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

Guest Post: “On Change, Blood and Iron…” by Jon Sprunk

SprunkJ-AuthorPicHello everyone. I’m Jon Sprunk, the author of Blood and Iron (which came out last week) as well as the Shadow Saga, both from Pyr Books. I’m so glad to have this chance to speak to you. Today I’d like to talk about change.

Whoa, whoa. Don’t click away yet! I know everyone has a healthy mistrust for change, but I’ll keep it painless. Scoundrel’s honor.

What I mean by change are the differences between writing my two series. For those who don’t know my work, the Shadow Saga trilogy was about a lonewolf assassin named Caim. The new series, The Book of the Black Earth, follows the stories of three people caught up in the machinations of an empire ruled by sorcerers.


Besides the obvious story differences, I had a completely different experience writing these series. The Shadow books were all kinetic energy, with the characters bouncing from one perilous danger to the next. I likened it to the Bourne movies, but with more swords and arrows.

With Blood and Iron, I took a more deliberate approach. Does that mean it’s boring? I hope not. But it means that the action (and there is a lot of action) serves the story, rather than the other way around. I don’t believe one way is better than the other, but I’d done the “slash first and ask questions later” routine, so with the new books I wanted to try something different.

Speaking of action. Fight scenes. I love them and I’m not ashamed to admit it. And I love writing them. The biggest change in fight scenes between the two series is perhaps found in the mindsets of the major characters. As I said, Caim from the Shadow books is an assassin. He’s an expert knife-fighter, and killing is his business. The main character in Blood and Iron is a former shipwright and carpenter named Horace. While not a coward, Horace isn’t accustomed to confrontation. When he is taken captive by his enemies, it seems he doesn’t have any tools with which to fight them… until he discovers a latent talent for sorcery. Yet, even once Horace begins to learn about his new power, he isn’t as cutthroat (pardon the pun) or proficient in combat as Caim the Knife. Like most of us “real people,” fights typically happen to Horace, whereas Caim has no problem looking for trouble.

One thing I’m commonly asked is what I’ve learned since writing my first book. That’s not easy to answer. It’s a difficult thing to gauge your own progress. I feel more in control of my stories now, that I’m in a better position to try new things and push my personal envelop. As a lifelong lover of old-school sword & sorcery, the Shadow books were right in my wheelhouse. I also read a lot of epic fantasy, but I have to confess I was a little anxious approaching the new series. Epic usually means a bigger story world, a larger cast, more emphasis on the big picture. Big everything! But what I attempted to do (and perhaps some of you who read Blood and Iron will tell me if I’ve succeeded) was to take the cut and thrust dynamics of S&S and apply that to an “epic” setting and “epic” themes. In short, I wanted to have the best of both worlds.

Well, that’s it for today. I hope I was at least marginally entertaining.

Be well and keep reading.


Also on CR: Interview with Jon Sprunk, Guest Post (Lessons Learned)

Jon Sprunk is the author of Blood and Iron as well as the Shadow Saga (Shadow’s Son, Shadow’s Lure, and Shadow’s Master). He’s also a mentor at the Seton Hill University fiction writing program. Be sure to check out his website and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.