Tuesday, November 30, 2010

[Book Review] Awakened Mage (Kingmaker, Kingbreaker 2) by Karen Miller (Orbit)

My son really liked this series and recommended it to me. This takes off right after the cliffhanger at the end of Innocent Mage. Prince Gar becomes King and makes Asher the Ambassador of Olken Affairs. But Morg, the evil wizard is still trapped in a broken body, fighting to get out and threaten the kingdom again which he also eventually does. But Asher and Gar is up against much more the whole social structure is at stake as well as the survival of the people as foretold in the Prophesy. But everything is not what it seems.

The way the story evolves is quite dark and foreboding, the pacing is better here than in the first book even if I enjoyed the character developments there better. I am weak for coming of age stories especially when they are about discovering your powers. Asher is more miserable and pressed here which is natural, as he is from all sides; even his loved ones have hidden agendas for him.

Dialog is one of Karen Millers strengths which she shows again in this novel. I also like that we learn more about the other characters around Asher. Some of them have great character development. I am not entirely happy with Asher and Dathne’s romance though, but that could be just me. I am picky when it comes to love. But that would be my only real complaint against an otherwise decent fantasy novel.

Awakened Mage is mostly about Asher in the role of the savior and how he and the people around him grow into the Prophesy. This is not a fast paced action and it invites more to contemplation than celebration in the end. I would still recommend it as it is quite enjoyable fantasy.

Reviewer: Ove Jansson
Rating: 7/10


Title: Awakened Mage
Series: Kingmaker, Kingbreaker 2
Author: Karen Miller
Genre: Fantasy
Paperback: 678 pages
Publisher: Orbit (2006, 1st 2005)
Copy: Bought it for my son
"The evil foretold has risen ... and we are all that stands between it and the end."

Asher has come a long way for a fisherman's son. Together with his friend Prince Gar, he has defended their kingdom against its bitterest enemy, but at great cost.

Now, the evil mage Morg is preparing for his most deadly assault. Desperate, trapped in a broken body, Morg has little time and fewer scruples. And he has a plan.

As Gar and Asher unwittingly fall into a dangerous deception, Morg gets ever closer to his goal. And this victory would be particularly sweet'for who better to destroy the kingdom than the two who would give anything to save it?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

[Beyond the Wordcount] Chris Evans on Historical Accuracy

Do you wonder how a book is made? If you are an avid reader and the sight of a book makes you glow, then you probably have wondered about a novel’s journey from idea to hard/softcover delight on your local bookstore’s shelf. Did the author discover the story whole and intact? Did the story need countless revisions? How much is researched and how much is the product of the author’s imagination? What did the author have to go through to publish that novel you just love? Beyond the Wordcount is the feature that will give a behind-the-scene look to the story behind the story, the things that you will never guess as they stay off the pages.

In this installment I have invited author Chris Evans, who penned the wonderfully entertaining Iron Elves series. I utterly enjoyed A Darkness Forged in Fire [REVIEW] and The Light of Burning Shadows [REVIEW] for their adventurous charm as well as uncharacteristic for epic fantasy world.

Bio: CHRIS EVANS was born in Toronto, Canada and now lives in New York City. He’s earned degrees in English/History, Political Science, and a Masters in History with Distinction specializing in military history. Before moving to the U.S. he was a military historian and conducted battlefield tours of Europe in addition to being the military historical consultant on a television documentary on the First World War. Chris started his commercial publishing career as an editor with Ballantine/Del Rey of Random House and is currently the editor of history and current affairs/conflicts books at Stackpole Books where he launched the Stackpole Military History Series which now has over 120 titles in print.


Konowa Swift Dragon, former commander of the Empire's elite Iron Elves, is looked upon as anything but ordinary. He's murdered a Viceroy, been court-martialed, seen his beloved regiment disbanded, and finally been banished in disgrace to the one place he despises the most -- the forest.

Now, all he wants is to be left alone with his misery...but for Konowa, nothing is ever that simple. The mysterious and alluring Visyna Tekoy, the highborn daughter of an elfkynan governor, seeks him out in the dangerous wild with a royal decree that he resume his commission as an officer in Her Majesty's Imperial Army, effective immediately.

For in the east, a falling Red Star heralds the return of a magic long vanished from the earth. Rebellion grows within the Empire as a frantic race to reach the Star unfolds. It is a chance for Konowa to redeem himself -- even if the entire affair appears doomed to be a suicide mission...

and that the soldiers recruited for the task are not at all what he expects. And worse, his key adversary in the perilous race for the Star is the dreaded Shadow Monarch -- a legendary elf-witch whose machinations for absolute domination spread deeper than Konowa could ever imagine....

Task: Since I am a worldbuilding junkie I wanted to know the following. To what degree did you use the historical accounts about the Napoleonic era in your world and where did you decide to fashion that period into something more fantastic?


I think historians and authors share many traits, not the least of which is something I call the 100 to 1 ratio. Basically, it means that for every 100 hours of research you wind up with about a page of material that goes in the book. OK, the ratio isn’t always that extreme, but it often feels like it is. The disparity between the volume of research I conduct and what ultimately winds up in the book is usually a product of my fascination with a topic once I start to delve into it. I’m just naturally curious. Even if I’ve found my answer I often read on, curious to see what else I might discover, or simple to finish the chapter or article and learn something new.

Writing the Iron Elves has definitely been a learning experience. I specialize in 20th century conflicts, but the series is inspired in large part by the Napoleonic Wars, and to a lesser extent Victorian England and the American Civil War. As I’m not writing historical fantasy, but rather fantasy inspired and informed by history, I have the leeway to incorporate bits and pieces and craft them into something new in my world. It’s a lot of fun and also challenging. The key question when I write is does it make sense for the world I’ve created.

The experience of the soldier throughout history is universal in many respects. Weapons and tactics have changed over the centuries, but the basic experience of the infantryman, and now woman, has remained fairly constant. I focused mostly on memoirs from the Napoleonic era in order to get that period feel. I wanted to know what black powder tastes like and what they used to polish their boots. I studied period manuals on tactics covering everything from cavalry charges to the famous British square. I read up on Napleon’s expedition to Egypt in order to get a sense of fighting in the desert. More books were devoured on Waterloo, young Wellington in India, the fighting in Portugal and Spain, recipe books from the late 1700s, social studies of life in London, Paris, and other European cities during that time, and Napoleon’s foray into Russia and the disastrous retreat that followed.

With all that research in hand I then consulted with some of my authors who happen to be combat vets from WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq and Afghanistan. They gave me more insight into the sights, the smells, the privations, and the overall feel of being in harm’s way. One of the reasons I decided to write the Iron Elves was my desire to show an epic fantasy adventure from the regular soldier’s perspective. We’ve read so many stories that focus on farm boys who become kings and intrepid bands of traveling heroes that it seemed to me the plight of the common soldier wasn’t really being acknowledged very much.

So with all this research in hand the question becomes how to use it? The answer, at least for me, is sparingly. One or two well-placed details can hint at a whole world beyond them. First and foremost the story has to move. The danger in doing all that research is the desire to show it all in the novel, but to do that is to turn a story into a reference book. I didn’t set out to write a series on Napoleonic warfare, so I’m not going to dump tons of research into the novel on the different caliber muskets or the myriad types of uniforms and what each bit of braid and color signified. I write more in terms of directing a movie. I see the shot, then write it for the reader, giving them a few clear places to focus which I hope creates enough of an image that their imagination is able to fill in the rest.

As the series is fantasy the question of how magic is integrated into the story is equally key. One of the core realities of all war that I hadn’t seen covered very much in fantasy was the condition now known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD. In previous wars it was called Battle Exhaustion, Shell Shock, Lack of Moral Fiber, and too often, and incorrectly, cowardice. Through the use of a magical oath binding the soldiers of the Iron Elves to the regiment even after death I was able to illustrate this condition by having the survivors literally having to carry with them the shades of their fallen comrades. It’s dark, and at times disturbing, but that’s the experience of war and that’s what I wanted to bring to a fantasy. Of course, just like in real life, soldiers find ways to combat these feelings and one of the most effective is comradeship and laughter. I read numerous accounts of soldiers finding humor in even the darkest of situations and realized I could weave that into the series and hopefully create a balanced and exciting take on the traditional epic fantasy adventure.

Chris Evans

Saturday, November 27, 2010

[NEWS] Un:Bound Video Edition


This winter, internet TV will finally be Un:Bound

Un:Bound Video Editions began with a question 'Why has no one ever done a vidcast about genre fiction?'. It's a simple question and the answer to it proved to be as simple for Un:Bound editor Adele Wearing; because she hadn't put together the team to produce one yet.

That's now changed. Like George Clooney in one of the good Ocean's movies, Adele has assembled a team of specialists to bring the best in genre fiction news and reviews to the internet. They include film maker and technical genius Vincent Holland-Keen, two-fisted editor and Angry Robot wrangler Lee Harris, sleepless genre podcaster Alasdair Stuart and, on his insistence, the dread lord of Ry'leh himself, Cthulhu. With a team like this, the casinos of Las Vegas are quaking in their cuban-heeled boots. Or would be if the plan was to rob Andy Garcia and not to produce the best, most comprehensive, fun genre fiction TV show on the net.

A fast moving glimpse into the world of genre fiction, Episode 1 features coverage of the Other Worlds Event hosted by Writing East Midlands, Alt. Fiction and Tor, a tour of Tor Towers, Publishing Tips with Lee, news with Alasdair and a message from Cthulhu.

Whether you're a life long, experienced con goer, newcomer or want to find out more, the Unbound Video Edition (UBVE to its friends) is for you. And, in fact your friends, so check out the teaser trailers at the Un:Bound Video Edition's site and join our mailing list to make sure you don't miss upcoming episodes, specials and exclusive mailing list contests.

Because if you do, Cthulhu will know.

Un:Bound Video Editions – http://unboundve.com
Mailing list – email unbound@unboundblogzine.com and title your mail UBVE mailing list.

[NOTE] I'm extremely excited that Adelle is branching out in the TV world. Now I will be able to watch her [semi-] live through the screen. I think that this was indeed a natural step for Addy on her quest to conquer genre-ville as she has the necessary personality to be in front of the camera. Good luck, Addy [and her talented team, of whom I can speak only good things and no, I was not threatened with a knife to see all these nice things].

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Review of Books that I did not finish

I'm over at The Book Smugglers doing my monthly A Dude Reads PNR [paranormal romance for the uneducated], in which I venture into the literary equivalent of a girl's pinky pink room [which for male SFF readers is not exactly geek heaven]. I enjoy PNR for a number of reasons, one of which is the raunch [yes, I believe that the romance these days is more erotica]. I allow PNR a lot of things I would usually discuss and ostracize in other books [guilty pleasure]. The long prologue here has a purpose and that is: I can be mean to PNR books, when given sufficient reasons:

Book 1:

The disaster, when considering the prose, is her abuse of the word laugh in all of its forms. In the first 18 pages, Banks uses this word above twenty times. That is at least one time per page, but Banks abuses it in clusters, often enough to drive any person insane. I know it is a small thing, but imagine walking 200 miles with a pebble in your shoe. I certainly do not want to find out how many times the word pops up until the end. Since I have a PDF review copy, I tried counting and gave up at additional 60 laughs, laughing, laughter. BEFORE I reached page 60. Small thing, people, but universally annoying. Is this novel the Joker? Can’t it not stop laughing?

Book 2:

Technically, Meko hasn’t done anything other than kidnap and clean her face with a damp cloth in order to be entitled to use this phrase. Even sparing her life is not the right context to use it. I’m not even sure if the phrase has been coined during this period. The earliest mention I’ve found dates back to 1915, way after the Indian Wars. It’s simply too modern sounding.

But Diablo seems to have an issue with staying historically true to the spirit of the era. The first time we meet Francesca, she states how she uses linen strips to flatten her chest, but she uses the verb camouflage. A word which first appears in 1917 and is again, very modern.
I continue in this fashion [HERE]

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I thank you for the 100,000 Hits

Yes, three years pushing and it happened. 100,000 hits. It's unbelievable for me to have reached such a number of views for my blog... It's one of those milestones that deserve a post to thank for the support of everyone, who made it happen.

I thank me, because it seems that for the first time in my life I stuck with something for longer than a few weeks or months. Three years in a long commitment and you know what, they flew right past me.

I'm not narcissistic enough [yet] to stop at there.

I want to thank all the publishers and authors, who thought that sending books half the world to a remote Eastern European country was worth their postal fees. No books, no reviews, no blog.

I want to thank the blogger community for being inviting enough to have me join their circle and discussions and help me evolve.

I want to thank to all the readers, who stopped by and basically achieved this amazing number.

Thanks again and here's for getting to the next 100,000 hits.


Monday, November 22, 2010

[Cover Delight] Lords and Ladies by Terry Pratchett, French Edition

Some people have all the luck. In this instance I am looking at France with incandescent indignation for they will receive Sir Terry Pratchett books, but new covers. The image above is the cover for one of my favorite novels in the Discworld series, Lords and Ladies, the fourth novel in the Witches sub-story. What I enjoyed immensely is how elves are represented as evil and a bit monstrous and Magrat was totally hilarious. Which reminds me that I need to re-read, but shhh keep it a secret since I don't re-read. Anyway, the talented man behind this image is Marc Simonetti.

Isn't it better? Seriously, I understand why Pratchett's iconic covers are humorous grotesque. It fits the genre and allows you understand from the first look what a book you will be reading, but I still can't swallow the fact that they are not pretty. I envy the French. Will it be okay to hold a grudge over this?

Not pictured: Prettiness.

[News] Angry Robot Books has started a Digital Short Story Store

22nd November 2010 ~ For Immediate Release


On December 1st 2010, Angry Robot will be launching “Nano Editions”. Exclusive to the publisher’s own webstore at angryrobotstore.com, Nanos are digital short stories by Angry Robot novelists, sold at sensible prices in ePub format, ready to load onto the world’s most popular eBook readers.

Most Nanos will be in the 5,000 – 15,000 word range. Shorter works than that will be automatically bundled with another story to ensure value for money.

Talking of which – stories will cost just 59p each (approximately US $0.95). Readers can bundle a collection of any 10 by any combination of authors, for only £3.49 (US$5.59). The files will be DRM-free and available worldwide. If demand for the stories takes off, AR plan to also sell them via eBook retailers.

Angry Robot Editor Lee Harris said, “Publishing is changing, but our role as publishers remains the same – to find cool stories and bring them to readers. This is another step in Angry Robot’s ongoing plan to embrace the new opportunities digital formats provide – and an excellent way for readers to sample unfamiliar authors, without breaking the bank.”

Authors included in the Nanos series include multi-million-selling novelist Dan Abnett and award-winning short fiction authors Kaaron Warren and Aliette de Bodard, along with many others. We will have at least 30 Nanos available for the December 1st launch, with more added at regular intervals.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

[Beyond the Wordcount] Lauren Beukes on The History of Violence

Do you wonder how a book is made? If you are an avid reader and the sight of a book makes you glow, then you probably have wondered about a novel’s journey from idea to hard/softcover delight on your local bookstore’s shelf. Did the author discover the story whole and intact? Did the story need countless revisions? How much is researched and how much is the product of the author’s imagination? What did the author have to go through to publish that novel you just love? Beyond the Wordcount is the feature that will give a behind-the-scene look to the story behind the story, the things that you will never guess as they stay off the pages.

In this installment, I bring you Lauren Beukes, author of Zoo City [which I will review as it happens in December]. Her post will be connected with this title, which has been highly praised all around.

Bio: Lauren Beukes is a recovering journalist, TV scriptwriter, award-winning columnist and writer (aka glorified typist). She’s the author of the muti noir, Zoo City released in 2010 and the dystopian thriller Moxyland (2008) which William Gibson describes as “very, *very* good. Her short stories have been published in various anthologies, including Home Away: 24 Hours. 24 Writers. 24 Places, Touch: Stories of Contact, Open, FAB, African Road: New Writing from Southern Africa, 180 Degrees, Urban 03 and Novel Idea.

She has an MA in Creative Writing from UCT, but she got her real education from 12 years of freelance journalism. Writing for the likes of the Sunday Times, Colors, The Hollywood Reporter, Nature Medicine, Marie Claire, and The Big Issue, among others, she picked up really useful life-skills like sky-diving, pole-dancing and brewing mqombothi. Journalism also allowed her to hang out with AIDS activists, township vigilantes, electricity thieves, homeless sex workers, teen vampires, reluctant basejumpers and other interesting folk.


Zinzi has a talent for finding lost things.

To save herself, she's got to find the hardest thing of all: The truth.

Task: When I contacted Lauren to contribute to my feature, I had the clear idea to ask her about the inclusion of additional materials such as articles, interviews and news reports. I had no idea that Lauren had something way better in mind. Namely, the history and importance of violence in Zoo City.


Zoo City is a muti noir *– and noir, by necessity, includes acts of violence. There has to be a body involved. Luckily, I’ve got several. But, for the most part, that violence is restrained.

Zinzi, is not your typical Buffy-model kick-ass urban fantasy heroine. That is to say, she’s not holding off hordes of slavering undead loup garou ninjas with a Hello Kitty chainsaw in one hand and a fireball in the other (although that does sound pretty awesome and I may have to write that).

In fact, just about the worst thing that Zinzi has to confront (apart from her past and the really horrible thing later) is a bunch of street kids armed with a sharpened rusty screwdriver. A situation she handles very un-heroically by running away. And that’s because a rusty screwdriver is a helluva thing. Worse than zombie werewolf claws.

The novel is set the reality of Johannesburg’s inner city slums with derelict buildings and refugees and crime and poverty and ordinary people trying to get by in awful conditions. And that also meant writing violence that was real - because it’s an everyday occurrence in South Africa with far-reaching impact way beyond fiction.

Just how everyday was brought home when several synchronicities cropped up very close to me in the real world that horribly echoed events in the novel.

I try to avoid spoilers, but I can tell you that Zoo City includes, in no particular order, a fire, a drowning and a stabbing.

In March, while I was finessing the last chapters, my brother-in-law’s farm in the mountains practically burned to the ground. The aftermath was like a scene from The Road, which I was reading at the time, an ashen landscape, blasted trees. And worse, ruined livelihoods. Insurance doesn’t cover farmers for forces of nature.

Then, as we were going over the final proofs, a friend of my editor’s drowned in a freak accident. A well-known, well-liked professor who was tubing in a river in the wilderness with his family. He fell off. He never resurfaced. His family had to hike for hours to find cell phone reception to call for help. They found his body three weeks later. It had been trapped underwater, wedged beneath a rock ledge by the currents. My editor struggled to deal with the similar scene in the book.

There were also two stabbings with a direct link to me that happened while I was writing the novel. My dad was witness to the one. He was out one morning walking his dogs near the beach. He passed by a group of women walking to work at the nearby hotel. A man confronted one of the women. There was an argument. Then the man pulled out a knife and punched it into her stomach repeatedly.

My dad yelled, alerting a group of construction workers who chased after the man with pickaxes and shovels. They chased him onto the beach. He ran into the waves. They stood on shore, waiting for him to come out. He floated away, deeper and deeper out to sea. Eventually, he drowned. His body washed up on shore a few days later. The woman recovered. Eventually. Slowly. Painfully. As much as you can.

The other stabbing was far closer to home. Tomokazie, the daughter of the woman who cleans for me once a week had a fight with her abusive boyfriend, Sonwabo. He stabbed her in the thighs and buttocks and poured boiling water over her head and back, then locked her in his house and walked away. The neighbours finally called the cops five days later, alerted by the terrible smell, by the groaning. The police broke down the door. The flies were thick on her skin. But she was still alive. She was rushed to the burns unit at the nearest hospital. It took her four months to die. Third degree burns will do that. Infection sets in deep. She was in agony most of the time, unable to walk, barely able to get out of bed.

The night before she died, Tomo’s sister saw Sonwabo lurking outside their house, because the cops hadn’t bothered to arrest him. He was hiding in the yard, crouched under the window. Tomo was so frightened that she soiled herself. She passed away the next morning, in the waiting room of Somerset Hospital.

Some of what happens in Zoo City is over-the-top. It’s gruesome. It’s shocking. It’s very nasty.

It’s meant to be.

I tried to do it in a way that wasn’t gratuitous, that respected what real violence is and what it does to us. There’s a balance to writing fiction that is entertaining but still keeps it integrity.

Real violence is not the villainous puppet master forcing someone to gouge their own eyeball out with an ice-cream scoop and eat it or the hillbilly psychos torturing and raping and gutting the hapless campers and parading around afterwards in their skins or even the cock-shock stupidity of human-centipeding.

It’s a girl in agony shitting the bed because the man who did this to her is still free to do it again.

* magic

Friday, November 19, 2010

[Review] "A Festival of Skeletons" by RJ Astruc

Talking about A Festival of Skeletons without mentioning the cover would be a bit like committing a crime. Look at it closely. Step back and then look again. I think that the cover does a great job of summarizing the plot, representing the novel’s core idea and setting the proper expectations.

Yes, this will be a hilarious tale of a fugly redhead midget in a pink dress [among other fashion choices], a predatory merwoman, a fat kitchenhand, a sour policewoman, and a few maniacs for colour. Yes, there will be undead. Yes, I bet my spleen that you’ll laugh.

The team at Crossed Genres surprised me with the decision to publish a novel, but having read R. J. Astruc’s mind-bending dark comedy, I can agree as to why. Fantasy needs new faces in the humorous section. Perhaps it speaks poorly of me, but when I have to think of humorous fantasy, I recall only one name: Terry Pratchett. Now, I’ve read in several reviews how Astruc is compared to Pratchett. While Atruc’s Kamphor can compete with Ankh-Morpork in its absurdity and while Astruc uses biting humor to criticize aspects of the modern society, I’d say that Astruc has an entirely different voice:

[The Rest of this review you can find at Innsmouth Free Press]

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Innocent Mage (Kingmaker, Kingbreaker 1) by Karen Miller (Orbit) [Book Review]

This is the first in a series of duologies, this one follows the Innocent mage of legend and the second duology follows his son. I bought these as a gift for my son who loves fantasy; he gave them high praise so I had to read them too.

This is Karen Miller's debut novel and my first read of her writing. She is an Australian writer

It has a common trope. Young man runs away from family trade to make it by himself and finds his magical powers and love, but it also has interesting differences.

The story takes place in the Kingdom of Lur whose original inhabitants the Olken lives as second class citizens and are forbidden magic, in fact they are believed to be without it. Six centuries ago the Doranen came through the mountains fleeing the evil mage Morg. Their leader, Barl wove a magical protection over the Kingdom that has kept Morg at bay since and the Doranen with their magic form the upper class and their King provides the weather magic that powers the wards.

There is a secret society among the Olken that still practice earth magic and they have an ancient prophecy about the Final Days and the Innocent Mage that can save them from Morg. One of their members the young seeress Dathne will come and play a major part in Asher's life and for the prophecy. She is an interesting conflicted character.

Asher the protagonist is a likable character. He leaves for the capital for a year to earn enough money to buy his father a fishing boat. A chance meeting with the magicless prince, Gar leads to friendship and a job as the prince's assistant. He is fairly successful in what he does as is to be expected in this kind of novel but a great deal of my enjoyment with this book comes from the interaction between Gar and Asher. Gar was born Doranen but is handicapped and looked down on because his lack of magic while Asher is of low unmagical Olken origin and he starts to develop magic he is forbidden to even try. Another thing I enjoyed with Asher is his frankness it is often hilarious to read.

The story is about an unequal society and prejudice as well as a compelling personal story. The pace is steady and doesn't bog down in unnecessary details; you know more or less as much as the characters do which isn't much. I was intrigued by Morg and Barl who used to be lovers before he became an evil mage and she escaped to Lur but you don't learn much about that in this book but I noticed that Karen Miller has a release of a prequel to Awakened Mage about them scheduled for August next year. It is titled Blight of Mages.

It ends in a cliffhanger but that's no problem since the second and concluding book The Awakened Mage is already out.

Awakened Mage is a somewhat original take on "the peasant on which the destiny of the Kingdom rests", it was a fast read even if it is quite long (613 pages) with interesting characters and funny dialog but you will want to have The Awakened Mage handy as it ends in a cliffhanger. The one complaint I would have is that not much is happening in the main plot until the last hundred pages or so but the character development and drama kept me entertained until then. I would recommend it if you want a different take on the usual fantasy tropes with strong characters.

Reviewer: Ove Jansson
Rating: 8/10


Title: Innocent Mage
Series: Kingmaker, Kingbreaker book 1
Universe: Innocent Mage Universe
Author: Karen Miller (karenmiller.net)
Paperback: 613 pages
Publisher: Orbit (2009, First 2005)
Copy: Borrowed from my son

Order from: Amazon US | UK | B&N | sfbok
"The Innocent Mage is come, and we stand at the beginning of the end of everything."

Being a fisherman like his father isn't a bad life, but it's not the one that Asher wants. Despite his humble roots, Asher has grand dreams. And they call him to Dorana, home of princes, beggars'and the warrior mages who have protected the kingdom for generations.

Little does Asher know, however, that his arrival in the city is being closely watched by members of the Circle, people dedicated to preserving an ancient magic.

Asher might have come to the city to make his fortune, but he will find his destiny.

Monday, November 15, 2010

[Art Pick] Ravine: Sardaheim and Shivas [concept art]

I come bearing gifts of art to thee. Here is some fantasy concept art done by Stjepan Šejić [current illustrator for Top Cow's Witchblade] for his own fantasy comic book called Ravine. Typically his style is not very appealing to me, because his pieces seem unfinished. If you look closely at the image, you will see the paint as if it's smudged. Considering that this is digital media, I'd expect to have clear lines and even color, while this imitates water paint. But that is just my taste as far as the coloring and lines go. There is no denial, however, that the man can draw and his races are both familiar looking and exotic enough to appeal. Tell me what you think?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

[Twitter Talks] Do you like happy endings? Yes or no? AND why?

In theory, I should've presented an installment for Beyond the Wordcount, but life is funny when it decides to act up. I've rescheduled and that installment will come next Sunday, while I gather a whole new group of Tweeps to help me with the current installment of Twitter Talks. I don't mind at all, because this question has been on my mind a lot:

Do you like happy endings? Yes or no? AND why?

Technically, these are there questions, but I wanted Twitter to be more involved. To answer my own question... No, not really. The greatest cliche in the history of storytelling [be it by mouth, by written word or currently by movies] is the happy ending. Of course, when I say happy, I think the extreme, idealized happily ever after that your Mary Sue and Gary Stu deserve, where all the subplots and main arc are resolved and all the people that deserve good things to happen to them live gloriously, while the villains are crushed. Good wins. Evil loses. It's too idealized for my own taste. I need the battle scars. The lost battles. The broken hearts. The not-so-pleasant, but still passable endings. If you get in a fight and come out the winner, you still get bruises to show that you were in the fight. In the goody, goody happy endings... eh, it's all back to square one. It's why I enjoy reading twisted stories lately.

I wanted to test the waters and see, if I could find more supporters. BUT I guess I did not:

@Rhube: Happy endings.Been thinking about this recently.Oddly, I don't like to write happy endings,but I think I prefer reading them. Not always, but often. I dunno.

@Pallekenl: I only enjoy happy endings in a book if they fit the story (so not tacked on) and because they give this warm fuzzy feeling :D

@Hagelrat: love the cozy feeling of a happy ending but if the book doesn't suit it then it ruins the story. So depends on the book a lot!

@Susi_Sunshine: depends...I can live with not so happy ending if it has the promise of HEA [Happily Ever After] but mostly me likes those. Depends on genre. In romance it's a must but in others it's not all a requirement for me.

@editormum75: Yes, but more importantly, I enjoy RESOLUTION in book endings. [I have to add here that I agree, the ending of a book can sometimes not be the actual resolution and what I mean in my question is the resolution aspect. Slippery-slope of defining a novel's anatomy.]

These are the outright happy ending supporters. Nothing wrong with happy endings, when they are done right and there are too many attempts that end in the saccharine territory for my taste. But when done right, my oh my, it's goosebump Nirvana.

The majority of the answers, however, just show sophisticated book lovers are, understanding how certain books demand certain endings that are foreshadowed right in the beginning and reinforce what the reader felt in the beginning.

@cjhillrwb: solid endings. Doesn't matter happy or sad as long as they are solid and make sense with no huge leaps to get there.

@laurenbeukes: I like an ending that's true to the book. Tragedy is potent, happiness can be more so, if it's not a Hollywood afterthought.

Then I receive the most thought provoking answer in the bunch:

@thefourpartland: It depends on the writer. No from King or Erikson, yes from Eddings or Lackey. Because of the style of the author. It's possible to tell which ones are suited to happy endings. I'd never expect it from King.

The idea that the author's style, strengths and weaknesses determine what sort of ending rings true [and what the reader will enjoy] despite the story demands. I guess that this makes sense. I don't think that King, who writes the creeps will make a Happily Ever After enjoyable or as empowering as someone who usually writes hopeful stories does [Lackey, I guess, I'm not much for the hopeful stories]. It certainly is food for thought and I do beg your comments on this.

Share what you feel.

As a final tease, here is a tweet that is not a direct answer to the question, but worth paying attention to.

@ghostfinder: The ending is less important than the journey.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

[Review] 'The Case of Charles Dexter Ward' by H.P. Lovecraft [Part 2]

Title: The Case of Charles Dexter Ward
Author: H.P. Lovecraft
Genres: Horror
Softcover: 128 pages
Publisher: originally by Weird Tales in 1941; my translation is from 2007 by Publishing Group Bulgaria
Standalone/Series: Standalone
Copy: Bought it myself

Blurb: Incantations of black magic unearthed unspeakable horrors in a quiet town near Providence, Rhode Island. Evil spirits are being resurrected from beyond the grave, a supernatural force so twisted that it kills without offering the mercy of death!

Available from: Amazon - US - UK | B&N | BookDepository

Cover Comment: I’m showing the cover of the most recent re-release of The Case of Dexter Ward [2008], which certainly is superior to its Bulgarian counterpart. Despite the easy to look at color combination, the cover doesn’t fail at its task to announce that the novel is horror and that it promises to be creepy. Also, I believe this cover art to be brilliant, because it is public friendly. If by any chance you read this in the park [in the bus/train] people won’t raise their eyebrows in disgust had this cover been with skulls or dead people. Everyone is happy.

Review: In the first part of my review [HERE] I discussed the first two chapters and touched upon the physical qualities of the text, the narration and the worldbuilding. Now, I’ll focus more on the plot, characterization and then speak about the themes.

Lovecraft considerately stalls the story with build-up and exposition. The first two chapters serve as blueprints for Ward and Curwen as characters. Chapter three continues in the same manner and maps out Ward’s transformations. But this process remains far from clear and reveals nothing to the reader. Supposedly, Ward experiments with far from normal materials and succeeds. At this point my patience stretched to the point I was not sure whether I could continue reading the novel as nothing really was said up straight. What are the purposes of the experiments? What triggered the changes in Ward? Why were bodies missing from the local graveyard? What was that smell in the library?

Thankfully, chapters four and five stopped with the irking foreshadowing and hinting and did their best to get to the heart of the mystery that Charles Dexter Ward had become. Lovecraft still manages to forbid the reader a full-frontal exposure by switching POVs between Charles, the family doctor, Mr. Willett and Charles’ father. In these chapters the Ward family becomes progressively worried about Charles’ health, so they begin an investigation of their own [but I have to say that the mother figure is passive and suffers from nerves throughout the book]. It’s discovered that Charles’ research lab, built in a bungalow as far away as possible from the family home, is inconspicuous, but the true horror is underneath the bungalow in a labyrinth of tunnels and chambers with alters inside.

SPOILER ALERT: Dr. Willett discovers that Charles performs rituals to raise spirits and gain knowledge. This process is coordinated with other necromancers all around the world, which have managed to cheat death once. At this point I stopped complaining about the book being a bit too mysterious for its own good and drooled as revelation after revelation happened on the page. While I’m in the spoiler section, I’ll mention how Lovecraft delivers a mighty twist I didn’t see coming. Turns out that the mysterious Dr. Allen, with whom Charles worked in the bungalow laboratory, was actually a resurrected Curwen. It was Curwen who killed Ward and then assumed his identity. By now this sounds a bit like a session of playing “Clue” with your friends and in retrospect, I should have seen this coming. For starters, Lovecraft underlines how much Charles resembles Curwen and Curwen’s portrait has been given a sort of sentient presence; much like in Dorian Gray. Ward’s contradictory behavior at the time of his death and the library as the place of murder [I mentioned the smell, now didn’t I?] function as small details that add flavor to the story, but de facto act as clues. < END SPOILER|

I won’t discuss the ending, for it is quite satisfying and has to be read. Willett’s confrontation with Ward in the asylum, which leads to the mystery depicted in the first chapter, is brilliant as a resolution. I will however stop to comment on Lovecraft’s rationalization of the fear of the unknown. Lovecraft suggests that we as a species demand for everything to have a logical explanation and that humankind has an image of how the world works. Now what can strike more fear in the hearts of men [once again I do refer to the male gender, because there were no female characters] than coming up against a process or an event, which we cannot fit in the model we have created for the world. It is through knowing this fear that Lovecraft manages to incorporate the supernatural into his tale.

In The Case of Dexter Ward the characters that represent intelligence and knowledge [despite shown as a formless mass] the psychiatrists fear expanding their horizons and are depicted as conservative. They represent how comfortable humans can be with their definition of reality and the world. Keeping in mind that there might be something else they can’t explain or even fathom is ridiculous for them. They fear that unknown, because they are powerless without answers. On the contrary, Dr. Willett faces that fear and overcomes it, because he keeps an open mind and works with what he has despite the impossibility of the situations he finds himself in.

Despite being a horror story about necromancers, mutated creatures and summoning rituals, The Case of Dexter Ward is at its heart a cautionary tale about knowledge. The necromancers’ goal is to achieve dominance through vast and unending knowledge. The narcotic dependency on knowledge, the constant thirst for it and the immoral methods for acquiring it are results of our need to explain things. I think Lovecraft’s message is that some things are better off left unknown as opposed to prodded lest they bite back.

What the Library Says: The library is pleased. The library senses a new re-print soon enough. The library is certain the novel will have an excellent shelf life.

Reviews I’ve seen: [so far none. If you are a book blogger and have a review of this book, tell me and I will link it for you]

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Pedophile Guidebook: Free Speech, Censorship and Boundaries

Amazon failed or better yet humanity failed. As you may have learned there is a pedophile guide book available for the Kindle called: The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure. Personally, I'm nauseated that such a book exists and that it has been published and is distributed through the biggest book-selling website and that there are people who rate the bashing reviews as not at all helpful. I'm horrified that a person would go as far as advise how to 'love' children 'safely' and I want to go Nazi on this book and burn it had it been a physical book.

It's a fact that most pedophiles are pedophiles at heart and a large part of them are too afraid to act and remain latent. But a guide that promises to make it all safe by 'establishing rules for adults to follow' will most definitely prompt those who fantasize to act. Maybe I'm exaggerating and this is the paranoia of watching too many criminal shows, but I think that this is crossing a serious line. When people conceived the idea of free speech, I'm pretty sure that they did not see this one coming. Curtis Silver phrases this better than me:

The Kindle e-book titled The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure crosses the line of free speech, spits in our face and then crosses back over the line. Everything that is happening here, with the existence and sale of this book is protected by free speech - unless a crime has been committed by the author. That is yet to be proven.

AND what makes me so darn angry is the fact that this is free speech, no matter how twisted and corrupted and demonic.

If I demand that the book be banned, then I become one of those people, who rile up hate and aim it at books. I mean, Banned Books Week was founded as an awareness event to promote the freedom of reading... Wouldn't it be hypocritical to demand this certain book to be banned and still preach how books should not be restricted nor access to controversial ones? Yes, I do hate that this guide exists, but I'm talking about the principle, the big picture.

When this broke out on Twitter, I've read these opinions:

@JohnKlima: even if I don't agree with what a book is about, I can't advocate censorship; we don't get to chose what the 1st Amend protects

@tn_tobias: Freedom is about making choices, not taking them away. I understand your frustration. Sometimes humanity lets you down. Censorship begets censorship.

Sadly, they are right as far as the principle goes. Once we censor something, then it will be a lot easier to censor something else the next time some other controversial book pops up.

I'm pissed off that this books exists and I'm pissed off, because if I demand to censor it, I betray the principle I stand behind. If I don't demand something be done about this book, then I betray the values I have been brought up with.

In this situation I feel so helpless.

I feel that there should be some boundaries [even if that is selfish of me as far as the Bigger Picture is concerned]. I feel that as society we are entitled to protect the moral integrity intact and I think that encouraging child molestation is a bit too much and a bit too illegal.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

[Book Review] A New Hope (A Troop, 2/4 Cavalry) by Eric Johnson

This is a good example on 'fan fiction' and I hope Eric don't take offence at that. Eric writes about life in a military unit inside David Drake's Hammer Slammers' universe with permission from David. Eric's own experiences from Afghanistan shines through and add realism to the story.

This is an anthology of short stories that almost works as a complete novel telling the story of an counter insurgency campaign in the Pollo Mountains from the point of view of the people in Troop A, 2/4 Cavalry. First Lieutenant Karen Juniper leads her unit as a professional soldier through the mission that also involves testing out a new tactical transport vehicle.

I am usually not fond of short stories but for me it works quite well here since they tell parts of the same story even if the main story gets a bit unconnected at times but Karen as a character keeps it well together. What appealed to me most with the stories is that they are told by someone with real experience. It was an easy read; I plowed through it in one day.

You know I am a character reader and I found the characters and their interaction believable and sometimes intriguing. They feel like human beings most of the time even if they lack some dept (Mind you this is short stories, not a novel). Karen is no super soldier and she has her doubts and makes mistakes too.

It is not David Drake quality but it is quite decent fan fiction with a core of real experience in it. I will probably read more by Eric Johnson in the future.

Reviewer: Ove Jansson
Rating: 7/10


Title: A New Hope
Series: A Troop, 2/4 Cavalry
Universe: David Drake's Hammer Slammers (with permission)
Author: Eric Johnson
Genre: Military Science Fiction
Kindle e-book: 413 kb
Publisher: Self published (2010)
Copy: Review copy from the author

Order from: Amazon US
Based in the universe created by David Drake (with his permission) A New Hope chronicles, in anthology format the exploits of A Troop, 2/4 Cavalry. Designed to solely test out a new type (though of old ideas) of vehicles and tactics, the troopers are challenged by an insurgency campaign set in the mountainous Pollo Mountains.

Based off of some experiences from past conflicts, to include my tour in Afghanistan.

NOTE: This is in no way connected to Star Wars, even though it has the same title as the first movie. IT IS used in the Hammers Slammers universe. .

Eric's Blurb on Goodreads: First off, it's an extrapolation of my tour in Afghanistan set in a futuristic setting, set on the planetary colony of New Hope. A criminal gang, resorted to an insurgency campaign in order to fight the government. Naturally most national militaries aren't as trained as the more numerous and capable mercenary units, what we call PMCs today. Some of the events covered are experiences that I experienced during my tour there, as well as some from other units, events in history that I felt would make a good adaptation, as well as some situations that were completely made up, but that is rare. A short abstract starts off the event, and then the story follows. So it has some personal views, experiences that I did my best to transcribe in a different way, given the universe that David Drake started with Hammer's Slammers, in which my stories are set, just in a different way.The basic gist is a set of chronicles of short stories that are done in chronilogical order, unlike a novel format. I prefer this format compared to the novel format, as it to me, "highlights" the more important events over a nine month period. Towards the end are other "independent" events that came to mind after I completed the main campaign.And including the other editors, thanks to Karen Paulaskis and Chester Moore in their help with this e-book

Sunday, November 7, 2010

[Twitter Talk] Series: Do you dive in OR do you wait?

I have a complicated relationship with series. Series tend to never ever end, unless we're talking about trilogies, which are predestined to come in three. I, on the other hand, tend to forget my own birthday. I know the date, but whenever it comes, it's a surprise for me. The other thing the series do is that it takes a while for the next installment to pop up, which does not mix well with my memory. You can sense where this is going...

Anyway, recently, I decided that I wanted to immerse myself into the FULL epic fantasy style of life aka mammoth series of individual books that can be used as weapons. But because of my memory I've always restricted myself and waited for a series to come to a conclusion before I dive in. This supposedly defies the very LAWS and CREEDS of being a bibliophile [yes, I like to think in extremes] so I wanted to see whether there was anyone else like me.

The question: Do you dive in a series or wait patiently for it to end?

Turns out that people are unanimous:

@ManOfLaBook: I dive into a series. It's exciting to wait for the next book. BUT - I must start from book 1 even if it's from 20 yrs ago

@Pallekenl: Depends, but usually I dive in. I always try to hold off, but I always give in too!

@murf61: I have a bad habit of reading the first in a series then losing interest. Usually buy 1st on release, which could be why

@chiddle84: Dive in, waiting is too tough...

@shadowflame1974: I have to read the latest and then IMPATIENTLY wait for the next one.

@Rhube: Dive in! Every time. Miss out too much, & how do you know it;s worth the wait? Plus, sometimes waiting heightens anticipation.

I dive in

I seem to have asked a very stupid question, but I wanted to find out whether I was not alone in my ways of restriction. The answer is more than obvious, but I welcome anybody else who would like to share his/hers view on the matter. Next week I promise to keep the questions a bit more controversial.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

[Review] 'The Case of Charles Dexter Ward' by H.P. Lovecraft [Part 1]

Title: The Case of Dexter Ward
Author: H.P. Lovecraft
Genres: Horror
Softcover: 128 pages
Publisher: originally by Weird Tales in 1941; my translation is from 2007 by Publishing Group Bulgaria
Standalone/Series: Standalone
Copy: Bought it myself

Blurb: Incantations of black magic unearthed unspeakable horrors in a quiet town near Providence, Rhode Island. Evil spirits are being resurrected from beyond the grave, a supernatural force so twisted that it kills without offering the mercy of death!

Available from: Amazon - US - UK | B&N | BookDepository

Cover Comment: The shady, out-of-focus image that you’re seeing is the Bulgarian cover for this novel, which is a miserable cross between drawing and photo manipulation. My edition carries the novel The Case of Charles Dexter Ward as well as the novella Herbert West – Reanimator, which I think is why my book is called ‘The Re-Animator’. I never could find an image with better resolution and my copy is stashed somewhere I can’t find, so you can’t see how bad the cover actually is. Apart from trying to be current in design and failing at it, this is by far one of the better covers Bulgarian designers can produce. However, there is a lot on the cover that makes me cringe. Formatting the company name as the text the hunched man is so focused on writing is plain wrong as well as adding the title ‘The Call of Cthulhu’ in red, right lower corner. I wanted to comment on the cover to explain why SFF genre is not thriving here with original Bulgarian covers. It’s simply not eye-candy at best.

Review: The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is my first foray into Lovecraft and his demented fantasies, which I was more than convinced that I would love. My only regret so far is that my official christening is done through a translation and not in the original language, because I’m a firm believer that the original language holds more power over the reader. Even so, I found The Case of Charles Dexter Ward to be properly horrifying at the right places and interesting as a whole.

The novel is divided in five chapters, of which I will cover the first two and speak about the mechanics of the storytelling, the prose and worldbuilding. The story opens with ‘Conclusion and Prologue’, which introduces us to the setting [Providence in Rhode Island], presents the story [the sudden psychological and pathological degradation of the eccentric amateur-historian Charles Dexter Ward] and then the mystery [his disappearance from the asylum, where he has been treated]. From then on this brief section outlines the life of Charles: his childhood passion for history and genealogy, then his rapid changes from the harmless eccentricity to causing dread as well as his metamorphosis, where his interests shift from history to the modern world.

The interesting thing about Lovecraft is his heavy reliance on prose and omission of dialogue altogether. In his On Writing Stephen King speaks of Lovecraft’s inability to craft dialogue, which would explain the complete absence of it at large and also why when used, it’s done so in a sparing manner. I can’t judge that weakness, but it shows a great skill to labor one story without such a key component. What contributed to the success of this storytelling model is the documentary feel to it. Lovecraft has meticulously noted down a detailed timeline with a great many inserted opinions from different people and sources. The combined effect is one of omniscience based on the accumulated accounts and that this story can be nothing but true.

In the second chapter, ‘Past and Nightmare’ Lovecraft dedicates sixty pages to piece together the past of Joseph Curwen, Ward’s mysteriously discovered relative. Lovecraft charts his arrival to Providence, his accession as a successful trader, his shrouded in mystery hobbies and the communal outrage towards his activities, which results into an expedition of 100 men and his supposed murder.

Even though Curwen is deceased, he’s relevant to the story as it’s his legacy that acts as a catalyst for Ward’s transformation. It’s why Lovecraft goes at great length to flesh him out. Joseph’s story is sewn together from excerpts from letters, journals, registers and old newspapers. I could sense how passionate Lovecraft was while adding these details and this investigative approach to his research.

Where Lovecraft shines with his worldbuilding is with Providence. His narrative is littered with small sidetracks; perhaps two lines or even a phrase to add a small, inconsequential bit or trivia. Whereas modern horror often thrive in isolation; encapsulated in a house, a cottage, a flat or in a day, a week, a month and often exclude the city and society as characters. Here it’s the opposite. The reader is not only whisked away into the past to read of Joseph’s story, but to read of Providence as well.

Last but not least, I’d like to speak of Lovecraft’s horror. It’s widely known that the quote: ‘The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.’ belongs to Lovecraft and he practiced what he preached. In chapter two, I was chilled at several places without really getting direct answers. Joseph’s farm, the experiments he conducts there and the townsfolk expedition remain shrouded in secrecy with only hints and indirect accounts as to what unholy things transpired.

I found this both intriguing, annoying and dread inducing. The modern reader [horror lover] is accustomed to full frontal, visual attacks, high-definition and uncensored in rendition of gore, blood and deformity. Lovecraft shifts the focus from sight to hearing and smell [rarely relying on sights and when horrors are described the account is secondary] and remains vague at large in his descriptions. The mixture of awareness that something horrid is transpiring and the fact that these events are unrestricted by any dimensions is truly potent.

The reader can fill out the blanks with his/hers own personal phobias, thus amplifying the fear. Because where one fears snakes, another might love them, which can be said about pretty much everything. Scaring a lot of people with a plethora of different terrors is a challenge, especially to the modern jaded horror fan. Lovecraft’s technique is successful, because the fear of the unknown is still a primary fear.

Next Part: In the next part, I will pay more attention to the plot of the novel and later discuss the themes in the story. I warn you that tomorrow’s plot discussion will have only one spoiler but it’s the crux of the mystery, so you better watch out for my sign.

NOTE: Hope you enjoyed this a bit improved method for reviewing novels. I welcome all sort of feedback.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Reading Plans for November

On my Goodreads pages, you will see how I struggle with two books since time immemorial [okay, so it’s more like more than a month]. Those novels are the first book in the Dark Tower series by mister Stephen King and then there is that HUGE volume of Poe’s work, which scares the crap out of me. It’s very uncomfortable to read.

November is dedicated to finish those books. Thankfully for my TBR the paranormal romances I have to review for the Book Smugglers turned out to be less entertaining than watching my PC defragment and I couldn’t finish both, so there will be a joint post on why I did not finish those books. With that I can certainly add the ones I want to read [aka have not been commissioned as reviews for other gigs] and I also managed to add slimmer books to compliment the epic that is the Poe volume.

I added the hottest zombie anthology: Rigor Amortis, edited by two talented editors Jaym Gates and Erika Holt. Technically, this is commissioned, but without a deadline so far. But the volume is so slim that I doubt it would take too much to finish it. I think that three to four rides on the bus and reading during breaks would suffice.

I also picked Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler, because it’s slim and I’ve always wanted to read about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. It’s a must-have, even though it’s on the YA side of the spectrum. Adult fiction is my comfort zone, because I’m usually disappointed with how teenagers are portrayed. Or maybe I still whine like one to tolerate another whiner in the books that I read.

On the commissioned side, I have two classics. I don’t really need to mention Jules Verne, now do I? You all know about 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. Right? I hope you have at the very least heard of it, because I’m not discussing the plot. It’s also very bizarre how I’ve not read anything by Verne… Time to remedy that.

Now, last but actually first to be read is Kurt Vonnegut: The Sirens of Titan. Again first taste of Vonnegut, so not sure what to expect. I have a weird way of reacting to vintage books.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

[REVIEW] City of Dream and Nightmare by Ian Whates

I have had The City of Dreams and Nightmare on my TBR pile since the date of release and now wish I had read it sooner, for I denied myself the pleasure of a thoroughly good book! This is Urban Fantasy in the truest sense of the term... the city, Thaiburley, is a starring character in its own right and dominates the book with its brooding complexity. Also known as ‘The City of a Hundred Rows’, Thaiburley is a vertical city with a distinct hierarchy; the poorest live in the lowest reaches with the privileged in the heights. At the very top live… well, that would be telling! In between is a myriad of people, trades, professions, creatures – each row, or level, is clearly defined by it’s inhabitants, as described in the nursery rhyme quoted by Tom in the opening chapter
“At first he’d kept count, reciting the lines which every citizen, Below or Above, learnt almost as soon as they could speak, but there were so many of them…
From the Streets Below to the Market Row
From taverns and stalls to the Shopping Halls…
From trinkets so cheap to exclusive boutique…
Yet for a city so seemingly ordered, Thaiburley is mysterious and full of secrets. The gothic-noir feel of the urban landscape adds atmosphere to the plot and informs the personality of the entire book. It is a city that intrigues me and I am very pleased that City of Dreams and Nightmare is just the first in a series because I want to immerse myself in Thaiburley again and again.

The main character, Tom, appears in the first chapter on a quest to obtain something from the very top of the city. He is a street kid from the slums of City Below, undertaking a task (stealing a demon egg) which, if he completes successfully, will earn him status with his peers in the Blue Claw gang and with Jezmina, the girl he wants to impress. In the upper reaches, hiding from two arkademics, he witnesses a murder which changes the course of his life forever. Pursued by Tylus, a reluctant Kite Guard, who is in turn being stalked by an assassin, Tom flees the higher rows back to the relative safety of City Below, where is friend and ally, Kat, is waiting for him. But Kat has her own issues. She is a strange and secretive girl, with unexpected connections and talents. Both Tom and Kat’s points of view dominate the novel and indeed, they are the most well-realised and complete characters as we follow them trying to survive all that Thaiburley has to throw at them. I particularly liked Kat’s mix of vulnerability, strength and sass and hope to see more of her in future, certainly her final scene would indicate that will be the case.

Ian Whates has drawn some very imaginative creatures and characters in City of Dreams and Nightmare: the nasty Dewar, ex-mercenary, butler and bodyguard who reveals his softer side on occasion; Magnus, the Machiavellian villain who hopes to destabilise Thaiburley for his own ends; the ‘Jerardine’, alien lizard-like creatures who have truly creepy ‘sculptures’; the magical cape-flying Kite Guards; and the monstrous Demon Hounds, spider-like parasitical creations that can influence the minds of the weak. All play their role in the book and, to be fair, some do it better than others, but I did appreciate the imagery used to create the overall sense of a city in danger of being toppled by corruption from within.

The sequel, City of Hope and Despair, is due for release early next year and I will be reading this as soon as I can get my hands on it. I want to return to immerse myself in the dark and exotic world of Thaiburley, with it’s weird inhabitants, both human and non-human; strange and sometimes warped magic; and hybrid cyborg machine-creatures. While the plot may be at times staid and familiar, I found this reassuring in such an imaginative setting, where the twists come, not necessarily from the plot, but from the characters and creatures found within possibly the most amazing and mind-blowing cityscape I have yet encountered. And that is no mean feat!

Reviewer: Cara (@murf61)

Rating: 8/10

Title: City of Dreams and Nightmare
Author: Ian Whates
Series: City of a Hundred Rows, volume 1
Paperback: 464 pages
Publisher: Angry Robot (4 Mar 2010)
ISBN-10: 0007345240
ISBN-13: 978-0007345243
Genre: Fantasy
Copy: Bought new

Available from: Amazon UK - US | B&N | Book Depository

SUMMARY (on back of the book)
They call it “The City of a Hundred Rows”. The ancient city of Thaiburley is a vast, multi-tiered metropolis. The poor live in the City Below and demons are said to dwell in the Upper Heights.

Having witnessed a murder in a part of the city he should never have been in, street thief Tom has to run for his life. Down through the vast city he is pursued by sky-borne assassins, sinister Kite Guards, and agents of a darker force intent on destabilising the whole city. His only ally is Kat, a renegade like him, but she has secrets of her own…

Monday, November 1, 2010

[PROMO] ConJour 2011: Newest UK based Con

NOTE: I don't live in the UK, but I'm partial to what occurs on its territory and it's always fantastic to see the virus of SFF fiction infecting as many as possible cities. Which is why this bit of news brought such joy.


Science Fiction and Fantasy comes to Leeds

On Saturday March 12th 2011, Leeds will be hosting its first Science Fiction and Fantasy event in many years - ConJour.

The one day event is being sponsored by Tor UK and SFF fans will have the opportunity to attend guest talks and panels, and meet some of their favourite authors at signing sessions taking place throughout the day.

Confirmed guests attending the event are Mike Carey, Kate Griffin, Mark Charan Newton, Justina Robson, Adrian Tchaikovsky and Freda Warrington.

The venue is the Leeds Park Plaza hotel which is set in the heart of Leeds city centre, with nearby bus and train transport links, and it is very close to a host of shops, bars and places to eat.

“I’ve been to many conventions and events over the years,” said Stephen Aryan, one of the event organisers. “But the majority of them tend to be in the south, which is a long way to travel for some people. So I’m hoping that by setting ConJour in Yorkshire it will attract fans from all over the country.

“I also appreciate that full weekend events can be a bit intimidating, especially if it’s your first time or you’re attending on your own. This way, by running a one day convention fans can enjoy the event, maybe make some new friends, and they won’t miss out on anything.”

For more information about ConJour visit the website www.conjureevents.co.uk or email conjour@hotmail.co.uk or follow on twitter conjour1
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