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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


The Daylight War by Peter V. Brett

A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson

Scoundrels by Timothy Zahn

Cold Days by Jim Butcher

Year Zero by Rob Reid

Alif: The Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

Scourge of the Betrayer by Jeff Salyards

Redshirts by John Scalzi

Control Point by Myke Cole

Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway
My BlogCatalog BlogRank Wikio - Top Blogs - Literature

Contest for Tome of the Undergates by Sam Sykes

Tome of the Undergates is a fun romp through murky waters from the fiendish mind of Sam Sykes. The US release is about a week away and the kind folks from Pyr have offered up 2 finished silvery copies of Tome of the Undergates for our lucky readers. Plus I'm throwing in my galley copy as well. So that is three chances for all of you. Here is a bit from my review earlier this year:
If it is gritty Fantasy you've been dying for than Tome of the Undergates will certainly be the answer for you as Sykes has made the name Adventurers out to be a vile thing with his debut effort.
To enter send an email to madhatterreview (AT) gmail (dot) com with your full name and snail mail address and "TOME" in the subject line. The deadline is midnight September 7th. I'll announce the winner on the following day or as soon as I remember. This contest is open to the people of the United States. If you send multiple entries you will be disqualified from the contest.

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Wheel of Time Fans Take Note

Am I the only one who loves a good treasure hunt? I sure doubt it.  Here is the info about a big Wheel of Contest, which starts tomorrow from

How’s this for a Great Hunt?

Tor Books has just announced that, starting tomorrow, an exclusive secret from the Wheel of Time will go live on Brandon Sanderson’s website!

But it won’t go live without a fight: the page will be completely encrypted.

To unlock it, fans will have to hunt down the many unique digital codes, printed on the back of Wheel of Time bumper stickers that Brandon will hide inside copies of The Way of Kings along each stop on his tour. (Which kicks off tonight!)

Each bumper sticker/code will unlock a piece of the secret and it will require the work of many fans in many cities to unlock the entire page. The Great Hunt begins!
Could it be who killed Asmodean?  You have to play to find out!  Also, Patrick and I have an interview with Sanderson that will be coming up very shortly all about The Way of Kings. Stay tuned!

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New Procurements

The to-read pile goes ever on. This week brought a slew of books I've been hoping would come my way including my first anticipated read of 2011 along with a few titles that were entirely new to me.

Bloodshot by Cherie Priest - Priest is turning her hand to Urban Fantasy and given the work she has been doing lately I'm happy to welcome her to the UF club. She has always excelled at creating strong female protagonists and now we have a vamp thief coming to us January 25th.

The Horns of Ruin by Tim Akers - Huzzah! Huzzah! Sorry that deserves two huzzahs because I've been looking forward to this for a while and Pyr used a quote from my review of Akers' debut The Heart of Veridon on the back cover. Maybe they'll use it on the final? That would be a first for me. This is the first in the Eva Forge series from Akers. November release.

The Buntline Special by Mike Resnick - Another of Pyr's steampunk offerings for this Fall and this one looks to be quite a hoot. Resnick takes on the Weird West, which sounds about right to me. December release.

The Cardinal's Blades by Pierre Pevel - A mix Dumas and dragons looks to be an exciting read that the Wertster had many nice thing to say about. Pyr just has too much good stuff coming out at the end of the year to ignore. November release.

Will Power by A.J. Hartley - This is a standalone follow-up to Act of Will, which was supposedly a bit of alright.  I just may have to check it out if the mood strikes me, which it often does with an author new to me. September release.

Lady Lazarus by Michelle Lang - Another new to me author and Tor is throwing out some big series names in the description.  Despite mentioning Twilight the reference to Dresden and there being angel fights is enough to catch my eye.

With the romance of Twilight, the suspense of The Dresden Files, and the delicious thrills of True Blood, the enthralling saga of Magdalena Lazarus unfolds. Descended from the legendary witch of Ein Dor, she alone holds the power to summon the angel Raziel and stop Hitler and his supernatural minions from unleashing total war in Europe. The Nazis have fighters more fearsome than soldiers, weapons more terrifying than missiles, and allies that even they are afraid of SS werewolves; the demon Asmodel who possesses a willing Adolf Hitler, and other supernatural creatures all are literally hell-bent on preventing Magda from possessing the Book of Raziel, a magical text with the power to turn the tide against Hitler’s vast war machine.

Magda, young and rebellious, grew up in the cosmopolitan city of Budapest, unaware of her family’s heritage. When her mother dies, Magda--ready or not--is the Lazarus, who must face the evil that holds Europe in an iron grip. Unready to assume the mantle of her ancient birthright, but knowing that she must fight, she sets out across Europe searching for the Book. Magda is desperate enough to endanger her soul by summoning the avenging angel Raziel. When she sees him in the glory of his celestial presence, her heart is utterly, completely lost…

A Star Shall Fall by Marie Brennan - Brennan has always been praised for her ability to mix historical happenings with Fantasy well.  This time around she combines Fairy politics, Haley's Comet, and the Great Fire of 1666.

Stars and Gods by Larry Niven - When this showed up I was a bit confused. Is it a short story collection? A collection of Niven's non-fiction writing? Yes and yes. This looks like a book a huge Niven fan would adore with some new and hard to find pieces included, but also a place for people like me who have just read Ringworld for the first time to delve a bit further.

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson - This is the final copy of one of the biggest series debut this year.   The art is even more impressive than it was in the galley as a lot of pieces were added and there are some beautiful end paper pieces. Tor didn't hold anything back with this production.  Tor has already had to go back to reprint even before the book is released.  So collectors out there take note.  Be sure to check the copyright page for a fully intact number line to ensure you get the true first edition.

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REVIEW | The Black Prism by Brent Weeks (Orbit)

I was lucky enough to get an early review copy of The Black Prism, but actually put it down after only 20 pages. I had just finished The Way of Kings the prior week and worried it was too similar in themes and style of magic. Rather than risk reading The Black Prism and judging it based off Kings I decided to hold off and read it from more a fresh perspective. Little did I know that would be about 6 books later. When I finally got knuckle deep into The Black Prism I decided I made the right call. Sometimes distance does help perspective.

The Black Prism opens on the fields of a long dead battle from the Prism War with Kip wandering around before day break in search of luxin, a substance that drafters of light (magic wielders) can create and bend to their will. Kip is the poor fat teenage boy of his village who nearly everyone pities because of his infamous and drug addled mother. What Kip doesn't know is he is bastard to the most powerful drafter in the world, Gavin Guile, also known as the Lord Prism of Chromeia and figurehead of the predominate religious/magic order. As the Prism he can control the whole color spectrum and work wonders with his abilities.

The Black Prism is among the new wave of Flintlock Fantasy, which seem to becoming more in vogue the last few years. At least in this volume the guns don't add much to the world except in a couple short scenes. Otherwise it is the magic that keeps your attention with the grey characters we've come to love from Weeks.

The magic system is one of many facets that make The Black Prism standout from other Epic works The system is amazingly detailed and believable. Drafters are able to absorb light and create objects both large, small, and intricate with it. Each color of the spectrum has its own characteristics and uses. Some are more moldable. Some more discrete and others stronger. And a very few people have the ability to draft more than one color. What Gavin can do with his abilities is truly awing at times. Performing drafting magic does have a cost for the drafter, which makes the use of the magic very believable. It is all in the eyes. The color wrights who have overdone their use of magic were a nice touch, especially those crazy blues.

Many of the main characters appear at first blush to be typical archetypes, but Weeks managed to surprise me again and again with the depth they have. His greatest strength as a writer to date has been hiding secrets in plain site yet still making them just difficult enough to decipher that you have to laugh at yourself for not realizing the truth. All the characters hold secrets and as they are revealed each is in turn bigger than the last.

Weeks often leaves you wondering who the real hero is and whichever way you go you will be sure to change your mind as the story unfolds. The Black Prism has a whole Man in the Iron Mask angle that came off fresher than I expected as he created a character with some serious psychological problems.  There are some flaws mostly with character development.  Kip could have used some more background development in connecting the reader to his mentality and curt tongue possibly with an added scene involving his mother earlier on. And the the ladies didn't seem to be used to their utmost, but in this regard Weeks has laid the groundwork for bigger things for them in future volumes.

Weeks blew my expectations away as the story zooms though leaving you wanting more, but still satisfied at being introduced to this world and its major players. For those that were thrown off by a certain aspect of the first section to The Way of Shadows have no fear as there is none of that here. The Black Prism is still quite a brutal book with a high body count and some very gruesome scenes, especially one towards the beginning. It wouldn't be a Weeks novel without him pushing the envelope to give characters justification for their actions. I give The Black Prism 8.5 out of 10 hats. The ending builds momentum well for the next volume. For fans of Epic Fantasy with a gritty edge this is a must and the start to a very strong trilogy. Orbit has created a fun little game/quiz to tie-in with the book that helps you figure out what color drafter you are.

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Big Fat Book Giveaway

So about all that stuff regarding too many books in the house.  It is time for a clean out and in honor of that I'm doing a giant prize pack of books.  This will be mostly galleys I've gotten more than one copy of along with some titles I don't think I'll ever get around to reading.  What there are some I know I wont gravitate to? Yes. Yes, really. I still have copies of many of these that are on the stacks and can't believe I haven't gotten to some already.  But here we are and now I can share the love with one of you lucky readers.  Getting this package will give you the feeling most of us bloggers get by coming home to a fat package or two sitting on the stoop.  Now on to the goodies.

Black Blade Blues by J.A. Pitts (pb)

The Devil in Green (Dark Age 1) by Mark Chadbourn (ARC)

The Queen of Sinister (Dark Age 2) by Mark Chadbourn  (ARC)

Speak to the Devil by Dave Duncan  (ARC)

The Office of Shadow by Matthew Sturges  (ARC)

The Dervish House by Ian McDonald  (ARC)

Runescape: Betrayal at Falador by T.S. Church  (ARC)

To enter send an email to madhatterreview (AT) gmail (dot) com with your full name and snail mail address and "BIG GIVE" in the subject line. The deadline is midnight August 31st. I'll announce the winner on the following day or as soon as I remember. This contest is open to the people of the United States only since I'm paying for shipping. If you send multiple entries you will be disqualified from the contest. Chances are I'll add another book or two to the stash as well.

Game on!

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Cover Unveiled for The Habitation of the Blessed by Catherynne M. Valente

Catherynne M. Valente just released the cover for the first book in the Dirge for Prestor John series The Habitation of the Blessed. I mentioned this book in my Confessions post as one of my must buy 10 for the rest of the year. That still hasn't changed. As for the cover the art is nice as is the color palette, but I'm not fond of the title treatment. Sometimes going with a font that is too on the nose can turn off people and in this case it is achieving on that front. Moving the series name and volume to the bottom of the cover would seem like a better idea. Also, I do feel that the volume number of a series book should be somewhere on the cover, but it could be done on the spine or back as Orbit has been doing for so many of their series books. Lastly, the hands look too big. I know people with big hands but they are never so big that one would wrap around their own face so much. Well, outside of Andre the Giant. I hope they further tweak the cover before publication as publisher often are wont to do. The first Prestor John book will be released in November by Night Shade Books.

Brother Hiob of Luzern, on missionary work in The East on the eve of the 16th century, stumbles across a miraculous tree who's fruits are books... books which chronicle the Kingdom of Prester John. The Habitation of the Blessed recounts the fragmented narratives found within these miraculous volumes, revealing John's rise to power... from John's own viewpoint... from the viewpoint of his wife Hagia, and from the viewpoint of Hajji, a prayer-cantor who vowed to end John's illegitimate reign. World Fantasy Award nominee Catherynne M.Valente reimagines the legends of Prester John in this stunning tour de Force.

UPDATE: Valente has announced that Night Shade will be updating the cover with more of her input because of the outcry over the cover as it stands.

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Girl Genius novel is on the way from Phil & Kaja Foglio

One of my favorite graphic novels of the last couple of years is the Girl Genius series written by Phil & Kaja Foglio with art by Phil. If you haven't ever heard of it go check out the Girl Genius website as the series started as a webcomic, which they still release regularly before being collected into graphic novels. Phil eschews the steampunk name in lieu of Gaslamp Fantasy, but whatever it is called the story is full of awesome. Below is the blurb for Agatha Heterodyne and the Airship City, which I hope is the first of many prose novels to come from the Foglios.

Adventure! Romance! Mad Science!

The Industrial Revolution has escalated into all-out warfare. It has been eighteen years since the Heterodyne Boys, benevolent adventurers and inventors, disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Today, Europe is ruled by the Sparks, dynasties of mad scientists ruling over--and terrorizing--the hapless population with their bizarre inventions and unchecked power, while the downtrodden dream of the Hetrodynes' return.

At Transylvania Polygnostic University, a pretty, young student named Agatha Clay seems to have nothing but bad luck. Incapable of building anything that actually works, but dedicated to her studies, Agatha seems destined for a lackluster career as a minor lab assistant. But when the University is overthrown by the ruthless tyrant Baron Klaus Wulfenbach, Agatha finds herself a prisoner aboard his massive airship Castle Wulfenbach--and it begins to look like she might carry a spark of Mad Science after all.

From Phil and Kaja Foglio, creators of the Hugo, Eagle, and Eisner Award-nominated webcomic Girl Genius, comes Agatha H and the Airship City, a gaslamp fantasy filled to bursting with Adventure! Romance! and Mad Science!

The description sounds like it will be a novelization of the start of the graphic story. Hopefully they'll add some detail about the world and history. There is plenty to work with. Night Shade Books will be releasing Agatha Heterodyne and the Airship City as a hardcover in January 2011.

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REVIEW | Kraken by China Mieville (Del Rey)

A pickled and jarred giant squid has been stolen from the Natural History Museum of London and so begins the wild, tangent-ridden, and utterly delectable Kraken. Seers of London are predicting a fiery end of the world and to avert this the squid must be rescued. Gods of all stripes make appearances while the local police just muck everything up.

Kraken is quite a divergence from Mieville's last effort The City & The City, which was more of a somber and masterfully plotted police procedural. Word on the street is Mieville wrote both at the same time, which boggles the mind a little given how each feel like they weren't written on the same world let alone the same Universe. Kraken is a mad mix of China Mieville at his most weird with a pinch of Alan Moore on his a normal daily dose of acid with a healthy influence of Lovecraft to boot.

Kraken evokes the feel of a caper as the main characters are eluding many while in search of the missing squid and people responsibility for its disappearance. Given what I expect from Mieville nowadays I was actually quite bored for the first 70 pages and then all of a sudden Mieville brings the Weird in force and never lets up from there on introducing grotesqueries, out-there gods, wild concepts, and an inordinate amount of religious fanatics to the fray. Oh, and there are phasers! Can't forget the phasers. And yes they make sense as much as anything does in this story.

In Kraken nothing is true and everything is pure fact. Don't ponder that thought too much or you'll get lost in it. Mieville wants to create a sense of discomfort and surrealism from his readers, but with a bite of humor and satire about religion, Sci-Fi, and Fantasy in general. He also does cooler things with origami than even the best master out there. Kraken often reads as Mieville's bedside dream diary with constant apocalypses and flights of fancy taking off to dark, weird corners to bring his vision of London to light.

Everything boils to a fever pitch that doesn't disappoint, but will still leave you scratching your head weeks later wondering how the hell did Mieville pull that off? Kraken is Mieville's most accessible and fun adult work to-date even if it is a mess, but what a beautiful mess it is to behold.   He wants us to wonder: Where the heck is this going? Then he'll change his mind and bring us along for the ride. The get is that he more than succeeds on that front. I give Kraken 8.5 out of 10 hats. Mieville is still a master of his craft, he just melts that craft to fit whatever fiendish mold his mind comes up with. Man, now I feel like some calamari.

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(almost) Final Cover for Joe Abercrombie's The Heroes now with Blood!

Next year is ramping up to be one of the biggest for Fantasy reads and The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie is certainly amongst them. The semi-finished cover for The Heroes has appeared on many blogs already, but I haven't seen the the final cover elsewhere with added blood.  So behold the bloody goodness.  The blood certainly adds another layer to the already perfect art given the usual look Abercrombie is given in the UK from Gollancz.  The Heroes will be release January 20th in the UK and February 7th in the US.  Gollancz has a good size extract for The Heroes on their blog if you just can't wait.

“They say Black Dow’s killed more men than winter, and clawed his way to the throne of the North up a hill of skulls. The King of the Union, ever a jealous neighbour, is not about to stand smiling by while he claws his way any higher. The orders have been given and the armies are toiling through the northern mud. Thousands of men are converging on a forgotten ring of stones, on a worthless hill, in an unimportant valley, and they’ve brought a lot of sharpened metal with them.

Bremer dan Gorst, disgraced master swordsman, has sworn to reclaim his stolen honour on the battlefield. Obsessed with redemption and addicted to violence, he’s far past caring how much blood gets spilled in the attempt. Even if it’s his own.

Prince Calder isn’t interested in honour, and still less in getting himself killed. All he wants is power, and he’ll tell any lie, use any trick, and betray any friend to get it. Just as long as he doesn’t have to fight for it himself.

Curnden Craw, the last honest man in the North, has gained nothing from a life of warfare but swollen knees and frayed nerves. He hardly even cares who wins any more, he just wants to do the right thing. But can he even tell what that is with the world burning down around him?

Over three bloody days of battle, the fate of the North will be decided. But with both sides riddled by intrigues, follies, feuds and petty jealousies, it is unlikely to be the noblest hearts, or even the strongest arms that prevail…

Three men. One battle. No Heroes.”

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New Nightside cover and news on Simon R. Green

January will see the release of the penultimate volume in the Nightside series with A Hard Day's Knight. The cover is pretty standard for the series, which are usually quite good except for the last The Good, The Bad, and The Uncanny that was a bit boring with the bland art and coloration. Also, the tentative title for the final volume is The Bride Wore Black Leathers. If you've read more than one book in the series you can probably guess where this is going.

WARNING: As this is a long running series the blurb does contain spoilers, but the cover in this case does as well.

John Taylor is a P.I. with a special talent for finding lost things in the dark and secret center of London known as the Nightside. He’s also the reluctant owner of a very special—and dangerous—weapon. Excalibur, the legendary sword. To find out why he was chosen to wield it, John must consult the Last Defenders of Camelot, a group of knights who dwell in a place that some find more frightening than the Nightside. London Proper. It’s been years since John’s been back—and there are good reasons for that.

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New Procurements

A nice crop of packages graced my doorsteps over the past week. Weeks like this make my hiatus an easy thing to keep up especially since the first below is on my "must buy" list.

Kill the Dead by Richard Kadrey - The sequel to Sandman Slim is automatically pushed near the top of the to-read pile. October release.

What do you do after you’ve crawled out of Hell to wreak bloody revenge? If you’re Stark you turn to bounty hunting, tracking and decimating whatever rogue monsters you’re paid to kill. Stark hates the work, but he needs the money, especially the big bucks Lucifer is offering. In town as an advisor on a biopic of his life, Lucifer needs protection, and he wants Stark as his bodyguard. But the gig isn’t all bad; there is the very sexy, very hot French porn star Brigitte Bardo, a friend of Lucifer’s in LA to remake her reputation as a legit actress. While it isn’t love, it’s pretty damn good, and after 11 years of demonic chastity, it’s enough for now.

Stark has enough trouble juggling a diva devil and a scorching French bombshell without a zombie plague to complicate matters. And just what happens when a human-angel half-breed is bitten by the living dead? His human side begins to die, transforming him into an unstoppable angel of death—a killing machine devoid of emotion or thought, with no regrets or future to worry about. Not a bad way to be when you’re choices are limited. Now, Stark has to decide...if he does finds a cure for the zombie infection, will he take it?

Numb by Sean Ferrell - This slim debut could be a dark horse for me. I plan on fitting it in soonish as I'm a sucker for amnesiacs finding out where they come from. Now available.

Early one morning‚ after a sandstorm had ripped through north Texas‚ I wandered into Mr. Tilly's circus. I wore a black suit and blood ran down my face. When some of the carnies came up to me, I said, "I'm numb." This became my name.

A man with no memory who feels no pain, Numb travels to New York City after a short stint with the circus, following the one and only clue he holds to his hidden history: a brittle, bloodstained business card. But once there, word of his condition rapidly spreads—sparked by the attention he attracts by letting people nail his hands to wooden bars for money—and he quickly finds himself hounded on all sides by those who would use his unique ability in their own pursuits of fame and fortune. It is a strange world indeed that Numb numbly stumbles through, surrounded by crowds of suck-ups and opportunists, as he confronts life's most basic and difficult question: Who am I?

Sean Ferrell's Numb is a wildly entertaining examination of identity, friendship, pain, and the cult of celebrity that heralds the arrival of a fresh and uniquely inventive literary voice.

Prospero in Hell by L. Jagi Lamplighter - The sequel to Prospero Lost, which I haven't read.  The synopsis does interest me as it describes it as a mix of Shakespeare and Amber Chronicles, but I'm not sure how well the series stands on its own. Any thoughts? This releases tomorrow officially.

The search of a daughter for her father is but the beginning of this robust fantasy adventure. For five hundred years since the events of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Miranda has run Prospero, Inc., protecting an unknowing world from disasters both natural and man-made. Now her father has been taken prisoner of dark spirits in a place she could only guess. Piecing together clues about her father’s whereabouts and discovering secrets of her shrouded past, she comes to an inescapable conclusion she has dreaded since Prospero was lost.

Prospero has been imprisoned in Hell, kept there by demons who wish to extract a terrible price in exchange for his freedom. As the time of reckoning for Miranda draws near, she realizes that hundreds of years of their family’s magic may not be enough to free her once-powerful father from the curse that could destroy them...and the world.

The Last Page by Anthony Huso - This first in a duology will be the book I read next. I had been sent a galley a few months back and already had it at the top of the pile. Gorgeous final cover for a book that combines Magic, Steampunk, and a Middle Eastern setting. This releases tomorrow.

The city of Isca is set like a dark jewel in the crown of the Duchy of Stonehold. In this sprawling landscape, the monsters one sees are nothing compared to what’s living in the city’s sewers.

Twenty-three-year-old Caliph Howl is Stonehold’s reluctant High King. Thrust onto the throne, Caliph has inherited Stonehold’s dirtiest court secrets. He also faces a brewing civil war that he is unprepared to fight. After months alone amid a swirl of gossip and political machinations, the sudden reappearance of his old lover, Sena, is a welcome bit of relief. But Sena has her own legacy to claim: she has been trained from birth by the Shradnae witchocracy—adept in espionage and the art of magical equations writ in blood—and she has been sent to spy on the High King.

Yet there are magics that demand a higher price than blood. Sena secretly plots to unlock the Cisrym Ta, an arcane text whose pages contain the power to destroy worlds. The key to opening the book lies in Caliph’s veins, forcing Sena to decide if her obsession for power is greater than her love for Caliph.

Meanwhile, a fleet of airships creeps ever closer to Isca. As the final battle in a devastating civil war looms and the last page of the Cisrym Ta waits to be read, Caliph and Sena must face the deadly consequences of their decisions. And the blood of these conflicts will stain this and other worlds forever.

Elfsorrow and Shadowheart by James Barclay -  The Legends of the Raven series have been given a facelift and release in the US by Pyr. Easily my favorite series covers this year from Raymond Swanland. Releases in November and December.

Another action-packed adventure from the new master of fantasy. The Raven travel to a new continent in search of mages to help the ruined college of Julatsa rebuild and find themselves in the midst of an ancient curse—a curse that has unleashed a plague that threatens to wipe out the elven race. Barclay excels with another tale that pitches The Raven against the clock and unseen foes. Full of desperate fights and secret betrayals, the story also fills in more of Balaia's history and delves deeper into the ancient emnities between the colleges. Barclay has created a wonderfully appealing group of heroes, and with every book their history grows and the land they live in becomes wider and richer. This is landmark fantasy in the making.

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REVIEW | Child of Fire by Harry Connolly (Del Rey)

Child of Fire is an Urban Fantasy that is not exactly an Urban Fantasy. It has the tropes of and sentimentality, but takes place entirely in a small town in Washington State with a decidedly dark take as nasty creatures, werewolves, and evil magic are the main focus. Child of Fire goes full throttle from start to finish in a new Urban Fantasy. It comes off as an odd mix of feeling like a light read at less than 350 pages, but still having an edge which was a pleasant surprise for a debut book. It definitely didn't drag at any point even when issues with the narrative arose.

Child of Fire centers on Ray Lilly who is sort of a thugged out version of a magician only without the mad skills and friends to back him up ala Harry Dresden. He is the grunt boy to the frigid Annalise, a heavy hitter for Twenty Palaces Society, which is an ancient order that watches out for misuses of magic throughout the world. Lilly is strangely approachable. This is a guy I didn't want to like, but his willingness to keep throwing himself into the fire kept drawing me to him. Don't make a mistake by my mention of Dresden earlier. Connolly has a similar sense of pacing as the early Dresden books, but that is where the similarities end. Lilly isn't a former golden boy turned bad. He is a bad boy who is trying to learn from the mistakes of his past and make some sort of amends for his misdeeds. The cynical humor does a lot to keep the attention going, especially as Ray spars his way verbally with many characters.

After Ray's release from prison he is on a parole of sorts as Annalise's "wooden boy." They have been drawn to a small town by signs of magic use and are quickly caught up in a strange series of events as children have morphed into something quite gross. Ray's magical armaments consist of a ghost knife, which I quickly tired of and a bit of shielding magic on his body. The knife is at first quite cool, but is used so much it comes off as a crutch to get Ray just in the nick. Ray has somehow gotten himself involved in the magic world and once you are in you are there for life. Or until they kill you.

Quite a few inconsistencies pop up though, which boggled my mind at times. Annalise and Ray have a very antagonistic relationship, but part way through their relationship changes. There are reasons for this, but they don't seem sufficient given their shared past. Which brings me to the biggest problem. There is an abundance of back-story hinted at for Ray and also the Twenty Palaces society, but not enough revealed to sate. Ray's reasons for being in jail and now in debt to the society is glossed over all too briefly in a page or two when clearly there is a lot to delve into. There are loads of loose ends only some of which, I suspect will be answered in future volumes.

The world is left very vague, which seems mostly on purpose as Connolly is still developing his craft and may fear giving away too much too soon. But I hope as he comes into his own and can better parse out the guts of these characters and this world. The best authors will give it all they have and when the next book comes along do it all over again. Connolly clearly sees this a a living, breathing world where his characters won't or can't take care of everything though.

While not wholly memorable Child of Fire shows promise for the future. Fans of Rob Thurman, and Anton Strout will find plenty to gravitate towards if they are hankering for a new series. When you get down to it Child of Fire is a fun ride while it lasts. The sequel Game of Cages is due out at the end of the month, which I plan to read at some point. I'm keen to learn more about Twenty Palaces society and their history. The one story we are told about them was one of my favorite parts of the book, but not nearly enough.

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Reading Habits Poll Results

I was very happy so many people decided to participate in the polls I ran last week. A few more would give a better basis for analysis, but there were some minor hiccups such as no one being able to vote for part of the first day.  I'm still not sure why that was. But the results are in and I have gleaned a few interesting facts given the amount of data I have to work with. First the raw data.

How often do you read outside of SFF?

Nearly every other book    31    (41%)
Once every couple of months    32    (43%)
Once or twice a year    9    (12%)
Never    2    (2%)
Voters: 74

So more than 80% of poll takers do vary their reading quite regularly, which is quite a bit than I expected.  Only a few people rarely step outside the genre. My earlier theory that most speculative fiction readers keep to their own is totally blown out of the water by this. Now on to what exactly are we reading other than SF/F.

Besides SFF what other kinds of books do you read?

Thriller 36 (53%)
Mystery 42 (62%)
General Literature 45 (67%)
Science 22 (32%)
History 39 (58%)
Travel 9 (13%)
Humor 15 (22%)
Bio/Memoirs 15 (22%)
Romance 9 (13%)
They publish books outside of SFF? 3 (4%)

Votes: 67

There's quite a bit of interesting data to glean here. First, a large portion of voters are Mystery and Thriller fans. Not too much of a surprise given the popularity of the genres.  Secondly, more than half of voters are avid History readers.  That makes a lot of sense as much of Fantasy and Science Fiction is steeped in History by some stroke whether borrowing from cultural stylings, actual events such as battles, or royal dealings. The lack of Romance readers took me a back a little. I'm not sure if this is indicative of a low female readership here or simply that the ladies stopping by are more Urban Fantasy fans nowadays.  Sales numbers of UF books would certainly show a large slope going that way.

This section of the poll also makes me want to review more Travel Narratives here as I think speculative fans are missing out of some real life adventures.  Travel books often have a sense of hyper-reality about them anyway and most show a good journey for those Epic fans out there.

Is there anything I missed about the results?

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New Procurements

This week is made up entirely of review copies with a large helping from Tor, but plenty of others are representing as well.

The Ragged Man by Tom Lloyd - I'm still woefully behind on Lloyd's Twilight Reign series. This might be one of those series I wait until all books are published before finishing up. I'd put up the blurb but it has a big spoiler right in it if you aren't caught up on the series.

The Best of Kim Stanley Robinson - This is a large retrospective of Robinson's short work, which includes some stories from his Red Mar series. I'll definitely be dipping in and out of this in the near future.

Venice Drowned
Ridge Running
Before I Wake
Black Air
The Lucky Strike
A Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions
Arthur Sternbach Brings The Curveball To Mars
The Blind Geometer
Our Town
Escape from Kathmandu
Remaking History
The Translator
The Lunatics
Vinland the Dream
"A History of the Twentieth Century, with Illustrations"
Muir On Shasta
Sexual Dimorphism
Discovering Life
Prometheus Unbound, At Last
The Timpanist of the Berlin Philharmonic, 1942 *
Afterword by Kim Stanley Robinson

* Original to this collection

The Loving Dead by Amelia Beamer - This is Beamer's debut and from what I've heard so far it is well worth checking out if you like comedic and zombie reads. As if the quote from Christopher Moore wasn't enough it is enough for me to want to give it a read.

Kate and Michael are roommates living in the Oakland hills, working at the same Trader Joes supermarket. A night of drunken revelry changes their lives forever, but not in the way that anyone would expect. A slow-spreading plague of zombie-ism breaks out at their house party, spreading amongst their circle of friends, and simultaneously through the Bay Area. This zombie plague - an STD of sorts - is spread through sex and kissing, turning its victims into mindless, horny, voracious killers. Thrust into extremes by this slow- motion tragedy, Kate and Michael are forced to confront the choices they've made in their lives, and their fears of commitment, while trying to stay alive and reunite in the one place in the Bay Area that's likely to be safe and secure from the zombie hoards: Alcatraz.

Black Swan Rising by Lee Carroll  - Really splendid finished cover on this one.  I wasn't sure looking at the art online, but this is one of those more impressive printing jobs with a nice matte/gloss finish. I do plan on checking out this start to a new Urban Fantasy series as I need a fix from time-to-time.

When New York City jewelry designer Garet James stumbles into a strange antiques shop in her neighborhood, her life is about to be turned upside down. John Dee, the enigmatic shopkeeper, commissions her to open a vintage silver box for a generous sum of money. Oddly, the symbol of a swan on the box exactly matches the ring given to her by her deceased mother. Garet can’t believe her luck and this eerie coincidence until she opens the box and otherworldly things start happening. 

That evening, the precious silver box is stolen. When Garet begins to investigate, she learns that she has been pulled into a prophecy that is hundreds of years old, and opening the box has unleashed an evil force onto the streets of Manhattan and the world at large. Gradually, Garet pieces together her true identity—one that her deceased mother desperately tried to protect her from. Generations of women in Garet’s family, including her beloved mother, suffered and died at the hands of this prevailing evil. Does Garet possess the power to reclaim the box and defeat this devastating force?

On her journey, she will meet the fey folk who walk unnoticed among humans and a sexy vampire who also happens to be a hedge fund manager that she can’t stop thinking about. But the fairies reveal a desire to overpower mere humans and the seductive vampire has the power to steal the life from her body. Whom can Garet trust to guide her? Using her newfound powers and sharp wit, Garet will muster everything she’s got to shut down the evil taking over her friends, family, New York City, and the world.

The Questing Road by Lyn McConchie - I'm not really a fan of this cover.  A cat on a cover usually turns me off, but there is something about the synopsis that draws me in.

With the spirit and excitement that have thrilled readers for more than two decades, Lyn McConchie has crafted a totally original fantasy of two lands in deadly conflict.

Acolytes to a dark god have crossed the gulf between worlds to abduct an innocent tariling, not even a year old, dooming it to become a sacrifice in a ceremony that will unleash an army of supernatural creatures upon an unsuspecting kingdom.

Yoros and Kyrryl know that this is no mere animal, but to its own (felinoid) kind is a cherished child. With their warrior niece, Ashara, they follow its trail through a dimensional gate, little realizing their simple quest will become a desperate fight for survival in the middle of an all-out war. They can't know of the atrocities that decimated the plains tribes of the strange world beyond the gate. Nor can they know of the massive revenge that threatens an entire civilization. If they are to save themselves and their lost tariling, they must follow its magic through the unknown terrors of a bizarre world of alien creatures and mortal perils beyond their wildest imagining.

With the apocalyptic ceremony looming ever nearer, the trio of seekers find others who may help them -- or whose treachery could spell doom for them all. As mortal and supernatural armies mass and secret pacts reveal ancient evils, only one thing is certain: death follows their road, and their only hope is to cheat the gods that seem to curse them...

Hawkmoon: The Sword of the Dawn by Michael Moorcock - This is the third volume of Moorcock's other well known Sword & Sorcery hero. I've been meaning to try Hawkmoon out for years so now I have the chance.

In Michael Moorcock’s vast and imaginative multiverse, Law and Chaos wage war in a never-ending struggling over the fundamental rules of existence. Here in this universe, Dorian Hawkmoon traverses a world of antique cities, scientific sorcery, and crystalline machines as he pulled unwillingly into a war that pits him against the ruthless and dominating armies of Granbretan.

In The Sword of the Dawn, Dorian Hawkmoon’s quest to destroy the Dark Empire of Granbretan leads him onto the path of a man who possess a rare ring that allows men to travel through time. Hawkmoon uses this ring to travel to a far future New Orleans, where he must battle the Pirate Lords who possess the Great Sword of the Dawn, which can end the Dark Empire once and for all.

Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal - My wife has already read Kowal's debut and she had quite a few nice things to say. I'm grinding her down on doing her second review here.

Shades of Milk and Honey is exactly what we could expect from Jane Austen if she had been a fantasy writer: Pride and Prejudice meets Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. It is an intimate portrait of a woman, Jane, and her quest for love in a world where the manipulation of glamour is considered an essential skill for a lady of quality.

Jane and her sister Melody vie for the attentions of eligible men, and while Jane’s skill with glamour is remarkable, it is her sister who is fair of face. When Jane realizes that one of Melody’s suitors is set on taking advantage of her sister for the sake of her dowry, she pushes her skills to the limit of what her body can withstand in order to set things right—and, in the process, accidentally wanders into a love story of her own.

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REVIEW | Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds (Ace)

The world is fractured and broken. History of the world that came before is lost. There is one last enormous human city known as Spearpoint. Advanced technologies exists, but will only work in certain areas while places nearby are regulated to steam-powered technology or horse and buggy. Terminal World journeys from the highest steeps of the world to its lowest, most desolate desert plains. Techno-Angels, twisted humans, and coal-fueled men all vie for control and survival. This is a world of secrets that will not let them be wrestled easily from its grasp.

I should start this by saying Terminal World is my first Reynolds novel and from what I've heard not his typical milieu, but does still mix some aspects of the Space Opera genre that he is known for doing well. This is definitely not your typical steampunk novel and when you get down to it has very little to do with steampunk and quickly moves past where most of the technology is located. Sure there are airships and they are important to the plot, but given the complex nature of the world their use is well warranted and is not done just for aesthetic value. Terminal World is a world fraught with fractured technological and physical zones that it can often be hard to follow. As the story progress we learn just enough to infuriate about how this world came about.  Clearly some large scale apocalyptic actions occurred thousands of years ago, but no clear answers are to be had.

The story starts as an escape from Spearpoint, which moves along very quickly yet after that the story slows down considerably. Quillon is a pathologist living in one of the more technological areas of Spearpoint, but he is being chased after by the tech-style angels for something in his past. He quickly leaves Spearpoint where we get something of a grand tour of most of the city and some of the key players. Quillion and his guide Curtana are always at odds and closed off from one another, which makes it difficult to connect with either. At many points it is almost as if the story is an actual afterthought to the world-building and detailing forgoing development.

For me this was one of those Sisyphus pushing a rock up a hill books. The closer you got to the top you learned you were nowhere near the end. I kept waiting for these big reveals or developments as there are lots of leading discussions that could blow this world into the stratosphere and outside of one major reveal nothing came as a surprise. Even with the problems there are many bright points to the book such as the cultures that have developed in the wastes of the world and the Swarm fleet of ships. The scale of the world certainly gives it an epic feel. But Terminal World gets bogged down by a snail's pace and many scenes that are unneeded to move the story further. I quickly tired of Quillion's medical scenes where every little movement was described. Reynolds certainly paints a detailed picture of the world, but it is at an overwrought loss to the characters and their story.

The biggest issue I had with Terminal World is the fact that it is at best half the story of this world and characters. Normally that isn't a problem for me, but nowhere on or in the book or anywhere online does it say this is part of a series. I give Terminal World 6 out of 10 hats. That score would have been better if I had gone in knowing what I was getting involved in. I definitely would have been half as annoyed at the non-resolution of the story otherwise. Things move along, but in the end nothing is answered after so much being built up. I was left intrigued enough that I would pick-up a sequel if any is ever forthcoming to get a resolution, but not until I have some assurance there is a resolution. This should definitely not be your first Reynolds and I wish I had tried another of his first, but it has inspired me to push Pushing Ice up on my to-read pile to see exactly why he is so revered.

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GUEST POST | Rowena Cory Daniells author of The King's Bastard

Reading to fuel the Creative Crucible

by Rowena Cory Daniells

If you are like me you probably have bookshelves to the ceiling.

The Mad Hatter’s post on reading outside the spec fic genre made me think about the books I read outside the genre I write in. Don’t get me wrong, I love fantasy, science fiction and horror and I was reading these books before I knew what genre was.

But unless we want to regurgitate what has gone before, writers need to expand their horizons. So I thought I’d look at some books that have helped fuel my Creative Crucible.

The History and Lore of Freaks – Thompson.

Don’t we all feel sometimes like we are living on the outside looking in? These people were born with physical differences. After reading this book, I came inspired by their strength and humanity.

The Pirate Wars – Earle.

Back before the Pirates of the Caribbean movie, I was researching what real pirates were like and the sociological forces that created a niche for them. Did you know some pirate ships were quite democratic?

The Archaeology of Weaponry – Oakeshott.

West Point Military History Series, Ancient and Medieval Warfare – Griess.

Okay, if you are going to write fantasy you are going to have fighting between individuals and full scale battles. You might as well get your facts right. (I studied Tae Kwon Do, Aikido and Iaido for 5 years each). The West Point Military book was particularly interesting because I wanted to understand tactics and how leaders triumphed against the great odds. I also wanted to know why men would follow a particular leader and die for him.

The Great Transformation – Armstrong

Wisdom of the Elders – Suzuki and Knudston.

The Great Transformation traced philosophical thought from earliest times through Buddha, Socrates and Confucius. The Wisdom of the Elders is full of quotes from Indigenous peoples around the world, giving an insight into their philosophy and world view. If you are going to write about other places and times, you need to be able to create a society and then immerse yourself in a mind-set that is definitely not 21st century.

Blood Rites – Ehrenreich.

How do different societies cope with violence? How do people integrate warriors back into society after they have sent them out to kill in defence of their home? I liked Ehrenriech’s premise that violence is like a contagious disease. If a non-violent people are attacked one of two things happens. They are wiped out and their women and children are enslaved and integrated into the violent group. If they fight back they
become violent in self defence. So either way, violence is contagious.

A History of Private Life (Medieval and Renaissance) – Aries and Duby editors

The Embarrassment of Riches – Schama

Historical TV shows and movies are sanitised. If you want to know how people really lived through the plague, how they dealt with death in childbirth, how they coped with life in general you need to go to the source. These books have quotes from private letters and journals. They bring the people of the past to life. If you want to write you have to be able to bring characters to life and it is the detail that makes the difference.

Guns, Germs and Steel - Diamond

Collapse –Diamond

One book traces the development of various civilisations and uncovers the factors that are needed for a class of people to arise who can devote time to thought and discovery. The other book traces the collapse of various civilisations and uncovers the factors that contribute towards the tipping point where a civilisation nonviable. As a writer of fantasy and SF you need to be able to understand societies, how they evolve and how they react under pressure. And then you explore this through the individuals
because we are interested in people and their individual struggles.

Over the Edge of the World – Bergreen

Who Murdered Chaucer –Jones.

A book about Magellan’s circumnavigation of the world and a book on Chaucer’s life might not seem to be related. But both gave me insights as a writer. For instance, while the common men were dying of scurvy on Magellan’s ship the officers were healthy because they had quince jam and they didn’t understand that it was the vitamin C in the jam that saved them. It never occurred to them that giving the sailors some jam would save their lives.

The Art Deco House – Tinniswood

Art Nouveau – Fitzgerald

Why read books on art movements and architecture, I hear you ask. I love beautiful things. If I spend an hour in an art gallery I come out feeling like I’m walking on air. I need to be able to visualise my characters in their settings. When I’m writing I gather a Resonance File for the world. It is filled with landscapes, buildings, interiors and costumes as well as snippets of factual interest that have been springboards for ideas. A lot of my friends play music while they write. I know what kind of music my characters would hear in their world. I am constantly feeding the visual side of my brain so reading about art movements and architecture is all part of this.

These books may not seem to have much in common but they all give me insight into the world and people. They feed my creative crucible.

What feeds yours?

Rowena Cory Daniells is devoted to her husband and six children, and the craft of writing. The first book in her new fantasy trilogy The King's Bastard was released in July with The Uncrowned King set for August and the final The Usurper, in September.

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A Challenge from Sam Sykes

Sam Sykes has invited challenged me and 10 other bloggers to read something we wouldn't normally read called his Bravest Challenge.  For some this could be a Paranormal Romance. For others it could be a historical novel.  For me it will be a novel of "tie-in" fiction since it is an area I have generally kept apart from. That's right I've never read an official Dungeons and Dragons novel or a Warhammer book. I have dabbled very lightly in Star Wars and read one Star Trek book years ago. The biggest reason I've stayed away from tie-in fiction is I just didn't want to get involved in something that would probably make me buy dozens of more books. I know me and I can't help myself. This is the same reason I haven't delved into Discworld.  This challenge also plays into my recent article of reading comfort zones, which is why I'm more than happy to participate.

For the challenge Sykes has assigned me R.A. Salvatore’s Homeland. This is the first and much beloved Drizzt novel that spawned dozens of sequels. I'm actually excited about sinking my teeth into this character.  Also, since this is a bravest challenge Sykes would like me to read The Orc King afterwards as that supposedly is one of the weakest novels in the series. Do check out the challenge as a diverse set of bloggers have a nice list of books to try out.

Besides going around picking fights with bloggers Sam is also the debut author of Tome of the Undergates, which I had quite a bit of fun with earlier in the year and now that I think of it is very much like what I'd picture as an adult D & D novel.  He is holding a contest for signed US ARCs of Tome of the Undergates that is well worth entering if it sounds like something you'd like at all. See his site for details on entering.

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