The Lost Girls of Rome

You may recall that I gave Donato Carrisi's debut, The Whisperer, a perfect score a few years back. Dubbed the Italian literary thriller phenomenon, I have remained on the lookout for anything else written by Carrisi. Read the first one in French, so I bought the French translation for this one as well. Even better, a sequel to The Whisperer titled The Vanished Ones recently came out in French and it's also availabe in the UK. Meant to read The Lost Girls of Rome last summer during my Middle Eastern trip, but sadly I didn't find the time. With most 2014 SFF releases leaving something to be desired these days, I elected that the time was just about right for a quality thriller.

The English title is kind of weird, considering that the original Italian title can be translated into The Tribunal of Souls. Such was the French title, which leaves me wondering exactly why the publishers for the English translation went for something so generic that has pretty much nothing to do with what the novel is all about. The same goes for the cover blurb, which totally overlooks the second main protagonist as if his own storyline was unimportant. From a marketing standpoint, given that Marcus is arguably the most important character of this story, I find this odd indeed. . .

Here's the blurb:

A grieving young widow, seeking answers to her husband’s death, becomes entangled in an investigation steeped in the darkest mysteries of Rome.

Sandra Vega, a forensic analyst with the Roman police department, mourns deeply for a marriage that ended too soon. A few months ago, in the dead of night, her husband, an up-and-coming journalist, plunged to his death at the top of a high-rise construction site. The police ruled it an accident. Sanda is convinced it was anything but.

Launching her own inquiries, Sanda finds herself on a dangerous trail, working the same case that she is convinced led to her husband’s murder. An investigation which is deeply entwined with a series of disappearances that has swept the city, and brings Sandra ever closer to a centuries-old secret society that will do anything to stay in the shadows.

Once again, the action occurs in Italy, in and around both Rome and Milan. As was the case with The Whisperer, a variety of sources were used by Carrisi to write this book, chief among them criminology and forensic psychiatry manuals, as well as several FBI papers regarding serial killers and violent crimes. With his homework done properly, Carrisi's second novel has an unmistakable genuine feel to it. As a former jurist specializing in criminology and behavioral science, the man truly knows what he's talking about.

With both French and Italian sharing the same roots, the translation was good. I was told that the English translation for The Whisperer wasn't that great, so hopefully the same cannot be said of the English version of The Lost Girls of Rome. A more literal translation will mean occasional odd turns of phrase, yet here's to hoping that it nevertheless captures the essence of the story.

The characterization was awesome. As was the case with its predecessor, a man and a woman are the principal protagonists. Sandra Vega, a forensic analyst, lost her husband the year before. Marcus is a man without a past. Coming out of a coma after being shot in the head in a Prague hotel room, he is told he's the only person who might find a kidnapped female student before she is murdered. Unexpectedly, their paths will cross and bring them to a crossroads where they'll have to choose between vengeance and forgiveness. During the investigation, a dark secret hidden by the Roman Catholic Church will be unveiled and is at the heart of all the disappearances and murders. I particularly enjoyed how flawed both main characters are and how their POVs create an interesting balance between them. The point of view of the hunter which occurs in a different timeline feels a bit discordant at first, but becomes more and more fascinating as one realizes just how it is linked to the other storylines.

Much like in The Whisperer, there is a thought-provoking theme underlying the entire book: The true essence of evil. Does it exist within all of us, latent and just waiting to be released? As engrossing as it is disturbing, Donato Carrisi's The Lost Girls of Rome is not as remarkable a read as Carrisi's debut. Still, it is a complex and multilayered thriller that hits all the right buttons. It's a clever work with plots and subplots forming a chilling tapestry, all of which culminating toward an ending that will shock you. Involving the Roman Catholic Church gives Carrisi's second novel a special feel that is akin to Dan Brown's Angels and Demons. Still, the novel is based on true law enforcement investigation techniques and the religious aspect of the tale only adds another dimension to an already complicated plot.

Overall, this perturbing work is everything a thriller is supposed to be. The Lost Girls of Rome is another page-turner that begs to be read. If you are looking for compelling and disturbing books delving into psychology that stay with you long after you have finished reading them, give Donato Carrisi a shot ASAP!

The final verdict: 9/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

Peter F. Hamilton contest winner!

This lucky winner will get his hands on my ARC of Peter F. Hamilton's The Abyss Beyond Dreams! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winner is:

- Donny Schwartz, from Sacramento, California, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

Quote of the Day

“Attention crew. We will soon be arriving at the Known Rim, where it is likely we will find ourselves engaged in a hopeless battle against impossible odds, facing an implacable foe intent on destroying not just the Affiliation, but all other sentient life-forms in the galaxy. In other words, just another day in the adventures of Captain Hadrian Sawback and the crew of the Willful Child.

“My advice to everyone is, get used to it. Events like this could well become a weekly affair. We’ll face death. We’ll clash with terrible forces and belligerent enemies. We’ll uncover mysteries and probably get seriously grossed out in the process. But one thing must be understood, and have no doubt about this: No one dies on this ship! Well, bearing in mind my warning about kitten pictures.

“In a short while, we will be at battle stations. Do what you’ve been trained to do. And if we all blow up anyways, well, that’s just how it is. Sometimes, my friends, space just sucks. Captain out.”

- STEVEN ERIKSON, Willful Child (Canada, USA, Europe)

Just finished this one and it was a real joy ride! =) Let's hope we'll see more of Captain Hadrian Sawback and the rest of the crew of the Willful Child!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

For a limited time on the other side of the pond, you can get your hands on all three volumes of the Void trilogy by Peter F. Hamilton for only £0.99 here.

Here's the blurb for the first volume, The Dreaming Void:

It's AD 3580 and the Intersolar Commonwealth has spread throughout the galaxy. Its citizens are privileged and protected by a powerful navy. Yet at the centre of this galaxy is the Void, a sealed universe created by aliens billions of years ago. And the Void is far from inert. Its expansion has gradually been consuming nearby star systems - now it's trying to make contact. The Void chooses Inigo as its conduit, and he channels dreams of a simpler life within its bounds. Disaffected humanity hungers for this vision, adopting him as their prophet.

But Inigo disappears and his followers instigate a pilgrimage to take them into the Void itself. An act that could trigger its expansion and thereby damage our galaxy beyond repair. Meanwhile, within the Void, a junior constable called Edeard begins his journey to greatness. He takes on his corrupt city, giving his people hope. He also becomes the focus of Inigo's dream - and thereby humanity's greatest hero.

Win a copy of Patrick Rothfuss' THE SLOW REGARD OF SILENT THINGS

I recently learned that no review copies would be sent prior to the novella's pub date. Still, thanks to the generosity of the great folks at Daw Books, I have a copy of Patrick Rothfuss' The Slow Regard of Silent Things up for grabs! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

Deep below the University, there is a dark place. Few people know of it: a broken web of ancient passageways and abandoned rooms. A young woman lives there, tucked among the sprawling tunnels of the Underthing, snug in the heart of this forgotten place. Her name is Auri, and she is full of mysteries.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things is a brief, bittersweet glimpse of Auri’s life, a small adventure all her own. At once joyous and haunting, this story offers a chance to see the world through Auri’s eyes. And it gives the reader a chance to learn things that only Auri knows….

In this book, Patrick Rothfuss brings us into the world of one of The Kingkiller Chronicle’s most enigmatic characters. Full of secrets and mysteries, The Slow Regard of Silent Things is the story of a broken girl trying to live in a broken world.

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam) with the header "SILENT THINGS." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.

Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.

Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.

Good luck to all the participants!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on Jack Finney's classic Time and Again for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Now with masterfully restored original artwork, lovers of time travel, romance, and adventure can rediscover Time and Again, the beloved classic hailed as “THE great time-travel story” by Stephen King, author of 11/22/63, and praised as a “pure New York fun” by Alice Hoffman, author of The Museum of Extraordinary Things.

When advertising artist Si Morley is recruited to join a covert government operation exploring the possibility of time travel, he jumps at the chance to leave his twentieth-century existence and step into New York City in January 1882. Aside from his thirst for experience, he has good reason to return to the past—his friend Kate has a curious, half-burned letter dated from that year, and he wants to trace the mystery.

But when Si begins to fall in love with a woman he meets in the past, he will be forced to choose between two worlds—forever.

Called “the great time-travel story” by Stephen King, Time and Again is admired for its rich, painstakingly researched descriptions of life in New York City more than a century ago, and for the swift adventure at its core. With newly digitized art, you will fall in love with this refreshed classic all over again.

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (October 13th)

In hardcover:

David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks is down one spot, finishing the week at number 7.

In paperback:

George R. R. Martin's A Dance With Dragons is down six positions, ending the week at number 19.

Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane is down three positions, ending the week at number 20 (trade paperback).

Hell Yeah!!!

Can't believe I was caught sleeping at the wheel, but I had no idea that Katherine Kurtz's new Deryni installment was coming up in a few short weeks! So imagine my surprise when The King's Deryni showed up today! For more information on this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

New York Times bestselling author Katherine Kurtz’s novels of the Deryni have been hailed by Anne McCaffrey as “an incredible historical tapestry of a world that never was and of immensely vital people who ought to be.” Now Kurtz weaves a thrilling conclusion to the epic Childe Morgan trilogy, in which bonds of both magic and loyalty will be put to the ultimate test…

Alaric Morgan always knew his purpose in life—to stand alongside the king of Gwynedd. The old king knew that whichever of his sons succeeded to the throne would benefit from having a Deryni at his side. Alaric and the young Prince Brion Haldane were bound together by magic—a magic to be called upon when Brion was most in need.

Now eighteen, Brion has ascended to the throne and seven-year-old Alaric has come to court. Through the coming years, both will grow to manhood and come to realize their destinies. Brion will strive to solidify his power and position, seek out a bride to secure his legacy, and ultimately, when faced with an unbeatable foe, call upon Alaric to fulfill his oath.

Meanwhile, Alaric slowly learns the extent of his powers and how to use them, and will face the prejudice that many have against Deryni in its ugliest form. He will experience bittersweet first love, great personal loss, and the hard lessons one gains from both. And he will be there to unleash the full power of his Deryni magic at Brion’s command.

For Alaric is—and always will be—the King’s Deryni.

Can't wait to read it! =)

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download N. K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

In this brilliantly original debut fantasy, a young woman becomes entangled in a power struggle of mythic proportions.

Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky. There, to her shock, Yeine is named an heiress to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle with cousins she never knew she had. As she fights for her life, she draws ever closer to the secrets of her mother's death and her family's bloody history.

With the fate of the world hanging in the balance, Yeine will learn how perilous it can be when love and hate - and gods and mortals - are bound inseparably together.

Win a copy of Steven Erikson's WILLFUL CHILD

I have three copies of Steven Erikson's Willful Child for you to win, courtesy of the fine folks at Tor Books. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe)

Here's the blurb:

From the New York Times Bestselling author Steven Erikson comes a new science fiction novel of devil-may-care, near calamitous and downright chaotic adventures through the infinite vastness of interstellar space.

These are the voyages of the starship A.S.F. Willful Child. Its ongoing mission: to seek out strange new worlds on which to plant the Terran flag, to subjugate and if necessary obliterate new life-forms, to boldly blow the...

And so we join the not-terribly-bright but exceedingly cock-sure Captain Hadrian Sawback and his motley crew on board the Starship Willful Child for a series of devil-may-care, near-calamitous and downright chaotic adventures through ‘the infinite vastness of interstellar space.’

The New York Times bestselling author of the acclaimed Malazan Book of the Fallen sequence has taken his lifelong passion for Star Trek and transformed it into a smart, inventive, and hugely entertaining spoof on the whole mankind-exploring-space-for-the-good-of-all-species-but-trashing-stuff-with-a-lot-of-high-tech-gadgets-along-the-way, overblown adventure. The result is an SF novel that deftly parodies the genre while also paying fond homage to it.

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam) with the header "CHILD." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.

Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.

Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.

Good luck to all the participants!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

I don't know for how long, but right now you can download Kameron Hurley's The Mirror Empire, her first epic fantasy novel which has everyone talking, for only 1.99$ here!

Here's the blurb:

A stunning new epic fantasy from two-time Hugo Award winner Kameron Hurley.

On the eve of a recurring catastrophic event known to extinguish nations and reshape continents, a troubled orphan evades death and slavery to uncover her own bloody past... while a world goes to war with itself.

In the frozen kingdom of Saiduan, invaders from another realm are decimating whole cities, leaving behind nothing but ash and ruin. At the heart of this war lie the pacifistic Dhai people, once enslaved by the Saiduan and now courted by their former masters to provide aid against the encroaching enemy.

Stretching from desolate tundra to steamy, semi-tropical climes seething with sentient plant life, this is an epic tale of blood mages and mercenaries, emperors and priestly assassins who must unite to save a world on the brink of ruin.

As the dark star of the cataclysm rises, an illegitimate ruler is tasked with holding together a country fractured by civil war; a precocious young fighter is asked to betray his family to save his skin; and a half-Dhai general must choose between the eradication of her father's people or loyalty to her alien Empress.

Through tense alliances and devastating betrayal, the Dhai and their allies attempt to hold against a seemingly unstoppable force as enemy nations prepare for a coming together of worlds as old as the universe itself.

In the end, one world will rise - and many will perish.

Quote of the Day

“I have been observing human interactions with alien species, Captain.”

“Exciting, aren’t they?”

“They invariably conclude with the sudden, violent deaths of thousands of biologicals, not to mention semi-sentient artificial personalities.”

“Are you suggesting a pattern, Tammy?”

“I conclude that your particular species, Captain, advances by way of deadly incompetence, willful ignorance, deliberate misunderstanding, and venal acquisitiveness, combined with serendipitous technological superiority.”

“Ever since Columbus landed on the shores of Old America, Tammy. What’s your point?”

- STEVEN ERIKSON, Willful Child (Canada, USA, Europe)

About 200 pages into this one and I'm having a ball! =)

Why didn't you. . .

Fantasy author Mark Lawrence just wrote an interesting blog post about readers' complaints regarding Prince of Fools and his writing in general. Here's a teaser:

Often these 'whys' are asked in a manner that indicates the questioner has a very firm idea of the (my) writing process in their head. I must have sat down with a ruler and set square and designed each element of my tale, weighing up the choices, wondering what message they'd send and what world view they're promoting...


The medieval-esque setting (like the Eastern setting, the cold north with bearded axemen, the hot south with arab-esque inhabitants) is part of the landscape of the reader's imagination - there to be taken advantage of, saving 400 pages and a fuck-load of confusion.


So, yes, if you want the focus to be on how clever and imaginative you are ... weird me out. If you want the focus to be on your plans for utopia or your critique of modern society, play those games. But if you're going to criticise fantasy as conservative or me for drawing on the architecture of existing fantasy to furnish my pages with stuff for my characters to play with ... then you've very much missed the point of what most authors are trying to do.

Why didn't I play the rather heavy handed gender-politics games that excite a certain rather vocal section of the blog-o-sphere?

Because those are not the games that excite me.

Follow this link to read the full article.

Jacqueline Carey contest winners!

Our winners will get their hands on a copy of Jacqueline Carey's Poison Fruit, compliments of the folks at Roc! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winners are:

- Christine LaRue, from Elverta, California, USA

- Nicole McFadyen, from Stouffville, Ontario, Canada

- Angela Heid, from Merrillville, Indiana, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!


Thanks to the generosity of the folks at Penguin Books, I have a set of Dan Jones' The Plantagenets (Canada, USA, Europe) and its sequel, The Wars of the Roses, up for grabs. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

The author of the New York Times bestseller The Plantagenets chronicles the next chapter in British history—the historical backdrop for Game of Thrones.

The crown of England changed hands five times over the course of the fifteenth century, as two branches of the Plantagenet dynasty fought to the death for the right to rule. In this riveting follow-up to The Plantagenets, celebrated historian Dan Jones describes how the longest-reigning British royal family tore itself apart until it was finally replaced by the Tudors.

Some of the greatest heroes and villains of history were thrown together in these turbulent times, from Joan of Arc to Henry V, whose victory at Agincourt marked the high point of the medieval monarchy, and Richard III, who murdered his own nephews in a desperate bid to secure his stolen crown. This was a period when headstrong queens and consorts seized power and bent men to their will. With vivid descriptions of the battles of Towton and Bosworth, where the last Plantagenet king was slain, this dramatic narrative history revels in bedlam and intrigue. It also offers a long-overdue corrective to Tudor propaganda, dismantling their self-serving account of what they called the Wars of the Roses.

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam) with the header "WARS." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.

Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.

Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.

Good luck to all the participants!

Tad Williams contest winner!

Our winner will receive an autographed copy of Tad Williams' Sleeping Late on Judgement Day, compliments of the author himself! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winner is:

- Danielle Beebe, from Bergen, New York, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

Win a copy of Chris Evans' OF BONE AND THUNDER

I have a copy of Chris Evans' Of Bone and Thunder for you to win, courtesy of the folks at Simon and Schuster. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

A land of thick jungle and mist-swirled mountains. An enemy moving unseen beneath the lush canopy. The growing threat of thaumics—a magic wielded by few that threatens to destabilize all. The youth of a kingdom sent to fight in a faraway hell while back home, discord and disillusionment reign…

Fantasy author Chris Evans masterfully pushes the boundaries of the genre in his brilliant, groundbreaking new epic, a unique and penetrating vision channeling the cultural upheaval, racial animus, and wholesale destruction of the Vietnam War. Here, in the distant nation of Luitox, which is wracked by rebellion, thaumic users copilot mammoth armored dragons alongside fliers who do not trust their strange methods. Warriors trained in crossbow, stealth, and catapult are plunged into sudden chaotic battles with the mysterious Forest Collective, an elusive enemy with a powerful magic of its own. And the Kingdom’s most downtrodden citizens, only recently granted equality, fight for the dignity they were supposed to have won at home while questioning who the real enemy is.

Of Bone and Thunder is the story of Thaum Jawn Rathim, whose idealized view of the war clashes with its harsh realities and his realization that victory may cost him everything…of conscripted soldier Carny, awash in a hallucinogenic haze of fear and anger…of Breeze, the red-haired graduate from the Royal Academy of Thaumology, certain she can transform the very nature of warfare—if only she can win the trust of the man holding her fate in his hands…and of Ugen Listowk, a veteran crossbowman who finds solace in the darkest shadows of the jungle and whose greatest fear is failing the men he leads into battle.

Plunging deep into the heart of a moral and mortal darkness, these reluctant soldiers struggle for survival and for meaning amid a blazing drama of blood and magic. They will duel a ghostly enemy, fight to understand their roles in a sprawling maelstrom, and ultimately wage the war their way—not for glory or the Kingdom, but for one another.

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam) with the header "THUNDER." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.

Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.

Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.

Good luck to all the participants!

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (October 6th)

In hardcover:

David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks is down two spots, finishing the week at number 6.

In paperback:

George R. R. Martin's A Dance With Dragons is up two positions, ending the week at number 13.

George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones is down one position, ending the week at number 17.

Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane is up one position, ending the week at number 17 (trade paperback).

Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game returns at number 20.

Quote of the Day

SPACE . . . It's fucking big.

- STEVEN ERIKSON, Willful Child (Canada, USA, Europe)

Just started reading this one and it's been a lot of fun so far!

Here's the blurb:

From the New York Times Bestselling author Steven Erikson comes a new science fiction novel of devil-may-care, near calamitous and downright chaotic adventures through the infinite vastness of interstellar space.

These are the voyages of the starship A.S.F. Willful Child. Its ongoing mission: to seek out strange new worlds on which to plant the Terran flag, to subjugate and if necessary obliterate new life-forms, to boldly blow the...

And so we join the not-terribly-bright but exceedingly cock-sure Captain Hadrian Sawback and his motley crew on board the Starship Willful Child for a series of devil-may-care, near-calamitous and downright chaotic adventures through ‘the infinite vastness of interstellar space.’

The New York Times bestselling author of the acclaimed Malazan Book of the Fallen sequence has taken his lifelong passion for Star Trek and transformed it into a smart, inventive, and hugely entertaining spoof on the whole mankind-exploring-space-for-the-good-of-all-species-but-trashing-stuff-with-a-lot-of-high-tech-gadgets-along-the-way, overblown adventure. The result is an SF novel that deftly parodies the genre while also paying fond homage to it.

Sleeping Late on Judgement Day

With urban fantasy being the biggest game in town, I was quite happy with the fact that the Bobby Dollar books turned out to be Tad Williams' most accessible series to date. Still, as entertaining as the novels turned out to be, it appears that they were mostly ignored by the wider urban fantasy/paranormal romance readership. None of the installments received blurbs from bestselling or well-known urban fantasy authors, and there has been a near total radio silence regarding the series on various SFF resources. To all ends and purposes, it seems that only Tad Williams' fans gave this series a shot and no one else. Given the popularity of this subgenre, I find this odd. . .

And Tad Williams brings this trilogy to a close with the same snarky style and aplomb which have made the first two volumes such enjoyable reads! Though it leaves the door open for more to come, Sleeping Late on Judgement Day is a fitting and satisfying ending to a quality series!

Here's the blurb:

Where does an angel go when he’s been to Hell and back?

Renegade angel Bobby Dollar does not have an easy afterlife. After surviving the myriad gruesome dangers Hell oh-so-kindly offered him, Bobby has returned empty-handed – his demon girlfriend Casmira, the Countess of Cold Hands, is still in the clutches of Eligor, Grand Duke of Hell. Some hell of a rescue.

Forced to admit his failure, Bobby ends up back at his job as an angel advocate. That is, until Walter, an old angel friend whom Bobby never thought he’d see again, shows up at the local bar. The last time he saw Walter was in Hell, when Walter had tried to warn him about one of Bobby’s angel superiors. But now Walter can’t remember anything, and Bobby doesn’t know whom to trust.

Turns out that there’s corruption hidden within the higher ranks of Heaven and Hell, but the only proof Bobby has is a single feather. Before he knows it, he’s in the High Hall of Heavenly Judgement – no longer a bastion for the moral high ground, if it ever was, but instead just another rigged system – on trial for his immortal soul…

Sleeping Late on Judgement Day is the third installment of Tad Williams’ urban fantasy Bobby Dollar series!

The worldbuilding in the previous two volumes was quite interesting. Williams' depiction of Heaven in The Dirty Streets of Heaven was intriguing, but his depiction of Hell in Happy Hour in Hell was a bit over-the-top. When the author's imagination runs wild and go wherever his inspiration takes him, unexpected things tend to happen. With the groundwork laid down and the plotlines established, the worldbuilding aspect doesn't play as important a role in this final volume. Which allows the author's storytelling skills to shine.

Pace was an issue in the second book, as Williams occasionally put the plot aside to explore some weird and quirky corners of Hell. Not so with Sleeping Late on Judgement Day. The storylines keep moving forward, heading toward a final confrontation. The rhythm remains crisp, and like The Dirty Streets of Heaven this one is pretty much a page-turner from beginning to end.

The first person narrative of Angel Doloriel, also known as Bobby Dollar, makes for another fun-filled ride. Actually, it's probably my favorite facet of this series. Not always the sharpest tool in the shed, a lovesick Bobby becomes an even bigger dumbass from time to time. But for all his faults, it's impossible not to root for the poor guy! Once more, a number of familiar faces return in this third volume and new characters make the supporting cast even stronger. The addition of the Ukrainian Amazons was hilarious and made for some priceless moments with Bobby.

Sleeping Late on Judgement Day is a relatively fast-paced affair and each chapter brings the reader closer to the final showdown. Problem is, the ending doesn't offer much in terms of resolution. Tad Williams wanted to keep the door open for possible sequels, this goes without saying. A number of loose ends do get tied up, mind you, offering a resolution of sorts. And yet, as far as the main story arc is concerned, answers to many of the most sought-after questions are not revealed. The Good vs Evil love affair was so clichéd that I was persuaded Tad Williams had something unanticipated in mind in store for us. Otherwise, that plotline was just way too easy, and the author has never been known for taking the path of least resistance. Well, I'm glad to report that Williams didn't go for the sugarcoated "All is well that ends well" sort of ending.

Overall, Sleeping Late on Judgement Day is another fun and entertaining read. Although some will likely find the lack of resolution off-putting, this final volume remains a fine conclusion to what has been a cool series filled with captivating concepts and engaging protagonists. And it's Tad Williams' most accessible work thus far!

The final verdict: 7.75/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Arthur C. Clarke's classic, Rendezvous With Rama, for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

An enormous cylindrical object appears in Earth's solar system, hurtling toward the sun. A ship is sent to explore the mysterious craft-which the denizens of the solar system name Rama-and what they find is intriguing evidence of a civilization far more advanced than ours. They find an interior stretching over 50 kilometers; a forbidding cylindrical sea; mysterious and inaccessible buildings; and strange machine-animal hybrids, or "biots," that inhabit the ship. But what they don't find is an alien presence. So who-and where-are the Ramans?

Often listed as one of Clarke's finest novels, Rendezvous With Rama has won both the Hugo and the Nebula Awards. A fast-paced and compelling story of an enigmatic encounter with alien technology, Rendezvous With Rama offers both answers and unsolved mysteries that continue to fascinate readers decades after its first publication.

Early cover rough for Mark Lawrence's THE LIAR'S KEY

Fantasy author Mark Lawrence recently posted Jason Chan's early sketch for the cover of the upcoming The Liar's Key on his blog. He explains that they are trying to unite the two styles used for the US and UK covers of Prince of Fools and merge them into something that will be suitable for both publishers and markets.

Follow this link to learn more about this. . .

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can download the first volume of Bradley P. Beaulieu's The Lays of Anuskaya, the excellent The Winds of Khalakovo, for only 2.51$ here.

Here's the blurb:

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. . .

The second installment, The Straits of Galahesh, is also available for 3.79$ here, as is the third volume, The Flames of Shadam Khoreh here.

In addition, you can also download Beaulieu's collection of short fiction, Lest Our Passage Be Forgotten, for only 2.51$ here.

Here's the blurb:

With The Winds of Khalakovo, Bradley P. Beaulieu established himself as a talented new voice in epic fantasy.

With his premiere short story collection, Beaulieu demonstrates his ability to weave tales that explore other worlds in ways that are at once bold, imaginative, and touching.

Lest Our Passage Be Forgotten and Other Stories contains 17 stories that range from the epic to the heroic, some in print for the first time.

Win a set of Margaret Weis and Robert Krammes’ STORM RIDERS and THE SEVENTH SIGIL

Thanks to the generosity of the folks at Tor Books, I have a set of Margaret Weis and Robert Krammes’ Storm Riders and The Seventh Sigil up for grabs! For more info about the final volume: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

Margaret Weis and co-author Robert Krammes bring the enthralling Dragon Brigade trilogy to a thrilling conclusion in The Seven Sigil, a sweeping novel of worldwide war and personal redemption.

Five hundred years ago, a clan of rebels was banished to the bottom of the enchanted world of Aeronne; ever since, these Bottom Dwellers have sought revenge, and now they are waging all-out war on the rest of humanity. Their deadly “contramagic” beams destroy buildings and attack naval airships, and their demonic drumming brings terrible storms and disrupts the magic of the people and dragons Above. The attack of their full contramagic power will create a magical armageddon.

In an effort to prevent further death, Captain Stephano de Guichen leads the Dragon Brigade, taking the fight to the Bottom. But strength of arms alone will not be enough to conquer their foe.

As the Bottom Dwellers’ blood magic eats away at the world, those Above realize their only possible defense lies in the heretical secrets of contramagic. Loyal priests must decide whether to protect the Church, or risk its destruction in pursuit of the truth.

Only the Dragon Brigade can prevent an endless dark age. Their epic battle will test the mettle of those thrown into the breach, and determine the fate of this magical world.

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam) with the header "SIGIL." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.

Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.

Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.

Good luck to all the participants!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can download William Goldman's The Princess Bride for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Anyone who lived through the 1980s may find it impossible—inconceivable, even—to equate The Princess Bride with anything other than the sweet, celluloid romance of Westley and Buttercup, but the film is only a fraction of the ingenious storytelling you'll find in these pages. Rich in character and satire, the novel is set in 1941 and framed cleverly as an “abridged” retelling of a centuries-old tale set in the fabled country of Florin that's home to “Beasts of all natures and descriptions. Pain. Death. Brave men. Coward men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passions.”

You can also download Stephen King's classic, The Shining, for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Jack Torrance’s new job at the Overlook Hotel is the perfect chance for a fresh start. As the off-season caretaker at the atmospheric old hotel, he’ll have plenty of time to spend reconnecting with his family and working on his writing. But as the harsh winter weather sets in, the idyllic location feels ever more remote . . . and more sinister. And the only one to notice the strange and terrible forces gathering around the Overlook is Danny Torrance, a uniquely gifted five-year-old.

And you can still download Orson Scott Card's classic Ender's Game for only 3.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race's next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew "Ender" Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn't make the cut—young Ender is the Wiggin drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training.

Ender's skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity. Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders. His psychological battles include loneliness, fear that he is becoming like the cruel brother he remembers, and fanning the flames of devotion to his beloved sister.

Is Ender the general Earth needs? But Ender is not the only result of the genetic experiments. The war with the Buggers has been raging for a hundred years, and the quest for the perfect general has been underway for almost as long. Ender's two older siblings are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways. Between the three of them lie the abilities to remake a world. If, that is, the world survives.

Ender's Game is the winner of the 1985 Nebula Award for Best Novel and the 1986 Hugo Award for Best Novel.

You can also get your hands on Neil Gaiman's American Gods for only 3.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

First published in 2001, American Gods became an instant classic—an intellectual and artistic benchmark from the multiple-award-winning master of innovative fiction, Neil Gaiman. Now discover the mystery and magic of American Gods in this tenth anniversary edition. Newly updated and expanded with the author’s preferred text, this commemorative volume is a true celebration of a modern masterpiece by the one, the only, Neil Gaiman.

A storm is coming . . .

Locked behind bars for three years, Shadow did his time, quietly waiting for the magic day when he could return to Eagle Point, Indiana. A man no longer scared of what tomorrow might bring, all he wanted was to be with Laura, the wife he deeply loved, and start a new life.

But just days before his release, Laura and Shadow’s best friend are killed in an accident. With his life in pieces and nothing to keep him tethered, Shadow accepts a job from a beguiling stranger he meets on the way home, an enigmatic man who calls himself Mr. Wednesday. A trickster and rogue, Wednesday seems to know more about Shadow than Shadow does himself.

Life as Wednesday’s bodyguard, driver, and errand boy is far more interesting and dangerous than Shadow ever imagined—it is a job that takes him on a dark and strange road trip and introduces him to a host of eccentric characters whose fates are mysteriously intertwined with his own. Along the way Shadow will learn that the past never dies; that everyone, including his beloved Laura, harbors secrets; and that dreams, totems, legends, and myths are more real than we know. Ultimately, he will discover that beneath the placid surface of everyday life a storm is brewing—an epic war for the very soul of America—and that he is standing squarely in its path.

Relevant and prescient, American Gods has been lauded for its brilliant synthesis of “mystery, satire, sex, horror, and poetic prose” (Michael Dirda, Washington Post Book World) and as a modern phantasmagoria that “distills the essence of America” (Seattle Post-Intelligencer). It is, quite simply, an outstanding work of literary imagination that will endure for generations.

You can also download John Scalzi's Old Man's War for only 3.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday. First he visited his wife's grave. Then he joined the army.

The good news is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space. The bad news is that planets fit to live on are scarce-and aliens willing to fight for them are common. The universe, it turns out, is a hostile place.

So: we fight. To defend Earth (a target for our new enemies, should we let them get close enough) and to stake our own claim to planetary real estate. Far from Earth, the war has gone on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding.

Earth itself is a backwater. The bulk of humanity's resources are in the hands of the Colonial Defense Force, which shields the home planet from too much knowledge of the situation. What's known to everybody is that when you reach retirement age, you can join the CDF. They don't want young people; they want people who carry the knowledge and skills of decades of living. You'll be taken off Earth and never allowed to return. You'll serve your time at the front. And if you survive, you'll be given a generous homestead stake of your own, on one of our hard-won colony planets.

John Perry is taking that deal. He has only the vaguest idea what to expect. Because the actual fight, light-years from home, is far, far harder than he can imagine-and what he will become is far stranger.

At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.

You can still download Janny Wurts' Curse of the Mistwraith for only 3.79$ here.

Here's the blurb:

The stunning first volume in Janny Wurts’s epic tale of two half-brothers cursed to life-long enmity.

The world of Athera lives in eternal fog, its skies obscured by the malevolent Mistwraith. Only the combined powers of two half-brothers can challenge the Mistwraith’s stranglehold: Arithon, Master of Shadow and Lysaer, Lord of Light.

Arithon and Lysaer will find that they are inescapably bound inside a pattern of events dictated by their own deepest convictions. Yet there is more at stake than one battle with the Mistwraith – as the sorcerers of the Fellowship of Seven know well. For between them the half-brothers hold the balance of the world, its harmony and its future, in their hands.

You can also download the second volume of Wurts' The Wars of Light and Shadow, The Ships of Merior, for only 3.79$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Janny Wurts’s epic tale of two half-brothers cursed to life-long enmity continues in this spectacular second volume.

The half-brothers Arithon, Master of Shadow, and Lysaer, Lord of Light, have defeated the Mistwraith and dispersed the fogs that smothered Athera’s skies. But their victory comes at a high price: the Mistwraith has set them at odds under a powerful curse of vengeance. The two princes are locked in deadly enmity, with the fates of nations and the balance of the world’s mystical powers entangled in their feud.

Arithon, forced out of hiding, finds himself hounded by Lysaer and his mighty army. He must take to his natural element – the seas – in order to evade pursuit and steal the initiative. However, his efforts are impeded by outside magical factions, not to mention a drunken prophet sent to safeguard his life, but who seems determined to wreck his cause by misadventure.

In addition, Hunter's Run, a collaboration between George R. R. Martin, Daniel Abraham, and Gardner Dozois, is available for only 3.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Running from poverty and hopelessness, Ramón Espejo boarded one of the great starships of the mysterious, repulsive Enye. But the new life he found on the far-off planet of São Paulo was no better than the one he abandoned. Then one night his rage and too much alcohol get the better of him. Deadly violence ensues, forcing Ramón to flee into the wilderness.

Mercifully, almost happily alone—far from the loud, bustling hive of humanity that he detests with sociopathic fervor—the luckless prospector is finally free to search for the one rich strike that could make him wealthy. But what he stumbles upon instead is an advanced alien race in hiding: desperate fugitives, like him, on a world not their own. Suddenly in possession of a powerful, dangerous secret and caught up in an extraordinary manhunt on a hostile, unpredictable planet, Ramón must first escape . . . and then, somehow, survive.

And his deadliest enemy is himself.

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (September 29th)

In hardcover:

David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks is up two spots, finishing the week at number 4.

In paperback:

George R. R. Martin's A Dance With Dragons is down four positions, ending the week at number 15.

George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones is down three positions, ending the week at number 16.

Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane is up two positions, ending the week at number 18 (trade paperback).

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Alice Hoffman's magical realism title, The Red Garden, for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

The Red Garden introduces us to the luminous and haunting world of Blackwell, Massachusetts, capturing the unexpected turns in its history and in our own lives.

In exquisite prose, Hoffman offers a transforming glimpse of small-town America, presenting us with some three hundred years of passion, dark secrets, loyalty, and redemption in a web of tales where characters' lives are intertwined by fate and by their own actions.

From the town's founder, a brave young woman from England who has no fear of blizzards or bears, to the young man who runs away to New York City with only his dog for company, the characters in The Red Garden are extraordinary and vivid: a young wounded Civil War soldier who is saved by a passionate neighbor, a woman who meets a fiercely human historical character, a poet who falls in love with a blind man, a mysterious traveler who comes to town in the year when summer never arrives.

At the center of everyone’s life is a mysterious garden where only red plants can grow, and where the truth can be found by those who dare to look.

Beautifully crafted, shimmering with magic, The Red Garden is as unforgettable as it is moving.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Peter Watts' The Colonel for only 0.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Colonel Keaton is in trouble. His wife has retreated into a virtual heaven and his son remains missing after joining an extrasolar mission to track down an alien race. He is presently tasked by his superiors with the threat assessment of hived human intelligences, one of which successfully attacks a compound under his watch. Now, one of the strongest hive minds in the world approaches Keaton with an offer that could completely change his world.

At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.

Win an Advance Reading Copy of Peter F. Hamilton's THE ABYSS BEYOND DREAMS

I'm giving away my ARC of Peter F. Hamilton's The Abyss Beyond Dreams to one lucky winner! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

The wait is over. Bestselling science fiction master Peter F. Hamilton is back with the first of a new two-book saga set in his popular Commonwealth universe. Distinguished by deft plotting, a teeming cast of characters, dazzling scientific speculation, and imagination that brings the truly alien to life, The Abyss Beyond Dreams reveals Hamilton as a storyteller of astonishing ingenuity and power.

The year is 3326. Nigel Sheldon, one of the founders of the Commonwealth, receives a visit from the Raiel—self-appointed guardians of the Void, the enigmatic construct at the core of the galaxy that threatens the existence of all that lives. The Raiel convince Nigel to participate in a desperate scheme to infiltrate the Void.

Once inside, Nigel discovers that humans are not the only life-forms to have been sucked into the Void, where the laws of physics are subtly different and mental powers indistinguishable from magic are commonplace. The humans trapped there are afflicted by an alien species of biological mimics—the Fallers—that are intelligent but merciless killers.

Yet these same aliens may hold the key to destroying the threat of the Void forever—if Nigel can uncover their secrets. As the Fallers’ relentless attacks continue, and the fragile human society splinters into civil war, Nigel must uncover the secrets of the Fallers—before he is killed by the very people he has come to save.

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam) with the header "ABYSS." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.

Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.

Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.

Good luck to all the participants!

Musical Interlude

Little blast from the past! ;-)

Extract from David Hair's SCARLET TIDES

Here's an extract from David Hair's Scarlet Tides, sequel to Mage's Blood, compliments of the folks at Jo Fletcher Books. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

The Moontide has come, and a scarlet tide of Rondian legions is flooding into the East, slaughtering and pillaging in the name of Emperor Constant. But the Scytale of Corineus, the source of ultimate magical power, has slipped through the emperor’s fingers. His ruthless Inquisitors are desperately seeking the artefact, before it falls into the hands of those who would bring down the Empire.

But there are some who have pledged to end the cycle of war and restore peace to Urte. They are the unlikeliest of heroes: a failed mage, a gypsy and a lowly market-girl.

As East and West clash more violently than ever before, Urte will discover that love, loyalty and truth can be forged into weapons as deadly as swords and magic.


Noros, on the continent of Yuros
Julsep 928
1st month of the Moontide

Jeris Muhren, Watch Captain of Norostein, descended the clockwise-curving stairs. The darkened stairwell was narrow, damp, and treacherous. A dank, stale smell rose from below, along with the clank and clatter of stone and steel. It was early morning on a summer’s day outside, but winter’s cold still lurked in the dungeons of Norostein’s Governor’s Palace. There were no guards down here, unusually. Their absence made him wary, and he loosened his sword as he strode on.

He pushed open the door at the bottom of the stair and entered a small chamber, where he was surprised to find another before him: a youngish-looking man with a weak chin partially hidden by a wispy blond beard. His thin body was draped in heavy velvet robes and a gold band encircled his worry-creased brow.

Muhren hastily dropped to his knee. “Your Majesty,” he murmured. What’s he doing here?

“Captain Muhren,” King Phyllios III of Noros responded formally. “Please, stand.”

Muhren rose, puzzled. Phyllios III was a puppet ruler, with the governor’s hand firmly up his ass—at least, that was the word on the street. The failed Revolt had broken the Noros monarchy, leaving the king a powerless sideshow in a decrepit palace. The Governor ruled Noros now, in the name of the emperor—but right now that same Governor was a prisoner in his own dungeons.

“My King, you should not be here.”

Phyllios shrugged lightly. “The guards were ordered away an hour ago, Captain, and no one saw me arrive. I am not so confined to my palace as you might think.”

Muhren blinked. Last day on the job and I’m still learning.

“How is our prisoner, Captain?” the king asked. His voice was tentative, but there was a certain vengeful cunning Muhren had not heard before. Phyllios had been a young man during the Revolt, when he had seen his people crushed. The Rondians made an example of him, forcing him to become a parade attraction: he had been flogged naked before his people before being forced to crawl before the emperor and beg forgiveness. That had broken whatever manner of man he might have become and turned him into a powerless cringer— at least, so Muhren had once thought. Appointing the watch captain was one of the very few prerogatives left to the king and Muhren had been Phyllios’s choice. That pact had revealed a stronger man than most knew, but he was still very cautious, even timid.

“He is deeply unhappy, my liege. Cold, uncomfortable, and very much afraid.”

“Of whom? Surely not you or me.” Phyllios’s tone was self mocking, but not self-pitying.

“Of the Inquisition, my liege.”

“Inquisitors are coming here?” Phyllios’s calm wavered.

“Inevitably, my liege. He’s an Imperial Governor, arrested for treason. They will most certainly be here in days, and they will take him away and break him in the process of deciding whether he is guilty of anything. The emperor cannot afford to permit any governor to appear to be acting beyond his authority.”

Phyllios nodded gravely. “What will they learn from him, Captain?”

Ah, now that is the question. I don’t care about anything else they might learn, but they will inevitably find out about Alaron, Cym, and the Scytale, and my own role in those events. And then all Hel will burst free.

But for your own safety, I can’t tell you this, my King. Muhren had ransacked the governor’s offi ces, to give himself a legitimate reason to arrest and imprison Vult in the aftermath of the struggle to reach the Scytale. Now he lied to his king. “There was nothing altogether startling in what we found, my liege, just evidence of the usual corrupt games men like Vult play. Cronyism. Backhanders. Illegal interests. Nothing that will rebound against the throne.”

“How many people know he is here, Captain?” the king asked.

“Too many, my liege.” Vult’s arrest had been carried out with the help of a squad of soldiers on the outskirts of the city; that had been unavoidable. Muhren wasn’t naïve enough to believe they would stay silent on the matter, especially as they had brought back two more bodies, Vult’s accomplices, and buried Jarius Langstrit in a secret grave.

“Do you wish him to be questioned, Captain? By the Inquisitors, that is.” Phyllios’s eyes narrowed with a shrewdness he seldom displayed in public. “Is there aught he might say that would imperil you?”

Muhren hesitated. That’s the thing, isn’t it? “A trained Inquisitor can learn anything there is to learn, my liege. From anyone. If they decided there was something to be learned, they would question anyone connected.” He met his king’s eyes.

Phyllios nodded slowly, hinting at an astuteness few would have credited him. “I will miss you, Muhren. You’ve served Norostein well. I’ll not find another like you.”

Muhren bowed his head, suddenly feeling emotional. He’d put his heart and soul into the Norostein Watch, but the king was right: he had to be gone before the Inquisitors arrived. “I will ensure no trail leads back to you, my liege. And I will be gone by sunset.”

“Farewell, Captain.” Phyllios reached out and patted Muhren’s arm, the closest to an affectionate gesture that Muhren had ever seen from the withdrawn, lonely man.

“Farewell sire. May you live forever.”

Phyllios shook his head slightly. “No one cheats death, my friend. It is only a question of what we achieve in life, and of how we meet our end. These are the things that matter.” He sighed heavily. “I will pray for you, and for the soul of our prisoner.” Then he was gone.

It’s how we meet our end . . .

Muhren composed himself for a few moments, then he turned to the opposite door and descended further into the dungeon. The king was right: the guards were gone. His boots echoed down the silent corridor.

Belonius Vult did not turn immediately when Muhren unlocked the door to his cell and entered. He shut the door behind him before appraising the governor coldly.

Vult was a pure-blood mage, twice Muhren’s blood- rank and roughly four times as powerful. That was how things worked with the gnosis. We are literally a different breed to other men—and to each other. Some magi bore that difference with humility, placing their skills at the service of the whole, but most were like Vult: arrogant beyond belief. The deserving Blessed, unchallengeable, and utterly self-serving.

Vult turned at last, and his eyes blazed with fury as he recognized his visitor. His shoulders hunched as he drew in a deep breath and his hands unfurled in whatever gesture would accompany the devastating spell he ached to unleash. But he was imprisoned in a dungeon and bound by a Chain-rune, rendering him impotent. A Chain- rune usually only constrained one weaker than oneself, and Vult was far stronger than Muhren in gnostic abilities— but it also prevented gnostic energies from replenishing, and Vult had been utterly exhausted when he had been captured. For perhaps the first time in his adult life, Belonius Vult was helpless.

Despite his plight, he retained a certain majesty. His robes might be soiled, his face dirty, and his hair and beard tangled, but his bearing was more regal than the king’s. If he was afraid, it didn’t show; Muhren could see only anger and vengefulness. He was obviously plotting exactly how he would visit retribution when someone inevitably intervened on his behalf.

“So, do you have the Scytale? Not that you would have the wit to understand it,” Vult asked spitefully. “You sword- swinging oaf: do you not realize that the Inquisition is coming? They’ll take it from you and pluck out your eyes for merely looking at it.”

“Yours too, Vult.”

“Langstrit died groveling,” Vult jeered. “Eighteen years spent as an imbecile and he regained sanity just long enough to die at my hands. I wonder if he thought it worth it?”

“To keep the Scytale from you? I’m sure he did.”

Vult scowled, and belatedly changed tactics. “Muhren, it’s not too late for you. I’ve read treatises on the Scytale. I can unravel it and together we could use it. We’re both men of Noros— veterans of the same war. Together, we could use the Scytale to make Noros great— the equal of Pallas.”

Muhren had been expecting the offer, but he would not have trusted Belonius Vult with a single fiber of his being, not if he were the last man alive. “We don’t need your help, Vult.”

Vult’s eyes flashed. “We? We, is it? Think what you’re saying, man! Alaron Mercer is a green-bud—a failed mage. And that Rimoni bitch has barely a trickle of gnostic- blood. The little quim has no value at all. It’s hardly a cabal to inspire fear in your enemies, is it? Let alone to make Mater-Imperia tremble. You need me, Muhren, if you’re going to survive, let alone Ascend. You should be begging for my aid.”

Muhren looked at him levelly. Vult might be considered devious and cunning, but he was entirely predictable in his lust for gain and glory, dangling dreams as bait, and always with himself at the center of the universe. “Where is Darius Fyrell?” he asked, the only question he had come to ask. In the battle for the Scytale, only Fyrell had escaped. He couldn’t afford loose ends.

Vult sneered. “Fyrell? Out there, planning my rescue, of course. Seeking the opportunity to strike back.”

“What did he know?”

“Everything,” Vult told him, gloating.

Muhren considered that. Darius Fyrell had been Vult’s man for a long time, so it was highly probable that he had known exactly what they hunted. He may even have been among those who had questioned General Jarius Langstrit during his secret incarceration.

Fyrell was a formidable mage—a necromancer, primarily—and a total blackguard. His loyalty to Vult was not blind, but it was strong. Tesla Anborn had burned him badly, but necromancers were deathmages: they could survive dreadful injuries. He did not doubt that Fyrell was out there somewhere, and quite capable of launching a one- man assault on these dungeons.

“Where was your rendezvous point?”

“There was none,” Vult replied with a satisfied smile. “We were in constant communication— arranging a meeting point was needless.” He looked down his nose at Muhren, taking in the bandages, the dented armor, and bruised face. “He’s probably in better shape than you are.”

“Who else knew?”

Vult considered the question like a lord contemplating the request of a vassal. “Besko. He’s dead now; Langstrit burned his face off . Koll . . . I know not, nor care. The little shit had his uses, but his role was— well, shall we say temporary.”

“No others?”

Vult rubbed his chin. “None.”

Muhren exhaled heavily. “Good.” He drew his dagger.

Vult’s face changed utterly as the realization struck him that he was not immortal aft er all. His cheeks went ashen and his eyes bulged in their sockets. Beads of sweat erupted like boils on his brow. “No—Muhren, think—! The riches—”

He tried to dodge away, but he was no warrior, and without the gnosis he was no stronger than any other man. Muhren grabbed his collar and pinned him to the wall with his left hand. His right brought the dagger to Vult’s left breast.

“Jeris— no! Please— ” Vult’s legs gave way and the front of his robes darkened as his bladder emptied. His panicked eyes locked on Muhren’s, pleading desperately.

He drove the wide blade in, punching through cloth and flesh until it skewered the madly pumping muscle beneath. Scarlet soaked the robes around the wound. With his gnosis powers exhausted, the governor was unable to call on whatever powers he would normally have invoked. His eyes emptied slowly, and Muhren let the dead weight slide down the wall. The smell of feces filled the room as the dying mage voided his bowels. His last breath bubbled out, and a trickle of blood spilled from the corner of his mouth as his legs quivered and kicked once, then he lay there, lifeless to the naked eye.

Using his gnosis, Muhren saw a faint mist forming at the man’s lips and nostrils. He focused his will and spoke a single word: “Dissipate.” Nothing dramatic happened, nothing more than an unseen wind, a breeze, that blew the mist away before it could form an entity that might linger. This spell could only be cast at the point of death, and it meant no ghost would haunt the body of the governor; there would be nothing for an Inquisitor to summon back and question. Vult was utterly dead. Not even his necromancer friend Fyrell could restore him now.

Muhren pulled the dagger out and wiped it clean on Vult’s sleeve. He’d killed before, many times, with blade and gnosis: he’d been a soldier in the Revolt, and there’d been the odd criminal resisting arrest since. But he’d never been involved in anything so coldblooded as this. He felt soiled, as if Vult’s blood were staining his soul.

He sheathed the dagger and walked away. He left his badge of office in the upper chamber, to be returned to the king. His house was already emptied of anything that held meaning to him. A pair of packs were strapped to the horse waiting in the courtyard above. There was a funeral to attend, and then the road awaited.


Alaron Mercer stood and watched his mother burn.

It was customary to burn the bodies of magi before they were interred. No mage wanted to be bound after death to serve some necromancer or wizard as a slave- familiar; burning the body helped dissipate the soul, allowing it to move on rather than leaving it vulnerable to summoning and control. But watching his mother’s cremation, knowing that she’d loved him in her harsh way, was horrible. He could feel tears etching his cheeks.

Alaron was a young man of middling height and light build, though he was gradually filling out. Thick reddish hair framed a face that was slowly losing its boyish uncertainty, a firm jaw and cheekbones emerging from beneath the puppy-fat. He was clad in traveling gear, with a sword at his side. He had been failed as a mage, banned from practicing the gnosis, but an amber periapt was tucked inside his shirt nevertheless. He hadn’t failed through incompetence but because of corruption, and this would no longer deter him. He would be what he was meant to be; let the authorities stop him if they could.

To his left stood Pars Logan, a veteran of the Revolt; he’d organized the funeral. His shoulders were stooped now, and his spine curved, and the wind lift ed what was left of his fine gray hair, but he stood as straight as he could. He’d known Tesla Anborn since the First Crusade, when she’d lost her eyes and a little of her sanity, but loyalty was everything to men like him.

On Alaron’s right was Ramon Sensini. His small, thin frame was planted solidly, his lean, dark features and stoic expression older than his eighteen years. Ramon was Silacian, his mage- blood the result of his tavern- girl mother’s rape. Despite his ignoble birth he was richly dressed. Aft er graduating from the Arcanum, he had returned to his home village, and as the only mage there, he had prospered. His graduation had been conditional on his serving in the Crusade and now he was dressed in the scarlet and black of a Rondian battlemage. He was off to join his legion that very day.

The only other man present was a Kore priest, a non-mage cleric barely older than Alaron. He looked bored as he ran through the rites, but he was watching every movement hawkishly. No doubt he had someone to report to; the death of a mage was always noteworthy news to someone. The burning grounds of Lower Town were on the shores of Lake Tucerle, where most of the poor spread their ashes, but Tesla’s would be interred in the Anborn family vault, behind the family manor out in the countryside. Alaron could not stay, but Pars had promised to lay her to rest there himself.

As the sun came up, the pyre collapsed in on itself and the skeleton that was emerging from the raging flames fell into the midst of the blaze, sending heat rolling off in waves.

As Alaron choked back a sob, his shoulders shaking, Ramon put a hand on his shoulder. “Amici, my windship leaves in an hour. I need to be on it,” he said in a gentle voice, devoid of the lively wit that normally colored his words.

Alaron nodded. He felt hollowed out, but at the same time, he felt readier than he ever had to face whatever life threw at him next. His mother was dead and his father was hundreds of miles away. The girl he’d loved had broken his heart, then stolen the greatest treasure in the world. His best friend was about to go to war, and the Inquisition was on its way— and yet, despite all this, he felt oddly prepared. “I understand. I just need a moment longer.” He faced Ramon and hugged him to him. “Thank you,” he whispered as tears continued to roll from his eyes.

“Take care of yourself, amici. And give Cym a good spanking when you catch up with her,” Ramon added with a twitch of his mouth. “Who knows, she might enjoy it.”

“I wish you were coming with me.”

“Me too, amici, but I’ll be dead if I don’t go to the legion.” Not only was Ramon’s adopted paterfamilias the head of a dreaded Silacian familioso; he also had Ramon’s mother in his hands. He had insisted Ramon go on Crusade, and Ramon had no choice but to obey.

They hugged a final time, made promises about contacting each other, and then the Silacian hurried away, leaving Alaron to stare glassily into the cremation fire as the wind rolled across the lake, flattening the waves.

The glow was dying down and the sun rising above the mountains surrounding the wide sloping valley when Jeris Muhren joined him. The Watch Captain cut a heroic figure, even dressed for the road. His stallion snorted impatiently as he dismounted and strode to Alaron’s side and the other horse tethered to the rails sidled nervously. Alaron’s horse was smaller, thinner and far less impressive; they were a mirror of their masters.

Muhren made a Kore-genuflection to the pyre, his face solemn. “She was a good woman,” he observed. “A true- hearted daughter of Noros.”

“Da mostly brought me up on his own,” Alaron replied. “Ma was just this . . . scary thing.” He wiped at his eyes. “She found it hard to love.” His throat caught. “So did I,” he admitted.

“What she endured would have marred anyone. That she retained her dignity and morality is a tribute to her, and to Vann. Few men would have given her the love and support he did, for so little in return.” Muhren put a hand on his shoulder. “They both had my utmost respect. I thought of Vann as a brother. He was immense during the Revolt, despite worrying constantly for you and Tesla at home.” He gave a rueful smile. “Indeed, I hoped to be his brother in truth by marrying Tesla’s sister, your Aunt Elena. However, my feelings were not returned.”

Alaron wanted to ask more, but for now it could wait. “We should go,” he said. “If you’ve done all you have to?” They both knew what he meant.

Muhren nodded grimly. “It’s done. The alarm won’t be raised until we’ve left the city, provided we leave within the hour.”

Belonius Vult is dead. Alaron thought about that. The Traitor of Lukhazan, finally given what he deserved. He couldn’t help a hard smile forming at the thought. Let the bells ring out.

After one final silent farewell he turned his back on the pyre, hugged the old soldier and then went to his horse. The stallion was nipping at it belligerently, but Muhren curbed its aggression with a word. They swung easily into the saddles and the warm westerly wind tousled their hair as they turned to face it.

“We’ll leave by Hurring Gate,” Muhren said, fixing his cloak-clasp.

Alaron nodded, but his mind was already questing ahead, returning to the question that had been plaguing him for the last three days. Where are you, Cym?

They were well into the countryside, trotting through woodland fringing the golden wheat fields that sprawled beneath the foothills of the Alps, when behind them arose a distant clamor: the bells of the city greeting the death of its most hated son.