Review: BEST SERVED COLD by Joe Abercrombie (Gollancz/Orbit)

Abercrombie-BestServedColdUKAbercrombie expands the World of the First Law

Springtime in Styria. And that means war. Springtime in Styria. And that means revenge.

There have been nineteen years of blood. The ruthless Grand Duke Orso is locked in a vicious struggle with the squabbling League of Eight, and between them they have bled the land white. While armies march, heads roll and cities burn, behind the scenes bankers, priests and older, darker powers play a deadly game to choose who will be king.

War may be hell but for Monza Murcatto, the Snake of Talins, the most feared and famous mercenary in Duke Orso’s employ, it’s a damn good way of making money too. Her victories have made her popular — a shade too popular for her employer’s taste. Betrayed, thrown down a mountain and left for dead, Murcatto’s reward is a broken body and a burning hunger for vengeance. Whatever the cost, seven men must die.

Her allies include Styria’s least reliable drunkard, Styria’s most treacherous poisoner, a mass-murderer obsessed with numbers and a Northman who just wants to do the right thing. Her enemies number the better half of the nation. And that’s all before the most dangerous man in the world is dispatched to hunt her down and finish the job Duke Orso started…

Springtime in Styria. And that means revenge.

Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy is one of my favourites: a great story, fantastic characters, superb prose. For some reason, it took me a while to get around to reading Best Served Cold (originally published in 2008). I finally read it after taking a glance at the first pages, and being quickly drawn in by not only the author’s great prose, but also his gift for characterization. Unfortunately, though, I finished the novel with a very different feeling to that I had after finishing Last Argument of KingsContinue reading

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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

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 ANNA SMITH SPARK

anna-smith-spark-author-photo-1Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Anna Smith Spark?

I tweet as QueenofGrimdark, I’m an ex-fetish model, and I have a PhD in Victorian occultism.

No, honestly.

I’m a fantasy novelist from London, UK.  I have a background in history and literature: I studied Classical History for my BA, Cultural History for my MA and English Literature for my PhD. Which really was about Victorian occultism, looking at the way it intersected with the physical sciences and with politics. My only real interests in life are history, mythology and literature. I spent several years as an obsessive D&D player, but sadly no longer play. I’m obsessed with Warhammer miniatures as well (Chaos Warriors … oh. Oh oh oh), but don’t actually play Warhammer either. Continue reading

Introducing “Turn back 10” & Another Look at WAY OF SHADOWS by Brent Weeks (Orbit)

TurnBackTimeManOnClockApril 8th will mark the tenth anniversary of Civilian Reader. Which is a surprise. I thought it might be interesting to post one old review per week, working back to the first — which I will re-post on April 8th. I’m going to call these “Turn Back 10” posts. The first three don’t feature content that is actually ten years old — I only wrote three reviews in 2006, after all, which would make this a pretty short exercise. Not to mention a bit dull. Each post will feature a review from the first three years of CR (2006-08). And it’s a nifty title, so I’m sticking with it. The reviews are, of course, mostly terrible in terms of style — I was still figuring out how I wanted to write them. They are often rather more hyperbolic than I would like now.

I will do some minor editing and adjusting, in order to make them fit in with the current style, and fix typos, but other than that they are re-posted as they first appeared. If I enjoy posting them, I may continue the practice after the anniversary, but try to feature reviews more relevant to what I might be reading at the time, or what I’m posting about.

Brent Weeks’s The Way of Shadows was the first fantasy novel I had read in a very long time, which wasn’t set in a shared universe or Discworld. I remember it blowing me away, too: it did things that I had thought one wouldn’t find in fantasy novels (remember, I barely read any fantasy at the time). It was, to use words that have fallen completely out of favour, grim and quite gritty. (Especially the ending, and one storyline in the second book.) Certainly, more grim and gritty than I was familiar with. I remember noticing it because Amazon recommended it because I had also bought Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora.

It was also the first fantasy novel I received from a publisher for review — up until that point, it had been predominantly non-fiction and Star Wars novels. It also marked the point when Civilian Reader started to take off — in terms of readership and also how much time and effort I poured into the site. I also remember, after publishing the review, incessantly pestering Orbit’s publicist for the next two novels in the series… (Thankfully, the then-publicist has the patience of a saint.)

WeeksB-NA1-WayOfShadowsTHE WAY OF SHADOWS by Brent Weeks (Orbit)

The start of something truly fantastic

The perfect killer has no friends. Only targets. 

For Durzo Blint, assassination is an art. And he is the city’s most accomplished artist, his talents required from alleyway to courtly boudoir.

For Azoth, survival is precarious. Something you never take for granted. As a guild rat, he’s grown up in the slums, and learned the hard way to judge people quickly — and to take risks. Risks like apprenticing himself to Durzo Blint.

But to be accepted, Azoth must turn his back on his old life and embrace a new identity and name. As Kylar Stern, he must learn to navigate the assassins’ world of dangerous politics and strange magics — and cultivate a flair for death.

Fantasy fiction has undertaken a shift in tone and style in recent years. It’s darker, more realistic (oddly), and the characters are less polished, more flawed and human. The fairy-tale feel of older fantasy fiction has been purged from much the genre’s new writing, and the world is better for it. Brent Weeks’ new series not only fits perfectly into this new genre, but it surpasses much of what’s already available. Continue reading

Upcoming: THOSE BELOW by Daniel Polansky (Hodder)

PolanskyD-ET2-ThoseBelowUK

Earlier today, Tor.com shared the cover artwork for Daniel Polansky‘s upcoming new novel, Those Below. It was unveiled earlier by Hodder, although I inexplicably managed to miss that post… The sequel to Those Above, and final novel in the author’s epic fantasy Empty Throne series, it’s due to be published by Hodder in the UK, on March 10th, 2016. I really can’t wait to get my mitts on this one…

Here’s what it’s about:

For centuries beyond counting, humanity has served the Others, god-like Eternals who rule from their cloud-capped mountain-city, building a civilization of unimagined beauty and unchecked viciousness.

But all that is about to change. Bas Alyates, grizzled general of a thousand battles, has assembled a vast army with which to contend with the might of Those Above. Eudokia, Machiavellian matriarch and the power behind the Empty Throne, travels to the Roost, nominally to play peacemaker – but in fact to inspire the human population toward revolt. Deep in the dark byways of the mountain’s lower tiers, the urchin Pyre leads a band of fanatical revolutionaries in acts of terrorism against their inhuman oppressors. Against them, Calla, handmaiden of the Eternals’ king, fights desperately to stave off the rising tide of violence which threatens to destroy her beloved city.

Polansky-ET1-ThoseAboveUK

Upcoming: THE LIAR’S KEY by Mark Lawrence (Ace/Voyager)

LawrenceM-RQW2-LiarsKeyUS

I’m a big fan of Mark Lawrence‘s novels. His debut, Prince of Thorns (published in 2011) blew me away, and I blitzed through it in just two sittings. King of Thorns, the sequel, was a heftier beast, but no less good. I haven’t managed to get around to Emperor of Thorns, just yet, but I do intend to do so ASAP. He has since completed his first trilogy and begun a second, parallel trilogy set in the same world and at the same time. The cover for the second novel in this new trilogy, The Liar’s Key now has UK (below) and US (above) covers.

After harrowing adventure and near-death, Prince Jalan Kendeth and the Viking Snorri ver Snagason find themselves in possession of Loki’s Key, an artefact capable of opening any door, and sought by the most dangerous beings in the Broken Empire — including The Dead King.

Jal wants only to return home to his wine, women, and song, but Snorri has his own purpose for the key: to find the very door into death, throw it wide, and bring his family back into the land of the living.

And as Snorri prepares for his quest to find death’s door, Jal’s grandmother, the Red Queen continues to manipulate kings and pawns towards an endgame of her own design…

The Broken Empire trilogy includes Prince of ThornsKing of Thorns and Emperor of Thorns.

The Red Queen’s War trilogy includes Prince of FoolsThe Liar’s Key and The Wheel of Osheim (2016).

The Liar’s Key is published in the US by Ace Books, on June 2nd, 2015; and in the UK by Voyager, on June 18th, 2015.

Also on CR: Interview with Mark Lawrence

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