Quick Review: BLACKWING by Ed McDonald (Gollancz/Ace)

A promising debut grimdark fantasy

You think you know Misery? You’ve not seen anything yet…

The republic faces annihilation, despite the vigilance of Galharrow’s Blackwings. When a raven tattoo rips itself from his arm to deliver a desperate message, Galharrow and a mysterious noblewoman must investigate a long dead sorcerer’s legacy. But there is a conspiracy within the citadel: traitors, flesh-eaters and the ghosts of the wastelands seek to destroy them, but if they cannot solve the ancient wizard’s paradox, the Deep Kings will walk the earth again, and all will be lost.

The war with the Eastern Empire ended in stalemate some eighty years ago, thanks to Nall’s ‘Engine’, a wizard-crafted weapon so powerful even the Deep Kings feared it. The strike of the Engine created the Misery — a wasteland full of ghosts and corrupted magic that now forms a No Mans Land along the frontier. But when Galharrow investigates a frontier fortress, he discovers complacency bordering on treason: then the walls are stormed, and the Engine fails to launch. Galharrow only escapes because of the preternatural magical power of the noblewoman he was supposed to be protecting. Together, they race to the capital to unmask the traitors and restore the republic’s defences. Far across the Misery a vast army is on the move, as the Empire prepares to call the republic’s bluff.

Blackwing is one of the most hotly-anticipated debut fantasy novels of the year. Social media and the blogosphere have been filled with glowing reviews, squees and other evidence that suggests the hype has been entirely justified. There’s a lot in here that will certainly appeal to plenty of fantasy fans. However, I ultimately came away from this novel underwhelmed. Continue reading

Guest Post: “I am Not in Control” by Joshua Palmatier

PalmatierJ-AuthorPicI’m certain nearly everyone who loves to read books and follows their favorite authors has heard those authors at some point say, “The character took control.” This is extremely common. In fact, with my own writing, if the characters don’t at some point take control and do unexpected things, then the book isn’t succeeding. The characters need to take on their own life for the author. If they aren’t doing that for the author, then they certainly aren’t coming to life for the reader. And that means the book has failed.

However, I want to talk about something a little more significant than a character suddenly revealing a lifelong passion for poisons, altering the plot and bringing in an added extra (darker?) layer to the character that you’d never considered. What I want to talk about is when the book takes control. Not just a character or set of characters, but the entire book. Continue reading

Interview with ED McDONALD

McDonaldE-AuthorPicLet’s start with an introduction: Who is Ed McDonald?

Hello! That would be me. I’m an author, swordsman, medieval historian, lecturer, husband, reader, and gamer.

Your debut novel, Blackwing, will be published by Gollancz. It’s been getting quite a bit of pre-publication buzz. How would you introduce it to a potential reader? Is it part of a series?

Blackwing is the first part of The Raven’s Mark series. It’s epic fantasy in scope, but with a tight focus on a single character and the individual part he plays in a wider conflict. The pace is more like a thriller than the usual wander through a fantasy landscape, so I’d say that if you like your fantasy fast paced, character driven, hard hitting, free from gender bias and set on the edge of a post-apocalyptic magical wasteland, then it’s probably for you. Continue reading

Interview with VIVIAN SHAW

Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Vivian Shaw?

At the moment, an expat Brit living in Baltimore with her wife, the author Arkady Martine. I was born in Kenya to a couple of scientists, and my family moved a bunch of times when I was very young, following the trail of postdoc positions, but I’ve been in Maryland most of my life.

Your debut novel, Strange Practice, will be published by Orbit in July. It looks pretty interesting: How would you introduce it to a potential reader? Is it part of a series?

The easiest way to explain it is probably, “Dr. Greta Helsing sees dead people, every day from ten to four and by appointment, at her Harley Street clinic.” Strange Practice is set in a world quite like our own, but with one crucial difference: monsters exist, and magic is real. Greta has inherited her father’s extremely specialized medical practice, catering solely to the supernatural, and gets a lot of satisfaction out of the job – she enjoys performing reconstructive surgery on mummies in particular. Continue reading

Interview with GUY ADAMS

AdamsG-AuthorPicLet’s start with an introduction: Who is Guy Adams?

There are creatures at the depths of Earth’s oceans that exist alone in the darkness. If they stray too close to the light they explode, their bodies having developed in this isolated, salty world. Instead, they float, thoughts adrift in whatever imaginations they possess. Subsisting on whatever floats their way.

Guy Adams is like that, only with more cats.

I’ve written around forty books, which is, obviously, utterly absurd. They include The Clown Service series from Del Rey UK, Deadbeat from Titan and The Heaven’s Gate trilogy from Solaris. Continue reading

Upcoming: THE TWO OF SWORDS, Vols.1-3 by K.J. Parker (Orbit)

ParkerKJ-TwoOfSwords-Vols.1to3

The Two of Swords has already been serialized over the past couple of years (not sure if it’s finished?). I’ve tried the first part, but I decided I wanted to wait for more of it to be available before diving in properly. I’ve often had mixed feelings about Parker’s work, but after reading the superb The Devil You Know and also The Last Witness, I want to read more of his stuff. Anyway, here’s the synopsis for Volume 1:

“Why are we fighting this war? Because evil must be resisted, and sooner or later there comes a time when men of principle have to make a stand. Because war is good for business and it’s better to die on our feet than live on our knees. Because they started it. But at this stage in the proceedings,” he added, with a slightly lop-sided grin, “mostly from force of habit.”

A soldier with a gift for archery. A woman who kills without care. Two brothers, both unbeatable generals, now fighting for opposing armies. No-one in the vast and once glorious United Empire remains untouched by the rift between East and West, and the war has been fought for as long as anyone can remember. Some still survive who know how it was started, but no-one knows how it will end.

The Two of Swords is the story of a war on a grand scale, told through the eyes of its soldiers, politicians, victims and heroes.

The series is published by Orbit Books in the US and UK, in October, November and December.

Also on CR: Reviews of The Devil You Know and The Last Witness

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads

Upcoming: THE MIDNIGHT FRONT by David Mack (Tor)

MackD-DA1-MidnightFrontUSThis is the first novel in David Mack’s Dark Arts series, and I’m really looking forward to giving it a try. I think I’ve only read one other (urban) fantasy set during one of the World Wars — Andy Remic’s very good A Song For No Man’s Land — and I’m certainly interested in trying more. (Feel free to leave recommendations in the comments.) Here’s the synopsis for The Midnight Front:

On the eve of World War Two, Nazi sorcerers come gunning for Cade but kill his family instead. His one path of vengeance is to become an apprentice of The Midnight Front — the Allies’ top-secret magickal warfare program — and become a sorcerer himself.

Unsure who will kill him first — his allies, his enemies, or the demons he has to use to wield magick — Cade fights his way through occupied Europe and enemy lines. But he learns too late the true price of revenge will be more terrible than just the loss of his soul — and there’s no task harder than doing good with a power born of ultimate evil.

The Midnight Front will be published by Tor Books in January 2018, and will be available in the UK.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter