Quick Review: BY FORCE ALONE by Lavie Tidhar (Tor Books/Head of Zeus)

Tidhar-ByForceAloneUSThe Shites of the Round Table…?

A retelling of Arthurian myth for the age of Brexit and Trump…

Everyone thinks they know the story of King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table.

The fact is they don’t know sh*t.

Arthur? An over-promoted gangster.
Merlin? An eldritch parasite.
Excalibur? A shady deal with a watery arms dealer.
Britain? A clogged sewer that Rome abandoned just as soon as it could.

A savage and cutting epic fantasy, equally poetic and profane, By Force Alone is at once a timely political satire, a magical adventure, and a subversive masterwork.

Lavie Tidhar is one of the most interesting storytellers writing today. Never shy of tackling sensitive topics and subjects (Hitler and Osama bin Laden to name but two recent-ish subjects), in By Force Alone he turns his attention to the Arthurian myth — in many ways, the closest the United Kingdom has to a founding mythology. This is not the Arthur, Merlin, Guinevere, and Lancelot you may know from other popular interpretations: This is an entirely new beast. It is a grim, grubby version of Camelot and post-Roman Britain. It is also very funny, engaging, and gritty. I really enjoyed this. Continue reading

Quick Review: A SONG FOR NO MAN’S LAND by Andy Remic (Tor.com)

RemicA-WWI1-ASongForNoMansLandA weird, imaginative World War I urban fantasy tale

He signed up to fight with visions of honour and glory, of fighting for king and country, of making his family proud at long last.

But on a battlefield during the Great War, Robert Jones is shot, and wonders how it all went so very wrong, and how things could possibly get any worse.

He’ll soon find out. When the attacking enemy starts to shapeshift into a nightmarish demonic force, Jones finds himself fighting an impossible war against an enemy that shouldn’t exist.

This novella is the first in a projected series by Andy Remic. It is a really interesting, creepy take on the First World War. Told from the perspective of a volunteer, alternating between narrative and diary entries (for the main). The novella recounts the difficulties and horrors of the Front, the and the intense confusion warfare.

Add to this, though, a touch of horror and fantasy myth, and Remic has come up with an original take on war fiction. There were a few times when the story felt a little confusing, but I think that was intentional — our hero doesn’t always know what is actually going on, and the creatures he believes he keeps seeing are monstrous. Is his mind just creating a lie to explain the nature of war? Or is he really faced with monsters from childhood myth and nightmare?

A Song for No Man’s Land is a really interesting start to a new series. This novella is very much setting up the world and premise for the series to come, and ends on quite a tantalizing moment. I think this should have pretty broad appeal. Recommended.

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Also on CR: Interview with Andy Remic

A Song for No Man’s Land is published by Tor.com next month. The next two novellas in the series — Return of Souls and Iron Beast — will also be published by Tor.com. Here are the covers (provisional, I think):

RemicA-WWISeries1to3

Guest Post: “Juggling YA and Adult Fantasy Writing” by David Hair

HairD-AuthorPicI read a bit of everything (except romance), but fantasy has always been my big love. I blame that on my introduction to Tolkien at an impressionable (teen-)age. Since then, I’ve been through all of the usual suspects as I explored this amazing genre. I knew I wanted to write a genre novel, but it took a while to overcome a lack of confidence, and a lack of time.

What excited me most were epic fantasies: big juicy stories with apocalyptic plot-lines, huge casts and many complex threads, and a whole imagined world to explore. When I did find time to write however, my best idea happened to be better suited to a teenage/YA audience. Growing up in New Zealand, the son of a truck driver who thought nothing of driving his family for hours to visit friends and relatives, I saw a lot of the countryside. Being enamoured of mythology and history, as I stared out of the windows, I began to populate the landscape with historical places and mythic creatures. The result was The Bone Tiki, which won Best First Book at the New Zealand Children’s Book awards in 2009, and had some commercial success. That opened up the opportunity for me to write sequels, the sum of which (six books) collectively became known as The Aotearoa Series. I wrote most of those books while living in New Delhi, India. My wife works for Immigration New Zealand, and was posted to India for four years. Whilst there, I also wrote The Return of Ravana, a four book YA series set in India. Continue reading

An Interview with GEOFFREY GUDGION

GudgionG-SaxonsBane

Let’s start with an introduction: Geoff Gudgion?

In one paragraph; I was a scholarship boy who was never bright enough to realise I’d have been happier as a writer than a businessman. Until, that is, I had a spectacular row with my boss and stepped off the corporate ladder. Long before that epiphany, I left school at 17 to join the Royal Navy, who later sponsored me to read Geography at Cambridge University. Both experiences were formative in teaching me to string words together.

Your debut novel, Saxon’s Bane, is published by Solaris. How would you introduce the novel to a potential reader? Is it part of a series?

Saxon’s Bane is a thriller with a supernatural twist; past and present collide during the excavation of a Saxon warrior’s grave. The writing challenge, and the fun, was to interweave the present day with a Dark Ages legend, and to bring the two stories together in a plausible climax. Although it’s not part of a series, the main characters will probably reappear in a future book. There’s a fey, fit archaeologist who develops a preternatural understanding of her project. Her character has, ahem, legs.

GudgionG-SaxonsBane

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

I’ve always been fascinated by the history hidden in the landscape, ever since a crusty old professor at university showed me how to analyse English place names. “Allingley,” he might have said, waving a chalk-dusted arm and breathing a whiff of college port, “Saxon name. Aegl-ingas-leah, the clearing of Aegl’s people.” So I took the Saxon legend of Aegl, the warrior, and his love Olrun, the Swan Maiden, and set the Saxon’s Bane in the village of Allingley, on the banks of the Swanbourne.

Inspiration? It can come from anywhere. That sense of otherness you find in ancient woodland. A mossy ring of standing stones. A church. And just the odd glass of red wine.

Tolkien-LOTR-1-TheFellowshipOfTheRingHow were you introduced to genre fiction?

Tolkien! As a child, I devoured Lord of the Rings. I didn’t end up writing epic fantasy, but Middle Earth was the first believable fantasy world I encountered. I was enchanted!

How do you enjoy being a writer and working within the publishing industry? Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?

I love being a writer. I’m living the dream, but I’d say I’m still learning about the publishing industry, and about how to stand out from the crowd. It’s a bit like opening a door, thinking you’re joining a party in a room, only to find yourself in the middle of a football stadium where everyone is shouting.

I tend to write early, and research late in the day. I built an arbour in my garden, which is a wonderfully peaceful and productive place to write, when the weather’s good. It’s also out of reach of the Wi-Fi, so there are fewer distractions! If I have to work indoors, I play a recording of birdsong in my study. I find that helps to tune the brain into a creative space.

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?

GudgionG-AuthorPicWhen I found I actually enjoyed English homework at school! I made my first attempts at writing a book during long deployments in warships. Those attempts were dire, and I cringe at their memory. The first piece of writing that made me proud was a short story, “Muse”, which won the Get Writing Conference prize in 2011. It’s on my web site.

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

I think I’m too new to have an opinion about the genre, particularly when I think genre labels are too confining in any case. They seem to be designed for the publishing machine’s convenience rather than the readers’ benefit.

In terms of where I fit, I’m incredibly honoured when reviewers compare me to Robert Holdstock or Alan Garner. Last week Saxon’s Bane was described as “Good old fashioned mythic stuff; Wicker Man by way of John Fowles,” and I can live with that!

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

I’m about 80,000 words into a time-slip historical novel, also with a supernatural twist, which is set on a crumbling country estate that has been in the same family for over 600 years. In the 14th Century, the founder of the dynasty swears a terrible oath; in the present day his descendants have forgotten the oath, but perhaps the oath has not forgotten them…

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

My last book was Chocolat by Joanne Harris. I love her gentle way of weaving mystery and a little magic into the real world. I’m currently reading Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel. After that, I’m going to immerse myself into the 14th Century with Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Ian Mortimer’s brilliant Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England.

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

I’m a bit of a lunatic on horseback. A good friend lets me ride a horse that I’ve known and loved for years. I can get stale staring at a screen, and the adrenalin-fuelled madness of a gallop, or the surge and soar over a jump, is the perfect antidote.

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

Seeing Saxon’s Bane take off, I hope. Then finishing the next book to a standard where it’s accepted by my agent (Ian Drury at Sheil Land). And within twelve months? Who knows, it’s not impossible for that book to be acquired by a publisher. My head is starting to buzz with ideas for the book that will follow, and I’d like those to be thoroughly fleshed out by this time next year, and taking shape on paper. No pressure, then.