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!

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.
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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!