Tuesday, October 21, 2014

On My Radar

Three titles have popped up on my radar for next year. There are obviously more than three titles that I am eagerly awaiting (hello Oracle, House Wars Book 5 by Michelle West AND [hopefully] Destiny's Conflict by Janny Wurts)  but I've just seen covers for these ones and I am excited!

Brian Staveley was for me, the standout debut in 2014. I cannot wait for book two in this brilliant new epic fantasy series, I truly hope it lives up to the wonder of book one The Emperor's Blades.


The Providence of Fire
Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne Book Two
By Brian Staveley

War is coming, secrets multiply and betrayal waits in the wings... The Annurian Empire's ruling family must be vigilant, as the conspiracy against them deepens. Having discovered her father's assassin, Adare flees the Dawn Palace in search of allies. But few trust her, until she seems marked by the people's goddess in an ordeal of flame.

As Adare struggles to unite Annur, unrest breeds rival armies - then barbarian hordes threaten to invade. And unknown to Adare, her brother Valyn has fallen in with forces mustering at the empire's borders. The terrible choices they face could make war between them inevitable.

Fighting his own battles is their brother Kaden, rightful heir to the Unhewn Throne, who has infiltrated the Annurian capital with two strange companions. While imperial forces prepare to defend a far-distant front, Kaden's actions could save the empire, or destroy it.


Book one of Peter Orullian's Vault of Heaven, The Unremembered came out sometime ago, unfortunately it didn't grab me in quite the way I had hoped, for various reasons. However having read his short stories set within the same world, in particular Sacrifice of the First Sheason, my understanding of just where he is coming from has completely changed and I looking forward to seeing where he take the series.  

Trial of Intentions
Vault of Heaven Book Two
By Peter Orullian

The gods who created this world have abandoned it. In their mercy, however, they chained the rogue god — and the monstrous creatures he created to plague mortalkind — in the vast and inhospitable wasteland of the Bourne. The magical Veil that contains them has protected humankind for millennia and the monsters are little more than tales told to frighten children. But the Veil has become weak and creatures of Nightmare have come through. To fight them, the races of men must form a great alliance to try and stop the creatures.

But there is dissent. One king won’t answer the call, his pride blinding him even to the poison in his own court. Another would see Convocation fail for his own political advantage. And still others believe Convocation is not enough. Some turn to the talents of the Sheason, who can shape the very essence of the world to their will. But their order is divided, on the brink of collapse.

Tahn Junell remembers friends who despaired in a place left barren by war. One of the few who have actually faced the unspeakable horde in battle, Tahn sees something else at work and wonders about the nature of the creatures on the other side of the Veil. He chooses to go to a place of his youth, a place of science, daring to think he can find a way to prevent slaughter, prevent war. 

And his choices may reshape a world...


I first came across Mr Polansky when his debut, The Straight Razor Cure, was released in 2011. Unfortunately I got side-tracked finishing the book and only just picked it back up when I saw the cover for this new one. And boy I am glad I did. The Straight Razor Cure is brilliant and I will be reading books 2 and 3 in the trilogy very soon while I wait for this new one.


Those Above
The Empty Throne Book One
By Daniel Polansky

The first in an explosive new epic fantasy series by Daniel Polansky, perfect for fans of Joe Abercrombie and Mark Lawrence.
They enslaved humanity three thousand years ago. Tall, strong, perfect, superhuman and near immortal they rule from their glittering palaces in the eternal city in the centre of the world. They are called Those Above by their subjects. They enforce their will with fire and sword.

Twenty five years ago mankind mustered an army and rose up against them, only to be slaughtered in a terrible battle. Hope died that day, but hatred survived. Whispers of another revolt are beginning to stir in the hearts of the oppressed: a woman, widowed in the war, who has dedicated her life to revenge; the general, the only man to ever defeat one of Those Above in single combat, summoned forth to raise a new legion; and a boy killer who rises from the gutter to lead an uprising in the capital.

Those Above is the first of an extraordinary new fantasy epic by the author of the acclaimed Low Town series that will sweep the reader into a wholly alien, wholly recognizable world of rebellion and revenge, of love and of death, of intrigue and pitiless war.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The World of Ice & Fire - Not Really a Review

THE WORLD OF ICE & FIRE
By George R.R. Martin, Elio Garcia 
and Linda Antonsson

If the past is prologue, then George R. R. Martin's masterwork-the most inventive and entertaining fantasy saga of our time-warrants one hell of an introduction. At long last, it has arrived with The World of Ice and Fire.

This lavishly illustrated volume is a comprehensive history of the Seven Kingdoms, providing vividly constructed accounts of the epic battles, bitter rivalries, and daring rebellions that lead to the events of A Song of Ice and Fire and HBO's Game of Thrones. In a collaboration that's been years in the making, Martin has teamed with Elio M. Garcia, Jr., and Linda Antonsson, the founders of the renowned fan site Westeros.org-perhaps the only people who know this world almost as well as its visionary creator. Collected here is all the accumulated knowledge, scholarly speculation, and inherited folk tales of maesters and septons, maegi and singers.


It is a chronicle which stretches from the Dawn Age to the Age of Heroes; from the Coming of the First Men to the arrival of Aegon the Conqueror; from Aegon's establishment of the Iron Throne to Robert's Rebellion and the fall of the Mad King, Aerys II Targaryen, which has set into motion the "present-day" struggles of the Starks, Lannisters, Baratheons, and Targaryens. The definitive companion piece to George R. R. Martin's dazzlingly conceived universe, The World of Ice and Fire is indeed proof that the pen is mightier than a storm of swords.
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What needs to be said about this one? Any fan of made up history (Hello! Guilty as charged), and/or A Game of Thrones, is going to devour this history of Westeros and the lands beyond.

The World of A Game of Thrones is staggering in its scope and as rich and complex as the events of the War of the Roses, as treacherous as Imperial Rome and could chew the Borgias' up and spit them out without breaking a tooth.

This compendium work contains full colour artwork and maps, detailed family trees, new material that gives in-depth explorations of the history and culture of Westeros, half of which Martin has written for this book specifically.

It is the definitive companion to this masterwork of modern fantasy fiction and perfect for fans of the books and the TV show.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Clariel - A Review

Clariel
An Old Kingdom Novel
By Garth Nix

Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker? An epic fantasy adventure, set six hundred years before Sabriel and as rich and compelling as the original Old Kingdom novels.

Clariel is the daughter of one of the most notable families in the Old Kingdom, with blood relations to the Abhorsen, and to the King.

When her family moves to the city of Belisaere, Clariel finds herself at the centre of sorcery and intrigue: a plot is brewing against the old and withdrawn King Orrikan; her parents want to marry her off to a killer; and a dangerous Free Magic creature is loose in the city.

When Clariel is drawn into the efforts to find and capture the creature, she finds hidden sorcery within herself, yet it is magic that carries great dangers.

Can she rise above the temptation of power, escape the unwanted marriage and save the King?

Set approximately six hundred years before the birth of Sabriel, Clariel will delight Old Kingdom fans as well as new readers hungry for epic fantasy adventure.

_____________________________________________________

This book brought with it a heavy dose of nostalgia. It has been many years since I read an Old Kingdom novel, yet they still stand in my memory among the best fantasy books I've read.

Nix is an evocative writer and from the first page it was as though the years between my reading the original trilogy and getting my hands on this - what is technically a prequel, yet also a stand-alone book - had never occurred.

Clariel never wanted to come to Belisaere, the capital city, the only place she felt at home was in the Great Forest but her mother's position as the head of a powerful guild and her relation to the Abhorsen means her wishes are disregarded. She struggles to find herself a place in this new life, but when she is used as a pawn her fury knows no bounds and she escapes to make her own choices.

A somewhat darker novel than the original books, Clariel depicts the Old Kingdom in the glory we had previously only read about and never experienced. And things aren't always as they are recalled in history books. The powerful Kingdom is strangled by hierarchy and social inequality, unrest is rife and self-absorption and a disregard for the Charter all adds to wonderfully a fleshed out world that brings vibrancy and atmosphere to the stage.

Fans of the Old Kingdom Trilogy will find this an exciting addition to the story, those of you new to Nix's work will find it a great place to start.

I hope we continue to have many more adventures in this wonderful world.



Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Abyss Beyond Dreams - A Review

The Abyss Beyond Dreams
Chronicle of the Fallers, Book One

When images of a lost civilisation are 'dreamed' by a self-proclaimed prophet of the age, Nigel Sheldon, inventor of wormhole technology and creator of the Commonwealth society is suspicious. Especially as the dreams seem to be coming from the Void - an area of living space monitored and controlled because of its hugely destructive capabilities. With it being the greatest threat to the known universe, Nigel is determined to find out if human life really does exist beyond its boundaries and if so, what the hell they're doing there.

But when he crash lands on a planet beyond the Void he didn't even know existed he finds so much more than he imagined. Bienvenido, a world populated from the survivors of Commonwealth colony ships which disappeared over three thousand years' ago. Since then they've been fighting an ever-increasingly desperate battle against a space-born predator invading their landscape. The Fallers looks innocuous to begin with and their lure is enticing to any that stray within their path - but they are by far the greatest threat to the continuance of humanity on this planet.

But Nigel soon realises that the Fallers also hold the key to something he'd never hoped to find - the destruction of the Void itself. If only he can survive long enough to work out how to use it...
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I began reading Peter F. Hamilton way back in mid-nineties when he was writing the near-future SF detective stories featuring Greg Mandel. To be honest I didn't really get his first foray into Space Opera - the Night's Dawn Trilogy - and I guess that's why it took me so long to return to his work. I did so last year and wow - I wish I'd come back sooner.

I can honestly say that his Commonwealth Saga (consisting of the Commonwealth Saga duology and the Void Trilogy) is at the top of the list of my all-time favourite Space Operas.

The Abyss Beyond Dreams is the first in a new duology set in the Commonwealth universe (squeee!). Nigel Sheldon returns (we didn't see him on the Void Trilogy), along with a Paula Mayo cameo, and is convinced by the alien Raiel to participate in a desperate scheme to infiltrate the Void.

Inside Nigel discovers that humans are not the only species to have been sucked into the Void's strange reality, where the laws of physics are subtly different and strength of mind equates to strong psychic abilities. These humans, survivors and descendants of a lost fleet of colony ships that left Commonwealth space 500 years before (quantum physics plays with the speed at which time inside the Void and time outside the Void move at different paces), are caught in a vicious war against the Fallers, a species of biological mimics trying to wipe them out, and their society begins to breakdown into civil war.

While this is a return to the Void we explored in the Void Trilogy - and if you have read it you know what happens - it is still full of twists and turns and revelations that are genuinely surprising. There is enough closure to end this volume with just enough of a hook to make you want the next book right now. 

The Abyss Beyond Dreams is a superb return to a universe that melds hard SF concepts with fantasy adventure.  Hamilton expands on the unanswered questions of previous books without rehashing old ground, and offers us a fully realised cast of characters, old and new, to be thrown into a thrilling plot of action and intrigue that is his hallmark. It is a gripping tale told by a skilled writer, one who raises the bar for both Space Operas and Epic Fantasy alike.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Gary Gibson answers Ten Terrifying Questions

To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself - where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

- Born in Glasgow, Scotland. Raised in Glasgow, Scotland. Schooled in Glasgow, Scotland. Well, mostly, apart from a few years living in Ayrshire. Or, as I like to think of it, north of the Ice Wall amongst the WIldlings.

What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

- At twelve, I pretty much wanted to be Arthur C. Clarke. Actually, I also wanted to shave my head and wear white robes like the Talosian in the original Star Trek. That’s when I started thinking about writing since I was already sucking up science fiction books like a Roomba in a universe of dust-bunnies. By eighteen, I’d decided I wanted to be Jimmy Page (guitarist in Led Zeppelin) because I’d just moved back to Glasgow from darkest Ayrshire and discovered rock music. The writing took a back seat for a while. But in my mid-twenties, I’d had a kind of Damascene moment and started writing again. By the time I was thirty I’d had a couple of short stories published in pro sf and fantasy magazines.

What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

- That logic and reason will always win any argument. It took a lot of bumps to work out logic and reason are the last things a lot of people ever want to hear.

What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

- There’s no three things. It’s everything, all at once, poured into a single Gary Gibson-shaped mould. But if you kidnapped my dog - that is, if I had a dog - and showed me a live stream of it held over a bucket of piranhas and demanded I answer, I’d pick: Marooned in Realtime by Vernor Vinge, Roadside Picnic by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky, and the Gaia trilogy by John Varley. If I’ve got any influences, it’s those three. Probably.

Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

- It’s a falsity to say there are ‘innumerable’ artistic avenues open to anyone. Well, there are, but whether you’re actually any good at them is another matter. I “chose” to write a novel because it turns out that’s what I’m good at it, it’s fun, and there’s pretty much nothing else I can think of I might possibly want to do with my life.

Please tell us about your latest novel Extinction Game

- I couldn’t just sit down and write a straight post-apocalyptic book, because it’s been done so many times. I needed something extra. A classic post-apocalyptic trope is the Last Man on Earth story, so since I’d been reading up on theories regarding the idea we live in a multiverse of infinite parallel realities, it made sense that there must also be an infinite number of universes in which different people are the last man or woman on Earth.

From there it didn’t take much more than a hop or skip to figure out an interesting story lay in bringing those people together through some technology that allows travel from one alternate reality to another. Why write a book about one world-destroying apocalypse, when you can write a book that by definition includes every single possible apocalypse?

What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

- An immediate desire to send me the entire contents of their bank accounts and the deeds to their homes. I’m not saying I planted any post-hypnotic suggestions in my books or anything, but…

Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

- Anyone who writes what they choose to write, regardless of what others think.

Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

- To produce a book a year; to always improve; to maintain a healthy level of self-criticism that allows me to grow as a writer; to be ambitious, in the sense of never resting on my laurels; to surprise, entertain and delight; to be raised to Godhood and worshipped by milli...ok, maybe not that last one.

What advice do you give aspiring writers?

- To understand that what appears to be failure is instead an opportunity to define and build on your true strengths.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Could you survive the end of your world?

EXTINCTION GAME
By Gary Gibson

Jerry Beche should be dead. Instead, he's rescued from a desolate Earth where he was the last man alive. He's then trained for the toughest conditions imaginable and placed with a crack team of specialists. Every one of them is a survivor, as each withstood the violent ending of their own alternate Earth. And their new specialism? To retrieve weapons and data in missions to other apocalyptic worlds.

But what is 'the Authority', the shadowy organization that rescued Beche and his fellow survivors? How does it access other timelines? And why does it need these instruments of death? As Jerry struggles to obey his new masters, he begins to distrust his new companions. A strange bunch, their motivations are less than clear, and accidents start plaguing their missions. Jerry suspects the Authority is feeding them lies, and team members are spying on him. As a dangerous situation spirals into catastrophe, is there anybody he can trust?


_______________________________________________________________
Could you survive the end of your world?

Jerry Beche has been alone for years after a pandemic wiped out the rest of humanity, his grip on reality is slightly off and both his sense of paranoia and survival instincts are tightly strung. So, one day when he finds a set of footprints on the ground that are not his own, he runs. When he is eventually subdued he is offered an opportunity to join a group searching a multitude of alternative realities and researching extinction events on different Earths.

This book is kind of terrifying with all the different scenarios Gibson presents, anyone with an active imagination (Oh, me! Hello!) will quite probably never look at the stars in the sky, or experience an earthquake, the same way again. And don't get me started on scientists and their various fields of "research"!

Extinction Game is different to Gibson's usual fare of high-tech, far future space opera. It is a post-apocalyptic, reality jumping, techno-thriller, shotgun of a novel that throws you into the action from page one, and presents layer after layer of secrets and hidden agenda. It's great!



Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb

Fool's Assassin
Fitz and the Fool Book One
By Robin Hobb

Tom Badgerlock has been living peaceably in the manor house at Withywoods with his beloved wife Molly these many years, the estate a reward to his family for loyal service to the crown.

But behind the facade of respectable middle-age lies a turbulent and violent past. For Tom Badgerlock is actually FitzChivalry Farseer, bastard scion of the Farseer line, convicted user of Beast-magic, and assassin. A man who has risked much for his king and lost more...

On a shelf in his den sits a triptych carved in memory stone of a man, a wolf and a fool. Once, these three were inseparable friends: Fitz, Nighteyes and the Fool. But one is long dead, and one long-missing.

Then one Winterfest night a messenger arrives to seek out Fitz, but mysteriously disappears, leaving nothing but a blood-trail.

What was the message? Who was the sender? And what has happened to the messenger?

Suddenly Fitz's violent old life erupts into the peace of his new world, and nothing and no one is safe.

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A decade or so has passed in the Kingdom of the Six Duchies and FitzChivalry Farseer, bastard son of the royal line and former king's assassin, has taken on a new identity away from court intrigue with his wife Molly.

As Tom Badgerlock, he has little need of his Skill magic or, with the passing of his wolf companion, that of his Wit. That is until a mysterious messenger arrives, only to disappear before she can deliver her message, leaving a trail of blood.

Given how long it's been since the last Fitz and the Fool book, Hobb's leisurely introduction back into this world is welcome. Not only does the telling of the story remain true to the pacing of previous nine volumes (that are collectively referred to as the books of The Realm of the Elderlings), it works as a smoldering fire that slowly has new fuel added to it until it is suddenly a roaring blaze again.

The story is deceptively simple yet complex. Hobb's connection to the character of Fitz is evident, it feels like the last ten years between the books have never happened, that it was only yesterday we last saw the world through Fitz's eyes and while things have changed as they are wont to do, they are still comfortingly familiar.

This book is filled with heartache and joy, tension and foreboding, and anyone who fell in love with FitzChivalry Farseer in the Assassin's Apprentice will fall in love with him all over again. The highs and the lows are achingly crafted and so very real it is hard to imagine that Withywoods, the Six Duchies and indeed Fitz himself, do not actually exist somewhere.

This book is one of the best of the year. It is Hobb at her best and I came to the end all too soon. The books of Fitz and the Fool - all of them - are pieces of a masterpiece and one of the most important works in modern speculative fiction.

Thankfully Hobb is not a writer to take years to complete a book so hopefully we will have the next volume sooner rather than later.

Order it now!
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