Upcoming: THE THORN OF DENTONHILL by Marshall Ryan Maresca (DAW)

MarescaMR-1-ThornOfDentonhillUSMarshall Ryan Maresca‘s The Thorn of Dentonhill is the first novel in the Maradaine fantasy series. Due to be published on February 3rd, 2015, by DAW Books, it sounds pretty interesting:

Veranix Calbert leads a double life. By day, he’s a struggling magic student at the University of Maradaine. At night, he spoils the drug trade of Willem Fenmere, crime boss of Dentonhill and murderer of Veranix’s father. He’s determined to shut Fenmere down.

With that goal in mind, Veranix disrupts the delivery of two magical artifacts meant for Fenmere’s clients, the mages of the Blue Hand Circle.  Using these power-filled objects in his fight, he quickly becomes a real thorn in Fenmere’s side.

So much so that soon not only Fenmere, but powerful mages, assassins, and street gangs all want a piece of “The Thorn.” And with professors and prefects on the verge of discovering his secrets, Veranix’s double life might just fall apart. Unless, of course, Fenmere puts an end to it first.

I hope to have more about this author and novel in the near future. Watch this space…

Upcoming: BELZHAR by Meg Wolitzer (Dutton)

WolitzerM-BelzharUSI’ve only read a little bit of Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings. While I thought it was very well written, it just wasn’t for me. Then I spotted this novel, which I thought sounded interesting. Here’s the synopsis:

If life were fair, Jam Gallahue would still be  at home in New Jersey with her sweet British  boyfriend, Reeve Maxfield. She’d be watching  old comedy sketches with him. She’d be kissing  him in the library stacks.

She certainly wouldn’t be at The Wooden Barn, a therapeutic boarding school in rural Vermont, living with a weird roommate, and signed up for an exclusive, mysterious class called Special Topics in English.

But life isn’t fair, and Reeve Maxfield is dead.

Until a journal-writing assignment leads Jam to Belzhar, where the untainted past is restored, and Jam can feel Reeve’s arms around her once again. But there are hidden truths on Jam’s path to reclaim her loss.

Belzhar is due to be published in the US by Dutton (Penguin), on September 30th, 2014; and in the UK by Simon & Schuster, on October 9th (for some reason, I could not find a UK cover for the novel – given how close it is to publication, this is rather baffling).

Review: THE MAGICIAN KING by Lev Grossman (Plume/Arrow)

GrossmanL-M2-MagicianKingUSA superb follow-up to The Magicians

Quentin and his friends are now the kings and queens of Fillory, but the days and nights of royal luxury are starting to pall. After a morning hunt takes a sinister turn, Quentin and his old friend Julia charter a magical sailing ship and set out on an errand to the wild outer reaches of their kingdom.

Their pleasure cruise becomes an adventure when the two are unceremoniously dumped back into the last place Quentin ever wants to see: his parent’s house in Chesterton, Massachusetts. And only the black, twisted magic that Julia learned on the streets can save them.

In an effort to catch up for the third volume in Lev Grossman’s Magicians series, here’s my very quick review of The Magician King: it’s an excellent follow-up to a brilliant first installment. If you haven’t read this series yet, I strongly urge you do so. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Continue reading

Q&A with ELIZABETH GILBERT

Recently, Penguin Books organised a Q&A with Elizabeth Gilbert, the mega-selling author of Eat, Pray, Love. With the recent publication of her latest book, the novel The Signature of Things, I’m sharing some excerpts from that long Q&A…

GilbertE-AuthorPic (JenniferBailey)After the incredible dual successes of your memoirs Eat, Pray, Love and Committed, the safer, more obvious choice for you would have been to continue in nonfiction. What was it that prompted you to return to writing novels with THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS?

I needed to come home to my roots as a writer. Fiction is where I began my writing journey, and all I ever wanted to be was a pure novelist. Fate intervened and led me into the world of memoir (and believe me, I am grateful for my success there!) but the next thing I knew, a dozen years had passed since I’d written a word of fiction. I simply couldn’t let another year go by, so I embarked on this novel.

How difficult is it for you to shift gears between genres?

I thought it would be more difficult than it was. I feared I had lost the skill of fiction entirely (almost the way you can lose a foreign language if you don’t practice it often) and so I was intimidated by the prospect of returning to the form of a novel. As a result of my fear, I over-prepared for this book ridiculously. I did ten times the research I actually needed, just to feel covered and safe. Up till the very day I put down the research and began actually writing the novel, I honestly wasn’t sure if I could do it. But as soon as I began, the moment Alma was born, I realized, “Oh! I was so wrong! Fiction isn’t a foreign language; it’s my mother tongue!” I had forgotten nothing, except the joy of it. It felt like a homecoming.

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THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS opens in 1800 and spans much of the 19th century as its heroine Alma Whittaker comes into her own as an accomplished botanist. Why did you choose to set your novel during this particular time? And what aspects of this era are important for us to remember in modern times?

The nineteenth century fascinated me because of its intellectual accessibility. I could never write a story about modern science, because the comprehension of modern science is far out of reach to anyone except modern scientists (and each of them can only understand the specifics of their own narrow fields). The nineteenth century was the last moment in history when a relatively educated layperson could follow what was going on in the world of science and invention to a wide degree. Also, there were no “professionals”, such as we know them today. This was a time when amateur explorers, naturalists and enthusiasts were are still making major contributions to progress. Alma is a woman who would have been up-to-date on all the latest thinking in the world, across many different fields of study. With her own well-tended library, her private offices, and her brilliantly cultivated mind, she could easily have come up with botanical theories to rival those of any man. This idea of such open access to history-changing ideas fascinated me more than anything. That, and an inherent attraction to the gorgeous language of the day. With apologies to the Elizabethans, I think nobody ever wrote or spoke better English than during the nineteenth century. We could use a little more of that.

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Eat, Pray, Love and Committed – US Covers

The novel’s story soars across the globe – from London, to Peru, to Philadelphia, to Tahiti, to Amsterdam and beyond. You are famous for being an ardent traveler – from Italy, India and Indonesia in Eat, Pray, Love; to Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia in Committed – so readers will surely be looking forward to the armchair travel of THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS. Can you discuss why you chose any of these particular settings for the story?

I think of this story in some respects as a mystery novel (in that everyone is seeking to solve or find something of great importance to their fates) so I felt the need to follow the mystery wherever it led me, anywhere on the planet, as long as the search remained historically accurate. For Henry to have made his fortune in the quinine trade, for instance, I needed him to explore Peru and then set up business in the Dutch East Indies, before settling down in Philadelphia, which was in fact the birthplace of the American pharmaceutical industry. Ambrose’s search for rare orchids would naturally have led him to the jungles of South America. As for the section of the novel that takes place in the South Seas, well… no self-respecting nineteenth century adventure story would be complete without a journey to the South Seas! That was just a nod to Kipling, Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson – as well as a nod to Captain Cook himself. Finally, Alma’s search for an independent and dignified life could only have brought her back to Amsterdam, which has always been a progressive and intellectually welcoming city. As somebody who herself has found great answers to life through travel, I wanted my characters (especially Alma) to be afforded the same privilege. (And if researching this novel forced me to travel to places like London, Amsterdam and Tahiti in order to get my facts straight… well, that is simply the sacrifice I am willing to make for my work!)

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Eat, Pray, Love and Committed – UK Covers (Bloomsbury)

The title of your novel alludes to a theory set forth by a sort of scientific mystic from the 1500s, Jacob Boehme, who argued that the entire natural world is a divine code, crafted and encrypted by God for the betterment of humankind. Boehme was a pretty weak scientist but a highly inspirational thinker. Why did you choose his phrase “the signature of all things” as the name of your novel?

First of all, the phrase itself is simply beautiful. But I also felt that Boehme’s theory speaks to a common longing which unites scientists, the religious and the artistic – namely an urge to break the code, to look behind the veil, to be shown the secret answers. I feel as though all the main characters in the novel are, in their own ways, searching for the Signature of All Things. They don’t merely want some of the answers: they want the answer.

Your book has much of the feel of a novel written in the nineteenth century. How, as a writer, did you go about establishing the authenticity of your novel’s mood?

I completely immersed myself in nineteenth-century prose and ideas. Fortunately this was fun for me; I have always had a particular love for writers like Dickens, Trollope, Eliot, Austen, and James. I went back and re-read many of those great novels, and, of course, I also sought out as much information as I could on the botanical exploration and history of the day. But mostly I read letters – not only letters of great naturalists, but also the letters of common people. Those unguarded everyday letters are where I could best hear people’s common speech, and that helped me fall down the rabbit hole of time and language.

Henry Whittaker, your heroine’s father, dominates the first fifty pages of the book, and he rules much of his daughter Alma’s life thereafter. He’s a bit like a pre-modern Gatsby: an uncultured roughneck who parlays his I’ll-show-them attitude into an incredible fortune. Do you see his story as a commentary on the temptations and pitfalls of the American Dream?

I didn’t intended for Henry to be a commentary on the American Dream, to be honest… partially because I don’t totally see Henry as American, and partially because I don’t see his trajectory as being tragic in the manner of Gatsby. Henry doesn’t have enough self-doubt or self-awareness to be a tragedy, and he never really fails, either. There is nothing he longs for that he does not achieve – except immortality, of course. I see Henry more as a countryless force of nature, as a creature who is, from birth to death, comprised of pure and unstoppable will.  It was exhilarating for me to write Henry Whittaker, because he is so huge and relentless and shameless. It was so fun to write of his galloping ascent and his stubborn endurance. He’s the power source whose energy fuels the whole first half of the book. I think of him like the booster rocket who eventually thrusts Alma out into the stratosphere. Yes, he is domineering, but he also loves and challenges his daughter, and without the example of his ruthless might, Alma could never have been the force that she turns out to be.

Your heroine, Alma Whittaker, may be one of the most fully developed characters in all of American fiction. Were there real-life nineteenth-century women to whom you referred in creating her?

I looked closely at the lives of such women as Mrs. Mary Treat (a New Jersey-based expert on carnivorous plants who was a correspondent of Darwin’s), and Elizabeth Knight Britton (a respected moss expert who founded the New York Botanical Gardens along with her husband), and Marianne North (a wonderful and fearless botanical illustrator who, like Alma, set out alone to explore the world quite late in life)… And many more besides! In the nineteenth-century, botany was considered the only science that was truly open to women (flowers and gardens being “feminine” topics, you know) so I found no shortage of brilliant and tireless female researchers from whom to draw inspiration for Alma’s work. Emotionally, though, Alma is my own creation. From the very first page, I simply felt that I knew her in my bones, and that I had an obligation to tell her story as honorably and thoroughly as I could.

For each of the friends, marriage turns out to be, to one degree or another, a catastrophe. You have reflected a great deal about marriage in your other writings, especially in the memoir Committed. What do you think your characters’ errors might teach us about the rather tricky business of matrimony?

I think, to be honest, the depiction of their marriages is a bit more realistic and accurate than the model that most romantic novels would have us believe! I didn’t intentionally set out to make these women suffer, but I wanted to show what would really and truly have happened in these mismatched unions. None of their husbands are bad men (in fact, there is not a villain of any kind in the entire novel) but they are simply not the right fit. We all know that this can happen. Poor Retta Snow is the only one who is really undone by matrimony (though I suspect her mind would have unraveled over time anyhow, no matter whom she had married.) Prudence and Alma both survive their marriages with dignity. As their mother teaches them early on, dignity is the only thing that matters, and time will reveal who has it. I feel proud that, by the end of the novel, they both have earned their dignified lives.

The mass popularity you achieved with Eat, Pray, Love has probably changed your definition of success. As you go forward, what does it mean to you now to succeed as a writer?

I’m lucky in that pressure for success is completely off for me – at least as far as I’m concerned. Fortunately, there’s no way to match the phenomenon of Eat, Pray, Love, so I don’t even have to attempt it! What Eat, Pray, Love did for me was to give me the liberty (both artistically and financially) to pursue my own private literary passions in whatever direction I wanted. There could be no The Signature of All Things without the beneficence of Eat, Pray, Love. That book has been my great enabler, my great patron. My notion of success now is simply to keep following my interests, wherever they may take me.

What are you working on now?

Absolutely nothing! I am resting. I am deeply at rest. This book was a long journey and I think I may have to catch my breath a bit before launching into another.

***

The paperback edition of The Signature of All Things was published by Penguin in the US last week, and will be published in the UK by Bloomsbury tomorrow.

Author Photo Credit: Jennifer Bailey

This Urban Fantasy Hero is Not Impressed…

SinghN-ShieldOfWinterUSI received the UK edition of Nalini Singh’s Shield of Winter from Gollancz, today. While looking up information and getting cover images for my next “Books Received” post, I found the US cover (right). I thought the fella’s pose just looked so… unimpressed with the situation, that I had to share it here.

Assassin. Soldier. Arrow. That is who Vasic is, who he will always be. His soul drenched in blood, his conscience heavy with the weight of all he’s done, he exists in the shadows, far from the hope his people can almost touch – if only they do not first drown in the murderous insanity of a lethal contagion. To stop the wave of death, Vasic must complete the simplest and most difficult mission of his life.

For if the Psy race is to survive, the empaths must wake…

Having rebuilt her life after medical ‘treatment’ that violated her mind and sought to stifle her abilities, Ivy should have run from the black-clad Arrow with eyes of winter frost. But Ivy Jane has never done what she should. Now, she’ll fight for her people, and for this Arrow who stands as her living shield, yet believes he is beyond redemption.

But as the world turns to screaming crimson, even Ivy’s fierce will may not be enough to save Vasic from the cold darkness…

Shield of Winter will be published in the UK by Gollancz and Berkley in the US, at the beginning of June 2014. Here’s the UK cover…

SinghN-ShieldOfWinterUK

US/Canada Giveaway: SWORN IN STEEL by Doug Hulick (Ace)

Hulick-SwornInSteelUSOne of the most-anticipated follow-up fantasy novels of the year, Ace Books has provided three copies of Doug Hulick’s SWORN IN STEEL! All you have to do to enter the competition is leave a comment or email me (at the address at the bottom of the page), and I’ll randomly select three winners on Friday evening. Competition is open to US and Canadian residents only, I’m afraid.

In case you haven’t heard of the series (shame on you!), here is the synopsis for Sworn in Steel

It’s been three months since Drothe killed a legend, burned down a portion of the imperial capital, and unexpectedly elevated himself into the ranks of the criminal elite.

Now, as the newest Gray Prince in the underworld, he’s learning just how good he used to have it. With barely the beginnings of an organization to his name, Drothe is already being called out by other Gray Princes. And to make matters worse, when one dies, all signs point to Drothe as wielding the knife. As members of the Kin begin choosing sides – mostly against him – for what looks to be another impending war, Drothe is approached by a man who not only has the solution to Drothe’s most pressing problem, but an offer of redemption.

The only problem is the offer isn’t for him. Now Drothe finds himself on the way to the Despotate of Djan, the empire’s long-standing enemy, with an offer to make and a price on his head. And the grains of sand in the hour glass are running out, fast…

Both Among Thieves and Sworn in Steel are out now in the US, published by Ace Books (Penguin). The novels are published in the UK by Tor, and Sworn in Steel is out tomorrow! Among Thieves was published in 2011. You can find my review here, and an interview with the author here.

Joël Dicker introduces THE TRUTH ABOUT THE HARRY QUEBERT AFFAIRS (Penguin US, MacLehose Press UK)

Last week, I published my review of Joël Dicker’s debut novel and international sensation, THE TRUTH ABOUT THE HARRY QUEBERT AFFAIR. A thoroughly enjoyable read, the novel was provided for review by Dicker’s UK publisher, MacLehose Press (an imprint of Quercus). This week, I have a video interview with the author to share, provided by his American publisher, Penguin: