads to the Charbdonian underworld however before they can go there they also have to deal with the events of the previous books, namely the Jinn who have been selling the drug and their overlord Grigori Tennin. Despite their previous battles with him, he still survives and is actively trying to further his agenda in finding out what Charlie, Hank & the rest recovered at the bottom of the lake in the climax of the second book.
In the previous two book reviews I had noted that the series does not lack in action and intrigue but even so the action sequences in this volume are completely amped up and the story opens with a mystery which soon goes on to encompass the previous book’s plot arcs. This was a rather strong move on the author’s part as it keeps up the continuity of the story and also is inline with the timeline of the story wherein only a few weeks have passed. The urgency and determination felt by the characters really comes to the fore.
I’ve had some previous reservations about the main character which I’ve noted in my previous book reviews. However there’s some drastic character development in this one as previously I felt Charlie’s character was a bit abrasive and annoying however in this book she been learning vital lessons in humility, patience and understanding. This was a great way to increase her vulnerability as well as showcasing tremendous character growth. All my previous notions about the character were slowly reversed and this book triumphs because of that. Not to focus only on Charlie but there are strong revelations and developments in relation to the other main characters (Hank, Rex, Bryn, etc.) all of which propel the story forward and give the reader an inkling of what the next book is going to be about.
The biggest plus point in this book is the aforementioned trip to the otherworld of Charybdon, there have been certain revelations about the Ash victims in regards to their addiction which plays an important role in the events of this book. There’s also the personal chemistry between the two primary characters Charlie and Hank, and in this book things come to fruition as events have been building between them since the past novels. There’s some huge potential information revealed about Hank which totally changes the current equation and informs the reader about a certain other realm. I believe this book is a lot about resolutions to character arcs which had started from the first book. Readers who have been anticipating certain events will get their wishes fulfilled and get to see terrific scenes as well.
I couldn’t find any negatives to say about this book as my perceived notions about the main character were reversed. The issues I had about the alien worlds were also addressed in this book and lastly it seems the author is leading up to a terrific finale with next year’s book. All in all this is the best book (for me) in the Charlie Madigan series.
CONCLUSION: A dark and violent story, The Hour of Dust and Ashes does what the series has been promising so far. It gives the reader an excellent story with twists, an ending which will leave the reader hungering for the next volume and with the amount of revelations loaded, it will completely blow the socks of most fans of the series. Kelly Gay has to be lauded for giving the readers a different type of read via her books in this semi-jaded sub genre.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011

"The Immorality Engine" by George Mann (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)


Official George Mann Website
Order "The Immorality Engine" HERE
Read FBC's Review of "The Affinity Bridge"
Read FBC's Review of "The Osiris Ritual"

INTRODUCTION: The Affinity Bridge was a personal favorite of mine in 2008 and the next series installment "The Osiris Ritual" was a top 20 novel for 2009. In consequence I have been pestering Mr. Mann for a review copy of The Immorality Engine for a long time and I was absolutely delighted when I got a pdf sometime in the spring. While I read the book on receiving it, the May-July hiatus from FBC due to my household move prevented my reviewing it for its UK publication in June; in addition, as a third series novel after reviewing the first two, The Immorality Engine was one of the harder reviews to do as I wanted to balance meaningful information with avoidance of both spoilers and repetition of what I have said earlier, so it took a while longer than I wished.




OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Immorality Engine is the third Newbury and Hobbes adventure and the action takes place some months from the end of The Osiris Ritual. In somewhat of a gamble, the author does not start the novel chronologically, but dramatically with a funeral of a favorite character and then goes back in time to recount the events that have led to said funeral.

While on first read I was a little bit surprised by this narrative choice which seemed to unbalance the feel as the book starts emotional and then flatlines somewhat for a while and then accelerates to the dramatic climax, in the end I thought the change was effective in mixing things around and avoiding the same dynamic from the first two books.

As storyline goes, The Immorality Engine has the same structure as the previous installments - seemingly unrelated mysteries, this time the murder of a high-class jewel thief and an assassination attempt on Queen Victoria - which bring Maurice Newbury out from his opium descent after the events and especially the denouement of The Osiris Ritual which made him question everything about his life and job.

His steadfast friend Inspector Bainbridge and Newbury's assistant Veronica Hobbes - who intuits that she is at least partly the reason for his descent into full addiction, though unlike us, she does not know exactly why, though things are even trickier than we know - try desperately to "bring him back" and finally the case of the jewel-thief and later the deeper mysteries involved do so.

The Immorality Engine flows well and you cannot stop turning the pages until the final resolution, while the combination of great character interaction and inventiveness that has characterized the series to date is present in full. Adding to this, The Immorality Engine features several villains that top everything up to now, while the earlier moral ambiguities get even more pronounced here. The story-lines of the three volumes come full circle in some ways here and bring a sense of closure to the first half of the series, while promising much for the next planned three volumes, though the way the characters have grown on me I would be happy to read six more at the least.

Overall, The Immorality Engine (A+) is a great culmination of the series so far ending its first arc on a superb note and I strongly recommend everyone that loves sff adventure with a steampunk/mystery/thriller tinge to give it a try!

Monday, October 24, 2011

"Zero Sight" by B. Justin Shier (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order the Book HERE
Read an Excerpt HERE (Amazon) and HERE (Barnes & Noble)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Brian Justin Shier was born in New Jersey, grew up in Las Vegas before attending college in St. Louis. He then relocated to California wherein the medicine bug struck him and he’s now a third year medical student. He was inspired by J. A. Konrath to go the indie route and this is his debut novel. He’s currently putting the finishing touches to the sequel Zero Sum.

FORMAT/INFO: Zero Sight is 350 pages long divided over three titled parts and twenty-two numbered and titled chapters. Narration is in the first-person, solely via the protagonist Dieter Resnick. Zero Sight is the first volume in the Zero Sight series.
March 28, 2011 marked the self publication of Zero Sight by the author. Cover design is done by Jordan Kimura.

CLASSIFICATION: Combining the maverick humor of the Dresden files by Jim Butcher with the fluent prose of the Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss, Brian J. Shier’s debut can be summed up perfectly as Harry Dresden meets Kvothe Kingkiller with just a generous helping of the Harry Potter charm.

PLOT OVERVIEW & ANALYSIS: This book wasn’t a review request and I would have missed it, had it not been for Amazon’s recommendations. Whilst I was searching for some other title, Zero Sight popped up on my screen as a book I might like, based on my previous buys and search history. Never having heard of the book or the author before hand, I looked up some of the reviews on Amazon as well as Goodreads and got myself a copy.

The book was tremendously funny, managing to capture my interest from the first few pages and had me rooting for the main character like no other. Dieter Resnick is the narrator of the story and is in fact one of the main draws of the plot. He’s a sixteen year old kid who’s street smart as well really intelligent. He knows he’s in a shitty situation but is also mature enough to ride it through and get out to a good college. He lives with his alcoholic dad in Las Vegas and while being a physical abuse victim; he doesn’t let it deter him from figuring out his life plans which mainly includes a good college education with a full scholarship. However fate has other plans as the school bully Tyrone Nelson hurts one of his friends, Dieter’s conscience will not let it slide. Things soon take a downturn and after an accident of sorts, Dieter discovers that there’s something kooky about the accident as well as his role in it.

He returns to school and is fixated upon a college with a full scholarship and things seem to be heading his way when he receives an acceptance from Elliot College with the terms he wanted. Feeling full of joy, he sets about on his bus trip from Vegas to New Haven, Connecticut wherein he has no idea what he’s about to get into. On the way he meets Rei Acerba Bathory, a strikingly beautiful female whose looks have him floored but as such stories go, there’s more to her than meets the eye. Thus begins the crazy story that is Zero Sight and one which will have more fans over the years.

I absolutely loved this debut novel as it’s very rare that you discover a book which makes the story come alive, have a great narrative voice and in spite of the obvious tropes utilized, still manages to make the reader oblivious to them. Zero Sight does all of this and then goes on to end in a way that makes you covet the next volume essentially. For me this book was a complete winner and here’s why: The story begins with a rush and Dieter manages to convey his intelligence, charm and spunk all in the very first chapter. The narrative voice is a youthful one and the energy which is abundantly presently in the main character comes across and touches the reader as well. We share his enthusiasm, feel his pain and marvel at his antics. The book’s humor quotient is one which will have readers frequently chuckling along and to add to it Dieter seems like a junior version of Harry Dresden with his geeky references and snappy monologues.

Thus by having the reader root for the protagonist, the author moves onto his next hook namely the location and the plot twists, the story opens up in Las Vegas, then through a bus journey moves cross country and ends in Elliott College, New Haven. The story never slackens and pulls the reader constantly forward and with the plot twists that keep the reader entertained. There is an infectious charm to this story which is inexplicably alluring and adding to its effect is the fact that it was the author’s debut.

The story utilizes some common fantasy tropes but due to the author’s writing, effectively manages to not hinder the reader and gives them a story which will make them engrossed in figuring out what’s going on and at the same time having quite a bit of fun along with and at Dieter’s expense. The addition of the magical college settings which are very reminiscent of Hogwarts as well as Kvothe’s University are a definite plus however the author does his best to differentiate Elliott College from the aforementioned places in many small but significant ways. The magic system is a bit generic but then once the rules are laid out it does make sense, in its pattern and schematics.

Another aspect which I want to highlight is that it doesn’t shy away from violence or the darkness of its characters and thereby makes this story score some points over the Harry Potter & Kingkiller Chronicles. There are quite some scenes of gore and violence, their presence is justifiable in relation to the plot. This story though having a teenage protagonist as well as many young characters is far away from being a YA book and that was another point which I thought should be highlighted as many readers might assume so from its blurb. There’s also the character cast which begins with Rei and she’s the second most developed character behind Dieter, however the rest of the cast gets very less presence however since it’s the first book, the author had very less time and space to do justice to them. I expect this to be rectified in the future volumes and more to be revealed about the rest of the characters as well the world they inhabit.

The sole point which kind of detracted a bit of awesomeness from this book was its ending and in this it coincidentally shares this quirk with Patrick Rothfuss’s amazing debut. The ending is a bit ambiguous in the sense it just ends and leaves the story hanging. The Name of the Wind also faced a similar complaint from its fans that the story just ended instead of having a strong climax. Some might disagree with me on this point but I felt with the aces that the story delivered, it faltered a bit in the ending. This was the only drawback experienced by me.

CONCLUSION: An excellent Urban Fantasy debut which will amaze readers with it narrative voice, plot energy and fun twists. This book is definitely one of the best debuts and will possibly herald Brian J. Shier’s ascent into future authorial stardom. This is a book heavily recommended for all fans of Jim Butcher and Kevin Hearne, give it a try and find out why I think Zero Sight deserves to be counted as one of the best urban fantasy debuts of the year and possibly of this decade as well.
Sunday, October 23, 2011

"The Cold Commands" by Richard Morgan (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)



INTRODUCTION: Richard (K) Morgan is the acclaimed author of five science fiction novels including the 2008 Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning “Black Man/Thirteen”, “Woken Furies”, “Market Forces”, “Broken Angels”, and “Altered Carbon”, a New York Times Notable Book that also won the Philip K. Dick Award. Both “Altered Carbon” and “Market Forces” have been optioned for film adaptation with the latter novel a winner of the 2005 John W. Campbell Award.

In 2008, Mr. Morgan turned his hand to fantasy in “The Steel Remains” which was so hyped including by the author who was a bit ignorant that fantasy had moved from Tolkien for a good while before 2008, that it simply could not live up to expectations; it made though a valiant try not by its very traditional subject, but by Mr. Morgan's original take with modern and very dark and explicit language in a pre-modern context that had sfnal elements too.

My opinion of The Steel Remains varied quite wildly over time - loved it on first read, then later thought more and saw its many weaknesses, then almost completely forgot it. I even expected to open its direct sequel, The Cold Commands, and put it down since recently I have moved away from traditional fantasy, but the author's extremely vigorous style hooked me. However I had a problem: I had forgotten what was what except for the strong beginning and the author's trademark twist at the end that appears in all his novels.

So I went back to re-reading The Steel Remains before continuing with The Cold Commands and today after the hype has vanished and enough time has passed, I would say that it is a novel with great parts, superb lines and well done and interesting characters, but it fails to fully cohere and it is considerably less than the sum of its parts. For convenience I will present FBC's 2008 take on the plot of The Steel Remains:

PLOT SUMMARY FOR The Steel Remains: Ringil Eskiath, the hero of the bloody slaughter at Gallows Gap, is a legend to all who don't know him and a twisted degenerate to those that do. A veteran of the wars against the Scaled Folk, he makes a living from telling credulous travelers of his exploits. Until one day he is pulled away from his life and into the depths of the Empire's slave trade, where he will discover a secret infinitely more frightening than the trade in lives...

Egar Dragonbane, a Majak steppe-nomad and one-time fighter for the Empire, is now the Skaranak clanmaster. Pining for the past, Egar finds himself entangled in a small-town battle between common sense and religious fervor. But perhaps there is some truth behind the tribe’s gods, the Sky Dwellers

Archeth, an abandoned 207-year-old Kiriath half-breed advisor to Jhiral Khimran II of the Yhelteth Empire, is sent to investigate a demonic incursion against the Empire's borders. What she uncovers is evidence of a terrifying new enemy that makes the Scaled Folk seem like children…

Anti-social, anti-heroic, and decidedly irritated, all three of these veterans of the War against the Scaled Folk are about to be called upon to fight again for a world that owes them everything and has given them nothing…

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Cold Commands starts almost a year later after the end of The Steel Remains though later we find out what happened in the meantime too. While Archeth and Egar star immediately, Ringil takes a while to make his appearance, but when he does, it is a with quite a bang and from then on he really takes over the book and makes it a much more memorable experience than The Steel Remains.

The Cold Commands also mixes sfnal tropes - directly as in the technologically advanced Kiriath and their AI-like Helmsmen, as well as in echoes of the Takeshi Kovacs series that made the author's name starting from his explosive debut Altered Carbon - Takavach and Dakovash - and indirectly in attitude and language with fantasy tropes like magic swords, empires, slavery, pre-modern civilization, ancient evil, etc...

The sfnal part works wonderfully and there are a ton of quotable lines and moments in the book, while the fantasy part is ok'ish, a bit boring as in very canned stuff I've seen a million times and with some of the least unsubtle and moronic but powerful villains around.

The Cold Commands coheres much better than The Steel Remains. For once, it is longer by 100 pages or so and that helps - let us remember that in The Steel Remains the main three characters stayed well apart from one another for like 90% of the book with the convergence in a pretty rushed climax - while here the characters come together and separate much more often, so there is more unity. I also think that The Cold Commands being Ringil's novel in a definite way is very important in ensuring this unity.

I quite liked Archeth's thread a lot too as it is both the most political and the most sfnal one, while Egar's deeds are more picaresque and while they add a piece of the puzzle to the storyline, this thread is less important, even tangential to a large extent. The secondary characters are better developed here too than in the first novel - again I think that having more than 500 pages and not having to introduce the world and characters helped a lot, showing again that there is a reason epic fantasy novels must go towards the higher page count and come as series if they are to be very good.

Most notable of all, the Emperor, Jhiral Khimran II, lights up each page he appears on. "The degenerate apostate" as the fanatics of the main imperial religion call him - and which Ringil gleefully enjoys as usually those epithets have been applied to him - is on a roll in this volume, but there are a few more others that add color and depth. Even the usual Morgan twist, while present as expected, is done in a subtler way and we find out about it later as back story. Only the villains are really cartoonish and one dimensional, but that is in many ways a traditional fantasy requirement since how could otherwise so powerful personages be defeated by the rag-tag heroes...

As highlights that show the brutality of the book and of the heroes, early on there is Ringil capturing one of his nasty enemies and giving her to his motley mercenary crew to be gang raped and then when he got tired of listening to her screams, personally cutting her throat, or Jhiral Khimran II also personally water boarding his enemies - though in a pool with the analogues of sharks/piranhas - and they are the good guys; what the bad guys do, well, you can imagine...

Overall The Cold Commands (A++) is a superior effort to The Steel Remains and an excellent novel, though one that's definitely not for everyone; a little more imagination on the fantasy plot and full coherence would make it one for the ages, but even so, the author's powerful writing style, the memorable characters, superb one liners and many other goodies made it one of my top 25 novels of the year.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Some Highly Anticipated 2012 Books: Aug-Dec/Presumed (by Liviu Suciu)

As 2012's publishing schedule has become clearer, I started talking about what books I am looking forward to for the next year. Since I like variation, this time I have done it in several posts for Jan-March (HERE), April-July (HERE) and the rest of 2012 including presumed but unsure titles.

I noticed that except for the Saladin Ahmed title HERE, I have not included any debuts, so I will research the subject and come back soon with a list of intriguing debuts for 2012 also.

In this post I present a list of both the announced titles that have already some relevant links and of the presumed ones that for now have no clear information.

For the full schedule as known to us at a given time, you can visit the Upcoming Releases page. As usually schedules change unexpectedly, wrong dates spread fast online, so while we try to be as accurate as possible, let us know of any mistakes.

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Announced:

The Blinding Knife by Brent Weeks (sequel to The Black Prism, Orbit, Fall 2012)
The Eternal Flame by Greg Egan (sequel to The Clockwork Rocket, Night Shade, Summer 2012)
Black Opera by Mary Gentle (standalone sff, Gollancz, Summer 2012)
Jack Glass by Adam Roberts (standalone sf, Gollancz, Summer 2012)
The Coldest War by Ian Tregilis (sequel to Bitter Seeds, Tor, Summer 2012)

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Presumed:

The Air War by Adrian Tchaikovsky (the 8th Shadows of the Apt novel, after 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, Macmillan)
The 6th Safehold Novel by David Weber (after OAR, BSRA, BHD, AMF, HFAF, Tor)
Cold Steel by Kate Elliott (after Cold Magic and Cold Fire, Orbit)
The 3rd Thomas Cale Novel by Paul Hoffman (after The Left Hand of God and The Last Four Things, Dutton)

The 4th Red Sun Novel by Mark Newton (after Nights of Villjamur, City of Ruin, The Book of Transformations (FBC Rv soon), Macmillan)
Queen's Hunt by Beth Bernobich (sequel to Passion Play, Tor)
Black Bottle by Anthony Huso (sequel to The Last Page, Tor)
Great North Road by Peter Hamilton (standalone sf, Macmillan)

Added Oct 24 as per comment below:

The Complete Sea Beggars Series by Paul Kearney (see this post on dropped series, Solaris)

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Two very speculative but of the highest priority titles for 2012:

Adjacent by Christopher Priest (standalone sf, Gollancz)
English Translation of El Prisionero del Cielo by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (Spanish Release, Nov 17 2011 and I will report on it since I plan to get it asap)

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

Click here to find out more about “The Knight”
Review Soon

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

Click here to find out more about “The Abyss Beyond Dreams”
Review HERE

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

Click here to find out more about “Station Eleven”
Review Soon

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

Click here to find out more about “Unholy War”
Review Soon

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

Click here to find out more about “The Broken Eye”
Review HERE

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

Click here to find out more about “The Bone Clocks”
Review HERE

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

Click here to find out more about “City of Stairs”
Review HERE

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

Click here to find out more about “Edge of Eternity”
Review HERE