New Books (January)

BBTHowardBeliveInMagic

Featuring: André Alexis, Jennifer Armstrong, Rob Boffard, Ezekiel Boone, Algis Budrys, Matthew de Abaitua, Patrick Flanery, Ian Graham, Elizabeth Greenwood, Sarah Hilary, Joe Hill, Gregg Hurwitz, Davide Mana, Samuel Marolla, Vonda N. McIntyre, A.D. Miller, Tim Murphy, Daniel José Older, Chris Pavone, Aidan Donnelley Rowley, Adrian Selby, Nick Stone, Patrick S. Tomlinson, Fran Wilde

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Guest Post: “Magic & Its Masters” by Jen Williams

WilliamsJ-AuthorPicIn The Iron Ghost, the second book in the Copper Cat trilogy, my very own troubled magic user Lord Aaron Frith comes face to face with one of the most famous mages’ in Ede’s history: the resurrected Joah Demonsworn. Unfortunately, although Joah is quite polite and rather pleased to find that there is at least one other mage still around, he is also murderously insane – driven beyond all sense by the pursuit of power, by his close association with a demon, and by spending a thousand years mouldering in a tomb. His plans for the Black Feather Three will prove to have disastrous consequences for everyone.

Magic is one of the foundations of fantasy, and often those who use it or are changed by it can be the most interesting characters in fiction. Here are a few of my favourites: Continue reading

New Books (April-May)

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Featuring: Kate Atkinson, Jenny T. Colgan, Sebastien de Castell, Jeffery Deaver, Nelson DeMille, Katie Disabato, Richard Ford, Jonathan Freedland, S.L. Grey, Charlaine Harris, Aleksandar Hemon, Chris Holm, Jason LePier, Duff McKagan, Todd Moss, K.J. Parker, Joe Perry, John Sandford, Stephanie Saulter, Stefan Spjut, Sabaa Tahir, Dan Wells, Robert Charles Wilson Continue reading

Guest Post: “Watership Down, Or the Film that Made Me” by Jen Williams

WilliamsJen-AuthorPicI was going to write about some of my non-book influences for this guest blog. There are a lot of them – the video game Dragon Age, which pretty much singlehandedly reinvigorated my love of high fantasy; the TV show Farscape, partly responsible I suspect for my obsession with snippy banter and weird creatures; and Labyrinth, of course – what fantasy fan of my age wasn’t influenced by Labyrinth? And then I remembered a conversation I had way back when The Copper Promise was a tiny wee novella. Someone asked me if I’d named Lord Frith after the god of rabbits in Watership Down. I laughed, because if anyone would object to being named after the god of rabbits it’s probably my grumpy Lord Frith, and then I stopped laughing, because I realised I had done exactly that. Not entirely consciously, but then Watership Down has been with me for a very long time, and I have over the years noted it cropping up in tiny ways in lots of things I did. For me, Watership Down was a film before it was the book – I love the book very much, but if you really wanted to mess with my head as a very small child, you needed to come in the form of a cartoon. Continue reading

Upcoming: LORD OF ASHES by Richard Ford (Headline)

Spotted the cover for Richard Ford‘s third Steelhaven novel, Lord of Ashes, on Twitter and thought I’d share it and the synopsis on here:

The third novel in Richard Ford’s magificent fantasy series has enough thrills, valour, guts and glory to satisy any die-fard fan of David Gemmell and Joe Abercrombie.

FIGHT TO THE DEATH…

The queen of Steelhaven has grown in strength. Taking up her dead father’s sword, she must defend the city from the dread warlord Amon Tugha and his blood-thirsty army now at the gates. A vicious, unrelenting four-day battle ensues, the most perilous yet.

…OR BOW TO THE ENEMY

No side is immune from danger as all hell breaks loose, with the threat of coups and the unleashing of the deadliest and darkest magick. Loyalty, strength and cunning will be put to test in the quest for victory. What fate awaits the free states?

Published in the UK by Headline in October 2015, Lord of Ashes follows Herald of the Storms and The Shattered Crown.

Upcoming: Intriguing Early 2015 Titles from Headline

Here are a few books coming from Headline in early 2015 that have caught my attention…

Connolly&Ridyard-CI2-EmpireUKHCJohn Connolly & Jennifer Ridyard, EMPIRE

She is the trophy of a civilization at war with itself.

He is its rebel captive.

Separated by millions of light years, they will fight to be united.

And they will risk everything to make their world — all worlds — right again.

The second novel in the authors’ Invaders trilogy, following on from Conquest. Which I have but have yet to read. It sounds fun, too, so I should see what I can do about catching up. I’ve recently picked up the first three of Connolly’s Charlie Parker novels, which I hope to read as soon as possible. Empire is due to be published on January 1st, 2015.

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CutterN-TheDeepUKNick Cutter, THE DEEP

A plague is destroying the world’s population. The ‘Gets makes people forget. First it’s the small things, like where you left your keys… then the not-so-small things, like how to drive. And finally your body forgets how to live.

But now an unknown substance with extraordinary power to heal has been discovered in the depths of the Pacific Ocean. Nicknamed ambrosia, it might just be the miracle cure the world has been praying for.

A research lab has been established eight miles below the sea’s surface, but all contact with the team has been lost. Dr Luke Nelson’s brother is down there and as desperation for a cure outweighs common sense, he agrees to descend through the lightless fathoms… perhaps to face an evil blacker than anything he could have imagined.

Cutter’s previous novel, The Troop was very well-received. And apparently spooky/horrific as all get-out. So, this could be just as interesting. The Deep should hit shelves on January 13th, 2015.

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JonesSL-WrittenInBloodUKPBStephen Lloyd Jones, WRITTEN IN BLOOD

High in the mountains of the Swiss Alps Leah Wilde is about to gamble her life to bring a powerful man an offer. A promise.

Leah has heard the dark stories about him and knows she is walking into the lion’s den. But her options are running out. Her rare lineage, kept secret for years, is under terrible threat. That is, unless Leah and her mother Hannah are prepared to join up with their once deadly enemies.

Should the prey ever trust the predator?

Is hope for future generations ever enough to wash away the sins of the past?

With a new and chilling danger stalking them all, and the survival of their society at stake, they may have little choice…

This is actually the paperback release, as I appear to have completely missed the hardcover release in November 2014. I’ve still not read Jones’s first novel, The String Diaries, but I’ve heard it’s excellent. So I should really get on to that… Written in Blood is published in paperback on January 29th 2015.

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WilliamsJ-2-IronGhostUKJen Williams, THE IRON GHOST

Beware the dawning of a new mage…

Wydrin of Crosshaven, Sir Sebastian and Lord Aaron Frith are experienced in the perils of stirring up the old gods. They are also familiar with defeating them, and the heroes of Baneswatch are now enjoying the perks of suddenly being very much in demand for their services.

When a job comes up in the distant city of Skaldshollow, it looks like easy coin – retrieve a stolen item, admire the views, get paid. But in a place twisted and haunted by ancient magic, with the most infamous mage of them all, Joah Demonsworn, making a reappearance, our heroes soon find themselves threatened by enemies on all sides, old and new. And in the frozen mountains, the stones are walking…

Williams’s first novel, The Copper Promise, was pretty fun. This is the follow-up, due out February 26th 2015.

Review: THE DIRECTIVE by Matthew Quirk (Headline/Back Bay)

Quirk-MF2-DirectiveUKA series of unfortunate events met with terrible decisions

What if the only way to go straight is to break the law?

Michael Ford has finally escaped his chequered past to lead the respectable life he’s always dreamed of, preparing to settle down with his fiance Annie. But the quiet is shattered when his brother, Jack, comes back into his life.

Jack is a world-class con man who has finally overplayed his hand. He’s in way over his head in a conspiracy to steal a billion-dollar secret from the heart of the financial system. And in an effort to help his brother, Mike soon finds himself trapped by the dangerous men in charge — and responsible for pulling off the heist himself.

With Annie’s safety on the line, Mike tries to figure out who’s behind the job — and realises the only way to keep the honest life is to return to his criminal past. But will he get in too deep to save Annie’s life?

You may have caught my glowing review for Matthew Quirk’s debut, The 500. It was with considerable anticipation, therefore, that I awaited for his next book. The Directive, a direct sequel, failed to live up to my expectations. There are some good things to say, but sadly it had just as many flaws as strengths and they eclipsed much of what I enjoyed.
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Upcoming Re-Issues: KATHY MALLORY Series by Carol O’Connell (Headline)

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I received a press release this morning that really piqued my interest. Over the course of this year (and maybe some of early 2015), Headline will be re-jacketing and re-issuing Carol O’Connell’s Kathy Mallory crime series. I have never read any of the series, I’m sad to say. However, one of the things I love is finding established series on which to binge. I’ve found two ‘new’ series that I was going to start working my way through (Matthew Dunn’s Spycatcher and Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon series), but this one has to be added to the list, too. And may even be the first I try. I’m really looking forward to these re-issues.

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Here’s the release scheduled:

Mallory’s Oracle – 14th August 2014

The Man Who Lied to Women – 14th August 2014

Killing Critics – 11th September 2014

Flight of the Stone Angel – 11th September 2014

Shell Game – 9th October 2014

Crime School – 9th October 2014

Dead Famous – 6th November 2014

Winter House – 6th November 2014

Shark Music – 4th December 2014

The Chalk Girl – Pub. Date TBC

It Happens in the Dark – Pub. Date TBC

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Here’s the synopsis for the first novel, Mallory’s Oracle:

Mallory Book 1: the first NYPD detective Kathy Mallory novel from New York Times bestseller Carol O’Connell, master of knife-edge suspense and intricate plotting.

Detective Kathy Mallory. New York’s darkest. You only underestimate her once.

When NYPD Sergeant Kathy Mallory was an eleven-year-old street kid, she got caught stealing. The detective who found her was Louis Markowitz. He should have arrested her. Instead he adopted her, and raised her as his own, in the best tradition of New York’s finest.

Now Markowitz is dead, and Mallory the first officer on the scene. She knows any criminal who could outsmart her father is no ordinary human. This is a ruthless serial killer, a freak from the night-side of the mind.

And one question troubles her more than any other: why did he go in there alone?

Interview with JEN WILLIAMS

WilliamsJen-AuthorPicLet’s start with an introduction: Who is Jen Williams?

I’m a writer from south-east London. I wear odd socks and live with my partner and our cat. I have a Lego fixation and I own too many notebooks. I don’t get as much sleep as I would like, but then I like to sleep a lot. I think those are the important things covered.

Your debut novel, The Copper Promise, is out now through Headline. How would you introduce the novel to a new reader?

I like to describe it as epic sword and sorcery, so you still get a fat book that could conceivably be used as a blunt weapon, but the story moves at a tremendous pace. Two sell-swords of dubious morals are employed by a mysterious lord to explore the haunted Citadel of Creos, only to find that not only does their employer have a destructive agenda of his own, but that the Citadel is forbidden for very good reasons. A terrible force is unleashed on the world, and our heroes have to deal with it, even though it looks like they won’t actually get paid.

What inspired you to write the novel? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?

At the time, I had a few short stories out in the world, and I thought it would be interesting to release a series of novellas. I was also just coming out the other side of a serious Dragon Age: Origins obsession (a fantasy RPG videogame from Bioware) and my love of traditional fantasy had been reignited. I’d written books in various subgenres before, such as Urban Fantasy and Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy, or just Weird Secondary World stuff, but I’d never written something that was dragons, caverns, dungeons and taverns. I decided it would be fun to embrace all those lovely trappings of traditional fantasy, whilst writing them with a modern edge – there were a number of tropes I wanted to twist and play with, such as the Loveable Rogue, the Honorable Knight, and the Minions of the Dark Lord. I started writing the first novella (The Copper Promise: Ghosts of the Citadel) and fell in love with the world and the characters so much the quick novella project quickly became a big fat book.

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Also on CR: Review of Copper Promise

How were you introduced to reading and genre fiction?

My very first exposure to the fantasy genre was probably stealing my brother’s Fighting Fantasy books so I could look at the scary pictures. A few years later I remember picking up The Fellowship of the Ring from the library shelf simply because it was so huge, and I figured reading such a thing would make me look really clever (I think I was about ten years old at the time). It was the first book I fell in love with, as well as the book that made me love reading. From that moment on I read almost exclusively in genre, hopping madly from Stephen King to Terry Pratchett to Neil Gaiman.

How do you enjoy being a writer and working within the publishing industry?

I love it. I’ve written a number of books and stories, with many probably doomed to remain forever hidden on a memory stick, but I don’t believe I ever really thought I would get here: to have an agent, a publishing contract, to see my book on the shelves of actual bookshops. It seemed like too wild a dream, the sort of thing that happens to other people, and there’s part of me that still doesn’t quite believe it. There’s also a sense of validation too: when I was growing up everyone told me that writing would be too difficult a career path, and so you spend much of your time worrying that you’ve made a mistake. What if I’m deluded? What if I should be doing something else entirely with my life? When someone comes to you and says, “Oh, I really loved that character. And I laughed so much at this bit. Also, why aren’t these two having sex yet?” you can breath a big sigh of relief because to that person at least, you took the right path.

The novel was originally serialised. How did this impact your approach to writing the story? Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?

The book was originally split into four novellas. The tricky part of such a structure was making sure that each section had its own complete story to tell, as well as advancing the wider, overall story of the book. It was also important that the book not seem disjointed or like a series of short stories, so themes and character development had to be consistent too. The fun part was being able to have a number of slightly evil cliffhangers, and getting away with cutting out a lot of what I think of as “transition stuff”: moving the characters to where they need to be, or showing the passage of time. From a practical point of view, this meant editing each novella as if it were its own book, and then putting the whole lot together into one document and editing it again with a view to how it worked as a complete manuscript.

When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?

I’ve had an interest in stories and wanting to write them for as long as I can remember. Two of the first presents I asked for at Christmas were a desk and a typewriter, and I cheerfully plonked out stories about dragons and pirates all day long. My first “proper” attempt at writing was a somewhat sprawling, heavily Pratchett-influenced book about a rogue witch and her scheming witch-mother. I started writing it one day after a particularly bad shift at work, and over the course of a couple of years it eventually became book-sized, and I even finished it. That book was significant for me because up until then I hadn’t believed that I could write an entire book, and although it’s full of enormous rookie mistakes and blundering cock-ups, I still have a lot of affection for it.

What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?

I think fantasy is in a healthy place at the moment, with a greater emphasis on a kind of realism, not just in the depiction of violence and the consequences of violence, but also in the depiction of characters. This feels like a good change, a move away from the lighter approach of farm boys who reveal themselves to be long lost princes, towards a genre that is taking itself a little more seriously. That is to say, we value what we do and we’re approaching it with the seriousness it deserves.

Which probably sounds like an odd thing to say given that The Copper Promise, as a piece of sword and sorcery with an emphasis on monsters and magic, is a slight step away from the Grimdark trend. What I hope is that the book takes the bits and pieces we loved from old school, pulp fantasy – the wild magic and the dungeons and the spectacle – and applies a modern approach, adding a degree of realism to the characters. I was very keen, for example, to have a female character who was not reliant on a male character to give her purpose as a love interest or a catalyst, and a gay character whose story is central to the entire plot, and so on. Generally I think fantasy is moving towards being more inclusive, and that’s definitely a good thing.

What other projects are you working on, and what do you have currently in the pipeline?

I’m in the midst of editing the follow-up to The Copper Promise, which is a slightly darker book but with the same themes of magic and monsters and general mayhem-making. Writing a sequel to a debut novel is an interesting and slightly alarming experience, because while I was finishing the first draft of book two, The Copper Promise was receiving its first reviews; it’s very hard not to get fixated on that, not to mention the added weight of deadlines and getting paid for the work. Behind the anxiety though I’ve had a great time hanging out with these characters again, and I’m already looking forward to getting into the third book.

What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?

As I’m knee deep in the editing swamp I’m finding it difficult to concentrate on a single book – once your brain is stuck in hyper-critical mode it’s very hard to turn it off – but I’ve just started Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings, which has some of the most spectacular magic I’ve ever read, and Ash by Mary Gentle, which is an extraordinarily vivid experience. I’m not quite sure why I’ve decided to read two such enormous books at the same time, but when I need a break from all the epic I’m dipping in and out of Twisted Histories, a short story anthology edited by Scott Harrison, in which I also happen to have a short story, The Tides of Avalon.

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What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?

Despite writing a book that cheerfully embraces many of the tropes, I’ve never actually played Dungeons and Dragons myself. I was always far too shy as a kid to play a game that involved, well, talking to other people, and although as an adult I’m a fan of RPG video games I still have yet to sit down with the D20 and a dungeon master. Shameful, really.

What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?

Lots of book related stuff! Sending book two back to my editor and starting work on book three towards the end of the year, as well as continuing to fiddle with my notes on the fantasy series I’ll be writing once this current trilogy is finished. I’m very much looking forward to going to my first Fantasycon this year, and returning to Nineworlds in August, where I may even be convinced to attempt some sort of cosplay. Stranger things have happened.

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Be sure to check out Jen Williams’s website, Twitter and Facebook for more information on her novels and writing.

“The Copper Promise” by Jen Williams (Headline)

WilliamsJ-CopperPromiseA fun fantasy adventure

There are some far-fetched rumours about the caverns beneath the Citadel…

Some say the mages left their most dangerous secrets hidden there; others, that great riches are hidden there; even that gods have been imprisoned in its darkest depths.

For Lord Frith, the caverns hold the key to his vengeance. Against all the odds, he has survived torture and lived to see his home and his family taken from him … and now someone is going to pay. For Wydrin of Crosshaven and her faithful companion, Sir Sebastian Caverson, a quest to the Citadel looks like just another job. There’s the promise of gold and adventure. Who knows, they might even have a decent tale or two once they’re done.

But sometimes there is truth in rumour.

Soon this reckless trio will be the last line of defence against a hungry, restless terror that wants to tear the world apart. And they’re not even getting paid.

Lots of people have discussed the rise of grimdark, the loss of fun and adventure in fantasy of late. Personally, I’m rather fond of grimdark. I’m also rather fond of more fun-loving, adventure- and quest-focused fantasies of the ‘classic’ mould. The Copper Promise manages to straddle both of these camps rather skillfully. A lot of people are going to like this.

And, indeed, there’s a lot to like: some good protagonists to guide us through the world, plenty of action to be survived and enjoyed (as a spectator), dragons to fight and be killed by, dungeons to explore, treasure to be found, magic to be wielded, and pirates to fend off. The world is well-drawn and well-developed, and feels fully-formed very quickly. Readers will be drawn to the Band of Adventurers-style story that we’re thrown in to pretty much right off the bat. It was great to see the story unfold, and the heroes’ struggle against what they unleash from beneath the Citadel is epic and varied.

And yet. The Copper Promise didn’t excite me as much as I had expected. Yes, it was fun. Yes, I kept reading and Williams can certainly write both more serious and also wittier sections. But. It took me a while to really get hooked into the story. There were moments of exposition that verged on info-dumping (especially near the beginning). While well-written, the characters didn’t seem too inspired at first blush, and seemed to come right out of Fantasy Central Casting: a mischievous, reckless thief; a taciturn, moralistic and conflicted former knight. They were, however, pretty well-written characters, and Williams fleshed them out well over the course of the novel.

I felt that Wydrin’s quips and/or snark near the beginning of the novel sometimes verged too close to Lorelai Gilmore-like frequencies – it was like we were really meant to know that the character was sarcastic and feisty, and maybe it was a bit overdone. True, it fits her cavalier, act-first-think-later attitude to adventuring (and looting), and it did balance out later. But it irked me at the beginning (perhaps a result of my mood at the time I read it, perhaps not). Lord Frith, Wydrin and Sebastian’s benefactor, is a less grimdark version of Abercrombie’s Inquisitor Glokta, only high-born and less misanthropic, but equally driven and focused on his cause. Perhaps that’s a rather lazy comparison (Frith was also crippled by torture), but the connection popped into my head immediately after reading the prologue and then again after we are reunited with him and he hires Wydrin and Sebastian. Speaking of the three of them, they worked pretty well as a group, and I enjoyed reading about their exploits.

The issues I had with the novel were minor, but they were also clear. Along with the aforementioned niggles with regards to the characters, there were also occasional pacing issues – when the narrative felt a little uneven. And at other times, the characters’ speech patterns shifted from more ‘natural’ to forced or affected, which felt a little jarring as they were predominantly written in a very natural, engaging way – there were even a few moments of what felt like Renaissance Fair-esque weirdness near the beginning. I also think it could have done with being just a bit shorter – tightening up may have helped with the pacing issues.

A lot of people will like this novel. For me, this is a good novel, and one that looks back at what used to make fantasy so much fun and addictive and contemporizes it rather well. The sense of adventure, the quirky characters… a big, fuck-off dragon. That kind of thing. But, after finishing, I was not left with the sense that this had been a spectacular read. It will certainly be interesting to see what the author comes up with next. Williams can definitely write, and has obvious talent and love for the genre (there are so many lovingly adopted tropes and genre conventions that are gleefully included and tweaked).*

A cautious recommendation, therefore. If you are looking for a fantasy novel that has a classic sense of fun coupled with a more contemporary style, then The Copper Promise should suit your needs. I look forward to reading Williams’s second novel.

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The Copper Promise was received from both Headline and also as part of the Hodderscape Review Project.

* I am, of course, purely speculating about any levels of authorial glee.