Annotated Excerpt: THE LAST ROAD by K.V. Johansen (Pyr)

JohansenKV-GotCR5-LastRoadThe Last Road is the fifth and final novel of Gods of the Caravan Road, and although the other novels in the series can be read alone (counting The Leopard and The Lady as one book, Marakand, in two volumes) it’s written assuming that the reader has at least read Blackdog. You could probably get by piecing together supposition about Ahjvar, Ghu, and Yeh-Lin from the middle books, but you need to know Moth and Mikki and Holla-Sayan. However, they aren’t the people they were at the end of Blackdog. This is almost two centuries later. Their world has changed and so have they.

I’m very excited — make that, very nervous — to be offering this up to you at last.

First, here’s the novel’s synopsis:

When even the gods are dying, the hope of the world may lie in its most feared enemies. A new god proclaimed as the All-Holy has arisen in the west and leads an army eastward, devouring the gods and goddesses of the lands between, forcibly converting their folk and binding their souls to himself. The very fabric of the world appears threatened by forces beyond the understanding of scholars and wizards alike. Even the great city of Marakand, where the roads of east and west converge, seems powerless to resist the All-Holy, though the devils Moth and Yeh-Lin and the assassin Ahjvar, undead consort of the god of distant Nabban, have come to stand with it. That may avail Marakand little, for the shapeshifting Blackdog, once a champion of the gods, follows obediently at the All-Holy’s heel and Lakkariss, the sword of the cold hells, is in his master’s hand.

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Quick Review: MY BEAUTIFUL LIFE by K.J. Parker (Subterranean Press)

ParkerKJ-MyBeautifulLifeAn excellent new novella from a master of the form

The story of an individual life that takes extraordinary turns. As the story begins, the nameless, dying narrator takes us back to his childhood home in a remote corner of the ubiquitous Empire. The second of three sons, he lives there with his mother in a state of unrelieved poverty. Life eventually becomes so dire that the mother — who can only find work as a prostitute — is forced to sell one of her children. The oldest son, Nico, volunteers to be sold in order to protect his family, and that decision sets in motion everything that follows.

Nico’s journey takes him, in time, to the heart of the Empire and the very center of power. Over time, he acquires considerable power of his own and uses it to bring his younger brothers into the circle of his influence, changing their lives forever. Under Nico’s guidance, the middle brother — our nameless narrator — achieves a destiny that will alter not only his own life, but the life of the Empire itself.

Each new K.J. Parker novella is something to be cheered. A prolific writer of short fiction (and full-length novels), Parker always brings something new to his stories. Written with a gentle, observant wit, this novella manages to pack a lot into its slim frame. Continue reading

Quick Q&A with JENN LYONS

LyonsJ-AuthorPicLet’s start with an introduction: Who is Jenn Lyons?

I’m a writer, artist, and gaming nerd with a love of all manner of esoteric fields. I have previously worked as a video game producer and as a graphic designer.

Your debut novel, The Ruin of Kings, will soon be published in paperback by Tor Books. How would you introduce the series to a potential reader?

It would tell a reader that this was my chance to twist the “Chosen One” trope, because what if you were “chosen” to be something actively terrible? And also: there’s a volcanic dragon and a kraken. Continue reading

Quick Review: ORMESHADOW by Priya Sharma (Tor.com)

SharmaP-OrmeshadowA moving novella about family, story, and overcoming hardship

Burning with resentment and intrigue, this fantastical family drama invites readers to dig up the secrets of the Belman family, and wonder whether myths and legends are real enough to answer for a history of sin.

Uprooted from Bath by his father’s failures, Gideon Belman finds himself stranded on Ormeshadow farm, an ancient place of chalk and ash and shadow. The land crests the Orme, a buried, sleeping dragon that dreams resentment, jealousy, estrangement, death. Or so the folklore says. Growing up in a house that hates him, Gideon finds his only comforts in the land. Gideon will live or die by the Orme, as all his family has.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Ormeshadow when started reading it. I wasn’t familiar with the author’s other work, but the synopsis caught my attention. The fantasy elements are rather more in the background until later, but the thing that stood out to me was Sharma’s writing and characters: both a quite excellent, and I was quickly hooked. Continue reading

Guest Post: “On THE LAST ROAD” by K.V. Johansen

JohansenKV-AuthorPicThe books of Gods of the Caravan Road have several central protagonists: Holla-Sayan in Blackdog, Holla, Ivah, Ahjvar, and Ghu, in The Leopard and The Lady, then Ivah and Ahjvar and Ghu in Gods of Nabban. However, the character to whom the series as a whole belongs is Moth, the devil Ulfhild Vartu. With the half-demon wer-bear Mikki at her side, she begins it, in “The Storyteller,” acquiring the black sword Lakkariss from the Old Great Gods in order to avenge her brother and Mikki’s mother on her cousin and former ally, Heuslar Ogada. She ends it, standing at the centre of events in The Last Road. In between, she and Mikki wander in and out of the others’ tales, with Moth, at least, avoiding ever becoming too close to any of them, even Ivah, in whom she sees perhaps an echo of her own lost daughter, but strongly, of herself. Continue reading

Guest Post: “Five Books That Inspired Me to Be a Writer” by Laurence MacNaughton

MacNaughtonL-AuthorPicPractically every human being, at some point or another, has closed the covers on a satisfying book and thought: I should write a book like that.

That initial burst of inspiration is quickly followed by nagging doubt. Do you have what it takes to write?

After all, knowing how to write is only half the battle. The other half is finding the inspiration, the self-confidence, the grit to actually write something worth reading. And the fortitude to stick with it through months or years of rewrites, revisions, and rejection.

It’s not easy. But it can be done. The best advice on toughing it out comes from those who have cranked out hundreds or thousands of pages of prose, and shared their hard-earned insights on what it’s really like to be a writer. Here are five books about writing that inspired me most. Continue reading

Quick Review: WE ARE THE DEAD by Mike Shackle (Gollancz)

ShackleM-LW1-WeAreTheDeadUKOne of the best fantasy debuts in years

The war is over. The enemy won.

Jia’s people learned the hard way that there are no second chances. The Egril, their ancient enemy, struck with magic so devastating that Jia’s armies were wiped out. Now terror reigns in the streets, and friend turns on friend just to live another day.

Somehow Tinnstra – a deserter, a failure, nothing but a coward – survived. She wants no more than to hide from the chaos.

But dragged into a desperate plot to retake Jia, surrounded by people willing to do anything to win the fight, this time Tinnstra will need to do more than hide.

If Jia is to get a second chance after all, this time she will need to be a hero.

It took me longer than I would have liked to get around to reading Mike Shackle’s debut, We Are the Dead. Long-time readers may know how I’ve struggled a bit with the fantasy genre of late. This novel, however, sounded really interesting, so I decided to dive in. And I wasn’t disappointed! This is a gripping, excellently-written (grimdark) fantasy novel. Continue reading