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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

More Detail about "The Black Opera" by Mary Gentle and "The Emerald Storm" by William Dietrich (by Liviu Suciu)


One of the truly huge asap novels of the year, The Black Opera by Mary Gentle was expected by me in the second half of the year only to recently find out to my delight that Night Shade will publish it in May and of course from there, an advanced review copy found itself to my inbox yesterday.

I happily grabbed the (current) cover picture - note that it may change - since it's quite wonderful, while the book so far about 50+ pages in reads like the awesome novel I expected. Subtitled "a novel of Opera, Volcanoes, and the Mind of God", it is an alternate history taking place in the years following the Napoleonic wars but in an universe where music has magical power if it's sung with enough emotion like for example at Mass or at the Opera...

Here is the blurb that seems accurate:

"Naples, the 19th Century. In the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, holy music has power. Under the auspices of the Church, the Sung Mass can bring about actual miracles like healing the sick or raising the dead. But some believe that the musicodramma of grand opera can also work magic by channeling powerful emotions into something sublime. Now the Prince's Men, a secret society, hope to stage their own black opera to empower the Devil himself - and change Creation for the better! Conrad Scalese is a struggling librettist whose latest opera has landed him in trouble with the Holy Office of the Inquisition. Rescued by King Ferdinand II, Conrad finds himself recruited to write and stage a counter opera that will, hopefully, cancel out the apocalyptic threat of the black opera, provided the Prince's Men, and their spies and saboteurs, don't get to him first. And he only has six weeks to do it..."

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By popular demand though I guess contrary to his wishes (!), Ethan Gage is back in another adventure after the duology Napoleon's Pyramids/The Rosetta Key and the more-or-less standalone adventures The Dakota Cipher and The Barbary Pirates. Another May publication, this one made its way to my house only today and I had the opportunity to read just two pages, but they showed once again why I find these books irresistible.

Ethan Gage is feeling a little depressed as he explains to us why instead of retiring rich with his family to America, he has to climb up to a mountainous French prison to spring Toussaint L'Ouverture out of Napoleon's clutches. I predict another rip-roaring adventure with the usual combination of humor, sffnal touches and superb historical context and atmosphere.

I will present the blurb below, but if you are new to the series, I highly recommend to get acquainted with Ethan Gage from his first adventure when living the (low and) high life in the decadent 1798 Paris of the Directory, he is framed for murder because of something he won at cards, so he escapes as a member of the young up-and-coming general Bonaparte's expedition to Egypt. Of course Ethan's troubles are only beginning...

"In the fifth installment of master storyteller William Dietrich’s bestselling adventure series, the swashbuckling, battle-scarred hero Ethan Gage must race from the slopes of the Alps to the sultry tropics of the Caribbean to pursue a mysterious Spanish treasure as the fate of England—and of the world’s first successful slave revolt—hang desperately in the balance. The Emerald Storm is the action-packed historical masterpiece that Ethan Gage fans have long awaited. Fans of the Indiana Jones adventures, the Sharpe’s Rifles series, and the thrilling works of James Rollins, who himself calls Dietrich’s writing “adventure at its grandest,” will find The Emerald Storm a satisfying, sword-in-hand romp through history—and new readers will discover it as the perfect introduction to the breathtaking Ethan Gage Adventures."

Monday, February 27, 2012

The 2012 Arthur Clarke Submissions, Contest to Guess the Shortlist and Comments (by Liviu Suciu)

As seen on Torque Control from which I c/p the list below, the submission list for the 2012 Arthur Clarke award has just been published - note that it is not a longlist in the accepted meaning of that term, just the list of what books publishers have submitted and were deemed eligible. This year's judges have to go through all these 60 novels and pick the six book shortlist.

In addition, Torque Control is running a "guess the shortlist" competition HERE. Opened until March 11 and requiring to pick what you believe the shortlist is going to be and a rationale for your choices, the competition offers as prize copies of all six shortlisted novels. More details are offered at the link above, while I am reproducing - with links to FBC reviews of the books in cause and a little better formatting that is trickier to add in an un-editable comment as opposed to an editable post - my entry in the contest as it encompasses my current thinking about the shortlist.

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Of the books listed, I opened 34 (edit: actually 35 on a recount) and read end to end 16, while of the rest 18 (actually 19) there are 3 or 4 (edit: actually more like 5-6) I plan to read as time goes by. I think the following six books will make the shortlist:

1.The IslandersChristopher Priest
2. EmbassytownChina MiƩville
3. OsamaLavie Tidhar
4. Bringer of LightJaine Fenn
5. Mr. Fox Helen Oyeyemi
6. The Testament of Jessie LambJane Rogers

1,2. excellent books, but the authors almost guarantee the shortlist anyway

3. this one is among the ones I have and plan to read as I like Mr. Tidhar’s Bookman series, but irrespective of its merits, title, subject and international author almost guarantees it too

4. this one I rate a high chance as it’s essentially the only core-sf written by a woman in the list outside of the boring to dreadful Willis duology and the very mediocre Tepper; I have not yet read it as I was quite disappointed by book 3 after I really enjoyed books 1 and 2 and I am essentially waiting for book 5 to see if I continue or not with the series.

5 and 6 are more speculative guesses, but I think that gender parity/minority representation/mainstream works will bring those two in the list.

Loved the Jane Rogers novel and I would add it to my choice of a six book list though I disagreed with the heroine’s choices, while Mr. Fox is another one I have and plan to read but its “book in a book” subject is one that puts me off badly, so despite really loving White is for Witching and enjoying the few pages I browsed in this one, I have been putting it off for a while now.

Personally I would choose 1,2,6, Greg Egan, Adam Roberts and James “Corey”.

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Here is the submission list with a "rd" added to the books I read and an "op" to the ones I have but only opened. Actually in quite a few cases I read enough to make my mind about the books I marked as opened, but I did not turn all the pages as in the Willis mammoth disaster that would have been a complete waste of my time for example.

Of the rest, many are by authors or with subjects I have no interest in and only a few - most notably Michael Cisco's novel, though I bought a few of his previous novels and have been trying to enjoy them with no success so far - intriguing enough to take a look.


Embedded by Dan Abnett (Angry Robot) op
Dead of Veridon by Tim Akers (Solaris)op
The Departure by Neal Asher (Tor UK) rd
Novahead by Steve Aylett (Scar Garden)
Bronze Summer by Stephen Baxter (Gollancz) op
Hull Zero Three by Greg Bear (Gollancz) rd
The Kings of Eternity by Eric Brown (Solaris) rd
The Great Lover by Michael Cisco (Chomu Books)
Random Walk by Alexandra Claire (Gomer)
Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey (Orbit) rd
Sequence by Adrian Dawson (Last Passage)
The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan (Canongate)
The Clockwork Rocket by Greg Egan (Gollancz) rd
Gods of Manhattan by Al Ewing (Abaddon Books)
Bringer of Light by Jaine Fenn (Gollancz) op
Final Days by Gary Gibson (Tor UK) rd
Heaven’s Shadow by David S. Goyer&Michael Cassutt (Tor UK) op
The Fallen Blade by Jon Courtenay Grimwood (Orbit) rd
The Last Four Things by Paul Hoffman (Michael Joseph) rd
Dead Water by Simon Ings (Corvus)
The Ironclad Prophecy by Pat Kelleher (Abaddon Books)
11.22.63 by StephenKing (Hodder and Stoughton)
Shift by Tim Kring and Dale Peck (Bantam)
Cyber Circus by Kim Lakin-Smith (NewconPress) op
Echo City by Tim Lebbon (Orbit)
Nemonymous Nights by D.F. Lewis (Chomu Books)
The Age of Odin by JamesLovegrove (Solaris) op
Wake Up and Dream by Ian R. MacLeod (PS)
The End Specialist by Drew Magary (HarperVoyager)
Germline by T.C. McCarthy (Orbit) op
Savage City by Sophia McDougall (Gollancz)
Embassytown by China MiƩville (Macmillan) rd
Equations of Life by Simon Morden (Orbit) rd
Mr Fox by Helen Oyeyemi (Picador) op
Hell Ship by Philip Palmer (Orbit) op
The Shadow of the Soul by Sarah Pinborough (Gollancz)
The Straight Razor Cure by Daniel Polansky (Hodder and Stoughton) rd
The Recollection by Gareth L. Powell (Solaris) rd
The Islanders by Christopher Priest (Gollancz) rd
Here Comes The Nice by Jeremy Reed (Chomu Books)
The Demi Monde: Winter by Rod Rees (Jo Fletcher Books)
by Light Alone by Adam Roberts (Gollancz) rd
Down to the Bone by Justina Robson (Gollancz)
The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers (Sandstone) rd
Regicide by Nicholas Royle (Solaris) op
Wonder by Robert J. Sawyer (Gollancz)
War in Heaven by Gavin Smith (Gollancz) op
Reamde by Neal Stephenson (Atlantic) op
Rule 34 by Charles Stross (Orbit)
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor (Hodder and Stoughton)
The Waters Rising by Sherri S. Tepper (Gollancz) op
Osama by Lavie Tidhar (PS) op
Dust by Joan Frances Turner (Berkley UK)
The Noise Revealed by Ian Whates (Solaris) rd
Zone One by Colson Whitehead (Harvill Secker)
All Clear by Connie Willis (Gollancz) op
Blackout by Connie Willis (Gollancz) op
Son of Heaven by David Wingrove (Corvus) op
The Godless Boys by Naomi Wood (Picador)
The Iron Jackal by Chris Wooding (Gollancz) op

SERIES UPDATE: The Blood Gospel Series by James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell (By Mihir Wanchoo)


Read FBC’s Review of “The Judas Strain
Read FBC’s Review of “The Last Oracle
Read FBC’s Review of “The Doomsday Key
Read FBC’s Review of “The Devil Colony
(Author photo credit: David Sylvian and Rebecca Cantrell)


I had first heard about the Blood Gospel series back in 2009 when it was first reported as a collaborative effort between James Rollins and Sarah Langan. There wasn't much information online to be found about it but the combination of thriller [James Rollins] and horror [Sarah Langan] writers made it something to watch out for.

However in the latter half of 2010, news trickled out that Sarah Langan was no longer a part of the project, details were still pretty sketchy however Amazon UK & Book Depository has quite a preliminary description for it:

"Deep beneath the Vatican lies the holy Necropolis and its miles of labyrinthine catacombs. These dark, open tombs mark the final refuge for persecuted Christians from the beginning years A.D. Here rest the bones of St. Peter, along with countless other Saints and martyrs of early Christendom. Though these men are gone, their good and evil deeds have not interred with their bones. Their secrets, forgotten through the millennia, are about to be discovered. Far beneath the holy Necropolis, buried in catacombs deeper, far deeper, than the Saints, is a dark, wet city where sunlight never filters. Here dwell a people whose very existence is a mystery as great as death itself: the Sect of the Sanguines. In the darkness, they watch and wait for their orders, knowing they must one day surface into daylight. In times of crisis, the Sect are sent far and wide as the Church's emissaries: to secure artifacts; to mediate dangerous negotiations, and to fight battles. Rarely do their opponents realize they've brushed against creatures both ancient and eternal. daylight. Their order is as old as Christ, and their mission just as cataclysmic..."


The Blood Gospel series is currently listed as a trilogy but I’m sure that there will be more books planned beyond a trilogy. I’m hoping that there will be more information revealed as we get nearer to the eventual release later this year. However one important piece of info was recently revealed by James Rollins in regards to his new collaborator, Rebecca Cantrell is the author who will be lending her talent to this project. I haven’t read any of her work but I’m going to play catch up with her books until the release of the first Blood Gospel book. She currently has a historical series set in 1930s Berlin featuring a character called Hannah Vogel. There are currently three books out and the fourth book in the series titled “A City of Broken Glass” will be released on July 17, 2012.

I can’t wait to read and glean more information about this exciting collaborative effort and so further news will be posted as it trickles in…

Sunday, February 26, 2012

"Fire from the Sun" by John Derbyshire (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)


Official John Derbyshire Website
Order Fire from the Sun HERE

INTRODUCTION: John Derbyshire is a columnist for the leading conservative journal The National Review and the author of a remarkable popular math book The Prime Obssession, which deservedly brought him quite a lot of acclaim. If you have the smallest affinity and/or interest in math, Prime Obssession is one of those once in a decade gems that reads like a historical thriller, while exposing the reader to some very interesting "real" math that is still part of the current research frontiers.

In addition, he wrote another popular math book Unknown Quantity, which was quite good though it lacked the punch of Prime Obsession, and the novel Seeing Calvin Coolidge in a Dream which I enjoyed some years ago.

Fire from the Sun was originally published through Xlibris some 12 years ago, but at three volumes with a total cost verging toward 100$ the print volumes were too expensive for me and like with The Transylvanian Trilogy I always kept an eye for an affordable choice.

Fast forward 2012 and the ebook revolution and the moment I saw
Mr. Derbyshire putting an announcement in the NR Corner that he was offering the whole book for a very good price on the Amazon Kindle platform - with other platforms to come - I bought it on the spot and read it that evening and night as I stayed way, way too late to finish it, so engrossing it was.

In the words of the author:

"The novel is a romantic and historical epic painted on a very broad canvas. It follows the fortunes of two people, William Leung and Margaret Han, from the mid-1960s through to the early 1990s. They are childhood friends in a small town in southwestern China. Then the Great Cultural Revolution divides them, and they follow separate paths to success in the Western world: William as a Wall Street tycoon and Margaret as a singer of Italian opera.

The background of the story is recent Chinese history, bracketed by two great upheavals: the onset of the Cultural Revolution in 1966, and the student movement of 1989.

The book's action ranges all over China, from the lush valleys of the southwest to the frozen plains of Manchuria, from the garrison settlements of occupied Tibet to elite apartments in Beijing, from the easy-going corruption of 1970s Hong Kong to the wakening bustle of post-Mao Shanghai. It then moves on to the international opera circuit, the boardrooms of Wall Street, and the habitations of the rich in Manhattan and Long Island's East End.

The book has an appendix listing all the operas, arias, singers and operatic terms used in the text."

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Fire from the Sun is a page turner and you will go through it in a flash despite its length since it is so engrossing that you want to find out what happens next, what twists and turns the author has reserved for the two main heroes and how the momentous events the two are connected with are seen by them and the extended supporting cast.

The prose is clear and straightforward, not unlike the regular NYT bestsellers - a recent book that has some similarity in prose and sweep with Fire from the Sun is Ken Follett's epic The Fall of Giants -and the attraction of the novel is not in its literary qualities but in the events seen through the eyes of the two main characters in alternating chunks of pages, with some convergence towards the end.

The emotional content is lost on occasion when major things happen or are revealed but the author's take on the events, mores, cultures through the eyes of the vast cast of secondary characters more than makes up for that, while the two main heroes have very distinctive voices which are treated quite differently in feel.

Starting in a provincial Chinese town in 1965, our main heroes - Weilin/William and Yuezhu/Margaret are 8 year olds that meet and become best friends (and feel the first stirrings of attraction without of course knowing what is it) at the town pool.

Weilin is from an "intellectual" family and his dad is a math professor at the local college, while they have books, vinyl records and other trappings of the educated of the time and place and the boy, only child, is very handsome, bright and quite interested in math and reading.

Yuezhu is from a politically correct family - her father is an army officer of peasant stock and firm revolutionary principles though even in the People's Army, careers rise and fall depending on whose commander's commander is ascending or descending. Yuezhu is beautiful, loves dancing and music and while she is not that interested in math she likes being around with Weilin and they keep meeting despite being at different schools; however Yuezhu is also in awe of her older half brother, a rebellious teen who becomes a main leader of the Red Guards when the Cultural Revolution is unleashed soon after.

The expected happens - Weilin's dad is "struggled" - denounced, publicly humiliated and then beaten to death - while colleagues and even close friends from the university forsake him and compete to have the loudest denunciations, Half Brother is among the leaders of the torturers and Yuezhou is in the "little red guards" cheering them up, while Weilin is forced to denounce his father and is ignored and humiliated by the girl to boot, so he develops a powerful hate for Yuezhu and her family, hate that will later have of course consequences.

Later their life continues on these opposite tracks - Weilin and his mother make the trek north to the wastelands of Chinese Siberia where she has some relatives and he seems to be condemned to a (probably short) life of material misery and intellectual poverty, while Yuezhou moves to Beijing a few years later when her father's faction in the military wins and he is promoted, and the girl becomes part of the elite schools of the capital, learns English and sees Nixon at a performance, while later is accepted at the prestigious Dance Academy just opened, part of the efforts to start bringing China in the modern world.

However, Weilin - handsome and all - makes easy friends with a local teen wheeler and dealer and later they decide to escape to Hong Kong of fable where Weilin's mom told him that she has an uncle.

And so the saga starts and we follow the two on tumultuous paths in many places from China, Tibet and Hong Kong to later the US and almost everywhere; their fortunes twist and turn, their paths cross though not necessarily in expected ways and the book just begs you to turn the pages.

Punctuated by wonderful Chinese stories that various characters use to make this or that point, Fire from the Sun (top 25 novel 0f 2012) is a truly panoramic and a wonderful and gripping read that will stay with you for a long while.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

"A Rising Thunder" by David Weber (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)


INTRODUCTION: As mentioned a few times here, The Honorverse is my number one ongoing sff series and represented a number of firsts for me in terms of getting books in various formats (first hardcover bought in this country years ago, first earc, first edraft, while I read each book quite a few times and I can probably talk in detail about all at any time from memory ...) and A Rising Thunder kept this going as some minutiae discussion on the author's Honorverse forum and at the Baen Bar about the differences between the earc and the recently released final ebook version, made me buy this one too in addition to the earlier earc and of course I read it the same night which made the fourth full read of the book so far.

For people who are not that well versed in the Honorverse, you can read (for free) all the books to date in the series except for the last (5th) collection In Fire Forged and this present one from the Baen CD site on the Mission of Honor CD.

ANALYSIS: As known for some time A Rising Thunder is part of a bigger story arc - there was a split as the original ART became convoluted enough to intertwine all three main current fronts of the series so the author decided to keep the action generally separate in three different novels while focusing here on the Manticore/Core Solarian League confrontation and featuring the main classical players of the Honorverse - Honor herself, Elizabeth, the Havenite leaders, the Solarian masters etc. The Talbot sector, Mesa and the League's periphery will feature more extensively in the next two books which will be again concordant for a while, though the extent of that and conversely of the advancement of the story beyond the end of A Rising Thunder is unclear as of now.

The good news is that David Weber's solo one, tentatively titled Shadow of Freedom, is done but it is not yet clear how it will fit with the Eric Flint/David Weber collaboration that is still being written and so there is yet no decision on the order of those two. I expect the Mesa/Torch/League periphery Flint/Weber novel to go first in early 2013 and then Shadow of Freedom to go next in mid 2013 as next year is the 20th anniversary of the series debut and the author plans it to be big...

Even so and A Rising Thunder was a superb series installment for two related reasons. It was the first "fully into the unknown" move in the series after the 2005 At All Costs which is my favorite single series novel to date and arguably the best such. The following three parts huge installment (Storm from the Shadows, Torch of Freedom and Mission of Honor) had lots of great stuff but we (the dedicated fans) knew their rough outline and there were only a few surprises.

Here in A Rising Thunder there were at least two major surprises and some new stuff that is really promising for the future, while some tantalizing hints have been argued quite a lot on the forums since the earc has been released last winter. I also loved all the little interludes and they interspersed well with the main political and military developments, while the main battle of the novel was so well done by the author that it kept me tense throughout despite that the outcome was clearly predetermined by the balance of force and its twist at the end was foreshadowed long ago.

The second reason A Rising Thunder (novel # 17) worked so well was that it solidified the third transformation of the series, this time from military space opera to political space opera - the first transformation which started in Echoes of Honor (#8) and became fully fledged two books later in War of Honor (#10) was from local, one larger than life character and secondary cast action within a larger context, to multi front, multi character, global military space opera.

The canvas has becoming truly huge and the military developments so dominating that large scale battles have become 15 minute millions of casualties massacres, so the contest for the public opinion, the ability to bring together technological and scientific resources and the economic front have become more and more important, in other words politics and intrigue are now front and center.


From the "Mandarins" conclave, to the councils of the Grand Alliance and various other venues, public and private, the Honorverse's Galaxy with its thousands of worlds and trillions of humans is entering a period of turmoil and great upheaval after some 1500 years of relative stability and A Rising Thunder's panoramic view of the center stage shows clearly the beginning of this process.

There is one scene towards the end of the novel where two characters who are not particularly major movers and shakers - at least so far of course - discuss the events of the day in a calm, wonderful setting with the view of the great lake that borders on what is still humanity's capital city - scene that captures perfectly the "end of an era" mood of the novel.

"The two of them sat on benches across a small outdoor table from one another, eating their lunch as the warm summer sun spilled down across them. Lake Michigan’s waters stretched limitlessly towards the horizon below the restaurant perched on a two-hundredth-floor balcony of the Admiralty Building, and gaily colored sails and powerboats dotted that dark blue expanse as far as the eye could see."

All in all, A Rising Thunder (top 25 2012 novel) is a great installment that starts for good the new Honorverse direction with a bang and leaves me wanting more asap and combing the forums for any tidbits and snippets of the upcoming events, while confirming the status of the series as my #1 one.

Friday, February 24, 2012

GUEST POST: The Changing World of Eli Monpress by Rachel Aaron


The Changing World of Eli Monpress

Hello, my name is Rachel Aaron, and I'm the author of the Legend of Eli Monpress, a light adventure fantasy series from Orbit Books about a charming, over-the-top thief and the trouble he gets himself into.

Or, at least, that's how it started.

Let me back up. When I first wrote The Spirit Thief (the first book in Eli's series and the novel that got me published), I had a very firm view of what I thought the series was about. In my mind, I saw a long running, episodic spectacle with each volume containing its own adventure and a large cast of characters that grew and deepened with each installment. Think any popular TV show ever and that's what I was shooting for.

But as I actually started writing the books, something changed. The story has a large ensemble cast of colorful and seedy people, all with their own objectives, but the soul of the books is Eli, my titular main character and the 'spirit' of this whole operation (har har har). On the surface, Eli seems very clear cut - he's charming and ridiculous and self assured, the very soul of a gentleman thief. But glib as he might play, Eli's past hides a lot of unpleasantness, so do the other characters', and as more of this history is dug up and dealt with, the books begin to get darker. Not bloodier or more sexual or more ruthless any of that other stuff “dark” has come to mean in fantasy, but more serious. More serious and, I like to think, much better.



I'd love to brag and say I planned it this way, but the truth is that the books getting more serious was a totally unintended and natural consequence of forcing my characters to deal with all the problems they'd been running from. They're still the same funny people who starred in the first caper, but even charming thieves have to suck it up and be a little serious when their backs are against the wall. Add to this a growing magical crisis in the world and an insane, all powerful being with an unhealthy fixation on our hero, and yeah, we're not just stealing kings anymore.

The Spirit Thief is a light adventure fantasy about a charming thief getting in a tight spot. The Spirit Rebellion, the second Eli book, is a light adventure about a charming thief who's now in much deeper and more dangerous waters. By book 3, The Spirit Eater, the sharks are definitely circling, and in The Spirit War, the fourth Eli book coming out in June, life is flat out going terribly for our hero. Of course, it's still Eli's story, so things can never get too dark. It's hard to get that serious when your main character is such an unrepentant optimist. Even so, when I finished Spirit's End, the fifth and final book due out in November, I didn't know if Eli was ever going to talk to me again.

These days, when people ask me what my series is about, I say it's an adventure fantasy starring a charming wizard thief that starts out light and fun and then gets more serious but no less fun. If the questioner hasn't walked away from me by that point, I direct them to the sample chapters on my website. It's kind of a cop-out, but trying to describe a series in a sentence is always a cop-out in one way or another.

Really, though, if you read the first chapter of Spirit Thief and like it, there's a very good chance you'll like the rest of the book too. And even though the series changes, I've found that people who like The Spirit Thief tend to like The Spirit Rebellion as well, and those who like Rebellion tend to love Spirit Eater. Looking at it that way, the trend toward seriousness seems to be a positive one, which is good, because the last two books only dig the hole deeper. Fortunately, Eli is always there to keep everyone from taking themselves too seriously. I hope you'll give the book a try and see for yourself.

(Photo Credit: Marshal Zeringue)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Rachel Aaron lives in Athens, Georgia with her family. She has graduated from University of Georgia with a B.A. in English Literature. She has been an avid reader since her childhood and now has an ever-growing collection to show for it. She loves gaming, Manga comics & reality TV police shows. She also blogs on a semi-regular basis on the Magic Districts website along with a host of other authors.


Read FBC Review of "The Spirit Thief"
Read FBC review of “The Spirit Rebellion
Read FBC Review of “The Spirit Eater” and “Spirit’s Oath
Read FBC’s Interview with Rachel Aaron

Click here to enter a worldwide giveaway of the Legend of Eli Monpress Omnibus edition by Rachel Aaron

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Blood and Bullets by James R. Tuck w/ Bonus Review of "That Thing At The Zoo" (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Read an Excerpt HERE
Order the book HERE


AUTHOR INFORMATION: James R. Tuck was born and brought up in Georgia. His path to publication was strangely without an agent and solely due to his manuscript. He’s formerly worked as a bouncer and is a professional tattoo artist with more than 16 years of experience. He also runs his own tattoo parlor and resides in Georgia with his wife and pets. This is his debut novel.

OFFICIAL BLURB: He lives to kill monsters. He keeps his city safe. And his silver hollow-points and back-from-the-dead abilities help him take out any kind of supernatural threat. But now an immortal evil has this bad-ass bounty hunter dead in its sights. . .

Ever since a monster murdered his family, Deacon Chalk hunts any creature that preys on the innocent. So when a pretty vampire girl "hires" him to eliminate a fellow slayer, Deacon goes to warn him--and barely escapes a vampire ambush. Now he's got a way-inexperienced newbie hunter to protect and everything from bloodsuckers to cursed immortals on his trail. There's also a malevolent force controlling the living and the undead, hellbent on turning Deacon's greatest loss into the one weapon that could destroy him. . .

FORMAT/INFO: Blood and Bullets is 352 pages long divided over twenty-four numbered chapters. Narration is in the first-person solely via Deacon Chalk. Blood and Bullets is first book of the Deacon Chalk: Occult Bounty Hunter series.

February 1, 2012 marked the North American paperback and e-book publication of Blood and Bullets via Kensington Books.

ANALYSIS: James R. Tuck’s debut promised a lot of blood, mayhem and particularly dark corners in the urban fantasy world. I am usually a sucker for urban fantasy stories and if they are of the darker kind, then it just becomes that much easier for me to pick up those books. So it's with a similar kind of anticipation that I went into the first Deacon Chalk book.

The story is a very traditional urban fantasy with Deacon Chalk narrating the story, the opening chapter brings Deacon face to face with a child vampire and one who shares a bare resemblance to his lost daughter. Things aren't looking good for him but the vampire surprises him by asking for his protection. She is being hunted by a being called Nyteblade and seeks protection from the threat. This puts the vampire hunter into a quandary as his usual role does not have him turning protector for the very things he has sworn to hunt. Things however don’t end to the vampire’s benefit and Deacon is on his way to check up on Nyteblade. This is where’s the story actually picks up and the actual plot kicks in.

The book with its dark, haunted protagonist, grim settings and fast paced plotline seemed to be everything which qualifies as fun reads for me, but somehow this book didn't do nearly enough. I shall present both reasons as to why I both liked and disliked certain aspects in this book and then maybe I shall be able to decide where I stand in the overall conclusion to the book. The positive points to the book are its quick pace, excellent action packed sequences and plot compactness. Firstly the best thing about this book is its pace, beginning from the first chapter all the way to its explosive climax. The book never lets us down in this aspect and the reader will not feel bored as things are constantly happening on the page. The author’s flair for action sequences is certainly visible as Deacon Chalk is constantly going into or getting out of fights with vampires, their underlings and others sorts of things which tend to cross his path. Lastly the story is a compact one with a proper beginning and end as the author has very conveniently structured the plot so as to get the reader hooked for the sequel. Another cool feature which I read were some careful nods inserted to the creations of Laurell K. Hamilton, Jeaniene Frost, Supernatural TV series and a few others. This was just funny and a bit quirky to read about.

Now onto the parts that dragged the book down were its predictability, the main character’s multifaceted persona and two dimensional character cast. The biggest letdown for me was the character’s multifaceted persona, normally this would have been something to be counted as a positive however in this case the author has tried to make Deacon Chalk a man of many talents/sides. This perhaps worked against the book as the character does or says things which contradicts his own observations from earlier in the book. One example of such behavior is that the character constantly proclaims that he’s not looking for company to replace his dead wife but then alternately talks about the specific type of perfume he utilizes and how his appearance attracts the ladies. Another point was that this hunter is supposed to be a person whose sole obsession in life is to hunt down supernatural killers but alternatively he has time to note what presume and specific type of clothes he wears that accentuate his looks. The aforementioned reasons along with a couple other occurrences didn't gel with what the character kept on proclaiming. Usually I don’t get bothered by such trivial things however in this case I felt that the author was trying to paint Deacon as more than a man and this attempt translated into giving him more than one persona that ruined the read for me as the main character’s chatter made him seem more like a loudmouth than the real deal.

I will admit that this was purely my observational bias and maybe most readers will not be bothered by it however it stood in the way of me enjoying the book. The second downward point is that the plot’s nature is predictable not overtly but for regular readers of the urban fantasy genre, it won’t be hard to decipher where the overall plot might be heading. Thirdly the character cast which is introduced in this book seem very interesting however don’t get much time on screen to make their presence felt. They remain two dimensional sidekicks and this again detracted a bit from the overall read. I would like to think that since it’s the author’s debut that some of these points can be overlooked and perhaps in the future books the author might be able to fine tune the character so as to not seem overbearing. I look forward to those future endeavors because of the novella which I also read at the same time and which helped redeem the author’s cause.

CONCLUSION: Blood and Bullets is a quintessential urban fantasy book which promises to deliver like any Michael Bay film for readers who are looking for those sort of thrills. It however doesn't distinguish itself from the crowd and this is perhaps its greatest fallacy. It remains to be seen where this series heads in the future but for now Blood and Bullets wasn't a debut which particularly delivered on its blurb promises.



Order the Novella HERE

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: That Thing At The Zoo is a prequel novella set approximately six months before the events of Blood and Bullets. The story blurb is as follows: “Knowing his enemy is a rule Deacon Chalk swears by. But he's never seen anything like whatever is leaving the Atlanta Zoo's most dangerous predators bloodless, skinned, and hanging high in treetops. And he’s only got till sunrise to keep it from turning the entire city into a slaughterhouse. Now Deacon is in zoo lockdown with a handful of staffers to save. His zookeeper backup has more guts than monster-hunting experience. And the only chance Deacon has to run this thing to unholy ground is to risk unleashing his darkest, most uncontrollable instincts.”

The novella is about 80-odd pages long and is divided into eleven chapters. Akin to Blood and Bullets, this prequel story is also narrated by Deacon Chalk. The story premise focuses on the Atlanta zoo wherein someone or something is slaughtering the animals however the peculiar nature of the kill is what gets Deacon invited to the crime scene. Detective John Longyard knows about Deacon’s past and is a part of it; he also has some semblance of foresight into Deacon’s current goals. He brings Deacon to the zoo to solve the problem and that’s when the bedlam begins.

I really enjoyed reading this novella as it felt that the author’s strengths were maximized in this form of the story and there wasn’t enough space/time for the negatives to make an appearance. Once again the pace of the story is its highlight as the author quickly brings the reader up to speed and then lets things go haywire. Another positive feature is the horror edge to this story which is nicely nuanced by the zoo location, the author has managed to let his imagination take some weirdly creative turns which accentuate the story's darkness. The author also wisely utilizes the side character cast in this tale and therefore they get much more of a bigger role than in the debut novel.

After finishing this novella I was struck by two things, primarily that James R Tuck really nails down this novella idea mixing horror and thriller themes within the urban fantasy sub-genre and secondly this novella is much better than the actual book purely because the nature of the story does not let the author create the points which I noted in the review above that detracted from my reading experience. I would very much recommend this novella to readers who are looking for a quick thrill ride, with the hope that the author can recreate his form in the longer forms of his craft in the future as well.
Monday, February 20, 2012

WORLDWIDE GIVEAWAY: Win a SIGNED COPY of Rachel Aaron’s “The Legend Of Eli Monpress Omnibus”!!!



Read FBC Review of "The Spirit Thief"
Read FBC review of “The Spirit Rebellion
Read FBC Review of “The Spirit Eater” and “Spirit’s Oath
Read FBC’s Interview with Rachel Aaron

In support of the February 24, 2011 North American publication of Rachel Aaron’sThe Legend Of Eli Monpress Omnibus”—Fantasy Book Critic is giving away THREE SIGNED COPIES of “The Legend Of Eli Monpress Omnibus” courtesy of Rachel Aaron and Orbit Books!!! Each winner will also have the opportunity to get their copy personalized (if they want it so)!

To enter, please send an email to fbcgiveaway@gmail.com with your Name, Mailing Address, and the subject: ELI MONPRESS. Giveaway has Ended. Thank you for entering and Good Luck!

GIVEAWAY RULES:
1) Open to Anyone WORLDWIDE.
2) Only One Entry Per Household (Multiple entries will be disqualified). (
3) Must Enter Valid Email Address, Mailing Address + Name.
4) No Purchase Necessary.
5) Giveaway Has Ended.
6) Winners Will Be Randomly Selected and Notified By Email.
7) Personal Information Will Only Be Used In Mailing Out the Prizes To the Winners.
Sunday, February 19, 2012

"Hotel Iris" by Yoko Ogawa (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Yoko Ogawa at Wikipedia
Order Hotel Iris HERE

INTRODUCTION: I have heard of Yoko Ogawa in connection with her most famous novel, translated as The Housekeeper and the Professor. I got a copy of that one a few years ago when it was published here in the US though I have not read it yet, but recently I opened her newest (2010) English translation, Hotel Iris and I was hooked.

"In a crumbling seaside hotel on the coast of Japan, quiet seventeen-year-old Mari works the front desk as her mother tends to the off-season customers. When one night they are forced to expel a middle-aged man and a prostitute from their room, Mari finds herself drawn to the man's voice, in what will become the first gesture of a single long seduction. In spite of her provincial surroundings, and her cool but controlling mother, Mari is a sophisticated observer of human desire, and she sees in this man something she has long been looking for."

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: "Hotel Iris" is a short but very compelling first person novel. I think that its distinctive voice makes it so good - lonely, overworked and generally neglected teenager Mari whose widow mother uses as unpaid labor to run their hotel Iris in a Japanese holiday resort by the sea.

So not only was Mari forced to drop out of school a few years back, but she basically has very little time or money for herself and while her mother likes to groom her - after all an attractive face behind the counter brings is better for business than an ugly or unkempt one - she otherwise treats Mari mostly as "property".

"After Grandfather died, Mother made me quit school to help at the hotel. My day begins in the kitchen, getting ready for breakfast. I wash fruit, cut up ham and cheese, and arrange tubs of yogurt in a bowl of ice. As soon as I hear the first guests coming down, I grind the coffee beans and warm the bread. Then, at checkout time, I total the bills. I do all of this while saying as little as possible. Some of the guests try to make small talk, but I just smile back. I find it painful to speak to people I don’t know, and besides, Mother scolds me if I make a mistake with the cash register and the receipts are off."

There is a little backstory about Mari's father who died in an accident/drunken fight some years back at age 31 and whose memory Mari worships as he was the only really kind influence in her life, despite his bouts of drunkenness and fights with her mother.

Given the above, Mari seems to be an easy prey for an older man whom despite his sort of distinguished appearance is first seen when thrown out of the hotel for abusing a prostitute he brought there. Seeing him by chance some two weeks later when out on errand for her mother, Mari follows him and the two are drawn together as unlikely as it seems.

"Then one night my father didn’t come home at all. He was still missing the next day, and my mother scolded me for running out of the lobby again and again to see if he was coming down the street. His body was found late that night, his face so swollen and covered in blood that it was almost unrecognizable. After that, I stopped waiting.

There was nothing of great importance in the translator’s letters—the arrival of summer, his work, the progress of Marie’s romance, references to our walk on the cape—but I enjoyed his formal, slightly peculiar way of expressing himself.

The most important minutes of my day were those spent hidden behind the front desk, poring over his letters. I would cut open the envelope with great care, read the letter three or four times, and then refold it exactly along the creases he had made."

Things however are not that simple and while the man seems to be the classical sexual predator: older, widowed and with rumors of his wife's death being a murder, living by himself in an isolated house on a nearby island which is little populated etc etc, the story definitely does not go that route though it has its share of stuff that may seem twisted.

However, the language is never explicit and the book just flows on the page, while the tension builds page by page as the secret relationship of the two cannot stay secret for ever in such a small place and something will have to give...

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