Thursday, February 20, 2014

Skin Game - a cover

Skin Game
Dresden Files #15
By Jim Butcher

Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, is about to have a very bad day….

Because as Winter Knight to the Queen of Air and Darkness, Harry never knows what the scheming Mab might want him to do. Usually, it’s something awful.

He doesn’t know the half of it….

Mab has just traded Harry’s skills to pay off one of her debts. And now he must help a group of supernatural villains—led by one of Harry’s most dreaded and despised enemies, Nicodemus Archleone—to break into the highest-security vault in town so that they can then access the highest-security vault in the Nevernever.

It’s a smash-and-grab job to recover the literal Holy Grail from the vaults of the greatest treasure hoard in the supernatural world—which belongs to the one and only Hades, Lord of the freaking Underworld and generally unpleasant character. Worse, Dresden suspects that there is another game afoot that no one is talking about. And he’s dead certain that Nicodemus has no intention of allowing any of his crew to survive the experience. Especially Harry.

Dresden’s always been tricky, but he’s going to have to up his backstabbing game to survive this mess—assuming his own allies don’t end up killing him before his enemies get the chance….

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I'm kinda looking forward to this one... ;)

Squeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Traitor's Blade - a review

Traitor's Blade
Greatcloaks Book 1
By Sebastien De Castell


Falcio is the first Cantor of the Greatcoats.

Trained in the fighting arts and the laws of Tristia, the Greatcoats are travelling Magisters upholding King's Law.

They are heroes.

Or at least they were, until they stood aside while the Dukes took the kingdom, and impaled their King's head on a spike.

Now Tristia is on the verge of collapse and the barbarians are sniffing at the borders. The Dukes bring chaos to the land, while the Greatcoats are scattered far and wide, reviled as traitors, their legendary coats in tatters. All they have left are the promises they made to King Paelis, to carry out one final mission.

But if they have any hope of fulfilling the King's dream, the divided Greatcoats must reunite, or they will also have to stand aside as they watch their world burn...
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Something new and a little different is the debut from Sebastien de Castell.

If you like swords and duels and intrigue and betrayal and all for one and one for all you are gonna love this.

De Castell tells his story in a fluid, inviting prose. It is much more a 'classic', adventure-style fantasy mixed with the grittier, darker fantasy of Joe Abercrombie and Mark Lawrence, than the chunky epic fantasy's I normally go for , but a fun read just the same. With its 'musketeers' feel I almost imagine this would be the type of fantasy novel that Dumas might write.

De Castell has a great wit, melding sarcasm and humour, a dashing sense of style, I would hazard a guess, as dangerous skill with the sword as he has with the pen.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Half A King - cover

I'm a little late with this one but can I just say - I am  loving this cover!

Not sure if this is for the US or the UK, or both, but regardless this is the one I want on my bookshelf.



Covers like this make me try and imagine what the cover for my book will look like... I have no idea. I hope it's a cool as this though.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Mark T. Barnes answers Ten Terrifying Questions!

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

I was born, raised and schooled in Sydney, Australia. Nothing terribly exciting, or controversial. I'm the eldest of five children, raised in a loving and supportive environment, so there's not a lot of baggage associated with my upbringing. My parents saw that I was creative at an early age, and encouraged me to explore that part of myself--along with my studies, and sports.


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

When I was twelve I wanted to be a pilot, because I loved the idea of flying. When I was 18 I really had no idea, being conflicted with the various choices of university, and work. I ended up drifting from thing to thing until I ended up in IT when I was 20. At 30 I think I had my head screwed on better, and was managing teams of people working in the human space of an IT outsourcer, as well as some of the creative elements of services and solution design. I loved the people element but did the job because it was lucrative. :)  Nothing particularly philosophical about that. I was living with my partner at the time, and she and I just wanted to have the money to do whatever we wanted to do. I was writing, or drawing, in various capacities throughout those years: I've always done something creative.


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

That people should be treated for who they are and what they do, rather than judged on gender, religion, sexual orientation, skin colour, or any of the other ridiculous measures that have been put in place over the years. Treat people with kindness and respect, and help those less fortunate than yourself. Simple human values.


4. 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?

Way more than three.  :) Most of my influences are from books or films, as they informed the kinds of stories I write. Dune, by Frank Herbert. Homer's Iliad and the Odyssey. Beowulf. Weaveworld and Imajica by Clive Barker. The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe. The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin. Most of Shakespeare's tragedies . . . I think anything that demonstrated a sense of grace, integrity, honour, kindness, and wanderlust in the characters.


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

Because I'm judgement impaired?  :)  No, I chose to write a novel because it was, for me, the best way of exploring the stories that I wanted to tell. There's a beauty in language, and the way it can transport us, that I find compelling.


6. Please tell us about your latest novel The Obsidian Heart…


The Obsidian Heart is the second in my Echoes of Empire series. It's a story of adventure, action, magic, and love, set in a sweeping world with rich history and cultures, and intense political machinations. Like The Garden of Stones (the first book), it's both character and story driven. Unlike a lot of fantasy, it has strong, motivated female characters who hold positions of authority and influence. I've never understood sexism, so chose to make women and men equal in all ways in my books.


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

I'm writing to entertain. I hope that people can, while reading my work, forget their troubles and engage with a different world, interesting characters, and be curious enough and excited enough to want to keep turning the page. Forward, preferably.


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

That's a long and varied list. The ones I admire most are those who've told brave stories, and dared to challenge what the genre looked like: people who wrote something different, and people who wrote something that challenged their readers. I think we stagnate if we remain still for too long, and speculative fiction should have us speculate on different worlds, cultural mores, histories, gender roles, etc. Amongst the people I admire are Frank Herbert for Dune, which is still one of my all time favourite books for its scope, vision, and depth. Gene Wolfe for his Book of the New Sun (and other work), where his use of language and world building is exceptional. M. John Harrison for Viriconium, for the same reasons as Gene Wolfe. Steven Erikson, for the depth of his world building and his bravery to drop readers in the deep end from the beginning: China Mieville for the same reasons. Joe Abercrombie for the way he writes such great characters, some you love and some you love to hate. George R.R. Martin, for his getting his work on the small screen, and helping publishers realise that readers do want something big and complex that they can get lost in. Neil Gaiman for his ability to move between genres, and keep his readers engaged as he does so. Clive Barker not only for his talent and originality, but for his openness about his life and how he lives it. There are more, but I would be writing this answer for a while.

To be honest, anybody who puts finger to keyboard, and places themselves in the public domain with their work, has my respect and admiration. It's a long, difficult and competitive road that authors are on. To get where they are is a triumph of determination and talent in and of itself. Self published authors are included given how much effort they go to, to develop and promote their own work. Being published is a great feeling but there's a lot of work to get there.


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

To see some of my work on television within the next few years. Any television producers reading this, please feel free to get in touch with my agent.  :)


10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Be persistent, be patient, and grow a thick skin. There are a lot of writers published, with more waiting. Your work is going to be compared to a lot of different authors: it's the nature of things. Because one person doesn't like what you've written, doesn't make it bad. It means that the person in question prefers other work, so don't take it personally. The same goes for agents and publishers. They need to be passionate about a project before they'll put time and money behind it. Write often. Read widely. Get better at your craft. Learn from those who've paved the way before you. And write what you love!

Thank you for playing.

Thanks for asking, Mark! Any time. It was my pleasure.
____________________________

Read my reviews of The Garden of Stone and The Obsidian Heart.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Dreamwalker - a review

Dreamwalker
By C.S. Friedman

All her life Jessica Drake has dreamed of other worlds, some of them similar to her own, others disturbingly alien.

She never shares the details with anyone, save her younger brother Tommy, a compulsive gamer who incorporates some aspects of Jessica's dreams into his games. But now someone is asking about those dreams...and about her. A strange woman has been watching her house. A visitor to her school attempts to take possession of her dream-inspired artwork.

Why?

As she begins to search for answers it becomes clear that whoever is watching her does not want her to learn the truth. One night her house catches on fire, and when the smoke clears she discovers that her brother has been kidnapped. She must figure out what is going on, and quickly, if she and her family are to be safe.

Following clues left behind on Tommy's computer, determined to find her brother and bring him home safely, Jessica and two of her friends are about to embark on a journey that will test their spirits and their courage to the breaking point, as they must leave their own world behind and confront the source of Earth's darkest legends ? as well as the terrifying truth of their own secret heritage.
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C.S. Friedman is one of my favourite authors. A vivid world-builder, she has the knack for reaching into the dark heart of humanity, pushing past the thin layer of the mundane and exposing the fantastic beneath. And making those things that raise the hairs on the back of your neck seem very real.

This is Friedman's first urban fantasy, she has written both epic fantasy and science fiction previously, and it is utterly compelling. It stands with one foot in our world and the other in one totally different. But that's one of the joys of speculative fiction right? It is also her first foray into that ever shifting plane that is 'Young Adult'.

But don't let that put you off, if indeed it does. Dreamwalker is still very much a Friedman book with all the intricate plotting and precise pacing, well-developed characters, and the fantastic prose. And naturally, as it's Friedman novel it's more mature, more serious, and a bit darker than many YA novels you are going to come across.

It is also amazing and going in my 'keepers' bookshelf alongside all her other work.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Brian Staveley answers Ten Terrifying Questions

Brian kindly answered these questions for my last SF & F Buzz from Booktopia (you can sign up for the monthly Buzz edited by moi here) and just in case you missed I am pimping it.

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

I grew up in New Hampshire, a small, cold state with some mountains and some rock in the northeastern part of the US. I’m sure I was raised in a house, but most of my childhood memories involve roaming the woods, building forts, fording rivers, and climbing trees. Eventually I went to college in the same state, a wonderful experience, but one in which I was forced to spend what could have been some valuable adventuring time inside studying.


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

When I was twelve, it seemed self-evident that there was no profession more noble or practical than that of the knight errant. Unfortunately, that sort of work fell out of vogue a while back, so I was forced to become more realisitic. I turned to poetry (both the writing and the reading), but that turned out to be even less profitable than knight errantry, not to mention the fact that it involved considerably less exercise. Finally, by thirty, I’d realized that I wanted to write books, and so I set out to do so, not realizing quite how long it takes to write an actual book.


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

I thought the big things mattered more and the little things mattered less.


4. 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?

As I kid, I devoured Ursula Le Guin’s novels, reading almost entirely for the dragons and the unnamed shadow monsters and such. Later, I realized just what a staggeringly good prose stylist she is, and just how brilliantly she’s able to bring her questing, generous, unflinching sensibility to any topic she chooses. She is, in my mind, the ultimate example of a writer who can tell a ripping good story while, at the same time, crafting sentences and paragraphs that invite reading, and re-reading, and re-reading. The same goes for William Faulkner – dazzling writing, nail-biting plot-lines – but Faulkner lacks Le Guin’s seemingly effortless mastery. I love Faulkner, but you can always hear him muttering in the background.

Then there’s Johann Sebastian Bach. Whenever I feel like I’ve accomplished something, literary or otherwise, I just listen to a little Bach. Something like the D-minor chaconne makes my stacking the wood or writing a chapter feel like pretty meager fare… but then, I get to listen to Bach, the amazement of which more than makes up for my own failings.


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

The scope. A novel (or a series of novels) offers more range than just about any other art form. There are no length constraints on a novel (don’t tell my editor I said that), and while each genre has its tropes and tendencies, there are no strict formal requirements. I spent many years writing poetry, an experience that felt like being hunched over a jeweler’s bench trying to set tiny gems into intricate settings. I enjoyed that work, and found it excellent training, but eventually I started to get a crick in my neck. After a while, I got tired of squinting. Writing a novel feels more like building something huge – maybe one of those neolithic burial mounds – that takes forever but that allows you to dig down into the earth as far as you want, or to look up at the position of the sun.

As far as non-writing art forms go? Well, if you heard me try to play the banjo, you’d understand why I don’t play music. And let’s not even get into the visual art thing.


6. Please tell us about your latest novel…


The Emperor’s Blades tells the story of three adult children of a murdered emperor – two sons and a daughter; a monk, an elite warrior, and a politician – who are trying to uncover the plot that led to their father’s death. This proves a harrowing task in its own right, and is made harder by the fact that their own lives also seem to be in danger. Even worse, as the novel progresses, the goals of the unknown murderers start to look larger and more terrifying than the simple usurpation of a single empire.


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

Whenever a new reader emails me to say she stayed up until 3AM finishing the book, and that I can go to hell because now she’s useless at work today and irritated that the next book won’t be out for nine months, I consider that a success.


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

I admire anyone who sits down with a story to tell and works as hard as she can, as long as it takes, to tell it well.


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

I’m not sure my ambitions are so grand. If people love the books and I’m able to avoid becoming a hunchback from using the computer sixty-two hours a day, I’ll be happy. Oh, and I suppose I want my son (who is now just a year and a half old) to pick up one of my books some day and think I did a good job.


10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Don’t expect it to get any easier.


Brian, thank you for playing.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Emperor's Blades - a review

The Emperor's Blades
The Unhewn Throne Book One
By Brian Staveley

The circle is closing. The stakes are high. And old truths will live again . . .

The Emperor has been murdered, leaving the Annurian Empire in turmoil. Now his progeny must bury their grief and prepare to unmask a conspiracy. His son Valyn, training for the empire's deadliest fighting force, hears the news an ocean away. He expected a challenge, but after several 'accidents' and a dying soldier's warning, he realizes his life is also in danger.

Yet before Valyn can take action, he must survive the mercenaries' brutal final initiation. Meanwhile, the Emperor's daughter, Minister Adare, hunts her father's murderer in the capital itself. Court politics can be fatal, but she needs justice. And Kaden, heir to an empire, studies in a remote monastery. Here, the Blank God's disciples teach their harsh ways - which Kaden must master to unlock their ancient powers. When an imperial delegation arrives, he's learnt enough to perceive evil intent. But will this keep him alive, as long-hidden powers make their move?
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You can go a long time reading fantasy novels, patiently waiting for the next book by a favored author to be released and hoping you come across a gem that you can add to your list of 'writers to look out for'. Brian Staveley has become one of those writers for me.

The Emperor's Blades is an impressive debut. Packed with strong characterisation and rich world-building that doesn't overwhelm, it paints a captivating tale of fate and consequence as the scions of a royal house are thrust unprepared into their inheritance and an ancient enemy makes their opening gambit in a bid to reclaim their world. Staveley weaves each point of view into an impressive tapestry that offers different angles by which he explores the history and culture of the setting while narrating a driving tale of coming of age and murder mystery.

I loved this book and devoured it over a couple of days. It is passionate, hopeful, heart-wrenching, thrilling, shocking and twists like an oil-covered eel. It is absolutely everything I love about epic fantasy and the perfect way to kick off a new year!
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