Tuesday, November 29, 2011

David Weber Reviewed, Edgerton and Berg Interviewed

Two more reviews were posted to SFFWorld this past week, one from me and one from Mark.

David Weber’s Safehold saga continues to impress and entertain me. I realize it isn’t perfect (those damned phonetically spelled names and infodumps), but the conceit/premise of the story is intriguing and the way Weber handles some of the characters keeps me wanting to find out what happens next, so for me the good to great really overwhelms the niggles. So, without further adieu, here’s my review of the fifth (and most recent as of November 2011) installment in the saga, How Firm a Foundation:

One of the undercurrents throughout the series has been the cautious development of technology due in large part because the Gbaba, the enemies who nearly exterminated humanity, are able to detect when any civilization reaches a certain technological level. While this point has informed the background and the “why” of humanity’s current situation, it has just been that – a background item. Well, here in How Firm a Foundation, Merlin discovers something in a distant part of the world that could be seen as a dampener to the evolving technology of the Charisan empire and the future fate of the ‘archangels’ who set the current society on its rather stagnant state of development. What this did, in my mind, was put something of an endgame to the situation. A warning was made that something would happen in approximately 1,000 years which gives Weber a bottom line to meet, a head at where the conflict will arrive. This is a welcome development to a long-running series.

In the end, I’d sum up How Firm a Foundation, and
Safehold in general a few ways. There are stories where you realize they aren’t perfect and you can enjoy the story/novel despite those flaws because the brilliant outshines the dull in a large percentage. Maybe it’s a dense narrative that takes some wading through to get to the golden parts. This book and this series might be described in that way. Weber’s detailed narrative is sometimes overly descriptive and perhaps a bit repetitive. However, the good parts – and they occur enough in the narrative – are superb. The character interactions, the revelation of a previously conceived belief as a complete falsehood, seeing Clynthan rage and start to lose his composure, the emotions that are evident between Merlin and Caleyb and so forth, really help to overshadow some of the denser plot elements.

We’ve also been interviewing quite a few authors lately at SFFWorld, some which slipped through the cracks of my radar in recent weeks.

Carol Berg, who has been relatively popular in our forums as of late, was interviewed recently. Carol's the author of The Rai-Kirah trilogy (Transformation, Revelation, and Restoration), The Bridge of D'Arnath (Son of Avonar, Guardians of the Keep, The Soul Weaver, and Daughter of Ancients), as well as the current Novels of the Collegia Magica (The Spirit Lens, The Soul Mirror, and The Daemon Prism).

Here’s an excerpt of the interview:

4. Most of your protagonists, save for Anne in The Soul Mirror, are male. Are you more comfortable writing male characters than female ones? Did you have to tackle The Soul Mirror differently since the novel dealt with a heroine instead of a hero?

I do enjoy writing male protagonists. Maybe because I have spent a lot of years observing males. Maybe because I love a challenge! I never set out consciously to choose my protagonists. They sort of come to me in the initial inspiration for the story. Certainly I have to approach a female narrator/protagonist differently, in the same way I have to approach the warriors Seyonne and Aleksander differently from the librarian Portier. I like writing strong women who participate in and drive the action of the story, yet I'm not a advocate of chicks in chainmail. And indeed, Anne wasn't my first; there is also Seri, the heart and soul of the four Bridge of D'Arnath books. Another strong, extraordinary woman, though among all the principals of those books, she alone has no power for sorcery.

We also posted an interview with Teresa Edgerton (who also writes under the name Madeline Howard). Some of her books include: The Green Lion Trilogy, The second Celydonn trilogy, The Goblin Moon Duology, and under the Madeline Howard pen name The Rune of Unmaking (The Hidden Stars, and A Dark Sacrifice).

Here’s an excerpt of the interview:

SFFWorld: Yes, you use symbolism a lot in both books, and now that I think of the style of writing you are trying to re-create, I can see all the pieces of the puzzle clicking - nice! How much research did you do for these books? Do you invest the same amount of research for all your books?

Edgerton: Well, it depends. With some books I already know the setting pretty well. When I was writing the Green Lion books and the later trilogy, I had already researched alchemy pretty extensively. I was familiar with the medieval period, and only had to read up on a few subjects. With Goblin Moon and it’s sequel, I wanted to do more research, but it was more difficult finding books on that particular period ... or at least, I didn’t know how to find them.

By the time I was writing The Queen’s Necklace (TQN) I did know how to find them, and where my research notes for Goblin Moon filled up three or four steno-pads, I filled up binder after binder with research for TQN, and was going to libraries thirty miles away to find the books that I wanted. Only a small fraction of that research made it into the book, of course. But it will be there when I want it.

For the
Rune of Unmaking books, where my characters spend a lot of their time traveling, then I had to read about weather and geography, and what plants could be expected in the high mountains, and what life might be found in the deep places of the ocean, and things like that. Again, a lot of it never makes it into the books. For the latest book in the series, I’ve had to research mines and deserts.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Michael J. Sullivan Sullivan and George R.R. Martin's Fevre Dream Reviewed

Some new things up at SFFWorld recently, the first of which went up today – my interview with Michael J. Sullivan. Michael’s really in the process of hitting it big time as Orbit gives a wide release to his popular and acclaimed Riyria Revelations series.

Here’s a bit from the interview:

What has the transition been like going from primarily being published in eBook format to traditional published format?

It’s really hard to say…ask me in another year ;-) The books are just now showing up in stores and I’ll admit it was fun seeing how excited Robin was as she checked various Barnes and Nobles to see who had the books in stock. We were having breakfast together and she kept typing in various zip codes from around the country. (Davenport Iowa didn’t have any books on that day, but I see they do now.)

There has always been one dream of mine that probably never would have been realized when I was self- or small-press published. I’ve always wanted to be on a train, bus, or airplane and find someone that I didn’t know reading my book. Considering the odds, it still may never happen, but at least I now have a shot at that. If it ever does, I don’t know if I’ll have the courage to go up to them and say, “What do you think of that book you’re reading.” A negative comment would be soul crushing…but in my imagination that meeting always has a happy ending.

Last week, in his ongoing quest to cover the genre's past, Mark reviewed George R.R. Martin’s classic Vampire tale, Fevre Dream:

This is a dark, dark novel, impressively staged and brilliantly portrayed. The oppressive atmosphere of the American South in the eighteenth century, with its decaying plantations, slavery, racism and isolated humidity, is there across every page. It is harsh and it is supremely creepy. Some of the scenes are heart-rending in their matter-of-factness. (There’s also an awesome meal scene to rival events in Ice and Fire...)

To this backdrop the characterisation is, as we have come to expect from George, sublime. Of the main protagonists, Abner is the obsessed Captain Ahab of the Mississippi, forever searching for his love, the Fevre Dream, whilst his nemesis trawls the river looking for new blood. Joshua York is, by turns, both unearthly and oddly deserving of our sympathy. There’s a definite feel of the melancholic martyr here, almost Elric-like in his timbre. Though a vampire, he is a reluctant one who bears his responsibilities heavily. His life story, told in about twenty pages, is simply told without embellishment and is almost worthy of a book of its own. In comparison, the bad-guy Damon revels in his impressively malevolent actions, yet like most paragons of evil, is perfectly justified in his own mind that what he is doing is right.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Books in the Mail (W/E 2011-11-26)

Only a small batch of arrivals this week, what with Thanksgiving (Thursday to you non-US folks reading the blog) this week.

Alien Contact edited by Marty Halpern (Nightshade Books, Trade Paperback 11/29/2011) – Halpern is one of the folks behind the fine small press Golden Gryphon, publishers of Jeffrey Ford’s collections. He’s also done some editing for Nightshade and Tachyon books. This reprint anthology, on the theme of First Alien Contact, will fit in very nicely with Nightshade’s already impressive bookshelf of themed anthologies. Browsing the copyright page, I realize I’ve read a good portion of these stories in other places and they are worth revisiting.

Are we alone? From War of the Worlds to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, ET to Close Encounters, creators of science fiction have always eagerly speculated on just how the story of alien contact would play out. Editor Marty Halpern has gathered together some of the best stories of the last 30 years, by today's most exciting genre writers, weaving a tapestry that covers a broad range of scenarios: from the insidious, to the violent, to the transcendent.

Marty Halpern -- Introduction: Beginnings...
Paul McAuley -- The Thought War
Neil Gaiman -- How to Talk to Girls at Parties
Karen Joy Fowler -- Face Value
Harry Turtledove -- The Road Not Taken
George Alec Effinger -- The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything
Stephen King -- I Am the Doorway
Pat Murphy -- Recycling Strategies for the Inner City
Mike Resnick -- The 43 Antarean Dynasties
Orson Scott Card -- The Gold Bug
Bruce McAllister -- Kin
Ernest Hogan -- Guerrilla Mural of a Siren's Song
Pat Cadigan -- Angel
Ursula K. Le Guin -- The First Contact with the Gorgonids
Adam-Troy Castro -- Sunday Night Yams at Minnie and Earl's
Michael Swanwick -- A Midwinter's Tale
Mark W. Tiedemann -- Texture of Other Ways
Cory Doctorow -- To Go Boldly-
Elizabeth Moon -- If Nudity Offends You
Nancy Kress -- Laws of Survival
Jack Skillingstead -- What You Are About to See
Robert Silverberg -- Amanda and the Alien
Jeffrey Ford -- Exo-Skeleton Town
Molly Gloss -- Lambing Season
Bruce Sterling -- Swarm
Charles Stross -- MAXO Signals
Stephen Baxter -- Last Contact

Nested Scrolls: The Autobiography of Rudolf von Bitter Rucker by Tor , Hardcover 12/06/2011) – Autobiography of hard SF writer Rudy Rucker

The autobiography of Rudy Rucker begins in Louisville, Kentucky, with a young boy growing up with a desire to be a beatnik writer, a businessman father who becomes a clergyman, and a mother descended from the philosopher, Hegel. It continues through his college years, his romance with his wife, graduate school, rock music, and his college teaching jobs as a math professor. All the while Rudy is reading science fiction, beat poetry, and beginning to write some pretty strange fiction, a blend of Philip K. Dick and hard SF that qualifies him as part of the original circle of writers in the early 1980s, including Bruce Sterling, William Gibson, John Shirley, and Lew Shiner, who founded cyberpunk. He becomes known for his wild-man behavior, in the beatnik tradition.

Later, Rucker renames his fiction Transrealism (and now there is at least one academic book on the subject). In the mid-1980s he switches from math to computers, just in time for the computer revolution. By then he is living in Silicon Valley and teaching in Santa Cruz. As the '90s go by and his life evens out, he keeps writing and producing a unique and wildly imaginitive body of work in SF, usually math-based hard SF. And he's still doing that today. This book is sweet and gentle and honest, and intellectually fierce.

The Folded World (A Dirge for Prester John Volume Two) by Catherynne M. Valente (Nightshade Books Trade Paperback 11/15/2011) – Second book in Valente’s pseudo-historical fantasy retelling of the mythical/historical figure Prester John.

When the mysterious daughter of Prester John appears on the doorstep of her father's palace, she brings with her news of war in the West--the Crusades have begun, and the bodies of the faithful are washing up on the shores of Pentexore. Three narratives intertwine to tell the tale of the beginning of the end of the world: a younger, angrier Hagia, the blemmye-wife of John and Queen of Pentexore, who takes up arms with the rest of her nation to fight a war they barely understand, Vyala, a lion-philosopher entrusted with the care of the deformed and prophetic royal princess, and another John, John Mandeville, who in his many travels discovers the land of Pentexore--on the other side of the diamond wall meant to keep demons and monsters at bay.

These three voices weave a story of death, faith, beauty, and power, dancing in the margins of true history, illuminating a place that never was.

Seed by Rob Ziegler (Nightshade Books Hardcover 11/15/2011) – Relatively near future dystopic SF debut with a superb cover. This is the final version of the ARC I received in August and boy is this a nice looking book. A nice little package of seeds came with the book, too. I assume these are Satori seeds.

It's the dawn of the 22nd century, and the world has fallen apart. Decades of war and resource depletion have toppled governments. The ecosystem has collapsed. A new dust bowl sweeps the American West. The United States has become a nation of migrants -starving masses of nomads who seek out a living in desert wastelands and encampments outside government seed-distribution warehouses.

In this new world, there is a new power. Satori is more than just a corporation, she is an intelligent, living city that grew out of the ruins of Denver. Satori bioengineers both the climate-resistant seed that feeds a hungry nation, and her own post-human genetic Designers, Advocates, and Laborers. What remains of the United States government now exists solely to distribute Satori seed; a defeated American military doles out bar-coded, single-use Satori seed to the nation's starving citizens.

When one of Satori's Designers goes rogue, Agent Sienna Doss-Ex-Army Ranger turned glorified bodyguard-is tasked by the government to bring her in: The government wants to use the Designer to break Satori's stranglehold on seed production and reassert themselves as the center of power.

Sianna Doss's search for the Designer intersects with Brood and his younger brother Pollo - orphans scrapping by on the fringes of the wastelands. Pollo is abducted, because he is believed to suffer from Tet, a newly emergent disease, the victims of which are harvested by Satori.

As events spin out of control, Brood and Sienna Doss find themselves at the heart of Satori, where an explosive climax promises to reshape the future of the world.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sullivan's Theft of Swords and Campbell's Stark's War @ SFFWorld

We’ve got another couple of reviews up at SFFWorld this week, one I’ve been reading / seeing very good things about for a while and a re-issue of an author’s earlier work under his current pen-name.

We’ll kick off this week with my review. Michael J. Sullivan’s Riyria series has been garnering praise and sales over the past few years of its eBook/Small Press life. Recently (as in within the past year) Orbit signed Michael to a contract and is, with the launch of Theft of Swords, is republishing the six books as three omnibuses over the course of the next three months. Here’s my thoughts on the first omnibus, officially releasing today::

Theft of Swords contains The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha, the first two novels in the series. Both books are just over 300 pages. In The Crown Conspiracy, readers are introduced to the anti-heroic duo of Royce Melborn, thief, and Hadrian Blackwater, mercenary. The two call themselves Riyria and are known as a competent duo, working outside the thieves’ guild taking on jobs for nobles who would otherwise not want to get their hands dirty. Off the bat, Sullivan gives readers fully formed protagonists who are mature and not the typical farmboys of epic fantasy. In fact, the feel I got throughout The Crown Conspiracy was more of a Sword and Sorcery adventure rather than Epic Fantasy. Of course, the comparison many people have made to Royce and Hadrian is to Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. The relationship between Royce and Hadrian comes across as something that is long-standing, but as of yet, Sullivan has yet to reveal how the two rogues became partners. This is good, and a pattern of storytelling which Sullivan employs throughout The Crown Conspiracy and a method at which he excels.

Orbit was very smart to (1) snap up these books, (2) pair up two books into one omnibus, and (3) publish the three books in three months. Sullivan’s story fits in great with some of the recent books published by Orbit– I’d recommend the books to people who enjoyed the ‘old-school fantasy’ aspect of Daniel Abraham’s The Dragon’s Path and Brent Weeks
Night Angel Trilogy. Outside of books published by Orbit, readers who enjoyed the modern sensibilities and characters of Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastard sequence and/or readers looking for something to remind them of the fun, adventurous romps associated with Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser sword and sorcery tales will find a lot to like in The Riyria Revelations.

In my review, I take a look at Jack Campbell has really been getting a lot of attention for his Lost Fleet Military SF saga this past year and more: sales and good buzz/reception. So what do the publisher’s do? Re-release the back list written under his real name, John G. Hemry, under his better known pen name Jack Campbell. Mark has a review of the first in Stark’s War series, which is also the name of the first book Stark’s War:

For books over a decade old they are pretty good mil-fic that Space Opera fans will like. Ethan Stark is the sergeant of a squadron in a future where people (well, Americans) have returned to the Moon and are establishing a network across the solar system. There is conflict between the corporate businesses of America and other countries, though the actual fighting takes place using multinational sponsored troops and materiel. There are ‘regular’ soldiers but the command groups, being too valuable to risk, are away from the battle-zone, directing actions through the lieutenants. All of this is shown live on television, which contributes by paying the costs of the engagements.

This is a solidly written, action-packed mil-SF novel. The action scenes are very well done, the main characters fairly straightforward, the motivations for the characters clear. There’s the odd misstep – a scene where an infantryman has to explain World War One to his fellow soldiers seemed a little far-fetched to me, and later an explanation of the Spartans, for example – but really most readers will probably know what to expect and have bought it to meet those criteria: heroism, difficult odds, impossible situations, they’re all here, but in the end it is the loyalty and bravery of the soldiers and their camaraderie against all complications (usually of the bungling officer kind), and their function to get a difficult job done, that makes this a worthwhile read. In these days of Big Brother television, it’s interesting to see a possible consequence in future war.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Books in the Mail (W/E 2011-11-19

Another week, another batch of books to peruse here at the ‘o Stuff. Some I’ve read, some I will read and a more than a couple I won’t be reading.

The Gildar Rift (A Space Marines Battle Novel) by Sarah Cawkwell (Black Library , Trade Paperback 11/29/2011) – One of the regular novels set in Warhammer 40K’s Space Marine grouping of books, I think this is the first WH40k novel by a woman.

When the ancient warship Wolf of Fenris emerges from the warp, Imperial forces find that it has been overrun by the dreaded Red Corsairs. However, this is no mere raiding party – Huron Blackheart and his entire renegade fleet soon follow, intent on conquering the Gildar Rift and tightening their grip on the sector. Lance batteries and torpedo salvos burn fiery contrails through the void, and only Captain Arrun of the Silver Skulls Space Marine Chapter can halt the renegades’ advance. The fate of the Rift will not be decided in the heavens but on the surface of Gildar Secundus below.

When the Saints (ABrothers Magnus #2) by Dave Duncan and (Tor , Hardcover 11/22/2011)) – Duncan is a very good writer in that he tells stories with skill and does it very often. I’m way behind on reading what he’s been publishing, including the first book of this series.

When we left the Brothers Magnus, they had assembled in Cardice to help Anton Magnus defend the castle from attack by a neighboring state with a significant military advantage and several officers who at any moment could request help from saints—or, depending on your perspective, from the devil.

But Cardice has a secret weapon in the form of young Wulfgang Magnus, who can ask a few favors of his own from these devil-saints. The only problem is that Wulf is in love with Madlenka, the countess from Cardice who was forcibly married to Anton to explain why he’s suddenly leading the country.

Even Wulf is unsure if family and political loyalty should override love. He’s also beginning to realize that the magical battle he’s stepped into has some serious rules that he doesn’t know, and has no way to learn. And when several wild cards in every battle can tap into nearly limitless sources of magic, who knows how far and wide the battle might range?

This stunning continuation of the story begun in Speak to the Devil amps up the romance and intrigue, while letting readers spend more time with master fantasist Dave Duncan’s unique, complex, and ornery-but-delightful characters.

Lightbringer by K.D. McEntire (Pyr, Hardcover 11/15/2011) – This is one of the launch books for Pyr’s Young Adult line of books and McEntire’s first.

Wendy has the ability to see souls that have not moved on—but she does not seek them out. They seek her. They yearn for her . . . or what she can do for them. Without Wendy’s powers, the Lost, the souls that have died unnaturally young, are doomed to wander in the never forever, and Wendy knows she is the only one who can set them free by sending them into the light.

Each soul costs Wendy, delivering too many souls would be deadly, and yet she is driven to patrol, dropping everyone in her life but her best friend, Eddie—who wants to be more than friends—until she meets Piotr.

Piotr, the first Rider and guardian of the Lost, whose memory of his decades in the never, a world that the living never see, has faded away. With his old-fashioned charms, and haunted kindness, he understands Wendy in ways no one living ever could, yet Wendy is hiding that she can do more than exist in the never. Wendy is falling for a boy who she may have to send into the light.

But there are darker forces looking for the Lost. Trying to regain the youth and power that the Lost possess, the dark ones feed on the Lost and only Wendy and Piotr can save them—but at what cost?

Lightbringer is a YA urban fantasy/romance set in a world a breath away from our own. Similar in tone to Tithe and Unleashed, Lightbringer tiptoes down the line between love and horror as Wendy discovers herself and the darkest parts of the afterlife.

Hearts of Steam & Smoke (Society of Steam #2) by Andrew P. Mayer (Pyr Trade Paperback 11/22/2011) –Second novel in Mayer’s Steam powered Superhero group, appearing just four months after the first, impressive.

Sir Dennis Darby has been murdered, the Automaton has been destroyed, and Sarah Stanton has turned her back on a life of privilege and comfort to try and find her way in the unforgiving streets of New York. But Lord Eschaton, the villain behind all these events, isn't finished with her yet. His plans to bring his apocalyptic vision of the future to the world are moving forward, but to complete his scheme he needs the clockwork heart that Sarah still holds.

But she has her own plans for the Automaton's clockwork heart—Sarah is trying rebuild her mechanical friend, and when she is attacked by The Children of Eschaton, the man comes to her rescue may be the one to make her dreams come true. Emelio Armando is a genius inventor who had hoped to leave his troubles behind when he and his sister left Italy for a life of anonymity in the New World. Now he finds himself falling in love with the fallen society girl, but he is rapidly discovering just how powerful the forces of villainy aligned against her are, and that fulfilling her desires means opening the door to a world of danger that could destroy everything he has built.

THE SOCIETY OF STEAM takes place in a Victorian New York powered by the discovery of Fortified Steam, a substance that allows ordinary men to wield extraordinary abilities, and grant powers that can corrupt gentlemen of great moral strength. The secret behind this amazing substance is something that wicked brutes will gladly kill for, and one that Sarah must try and protect, no matter what the cost.

Artemis by Philip Palmer (Orbit Books, Trade Paperback 12/12/2011) – Palmer’s been publishing novels pretty consistently since his debut, Debatable Space which takes place the same universe as this novel. I recently read Hell Ship, the novel he released earlier in the year, and really liked it so I’ve got relatively high hopes for this one.

Artemis McIvor is a thief, a con-artist, and a stone cold killer. And she's been on a crime-spree for, well, for years. The galactic government has collapsed and the universe was hers for the taking.

But when the cops finally catch up with her, they give Artemis a choice. Suffer in prison for the rest of her very long life, or join a crew of criminals, murderers, and traitors on a desperate mission to save humanity against an all-consuming threat.

Now, Artemis has to figure out how to be a good guy without forgetting who she really is.

The Alloy of Law (A Mistborn Novel) by Brandon Sanderson (Tor , Hardcover 11/08/2011) – To say that I am a fan of Brandon’s writing would be an understatement, I’ve gone on record to say that Mistborn is one of my favorite completed trilogies, so this novel is more than welcome. I just posted my review of this about two weeks ago.

Fresh from the success of The Way of Kings, Brandon Sanderson, best known for completing Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time®, takes a break to return to the world of the bestselling Mistborn series.

Three hundred years after the events of the Mistborn trilogy, Scadrial is now on the verge of modernity, with railroads to supplement the canals, electric lighting in the streets and the homes of the wealthy, and the first steel-framed skyscrapers racing for the clouds.

Kelsier, Vin, Elend, Sazed, Spook, and the rest are now part of history—or religion. Yet even as science and technology are reaching new heights, the old magics of Allomancy and Feruchemy continue to play a role in this reborn world. Out in the frontier lands known as the Roughs, they are crucial tools for the brave men and women attempting to establish order and justice.

One such is Waxillium Ladrian, a rare Twinborn, who can Push on metals with his Allomancy and use Feruchemy to become lighter or heavier at will. After twenty years in the Roughs, Wax has been forced by family tragedy to return to the metropolis of Elendel. Now he must reluctantly put away his guns and assume the duties and dignity incumbent upon the head of a noble house. Or so he thinks, until he learns the hard way that the mansions and elegant tree-lined streets of the city can be even more dangerous than the dusty plains of the Roughs.

The Thirteen Hallows by Michael Scott and Colette Freedman - (Tor Hardcover 11/08/2011) – This book sounds like an intriguing mix of urban fantasy and murder mystery, the first adult novel for Scott and the first novel for Freedman, which is also the first book in the series.

The Hallows. Ancient artifacts imbued with a primal and deadly power. But are they protectors of this world, or the keys to its destruction?

A gruesome murder in London reveals a sinister plot to uncover a two-thousand-year-old secret.

For decades, the Keepers guarded these Hallows, keeping them safe and hidden and apart from each other. But now the Keepers are being brutally murdered, their prizes stolen, the ancient objects bathed in their blood.

Now, only a few remain.

With her dying breath, one of the Keepers convinces Sarah Miller, a practical stranger, to deliver her Hallow—a broken sword with devastating powers—to her American nephew, Owen.

The duo quickly become suspects in a series of murders as they are chased by both the police and the sadistic Dark Man and his nubile mistress.

As Sarah and Owen search for the surviving Keepers, they unravel the deadly secret the Keepers were charged to protect. The mystery leads Sarah and Owen on a cat-and-mouse chase through England and Wales, and history itself, as they discover that the sword may be the only thing standing between the world…a nd a horror beyond imagining.

The Thirteen Hallows is the beginning of a spellbinding new saga, a thrilling tale of ancient magic and modern times by a New York Times bestselling author and an award-winning playwright.

Theft of Swords (Riyria Revelations Omnibus #1) by Michael J. Sullivan (Orbit, Trade Paperback 11/23/2011) – Sullivan’s series has been making great waves since he published it under his and his wife’s imprint last year – terrific reviews and supremely impressive sales. Mr. Sullivan signed on with Orbit to publish the six books of the series in three 2-in-1 Omnibus volumes publishing in November, December, and January. I finished the ARC about a week or two ago and loved the book, can’t wait to keep reading.

Royce Melborn, a skilled thief, and his mercenary partner, Hadrian Blackwater, make a profitable living carrying out dangerous assignments for conspiring nobles-until they are hired to pilfer a famed sword. What appears to be just a simple job finds them framed for the murder of the king and trapped in a conspiracy that uncovers a plot far greater than the mere overthrow of a tiny kingdom.

Can a self-serving thief and an idealistic swordsman survive long enough to unravel the first part of an ancient mystery that has toppled kings and destroyed empires in order to keep a secret too terrible for the world to know?

And so begins the first tale of treachery and adventure, sword fighting and magic, myth and legend.

When author Michael J. Sullivan self-published the first books of his Riyria Revelations, they rapidly became ebook bestsellers. Now, Orbit is pleased to present the complete series for the first time in bookstores everywhere. Theft of Swords was originally published as: The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha.

Faith & Fire (Sisters of Battle #1) by James Swallow (Black Library , Mass Market Paperback 11/29/2011) – Swallow has been playing in the Warhammer sandbox for quite some time, including the New York Times bestselling author of Nemesis. Faith & Firewas first released in 2006 and is being re-released to coincide with the sequel Hammer and Anvil.

In the grim nightmare future of the 41st millennium, the Sisters of Battle stand between humanity and damnation. From the elite Seraphim warriors to the berserk Sisters Repentia, they are the strong arm of the Ecclesiarchy, bringing the Emperor’s justice to the enemies of mankind.

When dangerous psychic heretic Torris Vaun escapes from her custody, Seraphim Miriya is disgraced in the eyes of her fellow sisters and superiors. Following Vaun’s trail to the planet Neva, Miriya takes her sisters in pursuit and, along with Hospitaller Sister Verity, starts her investigations.

When they uncover a terrifying plot that could threaten the future of the Imperium, is Miriya’s and Verity’s faith strong enough for them to triumph?

Hammer & Anvil (Sisters of Battle #2) by James Swallow (Black Library , Mass Market Paperback 11/29/2011) – Swallow has been playing in the Warhammer sandbox for quite some time, including the New York Times bestselling author of Nemesis. This is the sequel to the re-released Faith & Fire .

The Sisters of Battle are the Emperor’s most devout worshippers, fierce warriors preaching the purity of the Imperium and scourging their enemies with bolter and flamer. On a distant world, the Ecclesiarchy outpost of Sanctuary 101, was wiped out by an implacable foe - the fearless, soulless necrons. Now, a mission of the Sisterhood has returned to reconsecrate the site - but the metallic nightmares still lurk in the darkness, guarding a secret that has lain dormant for millennia. A vicious battle will be fought - one that can only end in the total destruction of the unrelenting xenos, or the annihilation of the proud Sororitas.

Friday, November 18, 2011

VanerderMeers Interviewed and Emily Gee Reviewed at SFFWorld,

I’ll lead all my faithful readers into the weekend with excerpts/links to a couple of goodies recently posted to SFFWorld.

Mark interviewed Ann & Jeff VanderMeer, editors what could be considered a landmark tome: The Weird currently available in the UK via Corvus and available next year via Tor (YAY!), as well as the companion Web site: Weird Fiction Review.

They are sort of the power couple of Fantastic/Weird Literature as of late, Ann having edited Weird Tales, Jeff writing some terrifically imaginative novels (City of Saints and Madmen, Veniss Underground, and Shriek), and the two of them collaborating the Thackery T. Lambshead books.

Here's an excerpt of the interview:

Of the many tales you include, which are your personal favourites and why?

Ann: It’s difficult to pick favourites; in some ways I wish this book could have been twice the size! One story that I keep coming back to is Jerome Bixby’s “It’s A Good Life.” This story was made into one of my all-time favourite Twilight Zone episodes, which was a major influence on my early leanings towards weird fiction. I read this story for the first time in preparation for this anthology and was totally blown away. Keep in mind I know this story backwards and forwards – no surprises here, however, reading the story still gave me the major creeps. And just talking about it now is bringing that creepy feeling straight back to me.

Jeff: That’s so tough...Just being able to include work by Julio Cortazar, Angela Carter, Ben Okri, Shirley Jackson, and Jorge Luis Borges, for example—those were all my heroes growing up and huge influences on me as a writer. So being able to reprint their stories is almost overwhelming. In terms of individual stories, I love some of the more out there stuff like Eric Basso’s “The Beak Doctor”. But I am also a huge fan of Aickman, and I still find his “The Hospice” one of the strangest and at times absurdly funny tales of the supernatural ever written. The Michel Bernanos is one of the greatest weird tales ever written. I also loved that George R.R. Martin’s “Sandkings” held up to a re-reading. Then there are the stories you don’t appreciate until you revisit them. Like Kelly Link’s “The Specialist’s Hat,” which I love now. Murakami’s “The Ice Man” is a great story. Steve Duffy’s “The Lion’s Den.” I could go on and on. It’s so difficult to choose.

Kathryn (aka Loewryn) reviewed the first book in new series (The Cursed Kingdoms Trilogy) by Emily Gee: The Sentinal Mage.

The story is told to us through a moderate number of characters. The larger chapters revolve around Innis, Prince Harkeld and Justen, the prince's armsman, who is one of the shapeshifting mages in disguise. Harkeld's sister, Princess Brigitta or Britta as she is known by those close to her, is used to tell us a little about the politics of the land whilst Jaumé, a small boy, is our link to those directly affected by the spreading curse. These four main points of view compliment each other well and give us some insight into the world and its people. Jaumé and Brigitta elicit a lot of sympathy from the reader, the former for losing his family in a bloodbath at the age of eight, and the latter for being forced into a marriage with an overweight, sweaty man who rapes her multiple times a day. Together, these characters give us the means to view this world and the desperation of its people, but also the sheer amount of devastation that will fall upon the Seven Kingdoms if the curse is not broken.

Gee deals with a lot of themes in this book, and she does it well. Most prominent of all is the shapeshifting magic used by Innis, and how it affects her. Mages are forbidden from taking the form of other humans, but they also run the risk of madness if they hold forms for too long. I also thought that the way mages are seen was well done, as they were discriminated against in ways that are eerily reminiscent of techniques used in our past to demonise those perceived as different. There's use of derogatory terms such as witches, but also of stories and rumours that serve to represent the mages as subhuman, an example being the rumour that they engage in physical relations with animals. The third theme Gee explores is that of forced or arranged marriages, and how they affect those directly involved, but also those around the marriage.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Clarke and Friedman Reviews at SFFWorld

Mark and I are back with a review a piece this week. Again, Mark continues to read over some older novels, this one in particular from one of his personal favorite authors. I take a look at the concluding volume of a dark fantasy trilogy that has flown under the radar the past few years.

Arthur C. Clarke is one of Mark’s favorites and here, he revisits a late novel from Sir Arthur which has just been reissued. Here’s the link and excerpt of his review of The Ghost of the Grand Banks:

Those who know a little about Sir Arthur may know that one of his passions in his later half-century was for scuba diving, though sadly limited by his ill health. His move to Sri Lanka in 1956 was evidently partly due to this. This interest in the undersea world was first made prominent in his novel The Deep Range (1957), though it was based on a short story first published in 1954.

If the appearance of a ghost didn’t already suggest it, Ghost from the Grand Banks is perhaps nominally science fiction, and certainly less science-fictional than many reader would expect from the author of 2001 A Space Odyssey. Though mainly set in the near-future (at least from a 1990 perspective) the trappings of technology and science are not too fantastical and there are some hot science ideas of the time involved, although the Epilogue, set in the far future, is more typical Clarke grandeur.

As ever, in the later Clarke books, the chapters are short, rarely more than a couple of pages, but each one throwing out clever ideas – the ever-clean car windscreen, the Y2K computer bug, the idea of the Mandelbrot set, all fairly new ideas at the time of the book’s original publication but without too much relevance to the plot.

In my review, I take a look at C.S. Friedman’s Legacy of Kings the final volume of her Magister Trilogy:

One thing I’ve always admired about Ms. Friedman’s writing is her ability to lend credence to the plight of all characters in her stories, regardless of which side of the conflict the character(s) is/are positioned. Whether we see the inner conflict King Salvatore is experiencing, or Friedman then switches to his mother and casts the plight he’s experienced against her own struggles. Even Sidera comes across as a character possessing plausible reason for her actions.

As the character moves along in the story, we learn more of the truth of the character’s past and his or her motivations. She did this with Gerald Tarrant in
The Coldfire Trilogy, and to a similar degree, she’s spun the same type of magic with Colivar. He is at (or very near) the center of controversy within Magister society (along with Kamala). Magisters don’t generally get along with each other, they guard their secrets very closely and will consider others of their kind an enemy with the slightest drop of a hat, or the thought of a drop of a hat. So, what has to happen in order for the world to be saved from the Souleaters? The Magisters must put aside their petty differences and unite.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Books in the Mail (W/E 2011-11-12)

An eclectic mix of genre releases this week at the ‘o Stuff homestead - Epic Fantasy, Science Fiction, veteran writers, giants of the industry and debuts.

Seven Princes (Books of the Shaper Volume 1) by John R. Fultz (Orbit Trade Paperback 01/03/2012) –Debut epic fantasy from Fultz, who has published a fair amount of short stories. Orbit is backing this one pretty strongly.

It is an Age of Legends.

Under the watchful eye of the Giants, the kingdoms of Men rose to power. Now, the Giant-King has slain the last of the Serpents and ushered in an era of untold peace and prosperity. Where a fire-blackened desert once stood, golden cities flourish in verdant fields.

It is an Age of Heroes.

But the realms of Man face a new threat-- an ancient sorcerer slaughters the rightful King of Yaskatha before the unbelieving eyes of his son, young Prince D'zan. With the Giant-King lost to a mysterious doom, it seems that no one has the power to stop the coming storm.

It is an Age of War.

The fugitive Prince seeks allies across the realms of Men and Giants to liberate his father's stolen kingdom. Six foreign Princes are tied to his fate. Only one thing is certain: War is coming.


Some will seek glory.

Some will seek vengeance.

All will be legends.

Earthbound by Joe Haldeman (Ace, Hardcover 12/06/2011) – This is third book in Haldeman’s series focusing on galactic space travel. I’ve read both The Forever War and Forever Peace.

"One of science fiction's most reliable practitioners" (San Francisco Chronicle) continues his saga of space exploration.

The mysterious alien Others have prohibited humans from space travel-destroying Earth's fleet of starships in a display of unimaginable power. Now Carmen Dula, the first human to encounter Martians and then the mysterious Others, and her colleagues struggle to find a way, using nineteenthcentury technology, to reclaim the future that has been stolen from them.

Blood of Aenarion (Tyrion and Teclis #1) by William King (Black Library, Hardcover 11/29/2011) – William King is the author of one of Warhammer Fantasy’s earliest and most popular characters/series Gotrek and Felix. This is his first Warhammer novel in almost a decade.

The twins Tyrion and Teclis are the greatest high elf heroes still to walk the earth. They are as different to one another as darkness and light.

Tyrion is an unparalleled swordsman, a superlative warrior and tactician from birth. He inspires courage and loyalty in those around him. Champion of the Everqueen, he is Ulthuan’s greatest protector.

Teclis’s gift is magic. The greatest natural sorcerer of the age, his power rivals that of fabled Caledor. Wise councillor of the high elves, Teclis was amongst those who first taught magic to the race of men and gave them the means to defend themselves against Chaos.

From their humble origin in the wild lands of Chrace, Tyrion and Teclis were meant for a great destiny. They come from the line of Aenarion, the first king of Ulthuan and cursed champion of that magical island.

When the Witch King Malekith learns of the twins’ existence their lives are imperilled and they are taken to Lothern for their protection and to learn the arts of war.

Inheritance (Inheritance Cycle Book 4) by Christopher Paolini (Knopf Books for Young Readers Hardcover 11/08/2011) – Paolini made a huge splash nearly a decade ago when Random House published his book, Eragon after it was self-published through his parent’s publishing company. In that time, he’s gained lots of readers who are anticipating this, the final volume of this Star-Wars in Fantasyland saga..

Not so very long ago, Eragon—Shadeslayer, Dragon Rider—was nothing more than a poor farm boy, and his dragon, Saphira, only a blue stone in the forest. Now the fate of an entire civilization rests on their shoulders.

Long months of training and battle have brought victories and hope, but they have also brought heartbreaking loss. And still, the real battle lies ahead: they must confront Galbatorix. When they do, they will have to be strong enough to defeat him. And if they cannot, no one can. There will be no second chances.

The Rider and his dragon have come further than anyone dared to hope. But can they topple the evil king and restore justice to Alagaësia? And if so, at what cost?

This is the much-anticipated, astonishing conclusion to the worldwide bestselling Inheritance cycle.

Mecha Corps (A Novel of the Armor Wars) by Brett Patton (Roc, Mass Market Paperback 12/06/2011) – Patton’s debut novel, which looks to also be the first of a series, combines military science fiction with Robotech®. Could be interesting, and the author is lucky that Emilio Estevez is starring in his novel.

Matt Lowell is in hell-and there's no place he'd rather be. At a training camp on the backwater planet of Earth, he and his fellow cadets are learning to ride Mechas: biomechanicals sporting both incredible grace and devastating firepower. Their ultimate aim is to combat the pirates of the Corsair Confederacy, but before they survive a battle, they have to survive their training.

Because every time Lowell and his comrades "plug in" to their Mechas, their minds are slowly being twisted and broken by an unseen power that is neither man...nor machine.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Hell Ship and Conan, Plus Three Interviews

Two more reviews this week, plus a few new interviews at SFFWorld.

Philip Palmer is an author I’ve been wanting to try for some time, and with Hell Ship, which was a real page-turner, I did just that:

In a lot of ways, this novel can be seen as a chase/quest adventure. Sharrock is placed at the center of much of the story as he continually attempts to bring down the, Ka’un, the monstrous aliens who have been ravaging the galaxies and subjugating the lone survivors of each speacies. He battles other alien inhabitants of the Hell Ship, his ideologies continually clash with that of Sai-ias, and through it all, his uncompromising drive for revenge is a powerful thing that cannot be ignored. The ideologies of Sai-ias (acceptance of bad situation and trying to make the best of it) vs Sharrock (fighting against your oppressors) fuels much of the novel and proves a pleasingly introspective element compared against the intimate violence in which Sharrock participates and the external violence between the Hell Ship and the former pirate now half-AI Jak.

In sum, these elements add up to a solid gestalt story premise. Palmer supports that mish-mash premise with the characters possessing their eminently engaging and convincing voices. From their own points of view, Sharrock, Sai-ias, and Jak are completely believable and sympathetic in their plights. When Sharrock is telling the readers of his frustrations regarding Sai-ias, and vice versa, their urgings and convictions made me share those same frustrations. Palmer did a great job of putting me in the characters heads. I found myself questioning what I would do in their respective situations.

A while back, Mark took a look at a collection of Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories published to coincide with the recent film. Now, he takes a look at, Conan the Destoryer a more authoritative edition from Gollancz, which is the first in series of Conan volumes::

Do we need another collection? Again, the production of small bites of the canon may entice those intimidated by the two-volume Fantasy Masterworks series or the (lovely) del Rey or Gollancz Black Library editions. However, as five of the stories in this new collection are also in Conan the Barbarian, some readers may be annoyed at the overlap. Whereas Conan the Barbarian is a taster, the three-volume set is perhaps more for those who have tried some and want the fuller picture.

But what stories! We have tales of the young mercenary Conan (“
Elephant”), of Conan fighting alongside women (“Moonlight” and “Vale of Lost Women”) against pirates and giant apes (“Moonlight”), Conan fighting sorcerers and evil wizards (“Colossus”) and corrupt priests and aristocrats (“Rogues”). At their best, they are dark, breathless, baroque and imaginative tales and have an energy that is still quite hard to beat, even if the issues of racism and the old-fashioned roles of women herein can sit a little uncomfortably with contemporary tastes..

Mark interviewed David Wingrove, author of the Chung Kuo saga currently being re-released/re-masterd.

Kat interviewed horror author Lincoln Crisler, who is also participating (with Jasper Kent and Tim Marquitz) in our current Author Roundtable

Nila (aka tmso in the SFFWorld forums) interviewed Tristis Ward, author of Bones of the Magus

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Books in the Mail (W/E 2011-11-05)

Regular readers know the drill. It's Sunday, so I tell all of my millions...and millions of readers the books I received for review the previous week since I can't possible read all of them, I can at least mention them here.

The Ruined City by Paula Brandon (Spectra Trade Paperback 02/28/2012) –Sequel / Second in the series to / of Brandon’s debut The Traitor’s Daughter, which has been getting quite a nice buzz.

Paula Brandon’s epic and captivating trilogy continues as magic and mystery wreak havoc with the very fabric of existence.

Reality is wavering. Soon its delicate balance will shift and an ancient force will return to overwhelm the Veiled Isles. Now those with the arcane talent forge an uneasy alliance in hopes that their combined abilities are enough to avert an eerie catastrophe. Yet it may be too late. The otherworldly change has begun. The streets of the city are rife with chaos, plague, and revolt. And it is here that Jianna Belandor, once a pampered daughter of privilege, returns to face new challenges.

The dead walk the streets. The docile amphibian slaves of humanity have taken up arms. Jianna’s home lies in ruins. Her only happiness resides in her growing attraction to Falaste Rione, a brilliant nomadic physician whose compassion and courage have led him to take dangerous risks. Jianna, stronger and more powerful than she knows, has a role to play in the unfolding destiny of her world. But a wave of madness is sweeping across the land, and time is running out—even for magic.

Stands a Shadow (Heart of the World Book 2) by Col Buchanan (Tor Hardcover 01/08/2011) – Tor published this, the second book in the series, less than a year (and in the same calendar year) as the first one, which Mark reviewed last year.

In Farlander, the first book of the Heart of the World series, readers met Ash, an aging master assassin of the famed order of Roshun, and his apprentice Nico, a boy who always managed to be in the wrong place at the right time. Ash and Nico, one with failing health and the other with little training, were sent on a suicidal mission to fulfill a contract against the favored son of the Holy Matriarch, the ruler of Mann. The assassination of the Matriarch's son maintained the honor and reputation of the Roshun, but further destabilized a nation already beset by strife. For Ash, fulfilling the contract came at an enormous personal cost.

Now in Stands a Shadow, driven by grief and anger, Ash embarks on a journey that takes him through the Free Ports and towards the embattled city of Bar-Khos. He arrives at the city as the Holy Matriarch of Mann orders her forces to breach the walls of Bar-Khos and bring it under her control. Renouncing the ways of the Roshun, Ash disguises himself among the Mannian soldiers, determined to go to any lengths to have his revenge against the Matriarch. . . .

The Heart of the World series is an epic adventure that, through the lens of its vibrant and unique world and engaging characters, asks intriguing questions and illuminates the humanity at the core of both hero and villain. Stands a Shadow is the second book in the series.

Human for a Day by Martin H. Greenberg and Jennifer Brozek and (DAW Mass Market Paperback 12/06/2011) – The December monthly themed anthology from DAW contains 16 stories that ask the question: What is it to be Human? Some interesting names here: Ian Tregillis, Jim C. Hines, Seanan McGuire (aka Mira Grant) and Jay Lake, among others.

Here's an anthology that examines what it means to be human in all its positive and negative aspects. If you were an intelligent robot, would the opportunity to become human for a day be worth the risks? If a magic spell switched the bodies of a vampire and a teenage girl, would both savor the experience or search for a way to undo the enchantment? What tests would an angel face if transformed into a mortal for a day? These are just a few of the inventive stories-some humorous, some sad, many thought-provoking, and all unique-to be found in Human for a Day..

The Third Section (The Danilov Quintet #3) by Jasper Kent (Pyr , Trade Paperback 10/25/2011) – The venerable Hobbit has reviewed the second in the series, Thirteen Years Later, in 2010 and the first, Twelve, before that for SFFWorld. As of this blog post, Mr. Kent is participating in SFFWorld’s current Author Roundtable discussion. Here’s the back cover copy of the book:

Russia 1855. After forty years of peace in Europe, war rages. In the Crimea, the city of Sevastopol is besieged. In the north, Saint Petersburg is blockaded. But in Moscow there is one who needs only to sit and wait – wait for the death of an aging tsar, and for the curse upon his blood to be passed to a new generation.

As their country grows weaker, a man and a woman—unaware of the hidden ties that bind them—must come to terms with their shared legacy. In Moscow, Tamara Valentinovna Komarova uncovers a brutal murder and discovers that it not the first in a sequence of similar crimes, merely the latest, carried out by a killer who has stalked the city since 1812.

And in Sevastopol, Dmitry Alekseevich Danilov faces not only the guns of the combined armies of Britain and France, but must also make a stand against creatures that his father had thought buried beneath the earth, thirty years before.

Alien Proliferation (Kitty Kat: Alien Super-Being Exterminator Book 4) by Gini Koch (DAW Mass Market Paperback 12/06/2011) – Planetary Romance with an alien exterminator as the protagonist, this is the fourth in the series. Koch is churning these things out on a very impressive schedule.

Alien Super-Being Exterminator Kitty Katt is expecting her first baby. But the alien attacks are getting more dangerous, and now Kitty and her Alpha Centaurion husband, Jeff, have to find out who's behind the conspiracy to kill Kitty's secret agent mom and what caused Kitty's transformation into a superhuman-and they've got to do it all before the baby shower...

Endurance by Jay Lake (Tor Hardcover 11/08/2011) – Sequel to Lake’s popular Green… This is the finished copy of the ARC I received back in July.

Green is back in Copper Downs. Purchased from her father in sunny Selistan when she was four years old, she was harshly raised to be a courtesan, companion, and bedmate of the Immortal Duke of Copper Downs. But Green rebelled. Green killed the Duke, and many others, and won her freedom. Yet she is still claimed by the gods and goddesses of her world, and they still require her service. Their demands are greater than any duke’s could have been.

Godslayers have come to the Stone Coast, magicians whose cult is dedicated to destroying the many gods of Green’s world. In the turmoil following the Immortal Duke’s murder, Green made a God out of her power and her memories. Now the gods turn to her to protect them from the Slayers.

Jay Lake brings us an epic fantasy not "in the tradition of Tolkien," but, instead, sensual, ominous, shot through with the sweat of fear and the intoxication of power.

Scholar (Imager Portfolio) by (L.E. Modesitt, Jr. (Tor Hardcover 11/08/2011) – I’ve seen lots of good things about this series, though I have yet to read Modesitt, Jr. I was hoping to receive this book since it is set well before the events of the main series.

Hundreds of years before the time of Imager, the continent of Lydar is fragmented. Years of war have consolidated five nations into three—Bovaria, Telaryn, and Antiago. Quaeryt is a scholar and a friend of Bhayar, the young ruler of Telaryn. Worried about his future and the escalating intrigues in Solis, the capital city, Quaeryt persuades Bhayar to send him to Tilbor, conquered ten years earlier by Bhayar’s father, in order to see if the number and extent of occupying troops can be reduced so that they can be re-deployed to the border with warlike Bovaria.

Quaeryt has managed to conceal the fact that he is an imager, since the life expectancies of imagers in Lydar is short. Just before Quaeryt departs, Bhayar’s youngest sister passes a letter to the scholar-imager, a letter that could well embroil Quaeryt in the welter of court politics he had hoped to leave behind. On top of that, on his voyage and journey to Tilbor he must face pirates, storms, poisonings, attempted murder, as well as discovering the fact that he is not quite who he thought he was. To make it all worse, the order of scholars to which he belongs is jeopardized in more ways than one.

Under the Vale and Other Tales of Valdemar by Mercedes Lackey (DAW, Mass Market Paperback 12/06/2011) – These Valdemar anthologies seems to becoming almost an annual thing, this is the second or third I’ve received since I’ve been doing these weekly round-up of books received.

In March 1987, a young author from Oklahoma published her first novel, Arrows of the Queen. This modest book about a magical land called Valdemar was the beginning of a fantasy masterwork series that would span decades and include more than two dozen titles. Now readers can travel to the world of Valdemar with Tanya Huff, Mickey Zucker Reichert, Fiona Patton, Rosemary Edghill, Judith Tarr, and others in these original stories, including an all-new novella from Mercedes Lackey..

Echoes of Betrayal (Book Three of Paladin’s Legacy ) by Elizabeth Moon (Del Rey Hardcover 02/21/2012) – I liked the first two in this series (Oath of Fealty and Kings of the North) and earlier this year I read (and thoroughly enjoyed) the first trilogy set in this world, The Deed of Paksenarrion) which is now in my Omnibus Hall of Fame [© PeterWilliam]. So yeah, I’m looking forward to this one.

The action continues fast and furious in this third installment of Elizabeth Moon’s celebrated return to the fantasy world of the paladin Paksenarrion Dorthansdotter. This award-winning author has firsthand military experience and an imagination that knows no bounds. Combine those qualities with an ability to craft flesh-and-blood characters, and the result is the kind of speculative fiction that engages both heart and mind.

All is not well in the Eight Kingdoms. In Lyonya, King Kieri is about to celebrate marriage to his beloved, the half-elf Arian. But uncanny whispers from the spirits of his ancestors continue to warn of treachery and murder. A finger of suspicion has been pointed toward his grandmother, the queen of the Ladysforest elves, and that suspicion has only intensified with time and the Lady’s inexplicable behavior. Clearly, she is hiding something. But what? And why?

Meanwhile, in Tsaia, the young king Mikeli must grapple with unrest among his own nobility over his controversial decision to grant the title and estates of a traitorous magelord to a Verrakaien who not only possesses the forbidden magic but is a woman besides: Dorrin, once one of Kieri’s most trusted captains. When renegade Verrakaien attack two of Dorrin’s squires, suspicion and prejudice combine to place Dorrin’s life at risk—and the king’s claim to the throne in peril.

But even greater danger is looming. The wild offspring of a dragon are on the loose, sowing death and destruction and upsetting the ancient balance of power between dragonkind, humans, elves, and gnomes. A collision seems inevitable. Yet when it comes, it will be utterly unexpected—and all the more devastating for it.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Sanderson, Wingrove and Carroll at SFFWorld

November begins and it is a Tuesday, but as has been the case in recent weeks and months here at the o’ Stuff, we have some new reviews up at SFFWorld.

Brandon Sanderson has quickly risen to the top of the crop of Epic Fantasy writers thanks to his superb Mistborn saga and being the proverbial Dragon to finish The Wheel of Time. Thanks to that, The Alloy of Law is one of the more hotly anticipated fantasy releases in 2011. The book set in his popular Mistborn milieu, the novel is neither a sequel nor the start of a series, but a standalone set hundreds of years after the main trilogy:

Set at what might be described as the dawn of the Industrial age in Scadrial, the world in which Mistborn takes place, the scion of a once proud family – protagonist Waxillium (Wax) Ladrian – returns to assume the status of familial head in the glorious city of Elendel after the tragic death of his uncle and sister. Wax is returning from a stint as a lawman in the Roughs and returns as something of an enigma. His deeds are well documented, though the society in which he finds himself considers him lowly. In order to cement his and his family’s standing, Wax begins the political maneuvering, at the behest of the family’s butler, to meet Steris, a woman of high standing as a potential wife. When they attend a wedding together, Steris is kidnapped. Her kidnapping is part of an overall succession of kidnappings involving highborn women with a common thread.

So, a fairly straightforward plot – rescue the kidnapped girl – but layered with a lot of fun details and accoutrements to enhance the overall ‘taste’ of the stories. For starters, Wax doesn’t exactly return to Elendel alone, in tow is his old partner/sidekick Wayne. Wayne provides much of the comic relief and balances Wax’s often stoic bearing and character. Marasi, Steris’s cousin, proves a more deep character as balance to Steris’s cold bearing. Steris joins Wayne and Wax in the pursuit of Steris from her captors. The characters are well done, and as is always the case, the magic system of Allomancy and Feruchemy are more than a simple window dressing. Their use is essential to the story and Sanderson weaves in the details of how these abilities work fairly well into the narrative of the novel, though on a couple of occasions it does seem to be a lecture. Sanderson; however, does lampshade this with the character of Wayne.

David Wingrove’s Chung Kuo is an intricately layered future history that is being republished in a slightly rewritten form in an ambitions publication project in the UK over the next couple of years. This is the long way of saying that Mark reviewed the second book in the series Daylight on Iron Mountain:

Whilst the story focuses on the perspectives of a number of key characters, it is the often brief yet cumulative comments that create a wider picture. Japan has already been destroyed through nuclear weapons, and the Middle East does so here in a matter of sentences, refusing to disavow their religion. Other hints are made along the way: people of a coloured heritage are ruthlessly killed, people with disabilities also. The United States, broken into a group of splintered kingdoms, spend their time fighting amongst themselves until it is too late and they are unable to save themselves from the Chinese invasion, led by General Jiang Lei.

It is here that we start to see the means by which the Chinese exert and maintain their power on a range of scales, from local politics to global domination, something which will develop more in future books. The actions taken to ensure power are dramatic and quite merciless. The author thinks nothing of killing and torturing characters to serve these means, which reflects the point that although there is a highly sophisticated social structure in this New World Order, the means of maintaining the structure are as brutal as ever.

Mark catches up with an Urban Fantasy which was recently published in the UK, and initially published last year (2010), Black Swan Rising by Lee Carroll, the husband-and-wife team Lee Slonimsky and Carol Goodman:

A debut Urban Fantasy, written by husband-and-wife team Lee Slonimsky and Carol Goodman, this one is generally well written and engaging.

One of the basic ideas of UF is that the protagonist realises that there is a world beyond the normal/mundane. Whether it is China Mieville (where the two overlap) or Stephenie Mayer (mystical creatures intermingled with humans who are unaware) this ‘big secret’ is what makes a lot of UF fun.

The use of some of New York’s iconic places as a background did this little harm either. There’s some lovely travelogue detail around the city, which evoked a great sense of atmosphere and setting. All of this of course makes the fantastical seem more acceptable. The trick here is to make the impossible seem credible and on the whole the authors do this – until almost at the end, when we go that one step too far, for me anyway. However, up to that point, the general impression is one that is generally entertaining.