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Friday, May 31, 2013

GIVEAWAY: Win a SET of Ian C. Esslemont’s Malazan Empire Novels!


Order “Blood and BoneHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE
Read FBC’s Review of “Night of Knives

In support of the May 21, 2013 North American publication of Ian Cameron Esslemont’sBlood and Bone” and the Blood and Bone Blog Tour, Tor has agreed to give away ONE SET of the following Malazan Empire titles by the author:

  • Night of Knives (Trade Paperback)
  • Return of the Crimson Guard (Trade Paperback)
  • Stonewielder (Trade Paperback)
  • Orb Sceptre Throne (Trade Paperback)
  • Blood and Bone (Hardcover)
To enter, please send an email to fbcgiveaway@gmail.com with your Name, Mailing Address, and the subject: MALAZAN. Giveaway has ENDED!!! Thank you for entering and Good Luck!

GIVEAWAY RULES:

1) Open To North American Residents Only
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

BLOG TOUR: Guest Post by Ian C. Esslemont & Excerpt from “Blood & Bone”

Imperial Nostalgia and the Fantasy Writer by Ian C. Esslemont

This subject came up recently at the last ICFA conference. The genre of fantasy has often come under criticism, fairly and unfairly, as a politically-naive purveyor of what’s known as ‘Imperial Nostalgia’. This is the nostalgic, rosy-tinted looking-back on earlier colonial and European Imperialist times as somehow preferable, or at least much less appalling, than they really were. Novels of this ilk cherry-pick images and themes (tropes) from these earlier times, while ignoring or papering-over the horrors (Boardinghouses and social/class hierarchies, for example—Harry Potter, anyone? Or, parading Victorian technology and accoutrement—Steampunk, you listening?)

While the charge may stick to fantasy here or there in the larger sense, in epic fantasy that label has long slipped off in a wash of blood. What may have once been an idyllic apolitical retreat is no longer. Pieces that appear to ignore these developments will seem quaint or naïve at best, or, at worst, distasteful or shameful.

Political machinations and the scramble for power have in truth long been outed. Critics from outside the field are simply mouthing the same old line. What was once cloaked in metaphor and symbol—rings for example—is now the open bloody blade and grasping hand. And what many decry as brutal and violent is in truth a return to the roots of the genre, in epic and saga, where power and rulership are a matter of life and death. And not at all pretty.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Ian C. Esslemont grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He has studied archaeology and creative writing, has traveled extensively in Southeast Asia, and lived in Thailand and Japan for several years. He now lives in Alaska with his wife and children and is currently working on another novel set in the world of Malaz, a world he co-created with Steven Erikson. Ian C. Esslemont’s previous Malazan novels include Night of Knives, Return of the Crimson Guard, Stonewielder, and Orb, Sceptre and Throne. For more information on Ian C. Esslemont and the Malazan novels, please visit the Official Ian Cameron Esslemont Wikipedia and Malazan Empire Website.

ABOUT BLOOD AND BONE:

In the western sky the bright emerald banner of the Visitor descends like a portent of annihilation. On the continent of Jacuruku, the Thaumaturgs have mounted yet another expedition to tame the neighboring wild jungle. Yet this is no normal wilderness. It is called Himatan, and it is said to be half of the spirit realm and half of the earth. And it is said to be ruled by a powerful entity whom some name the Queen of Witches, and some a goddess: the ancient Ardata.

Saeng grew up knowing only the rule of the magus Thaumaturgs—but it was the voices out of that land's forgotten past that she listened to. And when her rulers mount an invasion of the neighboring jungle, those voices send her and her brother on a desperate mission.

To the south, the desert tribes are united by the arrival of a foreign warleader, a veteran commander in battered ashen mail whom his men call the Grey Ghost. This warleader takes the tribes on a raid like none other, deep into the heart of Thaumaturg lands. Meanwhile word comes to K'azz, and mercenary company the Crimson Guard, of a contract in Jacuruku. And their employer . . . none other than Ardata herself…

EXCERPT:

Chapter II

There are many tattooed men and women. Tattoos are often religious incantations or symbols. They are held to offer protection against illness, curses and to ward off the attention of ghosts. The more superstitious the person, the more tattoos they are apt to have. Since tattooing is very painful, the victim chews mind-dulling leaves or inhales stupefying smoke, without relent, for the days of the operation.

                                                                                                                                    Matha Banness
                                                                                                                                    In Jakuruku

The first significant attack upon the army came on the fourth night of the march through the border region of jagged limestone mounts, sheer cliffs and sudden precipitous sinkholes, the Gangreks. Golan had fallen asleep at his travelling desk. Long into the night he’d been reading U-Pre’s disheartening progress reports while the candles burned out one by one around him. Screams and shouts from the edge of camp snapped his head from among the sheets of cheap pressed fibre pages. The candles had all guttered out. Wrapping his robes about himself, he stepped out of the tent and met the messenger sent to bring him word of the disturbance. He waved the man silent and set off.

His yakshaka bodyguard fell in about him, swords drawn, and Golan sourly reflected that this was hardly where their swords were needed. Still, they were not to be blamed. It was not their job to patrol the camp perimeter. He found most of the troops and labourers up and awake. They murmured among themselves and strained to peer to the south. The whispers died away as Golan and his escort passed. He felt the pressure of countless eyes following him from the dark, all glittering as they reflected the dancing flames of the camp torches. He recognized the gathering panic fed by the darkness and their destination—a smothering animal coiling itself about everyone.

The south was a trampled battleground of torn tens, overturned carts, slaughtered men and animals. The butchery appeared indiscriminate, savage. Corpses lay where they had fallen, sprawled, revealing hideous wounds, and Golan gritted his teeth. Where was U-Pre? He expected better than this of the man. Droplets of blood and other fluids spattered the grasses and slashed canvas. Here and there limbs lay completely torn from torsos. He studied the corpse of a labourer eviscerated by a ragged gash across his stomach. Blue and pink-veined intestines lay thrown like uncoiled rope. Someone wearing sandals had walked across them. As reported: a fanged monstrosity emerging from the forest to rend men limb from limb. What else but an opening move from Ardata?

He sighed, and, chilled by the cool night air, slid his hands up the wide silk sleeves of his robe. Thankfully, a cordon of troopers had been organized and these, with spears sideways, held back the curious.

Yet even so, stamped on the faces of those survivors, in their wide staring eyes and sweaty pallid features, lay their obvious terror and near panic. Must separate these from the rest; such fear is contagious and grows in the recounting.

Walking unconcerned through the muck and steaming spilled viscera came the equally fearsome apparition of the Isturé Skinner himself. His ankle-length armoured coat glimmered like mail, though Golan knew it was actually constructed of smooth interlocking scales. As he stepped over the sprawled corpses his coat dragged across staring faces and slashed wet torsos. It shone enameled black except where spattered fresh gore painted it a deep crimson.

‘And where were you and your people during the attack?’ Golan demanded.

‘Elsewhere the foreigner responded, unconcerned. He clasped his gauntleted hands behind his back to study the field of dead. Golan strove to shrug off a feeling of unease at such a blasé attitude to this bloody business. ‘Well . . . now that you are here it is time you were useful.’

The foreigner, so tall as to literally tower over Golan, cocked a blond brow. ‘Oh?’

‘Yes. Track down this servant of Ardata. Slaughter it.’

In a scratching of scales Skinner crossed his armoured arms. ‘It is hardly a servant of Ardata.’

Golan waved a hand, forgetting momentarily that he wasn’t carrying his rod or fly-whisk. ‘What more evidence is necessary? It is a monster! It attacked us! We are entering Ardata’s demesnes!’

‘I would suggest that what we have entered is this thing’s hunting grounds.’

Golan eyed the man more narrowly. ‘Regardless. You have pledged certain obligations to the Circle of Masters.’

The foreign giant waved a hand in its banded, articulating gauntlet. ‘Yes, yes. You have in me a partner for the campaign.’

‘Very good. Your first task awaits.’

Turning heavily away, the foreigner murmured, ‘For all the good it will do . . . ‘

Golan followed his retreat to the dark forest verge. All the good? Well, yes, Ardata’s servants are no doubt many. But that is your half of the bargain, foreigner. The throne of Ardata’s lands could hardly be won so easily. And if you should destroy each other in the process . . . well . . .  Golan shrugged, then waved away a swarm of flies drawn by the spilt warm fluids.

**********

In the woods Mara awaited Skinner. With her stood Shijel and Black the Lesser, younger brother of Black the Greater, who had remained with K’azz. ‘Well?” she demanded as her commander appeared.

Skinner gave a slow shrug of disgust. ‘Our noble ally wants it killed.”

‘Ridiculous! In a few days we’ll be out of its territory.’

‘Regardless . . . ‘

Mara kicked the ground. ‘Damned useless . . . ‘

‘Who’s coming?’ Black asked.

Skinner studied them. ‘We should do it. Mara, tell Jacinth she’s in charge until we return.’

‘Very good.’

‘The trail?’ Skinner asked Shijel.

‘A blind tinker could follow it.’

‘So be it. Let us track it down. I’d like to be back by dawn.’

Shijel did the tracking. He wore light leathers and gloves on his hands, which were never far from the silver-wire-wrapped grips of his twin longswords. The trail, obvious even to Mara, led them on. The nightly rains returned, thick and warm. Mara’s robes became a heavy encumbrance that she cursed as she stumbled over roots and through clinging mud. The possibility of returning by dawn slowly slid away as they failed to reach the creature’s lair until a feathering of pink touched the eastern sky. The four gathered short of a jungle-choked opening in a tall cliff face and Mara cursed again. ‘Could go on forever, ‘ she muttered, keeping her voice low.

Their commander pulled on one of the hanging vines as if testing its strength. ‘Yes,’ he agreed. ‘I do miss Cowl.’

Mara flinched at that mention of her old superior, now dead. ‘Meaning what?’ she demanded.

Skinner turned to her, frowned his puzzlement, and then nodded his understanding. ‘Ah. No slight intended.’ He drew on his helm. ‘I simply meant that I could just have sent him in and wouldn’t have to go myself.’ He waved them on.

Mara followed, stepping awkwardly over rotting logs and fallen rock. Well, there was that, she admitted. Cowl would actually have gone in alone. And no doubt Skinner did miss his old partner in scheming. Together they’d proved a formidable team. Always it had been just the two of them hammering out stratagems and tactics. Now that Cowl was gone Skinner was well and truly utterly alone. And it seemed to her that the man was even less human because of it.

She knew this cave was just one of the countless sinkholes and caverns that riddled this mountain border region. Over the millennia rains had rotted the limestone into a maze of grottoes and extended underground tunnels where one could suddenly find oneself exposed in open sunlight yet lost hundreds of feet below the surface. Some argued this was the true face of Ardata’s realm. As if she were some sort of queen of the underworld. But Mara knew this to be false. The Night-Queen’s demesne was open countryside. Yet likewise over the millennia, her presence had altered the entire jungle until it too resembled this border region where the unmindful traveller could suddenly find himself wandering half immersed in a Warren-like realm: the legendary enchanted forest of Himatan.

They pushed through the hanging leaves and vines then paused to allow their vision to adjust, and to become used to the stink that suddenly assaulted them: the overwhelming miasma of the layered urine and guano of untold thousands of bats.

‘You have the sense of this thing?’ Skinner asked Mara.

‘Yes. Downward and to the right.’

‘Very good.’

Shijel led. Mara summoned her Warren to improve her vision. The swordsman was on his way across the main section of the cave when she sensed a shimmering of power there on the floor – which to her vision seemed almost to seethe. ‘Halt!’

Everyone froze. ‘Well?’ Skinner murmured.

‘The floor of the cave. Something strange there . . . ’ Mara summoned greater light, then selected a stone that she tossed on to the oddly shifting floor. The stone disappeared as if dropped into water. The surface burst into a flurry of hissing and writhing. It seemed to boil, revealing a soup of vermin: centipedes, ivory-hued roaches, white beetles and pale maggots. Amid the slurry of legs and chitinous slithering bodies lay bones. The skeletal remains of animals. And of humans.

‘Strip you of flesh in an instant,’ Mara commented.

Shijel peered back at her, unconvinced. ‘They’re just insects.’

‘There is power there.’

‘D’ivers?’ Skinner asked sharply.

Mara cocked her head, studying the pool more closely. ‘Not as such. No. They are . . . enchanted, I suppose one might call it.’

A disgusted sigh escaped Skinner. ‘Himatan already . . . ’

Mara nodded. ‘Under here, yes.’

‘No wonder the thing fled this way. Very well . . . ’ Skinner gestured to Black the Lesser. ‘You lead. Mara, follow closely.’

Black unslung his broad shield and drew his heavy bastard sword. Mara fell in behind him, directing him to keep to the walls and to watch his step. They descended in this order for some time; Skinner bringing up the rear, perhaps as a precaution against their quarry’s attacking from behind. The route Mara dictated narrowed and they slogged on through knee-high frigid water. From somewhere nearby came the echoing roar of a falls.

Mara sensed it as it happened: she opened her mouth to shout a warning even as a shape lunged from the dark water to latch itself upon Black and the two went down in a twisting heap. From the slashing water rose the monstrosity to launch itself upon her. She had an instant’s impression of a glistening armoured torso like that of a lizard, sleek furred arms ending in long talons, and a humanoid face distorted by an oversized mouth of needle-like teeth. Two swords thrust over her shoulders impaling the creature in its lunge and it shrieked, twisting aside to disappear once more beneath the water. Black emerged, gasping and chuffing. His right shoulder was a bloody mess. He cradled the arm. Mara nodded her thanks to Shijel, just behind her.

‘It went for you,’ he said.

‘It knows who’s sensing it,’ Skinner rumbled. ‘I believe you wounded it, Shijel. Mara – is it far?’

Still shaken, she jerked her head. ‘No. Not far.’

‘Very good. Black, fall in behind Mara. You lead, Shijel.’

They found it close to an underground waterfall. It lay up against rocks, half in the water. Blood smeared its chest and naked torso. Its dark eyes glittered full of intelligence and awareness, watching them as they approached, so Mara addressed it: ‘Why did you attack us?’

Its half-human face wrinkled up, either in pain or annoyance. ‘Why?’ it growled. ‘Stupid question, Witch.’ It gestured a clawed hand to Skinner. ‘You are a fool to return, Betrayer. She will not be so patient with you a second time.’

‘We shall see,’ he answered from within his helm.

‘Again I ask,’ Mara said, ‘why attack? You are no match for us.’

It bared its teeth in something like a hungry grin. ‘No. But our mistress has spoken. You are no longer welcome and I honour our mistress. You . . . ’ it gestured again to Skinner, weakly, ‘Himatan shall swallow you.’

Mara frowned, troubled by what seemed a prophecy, and she crouched before it. ‘What do you—’

The heavy mottled blade of Skinner’s sword thrust past her, impaling the creature. Mara flinched aside. ‘Damn the Dark Deceiver, Skinner! There was something there …’

‘Well,’ the giant observed as he shook the dark blood from his blade, ‘there’s nothing there now.’ He turned away. ‘Bring the body. The damned Thaumaturg might yet demand proof.’

At the cave entrance Skinner paused, raising a gauntleted hand to sign a halt. He regarded the wide cave floor, now as still as any placid pool. He then went to the body, which Shijel and Black had dragged all the way. Grunting with the effort, he gathered up the muscular corpse and heaved the carcass overhead and out on to the floor. As it flew Mara flinched to hear it give vent to one sudden despairing shriek, cut off as it disappeared beneath the surface. The pool of vermin foamed to life in a great boiling froth of maggots, beetles, writhing larvae and ghost-white centipedes.

Mara turned away, nauseated. Skinner watched for a time, motionless, then headed for the surface. Passing Mara, he observed, ‘You were right – stripped in an instant.’

**********

To read another excerpt from Blood and Bone, please click HERE.
Thursday, May 30, 2013

"Altai" by Wu Ming (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)






"When Q was first published in 1999, it was an international sensation; returning to the same world of that extraordinary novel Altai is a captivating story of betrayal, beliefs and the clash of civilizations.

When a fire breaks out in the Arsenal of Venice in 1569, everyone suspects Joseph Nasi, number-one enemy of the republic. But it is the enigmatic Emmanuele De Zante, spy catcher and agent of the Venetian secret service, who finds himself in jail accused of treason, having been betrayed by his lover.

When De Zante is offered the chance to escape, he embarks on an odyssey that takes him to Salonica, the Jerusalem of the Balkans, and from there, all the way to the Sultan’s palace in Constantinople. Spiraling through a series of deadly political games, De Zante’s voyage will test his loyalty and force him to question even his own identity. Together, De Zante and his companions head toward a conflict that threatens the very nature of civilization.

A historical epic spanning a continent scarred by war, Altai went straight into the bestsellers list when first published in Italy. It is a coruscating portrait of the divided world—east meets west—in the sixteenth century, where the great empires of the Republic of Venice and the Ottomans are on the verge of an epoch-making conflict. In this dramatic landscape, the authors’ collective Wu Ming creates a powerful narrative of danger, identity, and adventure."


"Altai" is a superb historical novel that continues the themes of Q - what does freedom for the oppressed mean, how one can try and achieve it and why it is worth trying even when it seems patently hopeless - and we even get to see Q's multifaceted hero of many names a little more though he is not the main hero/narrator here.

Altai takes place from 1569-1571 - so it is much more compressed in time than the sprawling Q, whose action happened from 1519-1551 with an epilogue in 1555 - and this time it has as main story the fate of Jewish refugees from all over Europe who find in Joseph Nasi a protector at the Sultan's court

Also known by his Spanish name, Joao Miquez, we have already been acquainted with Joseph in the earlier novel, though here he comes truly on his own as a larger than life character with great dreams and maybe with even the possibility to see at least some come to fruition.  

His aunt/mother-in-law, Dona Gracia, who was such a luminous character in Q, appears also briefly as her dying wishes bring the German/Ismail/Tiziano back from his desert exile to help Nasi with his great dream - build a state for the oppressed, so especially for the Jews of Europe but not only...

The narrator of Altai who starts as Emanuele Zante, agent of the Venetian's inquisition, a Jew hater, hunter of Ottoman's agents and for whom Nasi is the "Great Satan" is the son of a Venetian sea captain and a Jewish girl from Ragusa. Living as Manuel Cardoso for his first 15 years in the Jewish community in Raguza, community which ostracized his mother for "immorality", he starts hating his relatives and neighbors and leaps at the opportunity to become his father's heir as Emmanuele Zante with a carefully recreated past, when his "legitimate" sons being dead, the old man turns to him for comfort...

Of course there is one physical characteristic that marked him as a Jew, so Emanuele who became the #1 agent of the Venetian secret police never frequents brothels but prefers to hire a courtesan for his own exclusive use, hoping the money he pays her are enough to keep his secret; for a while it works, but...

And so it starts, with Emanuele hunted by the Venetian as a secret Jew and traitor, reluctantly and then openly embracing "his" people and finally finding in Joseph Nasi a kindred soul who more or less adopts him - Joseph openly known as an intimate of Sultan Selim II has no interest in women - while in return, Manuel helps advance his cause with his skills and training.

Of course the ultimate weakness of Joseph's plans that people keep pointing to him is that everything depends on Ottoman might and favor and like his biblical counterpart and the Pharaoh, Joseph may ride today high in the Sultan's favor, but nobody knows what tomorrow will bring...

Great, great story... 


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

GUEST POST: Welcome To The Daughter Star by Susan Jane Bigelow


Thank you for having me today! I’m going to give a little background on the universe my new book, THE DAUGHTER STAR, is set in. This book is the first of three about the Grayline sisters, so I’m hoping to explore as many nooks and crannies of this universe as I can.

This universe is something new; it’s completely unconnected to the universe my EXTRAHUMANS series is set in. It’s set several hundred years in the future, when humans have become completely cut off from Earth. The basic idea is that an alien species moved humanity to a new star system in exchange for being able to harvest a kind of resource in Earth’s atmosphere. This destroyed Earth, but now humans have three new worlds to develop and expand on instead of one. Whether or not this was a good deal is a matter of intense debate.

The action mostly takes place in this star system, called the Family Ternary System. There are three stars: blue-white Father, yellow-white Mother, and red dwarf Daughter. Each star has a habitable planet. Adastre orbits Father, and is the most Earth-like of the three. The Adastrans are the descendants of what we might call the rich world here. Their society is technologically advanced, highly centralized and rather sterile. Adastrans are often tall, lithe and graceful, and by and large speak a dialect of English as their common language.

Nea orbits Mother, and is a much more massive world. This means the gravity is noticeably higher, which causes all kinds of problems for the nearly 20 billion humans who live there. Novans (inhabitants of Nea) are largely descended from less-wealthy countries on Earth, and thanks to the high gravity they tend to be short, squat, very muscular and prone to dying early. Novan societies are generally less technologically advanced except in the medical devices they developed to help people survive a high-gravity world. Novan politics are chaotic; there are hundreds of small countries loosely bound by a single world Commonwealth.


The other habitable planet is Haven, which orbits Daughter. Because the habitable zone of a red dwarf star is so close to the star, Haven is tidally locked, meaning one side is always facing the star. This means there’s only a small slice of Haven that humans can live on, the twilight area near the terminator. The sunward facing pole of Haven, the Noon Point, is a massive permanent hurricane, and the other pole, the Midnight Point, is cold and desolate. Humans from Nea and Adastre colonized this world not long after arriving in the system, and now wage war over who should control it. In fact, it’s this war on Haven that provides the backdrop for THE DAUGHTER STAR.

Marta Grayline is a space pilot from Gideon, a Novan country founded by a religious sect not long after humans left Earth. This is an extremely conservative, traditionalist country with some very outmoded ideas about women and family, which is why Marta ran away to space to join the Novan Trade Fleet when she was eighteen. Her parents, her little brother and her two sisters, Violet and Beth, still live there, and the story opens when the Haven War forces Marta to go home.

And then there’s the Abrax, who are the alien species who destroyed Earth and moved humanity. They’ve stuck around in the system and occasionally meddle in human affairs. They have a complex history, more of which Marta discovers as the book progresses. They are telepathic, they don’t have a single fixed shape, and they are rapidly dying out. They can form intense connections with certain humans, though the nature of that connection is different in each pairing. There are humans who help the Abrax, and humans who despise them. This is the brief overview of the world THE DAUGHTER STAR is set in. I’ll answer questions if you have them in the comments! The book was released yesterday (5/28/13). Thanks again for having me, and for reading!


Official Author Website
Order The Daughter Star HERE (paperback) and HERE (Kindle)
Read Susan's guestpost on the writing of a new series over at Bastard Books
Read the first two chapters HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Susan Jane Bigelow is a librarian, SF/F author and political columnist, among other things. She has previously written about a variety of things from politics in Connecticut to memoir-ish nonfiction to science fiction/fantasy stories and novels. She also writes a weekly political column focusing on politics in the Nutmeg state. She enjoys biking, reading, Doctor Who and other things. She currently lives in Enfield, Connecticut with her partner and cats.

NOTE: Star system picture courtesy of News.Discovery.com.
Tuesday, May 28, 2013

“Siege and Storm” by Leigh Bardugo (Reviewed by Casey Blair)

Order “Siege and StormHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE
Watch the Book Trailer HERE

Siege and Storm is the second of Leigh Bardugo's The Grisha Trilogy, following her wonderful debut Shadow and Bone. A middle book it may be, but the plot drives forward without getting mired in final ending set-up.

Bardugo uses prologues and epilogues to great effect, tying the novels together with a common structure and deftly managing the passage of time without merely listing exposition. Then, right from chapter one, she ups the stakes, making our villain more dangerous (and creepy, if still compelling) and leaving our heroine Alina dangerously lacking in power, but wondering whether the very act of wanting more power at all is the first step down a slippery slope. There are some interesting things going on with the dangers of charm and the burdens of leadership as well, often seen through characters' biting sarcasm.

Siege and Storm gives us a few new major characters, one of whom is every bit as compelling as the villain (no mean feat), and the parallels and contrasts between them are really fascinating. No matter how far they might have come, Bardugo is able to keep in mind the different mindsets between those who grew up as royalty or as peasants, which makes for some interesting tension. We also got some really cool new technology in this book and some interesting integrations between the Grisha “Small Science” and “mundane” technology.

There are a few things that bothered me in this book. One character gets mutilated pretty severely for no apparent reason—or rather, no plot reason; I get that it was supposed to jerk Alina's heartstrings, but it felt gimmicky to me. I was also bothered at how easily Alina, who was never particularly well-liked by most of the Grisha, is able to shift long-standing traditions with almost no resentment or backlash from the Grisha. The set-up was all there: Alina worried about the changes, and about how far she could trust the Grisha, and then all that set-up never became relevant. I think it's a missed opportunity, and given Alina's understandable paranoia, it doesn't seem like the sort of thing she'd just take in stride without any follow-up commentary or thought.

Alina does deliberately miss the point a lot, and she's pretty practiced at denial. She also spends a lot of time angsting and, while her life is undeniably hard, it does get old. What particularly gets old is how often she worries about the affections of her boyfriend, and vice versa. I realize two people very in love can still be insecure, but about halfway through the book I was starting to roll my eyes every time Alina started fretting over it, which tells me the emphasis was laid on a little too thick.

Siege and Storm ends on a not-quite reassuring note, having once again amped up the stakes and introduced more complications to an already murky situation. I look forward to seeing how Leigh Bardugo resolves all these plot threads in book three, Ruin and Rising, next year.
Monday, May 27, 2013

“Shadow and Bone” by Leigh Bardugo (Reviewed by Casey Blair)

Order “Shadow and BoneHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE
Watch the Book Trailer HERE

Shadow and Bone is the first installment of Leigh Bardugo's The Grisha Trilogy, and I absolutely loved it. It takes place in a fantasy setting with a distinctly Russian flavor, and I do enjoy breaking out of the medieval western European fantasy mold. The magic system is well-executed if not terribly innovative. In fact, many fantasy tropes have been twisted and dropped in, but I think it was done deftly. The plot is well paced. The description was evocative, and that’s coming from a person whose natural inclination is to skip over descriptive parts entirely.

All of these aspects were strong; the characters were great. Bardugo was great at giving just enough detail, not overwhelming with it, to make all the side characters really solid. The protagonist, Alina Starkov, is sort of a cross between the innocent orphan and the wise-cracking heroine tropes. She is clever, and she thinks about her world, but she is still out of her depth and fully aware of that. It’s the best of both worlds, and it was refreshing to see such an imperfect, self-aware heroine.

Shadow and Bone has the best villain I have read in ages. I’m going to use the male gendered pronoun for expediency here and say I loved him. For most of the book I was rooting for him, and I didn’t even realize he was the villain. Then after I knew he was the villain, I was still half-rooting for him. I kept forgetting why I shouldn’t be, because he was just that compelling. Brilliant.

I’m really not doing this book any kind of justice. Bardugo is tackling complex issues all over the place. I think my jaw actually dropped a little when I read about the origin of the volcra. This author understands the consequences of actions and ideologies. She makes you question without handing you an easy answer.

This novel really has everything. It was beyond entertaining, and it made me think, which is, in my opinion, the very best kind of book. The sequel, Siege and Storm, will be out June 4, 2013.
Saturday, May 25, 2013

"Caesarion" by Tommy Wieringa (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)




"At the end of the Alburgh pier, where the Belle Steamers full of London holidaymakers once tied up, two fishermen were leaning over the balustrade. They each had two lines in the water. Below them the leaden gray waves washed around the pilings; the sea was cold as a corpse.

From here you could clearly see Warren Feldman’s titanic accomplishment, and how those efforts had already been almost obliterated by the sea. Over a length of about one kilometer he’d thrown up a wall of turf, earth and clay – the wall was four meters high and stood out darkly against the yellow sand of the much higher cliff against which it leaned at Kings Ness. A primitive bulwark against erosion. Since time began the land here had been eaten away by the sea, during storms, when the North Sea threw its clenched fury at the cliffs of eastern England. Far away, at the extreme northern end of Kings Ness, stood the home of John and Emma Ambrose. All the house needed was a wee push to be drawn into the abyss.

My mother and I had known the falling feeling that went with living on the edge. The inhabitants of the medieval town of Castrum had known it too, the water had driven them further west all the time. Now the sea flows where the city once lay, Castrum no longer exists, her name sounds like Atlantis. She was lost to the North Sea, which gobbled her up storm after storm, bite by bite. The western edge of the vanished town had snuggled all the way to Kings Ness. You could say that we, the people of Kings Ness, are the final inhabitants of Castrum, the last of the Atlanteans. Our house too, on that night long ago, became a part of the ruinous street plan of Castrum which stretches some three miles eastward out onto the seabed, and is visited only by divers and sea creatures."

 
"Caesarion" is a compelling novel that promises -and mostly delivers - a lot though it loses some coherence in the last third. The book has a very strong start when narrator Ludwig Unger, now in his early 30's and a hotel piano player who drifts through life, returns to his childhood home in Britain for the funeral of Warren, the man who had sold a house from his large estate to his mother and later helped and befriended them because said house was on the cliffs and was continually threatened by storms, while Warren's big projects to keep the land from submerging in the sea were thwarted by this and that bureaucracy.

Getting a gig at the local bar/restaurant run by one his school friends, Ludwig has an affair with a realtor visiting the place and tells her the story of his life from the dramatic move from Alexandria when he was little and his sculptor father had recently left his mother, to the school years in Britain, the revelation that his mother used to be a famous porn star in her late teens and then later after the house is taken by the sea, his mother's return to the porn trade and Ludwig's following her from Hollywood to many other places and trying to come to terms with her choice of profession, his acceptance of the glamorous lifestyle resulting from it and his need to accompany her...
 
As mentioned, the first 2/3 or so  of the novel is very strong in both character development and storyline as it has quite a few surprises and strong narrative momentum balanced by coherence, but the last part which goes through quite a few years, locations and a bunch of Ludwig's affairs - all inevitably with older rich women for obvious reasons - and includes our hero's quest to understand his father too, feels rushed though it has its powerful moments too. It may also be that the shifting in tone from hopeful and exuberant to tragedy and resigned acceptance contributes to that feeling, but overall I felt a clear lack of balance between the parts.

Overall "Caesarion" is literary high grade stuff that stops a little short from being a masterpiece to remember for a long time like say this recent translation, while it still left me interested in reading more from the author.


Friday, May 24, 2013

News: Sarah Ash's previous books get relaunched!!!


Official Author Website
Read Sarah Ash's Eclectic World Of Artamon
Read Fantasy Book Critic's interview with Sarah Ash
Read Suvudu article about Lord of Snow and Shadows

They say your first loves stay with you always and I found this to be very true in my personal life as well as my reading tastes. When I started reading fantasy, one of the first authors I happened upon was Sarah Ash with her Tears Of Artamon trilogy, it was a fascinating series about love, sacrifice, ambition and fate of the world (as is the case with most epic fantasy trilogies).

Since then I've followed her career with interest and read her follow-up duology to the Artamon trilogy titled The Alchymist’s Legacy. I also happened to locate and read her first three standalone titles that were almost out of print by then. This brings me to this most recent post of hers wherein she announced that, she is able to release her three previous books that were out-of print. Here’s what Sarah revealed in an email about all three titles and the folks who made this happen:


Read the blurb HERE
Order the book HERE (Amazon US), HERE (Amazon UK) & HERE (Barnes & Noble)

Moths to a Flame was my first novel to make it into print and onto bookshelves. It grew out of a short story that was published by David Pringle in Interzone (bows in thanks!) I was doing research at the time for an (unpublished) novel set around the corrupt court of the early Byzantine Empire and that, in turn, led to Moths. I’m so pleased that the good people at JABberwocky (Joshua Bilmes, Jessie Cammack, and Lisa Rodgers) have given it a new lease of life as an e-book – and with gorgeous new cover art by Marcelle Natisin. Marcelle has also done the atmospheric covers for Songspinners and The Lost Child. You can see more of her work at her website (a favourite of mine is her depiction of all seven Drakhaouls from The Tears of Artamon.)


Read the blurb HERE
Order the book HERE (Amazon US), HERE (Amazon UK) & HERE (Barnes & Noble)

Spoilt rich girl, Lia Maury, is one of my favourite characters in The Lost Child. Everything is going so well for her until her fiancé’s tailor, Rahab, on the run from the law and accused of murder, hides out in her house – and uncovers some unpalatable truths about her past. Both are connected to a dark and ancient source of power – and they must flee to stop their secret falling into the wrong hands.


Read the blurb HERE

Have you ever been plagued by an earworm? That annoying fragment of music that plays and replays in your mind ceaselessly? And what would it be like if you could hear the music in other people’s minds – wouldn't it send you mad? Orial, the heroine of Songspinners, uses this unusual gift to help an injured composer – but her selfless act may sow the seeds of her own destruction

This e-book project would not have come to fruition without the help of my agent John Berlyne of Zeno Literary Agency in association with John Richard Parker and so a BIG thank you to them for all their hard work and zeal.

I'm hoping that this will lead to more books from Sarah especially the "vingt ans apres" trilogy to the Tears Of Artamon trilogy.

NOTE: Author picture and book covers courtesy of the author.
Thursday, May 23, 2013

"Antiagon Fire and Imager's Battalion" by L.E. Modesitt (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)





Since I was away from Fantasy Book Critic when Imager's Battalion was published in January, I will talk about it below too, but I will start with the current Antiagon Fire to be published on May 28th. 

For the series background I refer to our reviews of Scholar and Princeps linked above, but the essential structure is the classical sfnal: powerful and competent but not invincible/all mighty hero needs to solve issue after issue; some need his magic, some need his relations with the powerful of the day, some need his wife's or his friends skills, some need just common sense...

Antiagon Fire is the 4th Quaeryt Imager book with Rex Regis next January ending his saga and it was as superb as the previous three. The novel has the same structure and similar topics being a direct continuation of Imager's Battalion as it starts with Quaeryt's awakening after the dramatic events at Variana. There is a lot of action, intrigue while all our favorite characters are back.

Vaelora has a more directly important role in Antiagon Fire as she becomes co-envoy with Quaeryt and starts manifesting some of the power hinted in earlier volumes, though most of the book still follows Quaeryt solving problem after problem and after a while, finally taking overt action on his own to bring about the desired outcome.

New characters are introduced who may be of interest later and there is much more background on Khel and the Bovarian conquest. There are new High Holders who may see or not the wisdom of submission to Bhayar, while the strange land of Antiagon behind its literal - the border with Bovaria is walled - and metaphorical walls - Antiagon Fire and Imager power - is quite different than any place in Lydar we've seen so far. 

As the title kind of makes it clear, Quaeryt and his staff finally meet opposing imagers in battle, though now as they have a lot of campaigning under their belt, the combination of war experience and imager training under fire, makes them hard to stop.
   
The ending happens at a good to be continued point, while the last 150 pages or so are even more intense than in any of the previous books. Antiagon Fire together with Imager's Battalion form an impressive 3-4 series installments dealing with the wars of unification proper and they are my top sff of the year

As it has a high reread value - I've already read each Quaeryt volumes at least 3 times and the original Rhenn ones probably 4-5 times - the Imager series has become one of my huge favorites and I will be sad when the last volume is published early in 2014, though the author has not precluded returning to Terahnar at another point in its history.

 ******************************************************************




Imager's Battalion by LE Modesitt is the 3rd Quaeryt book and 6th Imager overall and it was another addictive read that I finished very soon after receiving an advanced review copy sometime last year.

Excellent stuff with the same structure as books 1/2 (Scholar/Princeps) though this one is mostly war: Imagers - magic, powerful but few of them - against musketeers, canon, guns, arrows, ambushes,
lots of expendable soldiers and even the powerful super-weapon of the day, Antiagon fire, as now sub-commander Quaeryt leads 5th Battalion, the vanguard of the Southern Army of Telaryn led by commander Skarpa, his friend from Tilbor, into Bovaria proper against the forces of cruel Rex Kharst.

After Quaeryt and Skarpa defeated the Bovarian invasion so decisively at Ferrravyl in the previous book, the Bovarians are on the defensive and unprepared as they lost all their invading army, but they still can muster 40+ regiments if given time, while Telaryn can manage 20-30 at most in addition of having all the logistical problems of an invading army in enemy territory, though luckily Rex Kharst is not that popular, only extremely feared.

Also the hopes of the Pharsi nation, subjugated and persecuted by Kharst, rest on Quaeryt's shoulders too as his command is mostly Pharsi refugee soldiers and officers in addition of course to the few mostly untrained Imagers whom he has to shape into officers too.

And not to make matters easier, Quaeryt's wife and Lord Bhayar's youngest sister, Vaelora, now pregnant, has her own job at court to co-rule with her sister-in-law Aelina, as Telaryn's ruler is with the main Army of the North since he has staked everything on the invasion too..

Moreover the Telaryn Commander in Chief, Marshal Deucalon doesn't like Quaeryt or Skarpa in the least so they get the minimum amount of soldiers and the maximum amount of hardship possible without triggering Bhayar's ire, while Sub-Marshal Myskil, former close confidant of governor Rescalyn and presumably involved in his plot to take over Telaryn and depose Bhayar, still remembers Quaeryt's so elegantly breaking the plot, while leaving a dead Rescalyn as a big war hero of Telaryn...

Tense, with lots of memorable moments and a great ending.


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