Catching Up with FRAN WILDE

WildeF-AuthorPicYour next novel, Cloudbound, is the follow-up to Updraft and due out in September 2016. What can fans of the first novel expect from the new book?

Where Updraft was in some ways about voice — and who speaks, who is heard, and who is not, Cloudbound shifts to a new focus, and a new narrator: Nat.

After the events in Updraft, Nat’s learning how to be a leader, and the benefits and costs of doing so. Politics in the city of living bone are more complex than ever, as are relationships — Nat’s and Kirit’s friendship is tested beyond the breaking point, as is Nat’s understanding of how the city works.

Where Updraft was a story above the clouds, Cloudbound — well, the title tells you a lot about where we’re headed. And yup, more monsters. Big ones. Continue reading

Catching up with TOM LLOYD

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Tom Lloyd is the author of the Twilight Reign epic fantasy series, which was completed earlier this year. Today, Gollancz publish the first in his new series, Moon’s Artifice. To mark the occasion, I caught up with Tom to get an update since my first interview with the author…

Your first fantasy series, The Twilight Reign, came to an end this year. How does it feel to have it finished?

Weird – damn good, but still weird. I started on the project when I was 18, so it’s been the major constant of 12-14 years of my life! Even when I was signed up by Gollancz I don’t think I appreciated just how much of my life was going to be devoted to one set of characters, one plot. It was just always there, so to suddenly realise you’ve written the last words puts you into mourning.

Of course, the very last words of Dusk Watchman are the inscription on a memorial stone – I can’t remember if I’d finished all the stories of God Tattoo by then, but most of them. Certainly in my mind, that final part of the epilogue was what really brought it home to me. When I wrote the last words and typed the inscription, I think I might have needed a few moments to myself… And again when I did the second draft of it and finally got the tone of those last couple pages as I really wanted it.

So yeah, years of my life and the voices in my head that had become my friends, all gone. I think that’s one reason why I didn’t want to go straight into an epic again. I didn’t want to have a project that I’d compare so directly with Twilight Reign. Plus I was knackered and the idea of planning a series-spanning plot was exhausting. I wanted a stand-alone book and handily had the bones of one already sketched out. I have an epic (or maybe two) idea at the back of my mind, but there’s the Empire of a Hundred Houses series and then another both ahead of them in the queue.

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Anything you might have done differently?

No book is ever finished, you know that! But at the same time, I’m really happy with it. I know it’s not a simply plot and not a book you can idly flick through – while no-one describes me as a grimdark writer (because of less of an emphasis on cynicism by characters I believe), it’s pretty dark. The tone is grim for large chunks of it, a lot of people die and a lot of people get screwed up by all that happens to them. If you’re writing about war and nations-spanning conflicts, you have to acknowledge the casualties of that – the people who get crushed under the wheels of it all.

So yeah, some people will always have criticisms of any book and I’ve seen reviews that didn’t like how I’d done certain things, but it’s the story I wanted to tell – grim and dark as it may be. I’d happily to do a quick brush-up job on Stormcaller as reading it back I think I over-complicated some passages and interrupted the flow, but aside from making bits easier and quicker to read I wouldn’t want to change it. The plot’s hardwired into my brain for a start, unpicking it would probably cause an aneurism.

Lloyd-MoonsArtificeNow. Moon’s Artifice. The first in a new series. What’s it about?

Dragons! No, not really… But I hear those sell so… ;0)

Ahem, well it’s a secondary world fantasy, but not an epic. It’s being described as swords and sorcery, but that conjures images of bearded wizards and over-muscled barbarian warriors in my mind so I’m trying to coin the term “hood and dagger” to describe an urban-set fantasy action/thriller, albeit to minimal effect!

Anyway – we have a policeman who, at the same time as he finds out his married high-born lover is pregnant, stumbles over a mystery. With no idea what he’s involved in, he’s tasked by an interfering god to find out what’s going on – his only clues being an unconscious thug dressed like an assassin and the accidental poisoning of a little girl. Quickly matters blossom into a conspiracy that threatens to overturn the rigid rules of the Empire and lead to the deaths of thousands at best – and it quickly starts to look like Narin and his new friends need to step up and stop them. Everything is set in the capital city of a fractured Empire – the meeting place of the great nations-hegemonies who have ensured the Emperor’s position is more spiritual than temporal – and takes place in something close to one week.

What was it like starting a new series from scratch again?

Strange – partly because it wasn’t from scratch. When I was looking for an agent for Stormcaller, I realised I might have to just write it off as the book I learned to write with. So I started a new one with very little idea about what I wanted from it. I knew it had to be a different sort of book as I was still learning this writing thing, and it was going to indulge the samurai obsession I had back then. Plus I had a title – Moon’s Artifice – even if I didn’t know how or why that poison fitted in the plot exactly. I knew it did in some nebulous way and just had to wait until the voices whispered exactly how.

You’ll be shocked to hear those chapters weren’t very good, but eight-odd years later, I had a much better idea of what I wanted! All those ghostly half-formed ideas at the back of my mind had had a chance to mulch around and create the bones of a plot. From there, you actually get a chance to pick what you want to do, which was quite fun. I don’t write with a specific message or agenda in mind, I just want to tell the story in my head in a way people will enjoy.

What lessons did you learn from writing Twilight Reign, and how did your experiences with that series translate into your approach to Moon’s Artifice?

I learned to write while doing the Twilight Reign and because I was doing a shorter, less complicated and faster-paced book, I had to actively consider how to adapt for that. A lot of it was simply deciding what was appropriate to the sort of book I was writing. With the experience of a classical European medieval epic fantasy, I had a number of things I didn’t want to do – not that I was rejecting them, I just wanted to do something new and different. Fortunately the Empire setting was halfway there already and just needed some tweaking plus internal consistency which ironed out the creases. Some of which, I must admit, was added by my agent who took me out for drinks and brutalised the setting and idea until he was satisfied with it. Given he’s only making money on how good my books are, that’s the mark of a good agent even if it wasn’t a fun hour or two. However successful you get, you always need to be challenged or you’ll end up phoning novels in.

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Moon’s Artifice is out TODAY! Go on. Go buy it. Here’s the synopsis

In a quiet corner of the Imperial City, Investigator Narin discovers the result of his first potentially lethal mistake. Minutes later he makes a second.

After an unremarkable career Narin finally has the chance of promotion to the hallowed ranks of the Lawbringers – guardians of the Emperor’s laws and bastions for justice in a world of brutal expediency. Joining that honoured body would be the culmination of a lifelong dream, but it couldn’t possibly have come at a worse time. A chance encounter drags Narin into a plot of gods and monsters, spies and assassins, accompanied by a grief-stricken young woman, an old man haunted by the ghosts of his past and an assassin with no past.

On the cusp of an industrial age that threatens the warrior caste’s rule, the Empire of a Hundred Houses awaits civil war between noble factions. Centuries of conquest has made the empire a brittle and bloated monster; constrained by tradition and crying out for change. To save his own life and those of untold thousands Narin must understand the key to it all – Moon’s Artifice, the poison that could destroy an empire.

Also, while you’re at it, The Twilight Reign novels are all now available, published by Gollancz in the UK, and Pyr in the US.

Two Years (ish) of DC Comics’ New 52

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Someone asked me on Twitter if I was still reading comics (they pointed out I hadn’t posted many reviews of them lately). I have been, but because I’ve been reading them in big chunks, interspersed with work reading, as well as both fiction and (future-work-related) non-fiction books, I’ve been letting the comics reviews slide a fair bit. There is another reason, of course: not all of the comics have been single storylines, or complete storylines, which makes reviewing them really tricky. Once you get to around issue #10, anything you write about the story is likely to throw out spoilers. This, I think, is maybe a weakness of reading and reviewing comics on a weekly basis – and is really why I stopped doing that almost a year ago (that and financial considerations). Regardless, my insatiable need to read All The Things With Words means I have been reading a good number of comics via ComiXology’s app on my iPad. With the exception of the frankly phenomenal Hawkeye, I do not buy any issues full-price. I just can’t afford to. So, as and when things go on sale or are discounted (either one or two months after release), I’ve been collecting issues to read in bursts.

That being said, the number of series I’ve been reading has also been steadily culled. I usually give each series a single “volume” – that is, what would appear in a collected, printed trade hardcover or paperback. It’s been a useful way of separating storylines, as well as providing a “book’s worth” to review. (Ahem, if I bothered to review them, that is…)

So which of DC’s New 52 have I kept reading? Which ones will stay? And which will have to go, and why? Below is a brief run-down (by no means exhaustive) of the titles I’ve been reading, collected by theme/larger series…

[I may add to this, over time, as I remember other titles I’ve tried, or just think of something else I’d like to add.]

GREEN LANTERN SERIES

I’m starting with this one, because I recently completed the vast “Rise of the Third Army” and “Wrath of the First Lantern” cross-title events. It was an epic undertaking, and sadly it sometimes felt like it. Not to mention being rather more expensive than I would have wished (or should have given in to). The two events, really one mega-event, had its interesting and gripping moments, but ultimately outstayed its welcome. By the time it ended, expectations were so high, that it fell a bit flat. This, I’m noticing, is a common feeling at the end of comics Events…

Overall, though, the extended family of Green Lantern titles remain interesting. Not all of them are as consistent or gripping as I would like. Green Lantern is still very good. Red Lanterns is possibly the weakest, now, after what had been a promisingly dark beginning. New Guardians is starting to fizzle a bit, too, despite my continuing interest in the wider spectrum of Lantern corps. Green Lantern Corps has some very good moments, too.

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With Geoff Johns’s run on the flagship title now over (an epic, redefining era for the character and mythos, filled with many exceptional moments), and with each title now having hit their 20th issues, I think I’m going to retire the series from my ‘pull-list’. Mostly, this is a financial decision, but it is also because the story has hit a point when I feel like I’m overdosing, and just simply want a break. The expanded 20th issue of Green Lantern was a nice wander down memory lane, and offered some intriguing hints for what is to come, but I’m just not prepared to dive back in for a little while longer. When I do return, I think only Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps will be priorities.

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BAT-FAMILY TITLES

The Batman family of titles remain my favourites, and (in my opinion) also the best-written. The flagship title, Batman, still written by the excellent Scott Snyder, continues strongly. In the wake of “Death of the Family”, we got some shorter, stand-alone issues and stories, which offered a nice breather. The latest Bat-event has now begun, though (“Year Zero”), so it’ll be interesting to see how that develops. I’ll be keeping this title on the list, and will actually be writing a review of the first three parts of “Year Zero” in the near future (#21-22 and Annual #2).

I’ve been following Detective Comics, too, but it hasn’t been firing on all cylinders for a little while. I’ll probably stick with it a little while longer, but it may have to go at some point. [As a somewhat related aside, I’m considering delving into the pre-New 52 Detective Comics stories, as some of them sound pretty great.]

BatmanDarkKnight-11-ArtGregg Hurwitz’s Scarecrow story for Batman: The Dark Knight was one of the best Batman storylines I’ve ever read. No joke. Yesterday I picked up the final part of his Mad Hatter story-arc (it’s been discounted on ComiXology), and will be reading it all in one go. I will certainly write a review for it, too. Hurwitz has done a truly fantastic job with this title. Very highly recommended indeed. It’s staying on my to-read list.

Batgirl is still going strong, with some potential closure on the question of Barbara’s serial-killer brother. Gail Simone’s keeping the quality high, and the story engaging and fresh. The artwork, too, remains strong throughout. A keeper, and I’m looking forward to picking up some of the creepier-looking recent issues in the near future.

I’m still enjoying Nightwing, as the story and character remain interesting. Post-“Death of the Family”, Dick Grayson moves to Chicago, which I think will be really great for the character – not only is it a change of pace from Gotham, but it will hopefully open up the possibility for plenty of original stories and enemies. I have every intention of continuing with the series, but I may wait longer chunks of time and binge on a complete story-arc each time I do.

Batwoman-09-ArtI haven’t been keeping up-to-date with Batwoman, despite every intention to do so. I had been waiting for printed collections before I left NYC, but chose to de-prioritize it after “Death of the Family” started, because it wasn’t connected. I enjoyed the more horror-leaning aesthetic and storylines, though, so I do hope to get caught up again. (I’ve read up to issue #9, so there is a fair bit of reading to do before I’m up-to-speed… Won’t be too soon, sadly.) It is probably the most eye-catching, artistically of all the New 52 titles. Really superb, original compositions.

Batwing is in the same position as Batwoman. It’s a series I certainly want to read more of, I just can’t afford to right now. Writing duties have changed hands (#19), and it looks like the new team (Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray) have taken the series in an interesting direction. Hopefully it won’t be too long before I get back to it.

One of my favourite series remains Red Hood & The Outlaws. If I had to say why it remains such a good read for me, I think I’d struggle to say. I like the characters – especially Jason “Red Hood” Todd – and they dynamic between them is really good. It’s a bit different, with a more sci-fi feel to it than other Batman-related titles, but perhaps it’s this difference that gives it a fresher feel? It also tied in really nicely with “Death of the Family”. I imagine this will be a keeper for some time.

I’ve also managed to read the first volume’s-worth of new title Talon. James Tynion III is doing something really interesting with this character, and I hope he becomes a permanent member of the DC stable. The first storyline was a slow-burn narrative, but with plenty of action sequences, as we follow Calvin Rose make a sort-of life for himself, with a couple of allies. And also a rogues’ gallery of his very own. It’s quite different to Batman, and I liked a lot about the series. It took me longer than it perhaps should have to adjust my expectations of story-type (I’d not been sleeping and was exhausted when I read it). Nevertheless, it is a pretty great story. The first book also has one hell of a cliff-hanger ending…

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My favourite series in the Batman family, though, has got to be Batman & Robin. Each issue is superb, but the silent issue #18 (image above), is one of the most powerful comics I’ve read. Absolutely superb, and I’ll be writing reviews of Volumes 2 and 3 in the near future. A must-read series (along with Hurwitz’s Dark Knight).

Teen Titans, led by Tim “Red Robin” Drake, has had a lot of ups and downs. Scott Lobdell’s humour can work pretty well, but overall I just don’t think I care enough about the characters to stick around any longer than I already have. The future storylines, which seem to feature six-eyed demons, also don’t appeal much.

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SUPERMAN FAMILY

Personally, I think there has been too much crossover and needed catch-up to fully follow all the storylines, which is also too much to justify financially.

Superman-11-ArtI actually like the Superman series. I seem to be one of the only people who liked the first story arc, which offered some interesting modern-era-media concerns into the story (I studied the role of the media in politics as part of my PhD, so maybe that’s why I liked it more than some others). I did get bored when the DC Powers That Be tied this series in with the daemonites storyline (which was just dull – sorry, there’s really no other way to describe it other than “just dull”, in the end). I bought the issues for Volume 3 (#13-19), not realising that they were all “H’el on Earth” issues. I have no idea if I have to read the other two Super-titles to ‘get’ the story, but it has made me hesitate (perhaps stupidly, seeing as I do own them)…

What of Superboy? Meh. I lost interest, despite enjoying Volume 1. I just never got around to reading any more of the series. Will I in the future? Perhaps. But probably not in the near future.

I finally read the first volume of Supergirl, and while there was some good stuff therein, it was mainly all-action-all-the-time, which left minimal time and space for actual story. Distracting readers with endless set-piece-battles does not a good story make. I don’t think I’ll be reading any more of the series, sadly.

Which brings us to Action Comics. I remain on the fence: Grant Morrison has finally left the series, but I’m not sure if it’s ok to just dive in with the new writers’ work. And my OCD shudders at the incompletion prospect…

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JUSTICE LEAGUE TITLES

I just finished Justice League #17-19 the other day, aiming to catch up for the latest cross-over event, “Trinity War”. (See? Told you there were a lot of them…) I must say, though, that I was thoroughly underwhelmed with these issues. The story was just weak. The artwork wasn’t great (not to mention schizophrenic, as multiple art-teams were involved). The series has not been without its strong moments, though – for example, when Batman discusses his contingency plans with Superman, and the “Throne of Atlantis” cross-over story.

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Aquaman has been a good title throughout, but due to financial constraints, I haven’t been able to keep up with it as much as I would have liked. It remains a keeper, but not an urgent one. I’ll pick up issues in chunks.

Brain Azzarello’s run on Wonder Woman has been interesting. I have a weakness for anything linked with Mythology (especially Roman, Egyptian, Norse, and as in this case Greek – all of them formed a large part of my youthful and formative reading). The story sometimes veers into the WTF-territory, which I’m not a fan of. But, at the same time, I think the interpretations of the Gods and mythical creatures and characters is really interesting. The first two volumes (“Blood” and “Guts”) were strong, despite a bit of a dip in quality in Volume 2. I’ll keep reading this for at least one more story-arc. And I really do like Cliff Chiang’s artwork.

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For some reason, I haven’t been keeping up-to-date with The Flash. I enjoyed the first volume a good deal. Perhaps it’s my innate caution when a storyline suddenly features Gorillas…? It is becoming clearer to me that I really like my comics a little less ‘out there’, unless they’re obviously meant to be totally out there – Hellboy and Justice League Dark (below), for example. I’d like to catch up with this at some point, though, as I do find the Flash to be an interesting character. Speaking of, though, I picked up a few more of the Flashpoint comics recently (again, a ComiXology sale), so I hope to get those read and reviewed at some point soon.

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THE DARK & EDGE

I really like a lot of Justice League Dark – the artwork is often pretty great, and the story has some great moments. It feels like it’s weakening a bit, but this might be because the creative team had to tread water until the “Trinity War” event could start. I hope it picks up again. I thought Lemire was going to revive it nicely, and on the strength of his first handful of issues, I bought a fair bit of his other work (including Sweet Tooth, which enjoyed an excellent 99c sale on ComiXology not so long ago). We’ll have to wait and see, I guess. I’m sticking around for “Trinity War”, but I will re-assess afterwards.

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The only other series I’ve maintained from these ‘sections’ of the New 52 is Demon Knights. I have the issues for Volume 2, but because I’ve been reading a lot of fantasy fiction, I haven’t felt an urgent need to read these. I will, though, as I like the option of reading some fantasy in my comics. Watch this space, I guess.

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Constantine-01Overall, it looks like I’m losing steam with DC’s wider New 52 line. Some series remain strong, true, but I’m not sure if reading them on an issue-by-issue basis is enough for me. Too often, the story feels incomplete, insufficient, rushed, or what have you. Maybe I just need a bit of a break from them? Who knows. I have picked up some issues from two of the newer series – Constantine and Justice League America – primarily because they are connected to the “Trinity War” event. For some reason, I didn’t feel the need to get The Phantom Stranger or Pandora

Instead of spending my few funds on more super-hero comics, I’ve been picking up some other comics. The aforementioned Sweet Tooth, as well as American Vampire, Locke & Key, and a handful of others. I’m also going to try to get back into the G.I.Joe titles, and maybe dip in to some more Dark Horse (Star Wars and The Massive), Image (Chew, Thief of Thieves) and Zenescope titles. I will also, actually, be delving into the back-catalogues of both DC and Marvel, too – I have a number of older Superman stories, for example, as well as a wealth of X-Men stuff to catch up on.

Does anyone else have any suggestions? Or opinions on the New 52 this far in? Feel free to share in the comments, below, or on Twitter or Facebook.

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“Trinity War” Artwork