Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Book Review: Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence

Have you ever thought 'I want Mark Lawrence to quit writing about sociopaths, and start writing a buddy quest fantasy'? No? Well fortunately for you and I dear reader, Mark wrote one anyway. And this is the buddy quest fantasy I would have asked for; our main character is clearly the sidekick, not the hero.  The hero is a literally larger than life muscles on muscles gay porn fantasy type of guy, who recites poetry and breaks hearts by walking by, who's loyal and true to his missing wife, and desperate to rescue her.
Our main character, Prince Jalen... is not.
A self-admitted coward, liar, and indolent prince far removed from the line of succession to the throne of the Red Queen, and quite happy with that, Jalen is by turns hilarious, and charming. He is literally dragged along with our hero when they get caught up in a curse from the rather terrifying(to Jalen) sorcerous advisor to the Red Queen called the Silent Sister. The thing is, no one besides Jalen can even see the Silent Sister, though everyone knows about her.
I do have a confession to make, before I get into the breakdown: I didn't finish the 'Prince of Thorns'. I really liked Mark's writing, but my major weakness as a reader is that I need to connect to the character on some level, and I couldn't connect with Jorg. This has nothing to do with the author or the writing, but is about me as a reader. I may go back to give them a second go, as my friend Joel has nagged me to do, and I've really liked Mark's short fiction, so this was an exciting book for me to get.

The plot is established quickly, and yet, there's plenty of room for surprises, as the characters learn more about the curst itself, and how they may fit into the bigger world they find theirselves in. Lawrence is excellent at keeping to his main plot, and not getting encumbered by side-plots and worldbuilders disease for it's own sake.

Lawrence may be a very good storyteller, but he isn't a stylist.  If you're looking for someone that uses beautiful language, or stuns you with the poetry of their words, he isn't your guy. I don't recall who said it, but Lawrence seems to abide by the rule of 'transparency is best in both prose and windows'. He writes so that you don't notice the words so much as what they can do for advancing the plot.

I really enjoy the way that Lawrence unfolds his characters bit by bit. Neither Snorri or Jalen are exactly what they think of themselves to be, and the side effects of their curse, if curse it exactly is, are fascinating to reading. The way that Lawrence circles around revealing Jalen, never showing all of who he is I really love.  

Surprisingly, I emerged with a really good picture of the world Mark is writing about, even when I never noticed a whole lot of worldbuilding going on, which is quite a feat. It is helped along by the fact that it's clear that he is writing in our world, after some very fundamental changes have taken place. I hope he reveals more about the Builders and what they did to their world.

Managed expectations:
Mark did a great job of deftly answering the questions he raises in the beginning of the book, while opening things up at the end for the rest of the trilogy. I like that he works really hard to control story bloat. He reminds me of Ken Scholes in the way he keeps things streamlined and moving.  Really well done, and I'm not worried about the story bogging down in the next volume at all.

I cannot wait for book two, 'The Liar's Key', which arrives in time for my birthday in June, so Happy Birthday to me!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Book Review: Maplecroft by Cherie Priest

     The first book by Cherie Priest I read was her supernatural horror 'Fathom', about a mysterious and horrific thing from the sea. And it was creepy and fabulous, and more than slightly unsettling.
      This book, not coincidently, is about a mysterious horrific thing from the sea, which I found creepy and fabulous, and very very unsettling.
       There is more a atmosphere of doom over this book, than over 'Fathom', however, which is all to the good. As the sense of inevitable doom gives this book a strange vitality it might otherwise lack.

"Lizzie Borden took an ax
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one."
         But the why of the crime has never been firmly established. And what if there was a very good reason? What if the elder Bordens had come under the sway of a terrifying force from under the waves?

         Priest has never been a great stylist, being far more interested in telling a good story, and entertaining her readers. However, this book more than any previously uses language to set a sense of pervading doom over the story.

          As much as I liked Lizzie in the book, she wasn't my favorite character, which would be the fabulous Doctor Zollicoffer. I did want more from Emma, who's severe case of TB keeps her sidelined for most of the story, which makes her feel a bit like a wasted character to me. And the mysterious character who we see in the last chapter? Yes, I want to know more about him.

           I'm usually not a big fan of writers fictionalizing historical characters into someone other than who they were, but Priest's basic conceit, that the elder gods of Cthulhu were involved, make this more of an alternate history, and I think this works really really well in this case. The Massachusetts of Priest's imagining is a fitting tribute to Lovecraft's mythos, and far better written than Lovecraft ever managed.

Managed expectations:
        Did I mention that atmosphere of inevitable doom? Yes, Priest gave more, far more, than promised. And I hope that we get to see more of Lizzie and her fight against the corruption that rises from the seas in Massachusetts.

In closing, this is a fantastic book that was a quick read and really enjoyable.  I haven't read a Lovecraft mythos book this good in quite a while.  I hope that the follow-up volume in the Borden Dispatches is as good, and I look forward to it.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Book Review: 'Messengers Legacy' by Peter V Brett

'Messenger's Legacy' is only novella length, so it's not fair of me to review it as I would a novel.  Unlike 'Brayan's Gold', I'm not sure if this story would stand on it's own, and it certainly contains a significant spoiler for the third book of the Demon Cycle, so be warned.
There are some things I really like about this story, and I really love Peter Brett's world.  One of the things that he does really well is the inclusion of religion in his world.  Just as in the real world, there are a variety of religious views, and a wide range of piety.  It's one of the things I've noticed again and again while I read his books, and that I really like.
There is a relative completeness to his world that I really like, and a variety to both the ecology and culture that I find astonishing, since this is the only world he's written in. On the whole, I think Brett is still growing into his talents, and I look forward to seeing what he'll be like at the top of his game.
You can hear the giant BUT that I'm about to add in here aren't you?
Peter Brett is a big fan of switching viewpoints, and in a novel, it can add a great deal to the story.  I'm not sure if this novella is enough story to need two viewpoints. I feel like the momentum and power of the story is actually difused by switching viewpoints in the middle of it. Which is a shame, as it's a great story in a lot of ways. Briar is a fascinating character, and his section of the story is powerful and heartbreakingly told. If hte whole story had been told from that viewpoint, I think it would have been a more vital story.
So the good and bad aside, I think this is a story that fans of the Demon Cycle books will not want to miss, but it's not the place I'd recommend for the unfamiliar to start. 'Brayan's Gold' or 'The Warded Man' are both much better entry points for newcomers (and both I recommend highly, 'The Warded Man' is still one of my favorite debut novels of the last decade).
As far as did it follow through on what it promises?  I would say mostly, it does. Though it acts much more like the first act of a larger story than the whole story itself. And since it's timed for release just a couple of months in advance of the fourth Demon Cycle novel, I think it does a great job of making me want to read the next book right now.

Monday, December 22, 2014

What to Expect in 2016, or, Why the Magic 8 Ball says it's for 'Entertainment Purposes Only'

     Yesterday I posted a glimpse forward into new releases for the first quarter of 2015, but what about further out? And what about those books that you're really waiting for? 'The Winds of Winter', 'The Doors of Stone', and 'The Thorn of Emberlain'? I pulled out my trusty Magic 8 Ball, and I attempted to part the veil of time and see into 2016. Sadly, I failed totally, and you're stuck with what I could scour from the internet.
       The good news is that Scott Lynch feels confident that 'The Thorn of Emberlain' will have a 2015 release date, most likely in the fall. I know, we've heard it from Lynch before, and life has gotten in the way (I don't judge him much myself, cause I am perpetually late on things).
       And while Pat Rothfuss still has a long way to go before he'll be happy with 'The Doors of Stone', at his signing in Portland for 'The Slow Regard of Silent Things', he said that he was at least a year out on finishing he rewrites, so a 2016 release date seems likeliest. As an added bonus, the short novel about Laniel Young Again will likely not take much longer than 'The Doors of Stone', so it's possible we could get both the doorstopper and the shorter novel in 2016.
         As there always is, there's tons of rumors on the Internet, and a thousand confident people with theories on how soon 'The Winds of Winter' will be done. I admit to being surprised it's taken this long, but after seeing the amount of writing that went into 'The World of Ice and Fire', I'm both impressed and willing to give him some space to finish the book. Will we see it in 2015? Well, if he can finish it by June, yes, we will. Will he finish it by June? I asked my Magic 8 Ball, and it says 'the future looks cloudy', to be fair, I live in Portland Oregon, so that might have been a weather report.
        However, there are some 2016 releases I am surly confident we'll see. Sanderson, of course, has announced his second 'Wax and Wayne' book from his Mistborn world, and as a bonus, wrote the third book as well. Plus, we will no doubt get 'Skybreaker', the third of his Stormlight Archives, and the 'Calamity' the final Reckoners novel as well. Plus 3 or 4 additional books that he wrote while bored on some Saturday morning.
        We'll also finally get to return to Osten Ard with Tad Williams for the first of his new trilogy (with a no-doubt gorgeous Michael Whelan cover) which will be called 'The Witchwood Crown' and will be followed by 'The Empire of Grass' and 'The Navigators Children'.
         In other expected 2016 releases, Joe Abercrombie has a short story collection that will likely drop in 2016, as well as Jim Butcher will likely deliver 'Brief Cases', the second Dresden short story collection. Butcher will likely also deliver 'Peace Talks' for a 2016 release date as well. Mary Robinette Kowal's Ghosttalkers should arrive in late 2015 or 2016, and Bear, Elizabeth's 'Ancestral Night'. Kevin Hearn's  'Staked' and Seanan McGuire's 'Once Broken Faith', both seem to be fairly certain arrivals as well.

         Now onto the realm of speculation!
        Jacqueline Carey is keeping the nature of her work in progress under wraps. As her urban fantasy series finished up this fall, and she's already stated the new book won't be a return to Terre D'Ange, and it's highly unlikely that either 'The Sundering' duology, or the 'Santa Olivia' books are getting a new chapter, this means something new. I look forward to whatever she writes next, and the Milieu she selects. Maybe a flintlock high fantasy, cause shut up and take my money! I suspect that we wont see the new book until 2016, though a late 2015 might be possible, if she is further along than I assume.
        Brent Weeks seems to be on a every two years schedule with the Lightbringer novels, and I expect that the final book 'The Blood Mirror' will likely arrive in 2016 as well.
        I also suspect we'll see a return to the a world of Harry Potter for JK Rowling. She is already signed up to write scripts for the three 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them' movies, that take place long before the events of the Potter novels.  And as a novelist, I suspect she will want to expand the story more fully than just a movie script, plus the opportunity to satisfy the devout fans who have wanted a return to the world of Potter may prove irresistible to her.
       Another long gestating novel that may see the light of day in 2016 is Melanie Rawn's long-awaited conclusion to the Exiles trilogy. I can hardly believe I just wrote that sentence, to be honest. 'The Ruins of Ambrai' and it's follow-up 'The Mageborn Traitor' were huge bestsellers in the 1990s before events in Rawn's personal life forced her to suspend her writing career for many years.  With the conclusion of her current Glass Thorns series on the horizon, Rawn will likely finally finish 'The Captal's Tower', the concluding novel in the Exiles trilogy, and put to rest the fans near endless wait for it.
      Janny Wurts has been at work on 'Destiny's Conflict' the latest in her 'War of Light and Shadow' series for quite some time, so it is likely drawing close soon, and I wouldn't be surprised at a late 2015 or early 2016 release for it as well.

       What 2016 releases are did I miss that you are excited about?

Addendum the first:
       Saladin Ahmed apparently announced on his Tumblr a couple of days ago that he will be finally expects to be publishing 'A Thousand and One' in early 2016, after a serious bout with depression.

"Revolution has come to the Crescent Moon Kingdoms, and ancient terrors roam the deserts and alleyways. Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, the last real ghul hunter in the city of Dhamsawaat, stubbornly ignores the turmoil around him — until his long-awaited wedding is interrupted by the enigmatic Queen of the Djenn. Meanwhile, the tribeswoman Zamia Badawi, haunted by dead kinsmen and forbidden love, becomes an unlikely general in a brutal civil war. And holy warrior Raseed bas Raseed undertakes a deadly journey back to the Lodge of God, hoping to purify himself of religious doubts and his troubling attraction to Zamia. Once again, Adoulla and his friends set out to make things right in a world gone wrong — but the greatest threat may be the one they can’t see."

      You can read more about this from Saladin here at his Tumblr.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Upcoming Releases for First Quarter 2015

         It's the solstice, the death of the old year, and though 2015 won't officially start for another week or so, I thought I'd post of sneak peak of what 2015 holds in new releases.
        2015 looks to be another banner year for genre fiction, with a Malazan book from Steven Erikson, at least two Kate Elliott books (and very likely three), including a 'Best Of' her short fiction, a new Fitz and the Fool book from Robin Hobb, and TWO new Joe Abercrombie books. Rumors also abound of a new 'Song of Ice and Fire' novel (aren't there always?), and at least three Sanderson books due.
          With all that in mind, here is a look forward to the first quarter of 2015, and the releases I'm most looking forward to!

January 2015

Aaronovitch, Ben • Foxglove Summer  01/06
Hines, Jim • Unbound 01/08
Sanderson, Brandon • Firefight 01/08
Walton, Jo • The Just City 01/08
Brown, Pierce • Golden Son 01/13
Stavely, Brian • The Providence of Fire 01/13
Van Eekhout, Greg • Pacific Fire 01/27
Priest, Cherie • Jacaranda 01/31

Other January releases:
Adams, Guy • For a Few Souls More
Asher, Neal • Dark Intelligence
Black, Holly • The Darkest Part of the Forest
Chu, Wesley • The Rebirths of Tao
Lord, Karen • The Galaxy Game
Meynard, Yves • Angels & Exiles
Tem, Melanie • The Yellow Wood

February 2015

Abercrombie, Joe • Half the World 02/03
Gaiman, Neil • Trigger Warning   02/03
Bear, Elizabeth • Karen Memory                       02/03
Elliott, Kate • The Very Best of Kate Elliott 02/10
McClellan, Brian • The Autumn Republic            02/10
Elliott, Kate • The Very Best of Kate Elliott         02/10
Schwab, VE • A Darker Shade of Magic               02/24

Other Feruary releases:
Adams, John Joseph, ed. • Wastelands II
Asher, Neal • Dark Intelligence
Barnes, Jonathan • Cannonbridge
Cole, Myke • Gemini Cell
Elliott, Will • Shadow
Enge, James • The Wide World's End
Fox, Andrew • Hunt the Fat White Vampire
Joshi, S. T., ed. • Black Wings IV
Lethem, Jonathan • Lucky Alan and Other Stories
Link, Kelly • Get in Trouble
McAuley, Paul • Something Coming Through
Park, Paul • Other Stories
VanderMeer, Ann, & Jeff VanderMeer, eds. • Sisters of the Revolution
Witcover, Paul • The Eternity of Love

March 2015

Bishop, Anne • Vision in Silver 03/03
Martin, George R. R., & Gardner Dozois, eds. • Old Venus  03/03
Valente, Catherynne • The Boy Who Lost Fairyland     03/03
Tregillis, Ian • The Mechanical  03/10
Valentine, Genevieve • Persona             03/10
Carriger, Gail • Prudence 03/17
Dewey, Ben • The Tragedy Series 03/17
Brennan, Marie • Voyage of the Basilisk 03/31
Brett, Peter V. • The Skull Throne 03/31
Gregory, Daryl • Harrison Squared         03/24

Other March releases:
Birmingham, John • Dave vs. the Monsters
Briggs, Patricia • Dead Heat
Buchanan, Col • The Black Dream
Cooper, Brenda • Edge of Dark
Daniells, Rowena Cory • Fall of the Fair Isle
Datlow, Ellen, ed. • The Doll Collection
Fowler, Christopher • Bryant & May: The Burning Man
Gwynne, John • Ruin
Haig, Matt • The Echo Boy
Kinsella, W. P. • The Very Best of W. P. Kinsella
Lloyd, Tom • Old Man's Ghosts
Lovegrove, James • World of Water
McGuire, Seanan • Pocket Apocalypse 
Modesitt, L. E., Jr. • Madness in Solidar
Robson, Justina • The Glorious Angels
Simmons, Dan • The Fifth Heart
Tem, Steve Rasnic • In the Lovecraft Museum
Wendig, Chuck • Hellsbound Bride
Williamson, Chet • The Night Listeners
Wilson, Robert Charles • The Affinities

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Remarks on remarques, or, why you should love artists more

       I have a secret.
         Well, no, it's not a real secret. I've got those of course, we all do, but I'm not planning on sharing mine. This is something else, something I haven't deliberately hidden this away in some dark place that will never see light of day. But it's not something I talk about much.
         You see, I am fascinated by visual artists. My affection for writers is a sort of fellow feeling. I write a bit, and while I'm not a professional level writer, I understand what goes into a book. So my affection for writers is based on what I know. Whereas my feelings about visual artists is different.
          Because I can barely draw a stick figure, I find the process of visual creation to be something closer to magic. I have watched my friends Ben and Lee both work, and there is something fascinating in the process.
         I'm not alone in this, I think. It explains the enduring popularity of Bob Ross, and why there's not a similar program for writers(plus, who would you have for a host, Harlan Ellison? I shudder). So it's no surprise that remarques are popular among serious book collectors.
          For the casual reader (and anyone reading this because they think I might teach them something, silly people!), a remarque is a quick drawing or sketch done directly in a book. Sometimes by the author, but more often by the artist, either the cover artist, or occasionally, the internal illustrator.
         I've included a few of my favorite remarques from my own collection below, the first is from my first edition 'Stardust' by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess. Charles is hands down one of my favorite artists, and this is one of my two favorite books (the illustrated version, I'm not a huge fan of the text only editions). A very special shout-out to my friend Venetia who was absolutely awesome beyond words and took this to World Fantasy to get it signed.
          Second is my friend Serge's copy of 'Tooth and Claw' a new comic by Kurt Busiek and Ben Dewey (which you should absolutely check out, comic fan or not, cause oh my god good!) on which Ben did little different individual animal drawings on each one.
         Below that is my remarqued first printing of 'The Slow Regard of Silent Things' by Pat Rothfuss. Nate Taylor, who did the interior illustrations, absolutely knocked it out of the park on this one. Though I'm afraid that if he doesn't ever offer remarques in the future it may be my fault because I was, I suspect, exhaustively difficult as a customer.
         If you have a favorite remarque in your collection, share it in the comments, I'd love to see it!

Friday, December 19, 2014

These are a few of my favorite things

I get asked for book recommendations a lot.
Like, A LOT a lot.
And I hate getting asked for book recommendations.
Not because I don't want people to discover my favorite books, just the opposite, actually.  If I think a book is the right fit for someone, I will nag and nag and nag until whoever I've recommended the book to actually reads it. And once I understand a person's taste in books, I have a pretty good history of hitting the nail on book recommendations.
But most books are not universal. There's a book ('Boy, Snow, Bird' for those that care) which two of my friends have read. For one of them, its one of the BEST BOOKS EVER. For the other, it's good to start, and then, it's just weird.
And I don't think either of them is wrong.  It's just not my second friend's type of book.  She is not the intended reader.  I don't think that most great books, if any actually, are universal. There are a whole group of 'Great Books' that I dislike, some of them, quite intensely.
This is the nature of great books. Because a great book speaks to the soul of the reader, and not all souls are the same.
If they were, we would all like Twilight.
I shudder to think you are imagining that I like Twilight. I don't, though I also don't hate it as much as many people seem to, and for many readers, it did what a great book should do:  it transported them into someone else and somewhere else. For that, I cut it some slack.
This is a long introduction to avoid the inevitable emails saying, 'I can't believe you recommended 'X' which is one of the most over-rated bookes EVER!!', that this post is inevitably going to produce. These are five books I love, and find myself recommending on a pretty regular basis.  These are not for everyone, and I've tried to pick less well-known books, or older books that won't be on everyone's 'Best Of' lists this year.  Give one of them a try, I think there is something here for most everyone.

The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold
I love Lois's books, and have read everything she's written, but this book and it's sorta sequel 'Paladin of Souls' are my two absolute favorites. They're glorious, and so well-plotted, and well-written that I can't imagine the fantasy lover that won't adore them.

The Bohr Maker by Linda Nagata
To my mind, this is one of the best science fiction books of the 1990s, and as much as I like Robert Sawyer, I think that 'The Bohr Maker' should have won the 1996 Nebula award. It is a stunning piece of fiction, and a fearless work of imagination.

The Truth Machine by James Halperin
While it's not a perfect book, it's an excellent example of what scifi does best, it's a big idea and a great and flawed character crash landing into each other. The ending perfectly breaks my heart everytime I read it. And I want to live in the world that Pete's machine creates.

K-PAX by Gene Brewer
I first read this book years before the terrible movie of the same name was made, and before the controversy about whether Brewer stole the idea for the novel. But I adored this book for it's careful tightrope of is he/isn't he, and that it leaves it to the reader to decide the truth.

The Death of the Necromancer by Martha Wells
A swashbuckling fantasy heist-gone-wrong, that is much more complicated than it at first appears. And then the villain appears.  It's the type of fun and witty book that I always enjoy finding, and has one of my favorite main characters (can you consider Nicholas a hero?) ever.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Gorgeous Homage to Tolkien's Ainulindalë


The other day, my friend Jaym posted a link on Facebook to the amazing Evan Palmer's homage to Tolkien.  Palmer has illustrated the Ainulindalë, which is the elvish for "Music of the Ainur", or, for the layman, it's the creation story of Middle-earth.
        You don't need to understand much about Middle-earth to understand the Ainulindalë, but it will add relevance to fans of the movies to understand that the Melkor that is in the Ainulindalë would later become Morgoth.

From Wikipedia:
 "Melkor was the most powerful of the Ainur, but turned to darkness and
became Morgoth, the definitive antagonist of Arda from whom all evil in the
world of Middle-earth ultimately stems. Sauron, one of the Maiar of Aulë,
betrayed his kind and became Morgoth's principal lieutenant.

Morgoth was the principal agent of evil in 'The Silmarillion', and his influence
 lingered in the world even after he was cast from the world into the outer
void. Morgoth's example provided later ages a cautionary tale against pride,
wrath, envy, lust for power, and greed — and the destruction these visit upon
oneself and others."

But none of that is needed to enjoy the gorgeous illustrations, and the lovely myth that Tolkien has given us, which can be found here.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

An open letter to Peter Jackson about 'Five Armies' (minor spoilerish)

Oh Peter Jackson.

       I've said that the book and the appendices to Return of the King had enough material to flesh out and make three excellent movies. And I still think there is.
       And individually, the first two movies didn't bother me. Yes, there was a little bloat. But the Hobbit is a more relaxed and episodic story. The fate of the world isn't on the line, and hey, it started out as bedtime stories you told your kids, so being a little episodic made sense.
       And I really LIKED the addition of the Gandalf vs the Necromancer storyline! Seriously, it adds an explanation for what Gandalf is always up to when he disappears, and explains why Gandalf is involved with this dwarf quest in the first place.
        I went into the theatre last night expecting to be amazed. After all, you stopped Desolation of Smaug right where it was about to get amazing, so I figured, apparently the Laketown and Bard sections will take longer than I thought. I was wrong. You weren't planning on giving me bonus dragon, you were holding the payoff of the second movie hostage, cause you didn't think I'd want to come back for a third time if there was no dragon(oh how wrong you were).
         Instead, you made an inferior second movie, and ruined the story rise and fall of the third movie.
         The first 15 minutes of 'Battle of the Five Armies' was the ending of 'Desolation of Smaug', and then you had to have 2 hours of battle porn, for an ending that felt cheapened by your inability to be subtle. Which is weird, because when I think about the LotR, I think about all the subtle moments that make the movies great. What the hell were you thinking?
         I'm not going to say that you ruined the Hobbit, because the book remains the same (regardless what the moron in the men's bathroom says, there's not now a white Orc in JRR Tolkeins 'The Hobbit'), but you failed to achieve what I thought was inevitable: a satisfying finale to your Middle Earth career.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Review: The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan

So this is the second book of the Memoirs of Lady Trent, the sequel to 'A Natural History of Dragons'.  The third book, 'Voyage of the Basalisk' comes out on March 31st.  And before I write about the book (clearly I liked the first one, as I went on to read the second one) I want to talk about the cover. Because yes, cover art matters. (I'm sorry Baen books, but I can't take you and your terrible covers seriously.  There are some AMAZING artists working in the genre, and the best you can do is cover art that makes me want to burn the book?) And the cover art here is perfect. Todd Lockwood nailed the first cover, and the cover to this one is just as good. So thank you Irene Gallo (the art director at Tor) for taking cover art seriously.
Anyway, onto the book inside the covers.
'The Tropic of Serpents' might stand alone, though you'd miss some fantastic things by jumping straight to book two, so don't do that, start at the beginning.
The plot is pretty straightforward; Lady Trent, three years after her first adventure, is getting ready for her second expedition to become the Anne McCaffery of her world, I mean, the Dragon Lady. There is some politics, and some intrigue, and the plot advances in a great clip.

I love this memoir style of storytelling.  I like the funny quips in the preface from the imaginary Lady Trent in her old age, and I don't ever feel like Brennan is stretching to keep the story going, it flows effortlessly and fast. Wow, does she know how to move the story along!  The pacing is great, and a wonderful way to refresh yourself after reading some giant sprawl of epic fantasy.

With very little effort, Brennan fills in a lot of details on even minor characters, and doesn't waste a chance to make a character come to life.  I love the little asides where Lady Trent reveals that her moviations aren't always the ones that history has ascribed to her.

The first book did a lot of the heavy lifting for worldbuilding, but I give the author a lot of credit for actually making a world with different climates, and cultures.  Are they modeled after similar populations in our world?  Sure.  But this is a world teeming with dragons, and religions that are different from ours, so the cultures themselves are different than ours.
The dragons themselves vary from region to region. And without getting into spoilers, their biology varys just as real subspecies do in our world.

Managed Expectations:
As this is a memoir, the future Lady Trent is setting you up for whats coming, and she does it marvelously. There's nothing that distracts from the thrust of the story, and the few teases from future stories are clearly identified as such. She may briefly mention something, but she does it clearly enough to telegraph that you can anticipate that in a future volume, but not in this one. There was one item that gets mentioned, and it's not made clear if we'll see it again, but it is clearly pointed out as important by Lady Trent, and a return to this region is specifically mentioned, so I assume that those two things are connected.

In wrap up, this was an improvement on the first book in almost every way (and I really liked the first book). I like Lady Trent's passion for the dragons and the way that Brennan moves the story, and reflects politics and policy through Lady Trent's worldview.  I highly recommend this to anyone looking for a fun and fast-paced story without cliff-hangers or massive battles.

Monday, December 15, 2014

2014, Last Minute Reading

It's the end of the year, and I'm doing my mad rush of reading to meet my goal of 104 books for the year (it's so close...) and I have a stack of books to get through by the end of the month. What happened to those days of reading a book a day?  Oh the halcyean days of youth!
    Last night, I finished "The Tropic of Serpents" by Marie Brennan, and I'll get the review up soon, but I thought I'd share what my currently reading, and 'to read' list look like. I keep swearing I'm not going to start reading any new authors, and yet, what do I see?  Three of the books I'm currently reading are by authors I've never read a book from before. 'Boy Snow Bird', 'Red Rising', and 'Sworn in Steel' are all books I started reading earlier in the year, and set aside when a book I was strongly anticipating came out and I didn't want to wait to start reading them.
How many of these will I get to?  Well, I've got a week off of the day-job coming up before the end of the year, and I expect I can likely knock out ten or twelve of these.

Currently reading:
My Real Children by Jo Walton
Sworn in Steel by Douglas Hulick
Boy Snow Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
California Bones by Greg Van Eekhout
Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Stand alone novels:
The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin
Lock In by John Scalzi
The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley
Unwrapped Sky by Rjurik Davidson
Child of a Hidden Sea by AM Dellamonica
Of Whimsies and Noubles by Matthew Hughes
Jack in the Green by Charles de Lint
Seven Wild Sisters by Charles de Lint
The Gospel of Loki by Joanne Harris
The Serpent of Venice  by Christopher Moore

First book in series:
Maplecroft by Cherie Priest
Dreamwalker  by CS Friedman  
The Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb
Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence

Later books in series:
The Brothers Cabal by Jonathan Howard
The Hollow City by Ransom Riggs
Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone
The Shadow Throne by Django Wexler
The Crimson Campaign by Brian McClellan
Clariel by Garth Nix
Broken Homes Ben Aaronovitch
Cibola Burn by James SA Corey  
Thornlost by Melanie Rawn    

Sunday, December 14, 2014

"Murder at the Kinnen Hotel": A Holiday Surprise from Brian McClellan

Brian McClellan has announced the pre-order (You can order it here) for the hardcover of a new Powder-Mage novella.  For the super-fan, this is a great chance to get something unique, as the first hundred will be handnumbered and dated by Brian.  Fans who pre-ordered the first two hardcover novellas only have until the 19th to secure the corresponding number of this latest.  He expects the books to ship out the second week of February.
The cover for "Murder at the Kinnen Hotel" is even better in my opinion than the covers for "Forsworn" and "Servant of the Crown" were, which is saying something, as I really loved those covers.
         I'm a big fan of McClellan's writing, and I think he's going to quickly become one of the biggest names in the genre, so these novellas are a great way to give him a try, they're all available on ebook as well.


The cover copy reads as follows:
"Special Detective Constable Adamat may be the most capable young investigator in all of Adopest. He's sharp, thoughtful, and his particular sorcery gives him a flawless memory. A transfer to the First Precinct seems like the perfect opportunity to showcase his abilities and advance his career. 

But things work differently in the First Precinct. The murder of a businessman's mistress quickly pulls Adamat into an unexpected world of conspiracy and politics where he's forced to use all his wits to stay one step ahead of unseen enemies and keep his friends—and himself—from the guillotine."

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Collector's Corner... Peter Beagle's 'The Last Unicorn'

    'The Last Unicorn' is one of the more enduring classics in fantasy.  It fits comfortably on the shelf of genre classics alongside 'The Hobbit' and 'Lud in the Mists'. It also has had a profound effect on many of the writers that are currently popular, including, of course, Pat Rothfuss, who frequently mentions it as a favorite, if not his very favorite, novel.
     From a collectors standpoint, it's one of the most affordable books on the classics canon, even the most expensive copies are rarely over $1000, and I've seen them as low as $300 for the Viking first within the last year, though unsigned in fine condition, $600 is the lowest price I've seen on an unsigned fine copy for several years.
     It surprises me that the book hasn't yet skyrocketed in price, as the generation that first viewed the animated film in 1982 from a screenplay by the author, produced by Arthur Rankin and Julie Bass.has aged into the nostalgia era.  Plus, the recently announced Broadway musical, and the traveling Last Unicorn Screening Tour that has been crisscrossing North America for the last couple of years as well as the potential for a live action movie after the film rights revert back in mid-2015, make this one of the most likely classics in the genre to see a significant price increase, so now is a great time to get one.
Plus, it's one of the loveliest stories still after all these years.

First Edition attributes:
Cover Price: $4.95 (On top corner of inside front cover flap)
Publisher: Viking (US)
Copyright: 1968

Friday, December 12, 2014

Sneak Peek: January 2015 New Releases

New Releases for January 2015:
For a January, what a great line-up!  
A new Sanderson (One of like 6 books he'll release in 2015 no doubt), and a new Jo Walton, plus Pierce Brown, and Greg Van Eekhout both release sophomore efforts that I expect great things from. Jim Hines will give us another one of his fun Magic Ex Libris series as well, and across the pond, Ben Aaronovitch is releasing another Peter Grant book.
Cherie Priest will also be heading back to the Clockwork Century millieu of her fabulous 'Boneshaker' for a Subterranean Press novella(still available for preorder).
I've already got copies of  'The Just City' and 'Golden Son' beckoning me to read them, so I should have reviews for them up before release date, and 'Pacific Fire' and 'Firefight' soon after their release dates.

Aaronovitch, Ben • Foxglove Summer        01/06
(Peter Grant #5)
When two young girls go missing in rural Herefordshire, police constable and wizard-in-training Peter Grant is sent out of London to check that nothing supernatural is involved.
It’s purely routine—Nightingale, Peter’s superior, thinks he’ll be done in less than a day. But Peter’s never been one to walk away from someone in trouble, so when nothing overtly magical turns up he volunteers his services to the local police, who need all the help they can get. But because the universe likes a joke as much as the next sadistic megalomaniac, Peter soon comes to realize that dark secrets underlie the picturesque fields and villages of the countryside and there might just be work for Britain’s most junior wizard after all.
Soon Peter’s in a vicious race against time, in a world where the boundaries between reality and fairy have never been less clear...

Sanderson, Brandon • Firefight 01/06
(Sequel to Steelheart)
Newcago is free.
   They told David it was impossible, that even the Reckoners had never killed a High Epic. Yet Steelheart--invincible, immortal, unconquerable--is dead. And he died by David's hand.
   Eliminating Steelheart was supposed to make life simpler. Instead, it only made David realize he has questions. Big ones. And no one in Newcago can give him answers.
   Babylon Restored, the city formerly known as the borough of Manhattan, has possibilities, though. Ruled by the mysterious High Epic Regalia, Babylon Restored is flooded and miserable, but David is sure it's the path that will lead him to what he needs to find. Entering a city oppressed by a High Epic despot is risky, but David's willing to take the gamble. Because killing Steelheart left a hole in David's heart. A hole where his thirst for vengeance once lived. Somehow, he filled that hole with another Epic--Firefight. And now he will go on a quest darker and even more dangerous than the fight against Steelheart to find her, and to get his answer.

Brown, Pierce • Golden Son 01/06
(Sequel to Red Rising)
As a Red, Darrow grew up working the mines deep beneath the surface of Mars, enduring backbreaking labor while dreaming of the better future he was building for his descendants. But the Society he faithfully served was built on lies. Darrow’s kind have been betrayed and denied by their elitist masters, the Golds—and their only path to liberation is revolution. And so Darrow sacrifices himself in the name of the greater good for which Eo, his true love and inspiration, laid down her own life. He becomes a Gold, infiltrating their privileged realm so that he can destroy it from within.
A lamb among wolves in a cruel world, Darrow finds friendship, respect, and even love—but also the wrath of powerful rivals. To wage and win the war that will change humankind’s destiny, Darrow must confront the treachery arrayed against him, overcome his all-too-human desire for retribution—and strive not for violent revolt but a hopeful rebirth. Though the road ahead is fraught with danger and deceit, Darrow must choose to follow Eo’s principles of love and justice to free his people.
He must live for more.

Walton, Jo • The Just City  01/13
"Here in the Just City you will become your best selves. You will learn and grow and strive to be excellent." 
Created as an experiment by the time-traveling goddess Pallas Athene, the Just City is a planned community, populated by over ten thousand children and a few hundred adult teachers from all eras of history, along with some handy robots from the far human future—all set down together on a Mediterranean island in the distant past.
The student Simmea, born an Egyptian farmer's daughter sometime between 500 and 1000 A.D, is a brilliant child, eager for knowledge,  ready to strive to be her best self. The teacher Maia was once Ethel, a young Victorian lady of much learning and few prospects, who prayed to Pallas Athene in an unguarded moment during a trip to Rome—and, in an instant, found herself in the Just City with grey-eyed Athene standing unmistakably before her.
Meanwhile, Apollo—stunned by the realization that there are things mortals understand better than he does—has arranged to live a human life, and has come to the City as one of the children. He knows his true identity, and conceals it from his peers. For this lifetime, he is prone to all the troubles of being human.
Then, a few years in, Sokrates arrives—the same Sokrates recorded by Plato himself—to ask all the troublesome questions you would expect. What happens next is a tale only the brilliant Jo Walton could tell.

Van Eekhout, Greg • Pacific Fire 01/27
(Sequel to California Bones)
I’m Sam. I’m just this guy. 
Okay, yeah, I’m a golem created from the substance of his own magic by the late Hierarch of Southern California. With a lot of work, I might be able to wield magic myself. I kind of doubt it, though. Not like Daniel Blackland can. 
Daniel’s the reason the Hierarch’s gone and I’m still alive. He’s also the reason I’ve lived my entire life on the run. Ten years of never, ever going back to Los Angeles. Daniel’s determined to protect me. To teach me. 
But it gets old. I’ve got nobody but Daniel. I’ll never do anything normal. Like attend school. Or date a girl.
Now it’s worse. Because things are happening back in LA. Very bad people are building a Pacific firedrake, a kind of ultimate weapon of mass magical destruction.  Daniel seemed to think only he could stop them. Now Daniel’s been hurt. I managed to get us to the place run by the Emmas. (Many of them. All named Emma. It’s a long story.) They seem to be healing him, but he isn’t going anyplace soon.
Do I even have a reason for existing, if it isn’t to prevent this firedrake from happening? I’m good at escaping from things. Now I’ve escaped from Daniel and the Emmas, and I’m on my way to LA. This may be the worst idea I ever had.

Priest, Cherie • Jacaranda 01/31
(A novel of the Clockwork Century)
The Ranger
On the island of Galveston, off the coast of southeast Texas, lies a hotel called the Jacaranda. In its single year of operation, two dozen people have died there. The locals say it's cursed. The Rangers say that's nonsense, but they know a man who might be willing to investigate. Horatio Korman crosses the water from the mainland, and hopes for the best.
The Nun
But the bodies pile up, and a hurricane is brewing up fast. One of the Jacaranda's guests sees time running out, so she seeks an authority of a different sort: a priest from El Huizache who is good at solving problems and keeping secrets. Eileen Callahan has a problem to solve, and a secret to keep. She crosses her fingers, and sends a message that could save them all.
The Padre
Juan Miguel Quintero Rios broke a promise to the Virgin, and so he was punished...but his intentions were pure, so he was also blessed. Now he walks the southwest with second sight and a tattoo across his back: ''Deo, non Fortuna''--By God, not chance. The former gunslinger crosses himself, and makes for the Jacaranda Hotel.

Other New Releases for January:
Black, Holly • The Darkest Part of the Forest    01/13
Lord, Karen • The Galaxy Game                       01/06
Hines, Jim • Unbound 01/06
Stavely, Brian • The Providence of Fire 01/13
Tem, Melanie • The Yellow Wood                      01/20

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Forgotten Gems: Elizabeth Willey

A Sorcerer and a Gentleman (1995)
The Price of Blood and Honor (1996)
The Well-Favored Man (1993)

There are a hundred hundred books that are published every year, and it's inevitable that some of them never really find their audience. Which is too bad in this case, as Willey's slyly witty and absorbing books would, I think, sell very well alongside Susannah Clarke, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Matthew Hughes. These are books that blend Shakespearean names with Vancian wit and irreverance, and a dollop of something uniquely her own.
Willey wrote three books and then disappeared.  I've inquired of several longtimes members of fandom and the writing community, and noone knows what happened to her, which is a shame, as she had set up a world with room for growth, and a remarkable cast of characters.
Her first book, 'The Well-Favored Man' is actually chronilogically much later than the later two books, and has a few spoilers.  It's also the weakest of the three books by a significant degree, and I usually tell people to not bother with it.
With her second book, 'A Sorcerer and a Gentleman' we are introduced to Dewar, a remarkably self-assured young sorcerer with a complicated family.  Including his nearly immortal father and schemingly evil but delightful mother. Adventures occur, and intrigue, and betrayal.
With 'The Price of Blood and Honor' the bulk of the story shifts to Dewar's sister, Freia, who is completely ill-suited for the scheming of her family and miserably unhappy around them.  More adventure ensues. More intrigue.  And, of course, more betrayal.
The books are out of print, but you can pick them up used for very cheap. Give them a try, and thank me later!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Mischief managed, or, Oh you're writing a blog

I'm certainly not the first person to write a blog.  Everyone with a computer, internet connection, and the ability to string words together has at least tried it. I've long used four metrics to talk about books, plot, style, character, and worldbuilding.  But I recently starting thing about how well books manage expectations. The more I've thought about it, the more I realize that this is an important part of the writing process, and it's something I don't see talked about in reviews often.
I'll use a book that a lot of people will be familiar with 'The Name of the Wind' by Pat Rothfuss.

Ragged orphan. Tough times. The kindness of strangers. There's not a whole lot new here right?  Well, maybe. The framing story is used effectively to create a lot of expectations for the reader.  At the beginning we are given a sense, right from the first chapter 'Taborlin the Great, who knows the true names of all things' tells us what kind of world this is.  Names are important here. And that's reiterated over and over. But more subtlely, we are told 'This is where Kvothe ends up'.  Whatever story is to come, it ends here, in absolute failure.  With our protagonist waiting for death to find him.
Rothfuss handles this brilliantly.  The first person narrative is a tricky one.  If your character is too unlikeable, or too morally ruined, you run the risk of being divisive like Mark Lawrence's 'Prince of Thorns', but the reverse is dangerous as well.
Everytime I see the 'Kvothe is a Mary Sue' complaint in a review, I roll my eyes.  Seriously.  He's hot-headed, arrogant, and deeply flawed.  But the first person narrative hides this, because he's also a character we like, and is just like all of us.  I mean, think on this; how many people do you know who think they're better than average drivers?  Most likely, all of them.  And you probably think you're a better driver than any of them.
You're just like Kvothe.
Yes, he's got an alar like Ramston Steel, but he also got started with sympathy long before any of his peers, and has suffered privation they likely never will.  He's used to winning at all cost, without regard to pain, or what detriment he might suffer.  He had the advantage of a private tutor in the art for at least a year, so yeah, he is an outstanding sympathist, the real surprise is if he wasn't better than his peers.
Which is the long way of saying, Rothfuss does a phenomenal job of managing expectations, and thinking through the results of actions from early in the story on Kvothe later in the story.  Nothing happens because Rothfuss needs it to happen.  It happens because his character would react that way.

This is what I call managed expectations. How well does the plot fit the character, and how often does the writer fulfill the obligations he sets up early.  I think that no other aspect of a book is as important as this for overall reader satisfaction.  If I start a book and set up expectations that this is how I met the love of my life, and then end the book divorced and alone, without ever setting up that this was a tragedy, I'm going to piss people off.  Because I promised one thing, and gave them another.

So here are the managed Expectations for my blog: 
I will post a review a week of something current. I have a fairly ecclectic palate as a reader, so it may not always be the biggest release of the week.  But I'll cover plot, character, style, and worldbuilding; and I'll also cover Managed Expectations. I will also post about things going on in fantasy, books releases and cover reveals and hopefully the occasional QandA with a writer.
Will this be static?  No, and as things change, I may write updates about where the direction of my blog will go.  If you have ideas about something you'd like to see me talk about, or a book you think I should read, drop me a comment, or an email at