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?

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!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Moon's Artifice

Moon's Artifice
The Empire of a Hundred Houses: Book One
By Tom Lloyd

In a quiet corner of the Imperial City, Investigator Narin discovers the result of his first potentially lethal mistake. Minutes later he makes a second.

After an unremarkable career Narin finally has the chance of promotion to the hallowed ranks of the Lawbringers - guardians of the Emperor's laws and bastions for justice in a world of brutal expediency. Joining that honoured body would be the culmination of a lifelong dream, but it couldn't possibly have come at a worse time. A chance encounter drags Narin into a plot of gods and monsters, spies and assassins, accompanied by a grief-stricken young woman, an old man haunted by the ghosts of his past and an assassin with no past.

On the cusp of an industrial age that threatens the warrior caste's rule, the Empire of a Hundred Houses awaits civil war between noble factions. Centuries of conquest has made the empire a brittle and bloated monster; constrained by tradition and crying out for change. To save his own life and those of untold thousands Narin must understand the key to it all - Moon's Artifice, the poison that could destroy an empire.

Having spent the last six years immersed in the world of the Twilight Reign series, Lloyd is stretching his wings, and his creative chops, launching us headlong into a new and compelling story set in the midst of the world spanning empire of the Hundred Houses.

Somewhat different to Lloyd's first foray into epic fantasy, this series sees him playing on a stage set at the start of an industrial age, which lends itself to an exotic clash of cultural tropes that is at once both familiar and alien. Driven by a mystery, Lloyd fills the book with gods and demons, characters that leapt off the page and have kept me up way past my bedtime.

I always look towards a new work by a favoured author with a mix of excitement and trepidation. What if they are unable to re-create the magic that enthralled me in their previous work? Luckily that has not happened here. While the Twilight Reign was more traditional fantasy, The Empire of a Hundred Houses moves out of that comfort zone but contains enough of what makes Lloyd's work his, and that is unmistakable and utterly readable.

I highly recommend this book and am looking forward to the next!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Obsidian Heart - a review

The Obsidian Heart
Echoes of Empire Book 2
By Mark T. Barnes

A plot to overthrow the Shrīanese Federation has been quashed, but the bloody rebellion is far from over...and the struggle to survive is just beginning.

Warrior-mage Indris grows weary in his failed attempts to thwart the political machinations of Corajidin, and faces the possibility of imprisonment upon his return to his homeland. Moreover, Indris’s desire for Corajidin’s daughter, Mari, is strong. Can he choose between his duty and his desire…and at what cost?

Left alienated from her House, Mari is torn between the opposing forces of her family and her country—especially now that she’s been offered the position of Knight-Colonel of the Feyassin, the elite royal guards whose legacy reaches back to the days of the Awakened Empire. As the tensions rise, she must decide if her future is with Indris, with her family, or in a direction not yet foreseen.

As he awaits trial for his crimes, Corajidin confronts the good and evil within himself. Does he seek redemption for his cruel deeds, or does he indebt himself further to the enigmatic forces that have promised him success, and granted him a reprieve from death? What is more important: his ambition, regaining the love stolen from him, or his soul?


As some of you may have noticed, I read a lot. Luckily most of the books I pick up I enjoy. If I’m not enjoying them I put them down very quickly. There are too many books waiting to be read to waste time on those that just don’t ‘do it’ for you.

Within a page of starting Gardens of Stone (Book One in the Echoes of Empire series) I knew that I was going to enjoy Mark Barnes work, I even had a sneaking suspicion that he’d push his way into the upper echelons of those authors I rate as amazing.

He did.

The Obsidian Heart is the second book in the Echoes of Empire series and where GoS was a lot of world building and furious velocity that drops the reader into the middle of a war zone at the story’s start (a la Steven Erikson) OH slows the pace and turns from the blood soaked fields of physical battle to the Machiavellian backstabbing, plotting and jockeying for position that is the battlefield of politics.

Ever building, Barnes leads the reader through the exotically beautiful capital of Shrian and the deadly power play of the Great Houses, while plying us with hints of the rich history of one of the most magnificently realised worlds I’ve had the pleasure to read. In fact my admiration of his creation wars with a jealousy that I didn’t think of it first!

With cat-like grace the arch-villain Corajidin (Barnes insists he’s not a typical villain, just ‘misunderstood’ – but he’s the bad guy) manages to twist in mid-air during his fall from grace to land on his feet and continue his relentless quest for supreme power while our hero Indris becomes reluctantly embroiled in the serpentine intrigues of the Sēq Order of Scholars, an order he walked away from years ago. His growing powers and the mysterious of period of time that is missing from his memories, flags him as both a threat and an opportunity to those Masters of his former Order who seek to return to a power and prestige they have not held for centuries.

This is a book that is fit to bursting with all the things I love in fantasy. Epic history and world building, rich and elegant prose and a pushing of the boundaries of creativity that take it from being a pastiche of stronger and more well realised works and puts it up there beside them. In two novels Mark Barnes has revealed a tremendous vein of authorial gold, and what’s even more exciting is that he has only just begun to tap it. I am positive his undoubted talent will bear riches for many many more stories, not least the next book in this trilogy.

Now I just have to wait until May 2014 for book three, Pillars of Sand – and even longer for the stories he’s currently writing and teasing me with messages about! This Australian author is definitely one to watch.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Republic of Thieves: A Review

The Gentleman Bastard Sequence Book 3
by Scott Lynch

After their adventures on the high seas, Locke and Jean are brought back to earth with a thump. Jean is mourning the loss of his lover and Locke must live with the fallout of crossing the all-powerful magical assassins the Bonds Magi.

It is a fall-out that will pit both men against Locke's own long lost love. Sabetha is Locke's childhood sweetheart, the love of Locke's life and now it is time for them to meet again. Employed on different sides of a vicious dispute between factions of the Bonds Sabetha has just one goal - to destroy Locke for ever.

This has to have been one of the books I have been most excited to get my hands on this year. Fans around the world have been patiently waiting for the next instalment of Locke and Jean's adventures. From the get-go Lynch established himself, on the strength, flair and originality of his work, as a name that rested quite comfortably in the same echelon as George R.R. Martin.

Lynch has a gift for creating a vibrant, neon-lit world full of epic grandeur and poignant decay. He sweeps the reader across pages of action, intrigue and adventure, teasing the long-con (or in some cases not so long) out of hundreds of pages before the always thrilling and always significant twist that is the grand reveal at the end. He is one of the few writers who mixes an equal amount of swash-buckling adventure with cerebral plotting and character interaction.

Brilliantly picking the plot up from where he left us hanging at the end of Red Seas Under Red Skies , Locke and Jean find that the reach of the Bondsmagi is as long and as encompassing as folk lore would have us believe and their actions in The Lies of Locke Lamora truly come home to roost in this book. As does the often mention but never seen love of Locke's life - the strong, beautiful and razor sharp, Sabetha.  

Much like the vaunted alchemists of his world Lynch mixes a cocktail of back story inbetween seat-of-your-pants paced life or death scenarios that leave you breathless in your chair and sleep deprived as you burn the midnight oil to find out 'what happens next!'. And the finale of this tale, while not the cliff-hanger of Red Seas, opens things up in a way you won't see coming, and will not disappoint!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Gardens of Stone, a review.

So back in May I mention the debut of Aussie author Mark T. Barnes. Yes I have been really slack with my blogging - I've been working o n my epic :P

I've finally gotten around to reading The Garden of Stones.


The Echoes of Empire: 1
By Mark T. Barnes

Some books just leave me wanting more.

You know that feeling when you a finish a really good book and you don't want to leave the world it's set in? That any book you pick up after just isn't right because it's not the book you were just reading?

Well that just happened to me.

I love it when that happens!

The Gardens of Stone is awesome. Set in a lush and deeply realised world quite different to the normal medieval fantasy settings we usually get with a middle-eastern feel reminiscent of M.A.R. Barker's Tekumel. There is a solid sense of real history and Barnes handles it's portrayal with flair, never allowing the reader to be overwhelmed or bogged down.

Exotic and mysterious the Shrian Federation is a hot bed of political machinations and shifting alliances. The remnants of old Empires and tradition, orders of sorcery and warrior castes make for a heady playing field that Barnes takes full advantage of and adds coolness to with a twist of steam-punkery and arcane technology.

We begin in the midst of a battle and while it is soon over the tension only ramps and Barnes weaves a handful of opposing story lines into tapestry that tells a tale that is as much a fantasy adventure as it is political thriller.

I loved this world and the characters. There is a glossary at the back of the book that answers some of the questions the story raises, but I have so many more. Don't get me wrong, the story is not lacking at all - my questions revolve around the greater world, places and history. I want more. Badly.

Luckily we don't have too long to wait - and who am I kidding? I am totally used to long waits for the next installment of a fantasy series and would be quite happy to wait for as long as it takes Barnes to write the next - but The Obsidian Heart is out in October. Yay!

The Garden of Stones is the first book in a trilogy of the Awakened Empire, however having spoken to the author briefly I am assured that he has a larger story in mind that this one links into - it's just a matter of how well this one does as to whether or not his publisher offers him a contract for more. So buy the book people! Buy it now!!!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Birth of Legend

Forge of Darkness
By Steven Erikson
Kharkanas Book One

Now is the time to tell the story of an ancient realm, a tragic tale that sets the stage for all the tales yet to come and all those already told...

It's a conflicted time in Kurald Galain, the realm of Darkness, where Mother Dark reigns. But this ancient land was once home to many a power and even death is not quite eternal.

The commoners' great hero, Vatha Urusander, is being promoted by his followers to take Mother Dark's hand in marriage, but her Consort, Lord Draconus, stands in the way of such ambitions.

The impending clash sends fissures throughout the realm, and as the rumors of civil war burn through the masses, an ancient power emerges from the long dead seas. Caught in the middle of it all are the First Sons of Darkness, Anomander, Andarist, and Silchas Ruin of the Purake Hold...

Set thousands of years before The Malazan Book of the Fallen, Forge of Darkness tells the story of the Tiste people and their civil war that sundered the realm. If you have read the Malazan books and think you know the story you are in for a surprise. If you haven't, I envy you for you are about to embark on an epic journey that has turned the tropes of the genre on its head.

This is Erikson's first book after the mammoth ten volume epic that is the Malazan sequence and far exceeded any expectations that I had starting it. Flagged as a prequel this story is set thousands of years before the Malazan books proper and tells the tale of the Tiste people and the civil war that sundered a realm. More reminiscent of Martin's Game of Thrones then Erikson's previous work - and yet totally different to GoT at the same time - Forge of Darkness provides answers to so many questions it blew my mind and was utterly thrilling to read. The fact that this is only the first book of The Kharkanas Trilogy is mind boggling when I think of how much else could be revealed in coming volumes.

If you haven't read Erikson before and are daunted by the length of the Malazan series this is the perfect place to start. Forge of Darkness introduces us to characters we thought we knew and fleshes them out even more, and it never assumes the reader knows anything about the world or story that is being told. It is slightly different in style to the Malazan books, a little tighter and more concise, but it is utterly Erikson in brilliance, action and depth.

The tale is that of the creation of a legend, and an important work in the realm of fantasy fiction.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Debut: The Garden of Stones

The Garden of Stones
Echoes of the Empire 1
Mark Barnes

An uneasy peace has existed since the fall of the Awakened Empire centuries ago. Now the hybrid Avān share the land with the people they once conquered: the star-born humans; the spectral, undead Nomads; and what remains of the Elemental Masters.

With the Empress-in-Shadows an estranged ghost, it is the ancient dynasties of the Great Houses and the Hundred Families that rule. But now civil war threatens to draw all of Shrīan into a vicious struggle sparked by one man’s lust for power, and his drive to cheat death.

Visions have foretold that Corajidin, dying ruler of House Erebus, will not only survive, but rise to rule his people. The wily nobleman seeks to make his destiny certain—by plundering the ruins of his civilization’s past for the arcane science needed to ensure his survival, and by mercilessly eliminating his rivals. But mercenary warrior-mage Indris, scion of the rival House Näsarat, stands most powerfully in the usurper’s bloody path. For it is Indris who reluctantly accepts the task of finding a missing man, the only one able to steer the teetering nation towards peace.

This one almost slipped my radar.

New Aussie author Mark T. Barnes debuts this month with The Garden of Stones, Echoes of Empire Book 1 (book 2, The Obsidian Heart looks to be due October).

I met Mark very briefly in January 2011, he is quite a character and left lasting impression on me. I have been looking for his book ever since - it's taken a little longer than I expected but that happens to the best of us - and I am very keen to have a look at his style.

Unfortunately he doesn't (as yet) seem to a have  deal with a local publisher so I haven't been able to get my hands on an advance and am waiting impatiently for my copy to arrive from the US (it's not due for release until the 21st of May, but one of my suppliers has it in stock and has shipped it already).

He's been very lucky to land an amazing artist for the cover - how good does it look? Fingers crossed the text inside is even better.

I'll let you know ;)

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Slow Going

This restructure I decided to undertake is playing havoc with my mojo in the rewrites.

That and the fact that I didn't write anywhere near as much as I had planned over my holidays. Anyway I am now at 67% rewritten - and  good chunk of the 'new' chapters I have just worked on will need more going over when I am done - moving a head slowly.

Conflux 9 was amazing - and a little freaky in that as much as it is empowering for aspiring writers it can also be a little scary. The Inner Critic has gotten loader again and I doing my best to ignore him.

It also doesn't help my writing cause to be given an ARC of the upcoming book by one of my favorite authors - I am not complaining, truly ;)

But I'll get there. Still lots of work to go.

Art by Raphael Lacoste

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Where's the next book? And a Review

So James Rollins aka James Clemens, has another new book out -The Blood Gospel.

And yet there is still no sign of the next James Clemens book in the Godslayer Chronicles. Much like there is no sign of the next book in Eric van Lustbader's Saga of the Pearl series.

James Clemen's with his Wit'ch books, the Chronicles of the Banned and the Banished, and the first two books of the Godslayer Chronicles pushed himself high on my list of favorite author's very quickly.

That he can't be bothered to go back to an unfinished series now his mainstream adventure fiction novels are doing well is so disappointing.

For what it's worth - Shadowfall: A Review

Godslayer Chronicles #1
by James Clemens

In a genre fit to bursting with divine wars and magic Knights, Clemens walks familiar territory with the first book in his new series Godslayer. But, with a deft hand, he weaves a tale that has far more originality than is at first apparent. 

In the world of Myrillia, the gods walk amongst men. 4,000 years ago, the Heavens were Sundered during the War of the Gods and they fell to the earth. Binding themselves to the land to offset the madness that was falling upon them, the Gods are confined to the kingdoms they have chosen, or which have sprung up around them and have brought peace and prosperity to mankind. They have taught their Hands - men and women specially trained to serve them - how to harvest the humours of their bodies (Blood, Masculine Seed/Female Menses, Sweat, Tears, Saliva, Phlegm, Yellow Bile and Black Bile) and trained Alchemists make of these humours Blessings that, when applied to either a mortal or inanimate object, instil that human, or object with ‘Grace’.

Among the Graced are the Shadowknights of Tashijan, a military order whose knights are the most sought-after guards, bodyguards and couriers in the world. Tylar de Noche is a disgraced Shadowknight. Betrayed by those he held dearest, he has been stripped of his Grace and had his body broken by a sentence of five years amongst the slave pits and gladiatorial circuses. Trying to hide away and forget his past life in the small realm of the Summering Isles, he is caught up in intrigue and darkness when he comes to the aid of a woman being pursued through the city’s dark alleys. Arriving too late to offer her help, he comforts her in her final moments, only to discover that the woman is Meeryn, the Goddess of the Isles. With her dying breath, Meeryn gifts, or curses, Tylar with untold Grace and charges him to find Rivenscryr. 

Apprehended by her late-arriving guards, Tylar is charged with slaying a god. Discovering the terrible Grace that Meeryn has bestowed upon him, Tylar manages to escapes a fate worse than the torture of the slaves pits and sets out on a desperate quest to find out who had the power to kill a Goddess and to uncover the mystery of Rivenscryr; a journey that will lead him back to the Citadel of Tashijan and the women whose testimony had him cast out of the Order five years before, the woman he loved, and into corruption hiding in the heart of the First Land itself.   

Clemens skilfully weaves various characters and storylines together creating a fast-paced page-turner. Unafraid to explore the darker aspects of human nature some scenes will make you squirm, yet they hold that inexplicable attraction similar to being unable to turn away from viewing an accident scene. Shadow Fall  is fantastic. I highly recommend it!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

A Memory of Light - Musings

A Memory of Light
The Wheel of Time #14
By Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson

Well the Wheel of Time never stops turning but it has come to an ending in Robert Jordan's world.

I completed the final book today. Yes it's taken me a month to get through it - and unfortunately not because I was stopping to read ever word over and over (I did a lot of skimming) but because it wasn't anywhere near as compelling as I might have liked, or expected after 20 years and 13 previous volumes.

Unfortunately Jordan passed away and the work has had to be finished by someone else. Now don't get me wrong . I admire Brandon Sanderson greatly, I don't admire or respect the reasons he's publicly stated as to why he took on this project, but I do respect his work. In worlds of his own creation. Namely, and actually only, the Stormlight Archives. But that's just me.

He did a great job, he really did, and I think it's more a testament to the size of the work and the story threads that needed to be tied up than Sanderson's ability as a writer, as to why I was not completely engaged in the final book. And that, if nothing else, is something I will need to watch out for in my own epic work.

Was the final book satisfying? Yes it was. A lot of threads got stitched together, some cut off abruptly (although well done for all that) and a few not answered at all (unfortunately).

The Wheel of Time is certainly a worthy edition to any fantasy collection, and despite any flaws in execution at times I think the first seven books are brilliant. It has been the single biggest influence on my own development as a writer and though I have the books to re-read again and again (and I will) I can't help feel a grief at its conclusions that I have not felt since the news of Robert Jordan's death itself.