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INTERVIEWS

Peter Higgins, author of Wolfhound Century

Myke Cole, author of Shadow Ops Series

John Brown John, translator of the Zamonia Novels

Jim C. Hines author of Libriomancer

Nick Harkaway author of Angelmaker (review here)

Martha Wells author of The Cloud Roads

David Tallerman author of Giant Thief

Mazarkis Williams author of The Emperor's Knife

Rob Ziegler author of Seed

Steven Gould author of 7th Sigma

Douglas Hulick author of Among Thieves (review here)

Mark Charan Newton author of Nights of Villjamur (review here)

Kameron Hurley author of God's War (review here)

Brent Weeks author of The Black Prism (review here)

Anthony Huso author of The Last Page (review here)

Brandon Sanderson author of The Way of Kings (review here)

Lou Anders Editor of Pyr Books

Ian Tregillis author of Bitter Seeds (review here)

Sam Sykes author of Tome of the Undergates (review here)

Benjamin Parzybok author of Couch (review here)

Kristine Kathryn Rusch author of Diving Into the Wreck (review here)

Ken Scholes author of Lamentation

Cherie Priest author of Boneshaker (review here)

Lev Grossman author of The Magicians (review here)

Character Interviews

Alexia and Lord Maccon from Gail Carriger's Soulless

Lord Akeldama from Gail Carriger's Soulless

Eva Forge from Tim Akers's The Horns of Ruin

Atticus from Kevin Hearne's Hounded

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My BlogCatalog BlogRank Wikio - Top Blogs - Literature

REVIEW | Soft Apocalypse by Will McIntosh (Night Shade)

In the not so distant future resources are scarce and jobs are even scarcer. Water is a commodity. Biological agents are being released around the world and society is slowly degrading into tribal-like groups just out for survival. Anarchy is reigning over everything as society looses their way and Jasper is just trying to find his way through it all and hopefully a girlfriend.

Will McIntosh, winner of the Hugo for best short story, has certainly impressed me creating a believable future and understandable characters. Soft Apocalypse is McIntosh's horrifyingly realistic debut of an apocalyptic nature. Only he turns the idea of an apocalypse a bit on its ear by showing it through the rise of the everyday unprepared people rather than the survivalist who instinctively "knows" what to do and frames it around the love life, or lack thereof of one character skipping ahead through time by months and sometimes years to see how he and the world develops.

The reason apocalyptic stories rarely get stale for me is because of the human factor and unexpectedness of the characters reactions during conflicts and McIntosh loads Soft Apocalypse with conflicts aplenty. I mean, does everyone know what they would do if their friends were being attacked by a crazy group of militants? Most would think they'd like to help, but when the shit gets real many would just turn and run.

Soft Apocalypse really gets inside the head of its main character Jasper. We slowly see how each situation he finds himself in changes him from a very naïve post-grad leading him into what he becomes and why he makes certain decisions. At times he can seem like a wimp or a pushover yet he isn't faced with easy choices, but Jasper is, generally, able to move on and find the resolve to do what needs to be done. People faint of heart should beware.  Soft Apocalypse is often an unsettling book in many ways. People and animals are dying all around, many of which happen from unspeakable acts that occur daily.

Soft Apocalypse is made in the mold of Earth Abides by George Stewart yet even more believable. Thoughts of a prequel in the world of Mad Max also come to mind. McIntosh shows that even in the worst of times life goes on, but it is ever changing. I give Soft Apocalypse 8 out of 10 hats. While not perfect Soft Apocalypse is an absorbing read right up to the somber ending. McIntosh has a heck of a career ahead of him and has already signed the contracts for his second novel Deadland retitled to Hitchers with Night Shade that will probably be out in February 2012.

It was also interesting to re-read the short story that was the basis for the novel afterwards to see what was changed and used from the original. The short also gives you a decent idea of what to expect.

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A Couple New Pyr Covers

Please not some of the covers below are probably not completely final. Info has slowly been leaking out about Pyr's Fall and Winter releases and so far it is looking pretty strong, but there is one debut and a sequel that definitely caught my eye.


Blackdog by K. V. Johansen, which I believe is her debut adult novel as she has published many YA titles over the last few years. The cover is certainly eye catching and might be by Raymond Swanland and has a very high action quality about it. Blackdog does have some relation to Johansen's other work as it is placed a few hundred years later in the world of her short "The Storyteller," with one character in common.  No official synopsis has been released, but the author had a bit about the book on her blog a few months back:
This is a novel set in the same world as “The Storyteller”, but a couple of centuries later. (I love having immortal characters who don’t tie one down to a single time.) Like “The Storyteller”, it’s someone else’s story, which Moth wanders into, in this case, a man possessed by an exiled lake-goddess’s guardian dog-spirit. There’s a wizard-warlord who has conquered her land and wants to possess her, and this poor caravan-guard, our hero, who against his will is forced to assume the role of her guardian — and father, as the goddess is incarnate as a child at the time of the conquest. If you’ve read “The Storyteller”, you know that in Moth’s world, gods and goddesses are bound to their place, their particular hill or water, so an exiled goddesses ought to be an impossibility. Lots of mystery, battles, a bit of romance, Moth and Mikki travelling the desert (poor Mikki — all that fur) and more camels, I can safely say, than the average fantasy novel.
There is even a rough map for this world available for you lovers of cartography.   Blackdog is one title I'll definitely be keeping an eye on as Lou at Pyr often has very similar tastes to my own. It also seems that there will be at least one other novel in this world, but the stories sound thus far to be standalone as they'll continue to be pushed forward in the future.  Blackdog should be out this September.



Boneyards is the third Diving book from Kristine Kathryn Rusch.  This one can't come out soon enough as I recently finished the second Diving book City of Ruins (out in a few weeks) and it left off on something of a cliffhanger. The art looks to be done by series regular Dave Seeley.  We should see Boneyards in January so the wait is not too long between books.

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The Dance is done!


Between George R.R. Martin's somewhat confirmatory blog post about a dead Kong and his editor Anne Groell just released statement A Dance With Dragons is done, done, and done. Here is Groell's statement for the non-believers:
It is true. Kong is dead.

There were a few moments of George in a spare office yesterday, cleaning up the last bits and inserting a few new bits in longhand, while I typed the changes into the electronic files, but we are honestly and officially done.
I guess I know what hundreds of thousands of us Ice and Fire fans will be doing come the middle of July. I'll be starting my re-read of A Clash With Kings in the next few weeks and than June is set for A Storm of Swords, but I'm on the fence about a re-read of A Feast for Crows. Maybe I'll read it skipping the Brienne chapters.

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Two Years?


Before we end the month of April I just wanted to acknowledge this blogs 2nd birthday, which officially happened on the 15th of this month. It is a bit hard to believe for me as I had no idea where starting this blog would lead.  Little did I know the kind of reaction and following I'd garner after such a short time, which has pushed me time and again to get to work on the next post.

This little corner of the web is still small compared to the bigger and older guns of blogdom such as Wert, Graeme, Aidan, and the ever present Pat, but the number of visit each month just keeps growing.  And I've also been happy to see the rise of other great book bloggers such as that smart mouthed yet erudite Scotsman Niall Alexander, the reviewing machine Stefan over at Civilian Reader, and the very honest Sarah at Bookwork Blues.  Most of all I'm glad to spread my love of books around.  This place all started because I love to talk books and talk books I have.  I'd like to thank all of you for the support and for continuing to read my musings. I hope that you all continue to follow me on this journey as we discover new authors and great books together.

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When Covers Gets Changed It is Usually a Good Thing

One Sci-Fi debut that has been on my radar is Guy Haley's Reality 36, which is the first in the Richards and Klein Case series. The duo is supposed to be a futuristic team ala Sherlock Holmes and Watson. Richards is the Holmes-like AI who jumps around robot bodies with his partner the muscle bound cyborg Klein bringing, well obviously, the muscle. When I first heard about the series it interested me since I enjoy Sherlock stories even in pastiche form. And then I saw the cover and lost a bit of interest due to the muscle head on the cover.

Original Version
Flash forward a couple month to now.  I still kept the book on my watch list because sometimes it is best to look past the cover and lo and behold Angry Robot has switched up the cover design. Apparently, I wasn't the only one who didn't care for that particular version. Still present is the nicely rendered Richards.

Version 2.0
This version again piqued my interest. The design for both is by Richard Jones. Reality 36 will be released August in the UK and September in the US. The sequel currently titled Omega Point should be out sometime next year. Here is the short blurb for Reality 36:
SOMETHING IS AMISS IN THE RENEGADE DIGITAL REALM OF REALITY 36.

Richards - a Level 5 AI with a PI fetish - and his partner, a decommissioned German military cyborg, are on the trail of a murderer, but the killer has hidden inside an artificial reality. Richards and Klein must stop him before he becomes a god - for the good of all the realms.

File Under: Science Fiction [ Great Firewall | 'Net Profit | Remurder | Don't Upload! ]
Again let me point out how cool the category tag/descriptions Angry Robot uses. Haley is also hard a work on a novel called Baneblade for Black Library and Champion of Mars for Solaris that should see the light in 2012. So you can certainly say he has been keeping himself busy since the demise of the much loved Death Ray magazine, which he edited.

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REVIEW | Black Halo by Sam Sykes (Pyr)

Lenk and his friends associates are back right after the dirty action of Tome of the Undergates and they're still at each others throats.

Tome of the Undergates was a fine debut for Mr. Sykes last year. There was a lot I enjoyed in Tome such as the battle sequences and very different mythology of the world, but the characters constant bickering and in-fighting did grate on me after awhile. Black Halo proved all my misgivings were wrong and it is a superior read to Tome in most every way. Basically, if you liked Tome than you'll love Black Halo and if you loved the former than the latter will be a crotch-stomping good time.

The prose itself was quite beautiful and even poetic at times, which was one thing I didn't notice in Tome. That is not to say the quality wasn't there before, but is probably due more to my taking the first book to be more of a crude hack and slash type read then what was the actuality of a very finely constructed world with deeply conflicted characters. Tome set the tone and groundwork for these characters so much so that their evolution in Black Halo is at turns surprising, yet still very fitting.  We're finally getting to the root of what makes this rag-tag band of adventures so tick and explains their blood thirsty appetites. It is almost like hanging out with your favorite D & D crew Friday nights and egging each other on for the next big quip or bloody kill. At the end of the day you all mostly get along.

Black Halo also expands the world in new and weird ways.  I'm almost of a mind to call it cross-genre as Sykes is working in what I would consider some New Weird elements such as lizard-like humanoids in addition to the purple-faced warrior goons we met in Tome; not even to mention the creepy sea monsters that could have been found in a Lovecraft story. What makes this series great is it keeps you guessing about what will happen next and what kind of monsters are still around the corner. Also, a new view point is introduced of an adept magic user many years Dreadaeleon's senior who has some serious abilities that I wish were showcased a bit more (standalone story anyone?).

The first 100 pages or so the group is separated from each other for an extended time and some undergo what seem to be hallucinations, which at times made it hard to follow what was real and imagined for these characters as at least half talk to themselves quite a bit outside of these events anyway.  But they are also some of the most illuminating scenes including one that is getting to be known as the philosophical monkey. Hint: He's a bastard.

If this was a series you were on the fence about then let me alleviate your fears. Sykes has writing chops and knows how to use them with plenty of cruelty, humor, and even a touch of heart. I give Black Halo 8.5 out of 10 hats. The only thing holding me back from a higher rating is the overall story arc didn't have as much forward movement as I would have liked, but the table is set for that to happen in the next volume of the The Aeons' Gate.


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NEWS | Mike Mignola & Christopher Golden sell new series


Both Golden and Publisher's Marketplace have confirmed that Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden have sold a pair of novels in a new Steampunk series to St. Martin with the first Joe Golem and the Drowning City to be released early next year.  Much of Mignola's work does already have Steampunk overtones, especially some B.P.R.D. stuff and given this is a pushed forward setting  far past Victorian times this could certainly be a very original take on the genre. Here is the official word:
Mike Mignola & Christopher Golden's JOE GOLEM AND THE DROWNING CITY, a supernatural-steampunk illustrated novel following an orphaned teenage girl, an aging conjuror, a lunatic scientist, a Victorian occult detective, and the stalwart sidekick, Joe Golem, as they struggle for the fate of an alternate 1970s Lower Manhattan, which sank into the water during a catastrophe in 1925, leaving those unwilling or unable to abandon it to make a new life in streets turned to canals, to St. Martin's, in a two-book deal, for publication in early 2012 (World).
This marks Mignola and Golden's second novel collaboration after the illustrated novel Baltimore: Or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire from a couple years back.  They have also collaborated on a number of other project including some work related to  B.P.R.D. and the Hellboy short story anthologies which Golden edited.


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Winner of The Winds of Khalakovo by Bradley Beaulieu


People were clambering for The Winds of Khalakovo by Bradley Beaulieu, which was very nice to see. I'm definitely going to be dipping in quite soon, especially after his guest essay which grabbed me even more. And without further adieu the winner is....drum roll please... Christina Boulard from Hamilton, ON.


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Cover Unveiled for The Magician King by Lev Grossman (UK version)


Feast your eyes.  Now that is quite something.  Much better than the very boring UK cover for The Magicians, especially given the spectacular cover it received in the US.  Given this cover I'd love to see Grossman's UK publisher redo The Magicians in a similar style with buttons as a design element.  If you missed it the US cover for The Magician King is has been released as well.  Is it August yet so I can read this already?  I might be in luck though as Grossman will be doing a signing at Book Expo America this year in late May for The Magician King.

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Mad Hatter's Reading Log Vol. 4

Oh, books! I like them.  Here is a bit of a run down of what I read during late February and March.  I had a lot going on personally so I went for mostly shorter novels in this batch along with a couple big tomes I've been waiting for quite a while.


18.  The Desert of Souls by Howard Andrew Jones - Highly recommended for Sword & Sorcery fans. Check out my review for more reasons to love it.  Oh, well ZOMBIE MONKEYS!
19.  One of Our Thursdays Is Missing by Jasper Fforde - The latest in the Thursday Next series was the rockiest book in the series so far.  The POV while is a Thursday is not necessarily the Thursday we've all come to know and love.  Or she could be, but that is the course Fforde sets us on in the latest mystery as Thursday searches for herself amid all the craziness that is the newly reformed Bookland. Recommended for series fans, but if you're new start at the beginning with The Eyre Affair.
20.  The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins - Collins much touted novel absolutely blew me away. It wasn't until a family member told me I had to read the series that I really took notice even though there are scads of reviews singing its praises.  I was quickly draw in and now can say everyone young or old should be reading this series if they aren't already. Gripping characters and a story the drags you through every gully kicking and screaming that it can't get better and than it does. Dystopian at its best with heart. Highly recommended.


21.  The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang - Chiang has created an amazing AI story surround furby type creatures that tugs at the heart strings, but leaves you feeling very unfinished. Recommended, but read Chiang's collection Stories of Your Life first.
 22.  Wolfsangel by M.D. Lachlan - This is best and most honest use of Norse mythology and history I've ever read in fiction. Review to come. Highly recommended.
23.  The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss - Was it worth the wait? Hell yeah. The story does come off a bit long in the tooth, but I can't complain too much as this a world I never leave voluntarily.  Rothfuss passes the sophomore slump with flying colors and remains the Prince of Fantasy; in my eyes at least.


24.  Equations of Life by Simon Morden - After the long haul that was WMF I needed something quick and lighter to lug around.  So enters Morden's Cyperpunk series into my life, which I'll definitely be following. The book although a start to a series does standalone very well with its foul talking protagonist. Think Gibson crossed with Morgan only with a bit more humor. Full review hopefully to come.
25.  Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins - So after The Hunger Games I knew I couldn't wait too long to get to the next volume.  It was nearly as good as the first and gets us deeper into this world and in deeper with the characters as well. Mockingjay here I come.
26.  Grandville by Bryan Talbot - A Steampunk comic with anthropomorphic animals? As if I could pass this gem up. Talbot creates his own Sherlock Holmes and Sexton Blake mash-up as a walking-talking badger. Who says we don't need no stinking badgers? Not when Insp.-Det. Archie LeBrock is on the case of a mysterious murder, which leads to secret societies and all sorts of explosions.  The art is gorgeously done as is the packaging.


27.  The Unremembered by Peter Orullian - This one took me quite a while to get through.  I actually started it a month before, but had to put it down halfway through as I was not in the right mindset to catch everything.  But I'm glad I got back to it.  For those expecting some massively original series opener you'll be a bit disappointed, but if you're after something in the mold of now classic Fantasy doorstops ala Wheel of Time you'll gobble this right up.  Review to come.
28. Black Halo by Sam Sykes - I quite enjoyed Sykes' debut Tome of the Undergates, but his second offering was even better.  We finally get more on the characters and their motivations.  Plus all the weirdness that started in the first book just gets weirder this go around, which I quite liked. New races and a new POV from a more experienced magical practitioner all enliven this world.  Review to come. Highly recommended.

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NEWS | More on American Gods Being Filmed


A bit more light has been shed on Neil Gaiman's recent announcement regarding an American Gods film.  Only this time it around the news is it is in development for a possible HBO series, which I can see working much better than a film. There is just so much to this world and characters I couldn't clearly see how it could be compressed into a 120 minute piece. With HBO's possible involvement given their current love of Fantasy (Game of Thrones) they may be trying to leverage other well-loved Fantasy properties. A friend also suggested AMC as another good home should HBO fall by the wayside.

The man Gaiman alluded to in his interview turns out to be no other than Robert Richardson who worked on  Kill Bill and Inglorious Bastards amongst many other popular films. Gaiman is throwing himself headlong into the project as co-writer of the pilot so that will probably be keeping him busy for quite some time. And Tom Hanks and his production company are signed on as well. Hanks was also involved in the mini-series Band of Brothers for HBO so there is past precedent for a good working relationship already.

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New Procurements

If I go on vacation this is the kind of pile I return to.


A couple of the above were purchased before I went away (Goblin Tales, The Pint Man, and The House of Tomorrow) while the rest are review copies. I'm a bit snowed under since I came back from vacation with work so I won't be doing my full commentary of each of the above. Out of the batch I was glad to see a final copy of The Unremembered show up. That cover looks even more gorgeous every time I see it. Now if only I had the time to finish my review... Under Heaven, which is Guy Gavriel Kay's latest is no slouch in the cover department either. That is definitely a book you have to see in person to appreciate all the extra work that went in the printing. Embedded by Dan Abnett was a bit of surprise, but appreciated since I've never read his prose work.  Although I love his Marvel Comic work in the cosmic areas such as Nova and War of Kings.  Speaking of Abnett I've got his The Thanos Imperative sitting on my comic to-read pile.  Welcome to the Greenhouse caught my eye as well.  It looks to be the world's first Greenpunk collection with stories by Alan Dean Foster, Bruce Sterling, and Gregory Benford.

Goblin Tales collects all the short stories related to the Jig the Goblin series by Jim C. Hines, which he is self-publishing as an experiment. It also contains the short story that was the germ for his next series Libriomancer. Robopocalypse is Daniel H. Wilson's fiction debut mixing his knowledge of robotics engineering with a thriller.  This one definitely piqued my interest. Here's the blurb on this one since I haven't seen it pop-up elsewhere:
They are in your house. They are in your car. They are in the skies…Now they’re coming for you.

In the near future, at a moment no one will notice, all the dazzling technology that runs our world will unite and turn against us. Taking on the persona of a shy human boy, a childlike but massively powerful artificial intelligence known as Archos comes online and assumes control over the global network of machines that regulate everything from transportation to utilities, defense and communication. In the months leading up to this, sporadic glitches are noticed by a handful of unconnected humans – a single mother disconcerted by her daughter’s menacing “smart” toys, a lonely Japanese bachelor who is victimized by his domestic robot companion, an isolated U.S. soldier who witnesses a ‘pacification unit’ go haywire – but most are unaware of the growing rebellion until it is too late.

When the Robot War ignites -- at a moment known later as Zero Hour -- humankind will be both decimated and, possibly, for the first time in history, united. Robopocalypse is a brilliantly conceived action-filled epic, a terrifying story with heart-stopping implications for the real technology all around us…and an entertaining and engaging thriller unlike anything else written in years.
Deep Future by Curt Stager is probably going to be an immediate read as it is supposed to play off of The World Without Us, which I absolutely loved and is one of my favorite Non-Fiction books of the last few years. Also, a new reprint of Asimov's classic The End of Eternity showed up, which I've only been meaning to read for more than a decade. Lastly, for all of you Margret Weis fan's to take note of is  Dragon Raiders the first in a new series that looks to be a Flintlock Military Fantasy with dragons and floating islands.  As if you couldn't tell from the cover?

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NEWS | Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern Movie Deal


According to a few sources Anne McCaffrey's The Dragonriders of Pern series has been sold for development for feature films to Copperheart Entertainment, for Dark Hero Studios and Entertainment One. David Hayter who is involved with Dark Heart Studios is best known for scriptwriting Watchmen and X-Men will be adapting the series with Dragonflight as the most likely starting point since it started the series although other stories are places before its events. The other group involved Copperheart is best known  for the recent Splice, which had a bit too much chicken-loving for me. There are a couple articles out about the development, but per usual they are scant on many hard facts since it is at such an early stage.

This is hardly the first development deal the Pern books have gotten so we'll have to see what pans out as there was an aborted TV series from Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica) just a couple years ago.  Hit Fix does mention production is supposed to begin next year, but a lot of things are up in the air especially a director and distribution deal for the US. Given the failure of Eragon at the movies a few years back hopefully the studio will take note of the problems that film had such as compressing too much and changing a few things that ended up not making much sense. Plus there is the more recent success of How to Train Your Dragon that might be the push the studios need to finally green light filming in the end.

McCaffrey's effect on Fantasy dragons cannot be minimized at all. Without McCaffrey's Pern series we wouldn't have Eragon, Temeraire, or Stephen Deas's Memory of Flames. She has led the way for dragons from more than four decades now. Let's hope the studio can keep the heart of her story. That's what fans want.

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Winners of Eddie LaCrosse Packs and Brooklyn Knight



Loads of people entered both of these contests.  For the Bledsoe contest I asked for your favorite Literary Detectives and I got some great answers.  The clear winners were the new and old standards Harry Dresden and Sherlock Holmes with the most votes.  But everyone from October Daye, Thursday Next, and Trixie Belden to Philip Marlowe, Hercule Poirot and the Famous Five by Enid Blyton were mentioned. Glad to see all the variety.

The winners of the two Eddie LaCrosse complete series are Hinge Antoine from France and Nicholas Askren from Colorado.  Nicholas is a fan of the rough and tumble Joe Pitt so he should definitely find plenty to like in Bledsoe's series and Antonie is a fan of Joseph Rouletabille who is a popular French detective from the early 1900s still gracing the screens of French cinema today that I'm unfamiliar with.

The winners of Brooklyn Knight by C.J. Henderson are Dawn Antoline from New York, Patrick McGee from Kentucky, and Scott Bussey from Alabama.

The contest for The Winds of Khalakovo by Bradley Beaulieu is still open for a few more days as well.

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Cover Unveiled for The Magician King by Lev Grossman


The Magicians was one of the most surprising Fantasy novels of 2009 and given what Grossman started with The Magician King is now an immediate read when I get my grubby hands on it. The cover art just unveiled by Grossman is again done by Didier Massard, who has the very usually technique of building his imagery and than photographing it. He usually ends up with a very surreal looking image that does feel remarkably like what Grossman is going for.  Although in this case I'm not in love with the imagery as much as the art from The Magicians I can see this growing on me.  It looks like that semi-official release date of August 9th is pretty official at this point, which now can't get here soon enough. Again here is the blurb:
Hailed as a “painfully perceptive novel of the fantastic that brings to mind both Jay McInerney and J. K. Rowling,”* The Magicians was praised as a triumph by readers and critics of both mainstream and fantasy literature. Now Grossman takes us back to Fillory, where the Brakebills graduates have fled the sorrows of the mundane world, only to face terrifying new challenges.

Quentin and his friends are now the kings and queens of Fillory, but the days and nights of royal luxury are starting to pall. After a morning hunt takes a sinister turn, Quentin and his old friend Julia charter a magical sailing ship and set out on an errand to the wild outer reaches of their kingdom. Their pleasure cruise becomes an adventure when the two are unceremoniously dumped back into the last place Quentin ever wants to see: his parent’s house in Chesterton, Massachusetts. And only the black, twisted magic that Julia learned on the streets can save them.

The Magician King is a grand voyage into the dark, glittering heart of magic, an epic quest for the Harry Potter generation. It also introduces a powerful new voice, that of Julia, whose angry genius is thrilling. Once again Grossman proves that he is the modern heir to C.S. Lewis, and the cutting edge of literary fantasy.

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GUEST POST | Bradley Beaulieu on The Winds of Khalakovo and Cultural Influences


Hello, and thanks to the Mad Hatter for inviting me to stop by the blog. Michael suggested I might talk about the cultural influences in The Winds of Khalakovo, and I was glad he did, because it's something that's central to the novel and not something I get to talk about in depth too often.

The first culture people will notice in the book is Russian, more specifically, Muscovite Russia, the time of the Czars. One reviewer called it a Cyrillic culture, which I rather like. I've been asked a few times: why Russian? I can't really remember the specific, "ah-ha" moment, but I do know that the decision spring-boarded off of the world I'd already created. I used a mapping program called Fractal Terrains to generate the world. The program allows you to specify various things about a world—like the diameter, how much land area, how many moons, how hot, how arid, etc.—and it then calculates via fractals the various land masses. You can even regenerate the world with the same parameters, but new seed values for the fractals, to generate a new world.

I did this over and over until I'd found a loose gathering of islands that I liked. (If you're curious, you can view the maps here.) These became the individual Duchies of the Grand Duchy. I had already decided that the islands would be pretty inhospitable—cold, strong winds, and unmerciful seas—and these basic parameters reminded me of Russia. The western European histories we've all read a thousand times before held no allure for me whatsoever, but a Russianesque culture seemed like something fresh, so I decided to explore it further, and as you may have guessed, it ended up working well for the story I wanted to tell.

It was a lot of fun for me to fill in the culture. I always used the touchstone of Russia with her cold, hard winters for inspiration. The closest I've been to Russia is Helsinki, but the people there seem to be no-nonsense, do-what-it-takes sort of people. They have a warm side that is difficult to reach, unless you happen to have some vodka on hand, and then the dancing and singing can begin. The military was one of the places where the Russian influence shined. The long cherkesska coats and kolpak hats of Cossacks circa the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries made for a unique play on military forces of the islands.

I also liked fleshing out the political structure based loosely on the Grand Duchy of Moscow. Each archipelago has anywhere from two to ten islands. One unique aspect of the world is that the Dukes and Duchesses rule side-by-side. The Dukes fill the traditional role of ruler of the military might. They also work on trade agreements with the other dukes to further the interests of their Duchy and the Grand Duchy as a whole.

But the Duchesses fill a unique role. They are not just royalty, they are also Matri, women who submerge themselves in ice-cold water fed from subterranean springs to enter a dreamlike state in which they communicate with other Matri. The place they go is called the aether, and it lies between the material and spiritual worlds. Because of their unique abilities, and because travel between the Duchies is so difficult, the Matri are the medium through which the Duchies most often communicate. They hold as much power as the men. In effect they run the business of the Duchies, including arranging for marriage, where the men work toward longer-term arrangements and accords.

The second culture that people will notice is Persian, or something akin to it. Some people have mentioned that the Aramahn and Maharraht in Winds remind them of the Bedouin culture, others Afghan. None of these is incorrect, as I was trying to capture not just one culture specifically, but a tapestry of subcultures. The Aramahn are a nomadic people. There are permanent communities, but they exist more as places for the Aramahn to land from their worldly travels and share knowledge. Like any large culture, it will eventually fracture, and this is seen in several different ways in Winds, from the ways in which they view the Grand Duchy to the ways that they view their lot in life.

Perhaps not so obviously, the belief system of the Aramahn is based off of Buddhism, not Islam. They believe in reincarnation and striving for enlightenment. It is their most fervent goal: to find oneness, if not in this life, then perhaps the next. When the people of the Grand Duchy pushed eastward onto the islands, however, it presented a problem. The islands had long been a refuge, a place of peace for the Aramahn, but the Grand Duchy—the Landed, as they came to be known—were ruthless in their pursuit of land and resources.

Many of the Aramahn merely accepted this and searched within themselves for answers to these troubling times. Others felt as though they couldn't take it anymore, and they fought back. These people became the Maharraht, a splinter group of the Aramahn who believed that they had to fight the influence of the Grand Duchy so that the rest of the Aramahn would not have to. They knew they were setting themselves back on their way to enlightenment, but they felt the price was worth it. If they could not reach enlightenment, then perhaps their brothers and sisters could.

The clash of these three cultures—Anuskaya and the Aramahn and Maharraht—is largely what The Winds of Khalakovo is about. I spent a lot of time fleshing this out ahead of time, and more time during the writing of the book, to really detail what each wanted, what they desired. But not only this. I wanted each of them to be imperfect. I wanted there to be exceptions—shades of the primary color, if you will. This, to me, is the most satisfying part of the book: the exploration of culture through the eyes of the main characters. The brightest scenes for me are where these things come head-to-head.

The last primary culture in the world of Erahm is not very present in the first book, but it's touched on here and there. I mention it because it becomes a major influence starting with Book 2, The Straits of Galahesh. The Empire of Yrstanla lies to the west of Anuskaya on the only large continent in the world. It is called the Motherland, the place from which humanity sprung. The Empire is a place that is somewhat feared on the islands, for her power is great, but she is currently embroiled in several wars on her western borders, and so for the time being Anuskaya is safe. In The Straits of Galahesh, we get to know the Empire much more intimately as she once again turns her attention to the islands she once ruled.

I hope that gives a bit of insight as to the influences of the cultures in The Winds of Khalakovo. If you'd like to learn more about the book, please visit my webpage at www.quillings.com. Again, my thanks for Michael for inviting me.

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Contest for Bradley Beaulieu's The Winds of Khalakovo


Through the vagaries of the mail system I have ended up with an extra copy of Bradley Beaulieu's debut The Winds of Khalakovo, which I'm putting up for grabs. This is the first in a new Fantasy series called The Lays of Anuskaya from Night Shade, which is heavily influenced by Russian culture. Beaulieu also credits A Game of Thrones as a big influence on his work. Here's the blurb for The Winds of Khalakovo to whet your appetite:
Among inhospitable and unforgiving seas stands Khalakovo, a mountainous archipelago of seven islands, its prominent eyrie stretching a thousand feet into the sky. Serviced by windships bearing goods and dignitaries, Khalakovo's eyrie stands at the crossroads of world trade. But all is not well in Khalakovo. Conflict has erupted between the ruling Landed, the indigenous Aramahn, and the fanatical Maharraht, and a wasting disease has grown rampant over the past decade. Now, Khalakovo is to play host to the Nine Dukes, a meeting which will weigh heavily upon Khalakovo's future.

When an elemental spirit attacks an incoming windship, murdering the Grand Duke and his retinue, Prince Nikandr, heir to the scepter of Khalakovo, is tasked with finding the child prodigy believed to be behind the summoning. However, Nikandr discovers that the boy is an autistic savant who may hold the key to lifting the blight that has been sweeping the islands. Can the Dukes, thirsty for revenge, be held at bay? Can Khalakovo be saved? The elusive answer drifts upon the Winds of Khalakovo...
To enter send an email to madhatterreview (AT) gmail (dot) com with your full name and snail mail address and "WINDS" in the subject line along. The deadline is midnight April 16th. I'll announce the winner on the following day or as soon as I remember. This contest is open to the world. If you send multiple entries you will be disqualified from the contest. The winner will be selected via random number generator per usual.  Look for a special post tomorrow from Bradley.  Also, there are still a couple days for the Bledsoe and Henderson contests.

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REVIEW | Farlander by Col Buchanan (Tor)

The Heart of the World is a land in strife. For fifty years the Holy Empire of Mann, an empire and religion born from a nihilistic urban cult, has been conquering nation after nation. Their leader, Holy Matriarch Sasheen, ruthlessly maintains control through her Diplomats, priests trained as subtle predators.

Ash is a member of an elite group of assassins, the Rōshun - who offer protection through the threat of vendetta. Forced by his ailing health to take on an apprentice, he chooses Nico, a young man living in the besieged city of Bar-Khos. At the time, Nico is hungry, desperate, and alone in a city that finds itself teetering on the brink.

Farlander is Col Buchanan debut novel and the first in the Heart of the World series combing Epic Fantasy swordsmanship and certain advanced technology.  Sure it is about an assassins who have been done to death in fantasy, but Buchanan does give the idea of vendettas a new life that is worth taking note of in a rich world. Fans of Brent Weeks and Jon Sprunk would definitely find plenty to gravitate towards in this assassin's guild style novel.

Farlander is a solid debut for world-building fans, but a tad weak on the character side. Great detail is given to the politics and history of the world and cultures, especially that of the dominant religious group the Cult of Mann who are into some pretty sick stuff. But many of the characters come off too staid.

Ash the master assassin in question and his apprentice Nico take a lot of time to develop, but attachment does come eventually. However, side characters are often introduced only for them to peter out to nothing. This is especially true of many characters who could have been more interesting from Ash's Roshun. When the action happens it is very tightly written and exhilarating. But there are long slow parts between these scenes. Still there is a little story about Ash rescuing someone that was nearly worth reading the whole book alone for. A few more examples of Ash's younger prowess would have gone a long way to hook me in further.

Farlander is an interesting mix of Flintlock Fantasy in a slightly industrialized world light on magic but with airships and plenty of swordsmanship. I wouldn't call Farlander a true cross-genre novel as the technology aspect takes a back seat to the politic and characters, but it is there floating around the edges of the world. Since this is only the first salvo in the series Buchanan could be planning on delving further into these developments, but it seems unlikely given the political driven nature of the story.

Buchanan pulls off many surprising turns, but in the end it is an uneven, albeit very enjoyable ride. The pacing is very stop and go. A some points this works well as we get to dwell on some big reveal, but than the moment is prolonged too much. Farlander gives us a world where every day is a battle for survival and no punches are pulled including the big surprise and suspenseful ending. I give Farlander 7.5 out of 10 hats. I'm intrigued enough to check out the sequel Stands a Shadow as it will be out in the UK this July and November in the US. If the author can up the ante on the character side he may have a fan for life in me.

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Contest for Brooklyn Knight by C.J. Henderson


I have three copies of Brooklyn Knight by C.J Henderson up for grabs from Tor Books. This is the first in a new Urban Fantasy series with the second Central Park Knight coming out this May.  Here's the blurb for Brooklyn Knight to whet your appetite:
Professor Piers Knight is an esteemed curator at the Brooklyn Museum and is regarded by many on the staff as a revered institution of his own if not an outright curiosity. Knight’s portfolio includes lost civilizations; arcane cultures, languages, and belief; and more than a little bit of the history of magic and mysticism.What his contemporaries don't know is that in addition to being a scholar of all things ancient he is schooled in the uses of magical artifacts, the teachings of forgotten deities, and the threats of unseen dangers.

If a mysterious object surfaces, Professor Knight makes it his job to figure it out--and make sure it stays out of dangerous hands.

A contemporary on an expedition in the Middle East calls Knight's attention to a mysterious object in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum … just before it becomes the target of a sorcerous attack that leads to a siege on a local precinct house by a fire elemental.

What looks like an ordinary inscribed stone may unlock an otherworldly Armageddon that certain dark powers are all too eager to bring about--and only Piers Knight stands in their way.
To enter send an email to madhatterreview (AT) gmail (dot) com with your full name and snail mail address and "BROOKLYN" in the subject line along. The deadline is midnight April 9th. I'll announce the winner on the following day or as soon as I remember. This contest is open to the world. If you send multiple entries you will be disqualified from the contest. Winners will be selected via random number generator per usual. REMINDER: The contest for all three of Alex Bledsoe's Eddie LaCrosse series is still on-going.

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