Tom Lloyd contest winners!

Our two winners will get their hands on a copy of Tom Lloyd's The Stormcaller, compliments of the cool folks at Pyr. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winners are:

- David Lovely, from Chicago, Illinois, USA

- Maria Khomenko, from Mountain View, California, USA (Lani on

Thanks to all the participants!

Win a copy of Karen Miller's STAR WARS: WILD SPACE

Since there is no way I can fit this one into my reading schedule, I'm giving it away to one lucky winner! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

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

George R. R. Martin's ASOIAF and Robert Jordan's WoT 2009 calendars

What better way to welcome the new year and help raise funds for two worthy causes than by purchasing one of these two 2009 calendars!?!

GRRM's ASOIAF calendar will soon be available from the Dabel Brothers, and you can pre-order your own copy here.

As for Robert Jordan's WoT calendar, a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the amyloidosis research at the Mayo Clinic. So by order your copy here, you not only help raise funds for breast cancer research, but you also help find a cure to the illness which took Robert Jordan away. Interestingly enough, the author selected the art for this calendar shortly before passing away.

Thanks for your support!:-)

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (November 25th)

In hardcover:

Stephen King's Just after Sunset debuts at number 2.

Laurell K. Hamilton's Swallowing Darkness is down seven positions, ending its second week on the charts at number 10.

Stephenie Meyer's The Host is down two spots, finishing the week at number 15.

Orson Scott Card's Ender in Exile debuts at number 16. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Charlaine Harris' From Dead to Worse is down five positions, ending its eighth week on the bestseller list at number 27.

Todd McCaffrey's Dragonheart debuts at number 31.

R. A. Salvatore's The Pirate King is down fourteen spots, finishing its sixth week on the NYT list at number 35. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

In paperback:

Sherrilyn Kenyon's One Silent Night is down one position, ending its second week on the prestigious list at number 2.

Stephen King's Duma Key maintains its position at number 8. This marks the novel's fourth week on the charts.

J. R. R. Tolkien's The Children of Húrin is down eleven spots, finishing its fifth week on the NYT list at number 23.

Karen Traviss' Gears of War: Aspho Fields is down thirteen positions, ending its third week on the bestseller list at number 33. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Charlaine Harris' seven Sookie Stackhouse novels rank from number 3 to number 21.

Patrick Rothfuss' Heifer International Fundraiser

This from Rothfuss' blog:

What's that you say? You'd like to make the world a better place while simultaneously winning fabulous prizes?

Well today is your lucky day.

Heifer International is my favorite charity. It helps people raise themselves up out of poverty and starvation. All over the world Heifer promotes education, sustainable agriculture, local industry, and clean water.

They don't just keep kids from starving, they make it so families can take care of themselves. They give goats, sheep, and chickens to families so their children have milk to drink, warm clothes to wear, and eggs to eat.

Please check out Pat's post for all the details. What it comes down to is that the author will match the amount donated by fans who wish to support this cause. His objective is to raise 30,000$, and they already have over 21,000$ in the bank.

And for every 10$ you donate, you get a chance to win one of the many cool prizes donated by both Patrick Rothfuss and countless SFF authors.

The fundraiser ends on December 11th, so check it out now!

The Engine's Child

I wasn't planning on reading Holly Phillips' newest novel, but something about the premise kept nagging at me. And since I have a sweet spot for Canadian authors, when I found myself with some room in my reading schedule I decided to give it a shot.

Descendants of a society who long ago fled a world ruined by magical and technological excess now live on an island at the edge of a world-spanning ocean. Although religious and temporal authorities forbid even the thought of a return to their erstwhile domain, not all the inhabitants are content to resign themselves to exile. A secret brotherhood seeks to open doors which might lead back to their damaged homeland, while others seek new lands in the uncharted seas surrounding them.

I found the backdrop so intriguing that I had to give this novel a chance. Unfortunately, the execution of it all fell flat, resulting in an uneven read that left a lot to be desired.

The worldbuilding is beyond the shadow of a doubt the most interesting facet of this book. The universe is reminescent of India and Sri Lanka, and as such it's quite unlike what's out there. The presence of technology, though heavily regulated by the powers that be, also adds a little something to this tale. Phillips has an eye for details, and the imagery is arresting. The narrative is rich and evocative. And yet, we learn very little about the back story, the characters, and the larger scheme of things. Hence, for all that richness of details in the various POV characters' narrative, the author fails to flesh out the overall story itself.

Holly Phillips also writes poetry, and it shows in her flowery prose. Though this occasionally slows down the rhythm of the novel, it didn't get in the way of the storytelling. Still, even if The Engine's Child is a relatively short book, the pace drags in several portions of the novel.

What ultimately killed it for me was the subpar characterization. The principal protagonist, Moth, is particularly unbalanced. At times brilliant and engaging, she sadly is insipid and annoying for the most part. Lady Vashmarna starts off as probably the most intriguing character of the bunch, but gradually loses substance as the story progresses. The rest of the cast is comprised of more or less uninspired men and women who are totally forgettable.

There is a lot of inner musing going on in every POV, and most of these ponderings add very little to the tale and seem to go nowhere. In addition, there is not much in the way of revelations, and readers are often forced to interpret events on their own. To me, it felt as though the author wasn't fully in control of her story.

The vivid prose will likely satisfy some readers. Alas, poor characterization and uneven plotlines will certainly put off others. Interestingly enough, Holly Phillips' The Engine's Child is the sort of work which gets nominated every year for a variety of SFF awards and which leaves fans on every SFF message board scratching their heads in confusion.

The final verdict: 6.25/10

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

Exclusive excerpt from Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman's BONES OF THE DRAGON

Bones of the Dragon is the first volume in a new 6-book cycle from bestselling authors Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. Though their latest efforts have not been on par with the series which made them famous, everyone seems to be very excited about Dragonships of Vindras. Tor Books acquired the rights for a seven-figure sum, and they are backing up the release of this first volume with a 200,000$ national marketing campaign. Everyone involved hints that this series could perhaps even rival with The Deathgate Cycle.

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

We'll have to wait and see whether or not Bones of the Dragon will live up to the hype. But here's your chance to read the first chapter. I will post another excerpt in December. . .



The hunt had not gone well. The four young men had left their village six days ago, hoping to bring down game for their people. They had caught only a few thin and undernourished rabbits, which went to feed the hungry hunters. Discouraged, the young men had headed back home.

The Torgun were not generally hunters, except for sport. The clan raised cattle and sheep, ducks and geese, housing them in byres during the winter, feeding them grain grown during the summer months. But due to excessive rain, the grain harvest had been poor last fall. The winter, the dark months of Svanses, had been unusually long and bitterly cold, killing animals and people. Spring had brought hope to the Torgun, but the time of spring, Desiria, proved a mockery. The goddess Akaria’s rains came early and then ceased. Now, in late spring, the young crops withered in the dry ground.

Even under ideal conditions, raising crops was always difficult in this land of cold and snow. The growing season was short, the ground rocky and difficult to farm. Despite the hardships, or perhaps because of them, the Vindrasi people had lived here and thrived for centuries. Not even the eldest among them could remember a time as bad as this.

On their return, the group of four friends split up, hoping to cover more ground in their efforts to find game. The brothers, Bjorn and Erdmun, took a different road to the village, using the northern route. Skylan and Garn took the south. These two young men walked in silence. Skylan did not react well to failure, and he was sullen and brooding. Garn was silent because he never spoke unless he had something to say that was worth saying.

The time was morning, near dawn. The young men had risen early, intending to find deer stirring in the gloaming and eating tender green grass or coming to the stream to drink. There were no deer, however, because there was no tender grass. As for the stream, lack of rain had caused it to dwindle to almost nothing. A small child could toddle through the water without wetting her knees.

Skylan watched the sun rise up over the hills, and he grew even glummer. Aylis, the Sun Goddess, was an angry goddess, burning away the clouds that might have brought much- needed rain.

The day would be clear and hot. Again.

“I am beginning to think Aylis hates us,” Skylan said bitterly. “We prayed for the goddess’s light during the harsh season of Svansol, and she was nowhere to be seen, leaving us to the mercy of Svanses and her snow and ice and bitter cold. Now, in the time of Desiria, we cannot rid ourselves of Aylis. We pray to the Goddess of the Waters for rain, but Aylis drives Akaria away, burns our crops, and dries up our water.”

“One would think,” Garn commented with a half smile, “that Torval could exert better control over his women.”

“Perhaps Torval’s women are like ours and do whatever they damn well please,” Skylan muttered, thinking of one woman in particular.

He spoke lightly, but he touched the amulet—a small silver axe—he wore around his neck on a leather thong to appease the God of War in case he should take offense.

“But we should not jest about such matters,” Skylan added hastily. “Torval might be insulted and take out his rage on us.”

“I do not see how the god can cause us to suffer more than we already have,” Garn returned dryly. “We endure the worst winter in memory and wait hopefully for spring. A time of new life, it brings drought and death.”

Frowning, Skylan said nothing. He revered the gods, and he wished Garn would stop talking about them in such a disrespectful, almost mocking tone. Skylan might have said something, but he and Garn had been friends—more like brothers, for they had been raised together—since they were infants, and Skylan knew from experience that arguing with Garn would only encourage him in his irreverence. And so Skylan kept quiet.

Skylan’s faith in the gods of the Vindrasi was simple and unquestioning, perhaps because—as Garn might have said—his faith had not been tried. At the time of his birth, Skylan Ivorson had been blessed by Torval, Chief of the Gods of the Vindras. A spark struck from Torval’s war axe as he fought his enemies in heaven had flashed across the heavens at the very moment Skylan let out his first cry. When Norgaard, Skylan’s father and Chief of the Torgun Clan, told Aldrif, the former Kai Priestess, about the spark and how all in the clan had witnessed it, she affirmed that the God Torval had indeed blessed the child, who would grow up to be a valiant warrior, a savior of his people. The sad fact that his mother had died giving him life made the sign more significant.

Everyone in the Torgun Clan believed in that blessing, especially Skylan. He was the strongest young man in the clan, the boldest warrior, the most skillful with sword and spear and axe. He was handsome, with eyes the color of the waves upon which the Vindrasi sailed their dragonships and hair the color of the golden rays of Aylis. His skin was bronze, his body well formed and well muscled. He carried himself with pride and confidence.

Skylan had taken his place in the shield-wall and killed his first man in battle at the age of fourteen. He had taken his first woman at about that same age, going on to lie with girls who were careless of their virtue or with lowborn girls whose parents hoped that by coupling with the chief ’s son, their daughters would be provided for. As a result, there were several children about the camp who had sea-blue eyes and sun-gold hair.

Skylan cheerfully acknowledged his bastard children and gifted their mothers with presents from time to time, as was expected of him. He had no intention of wedding any of the women, however, and he had ceased his “tomcatting,” as Garn had put it. Two years ago, when he was sixteen, Skylan decided he was in love. Her name was Aylaen Adalbrand, stepdaughter of his father’s friend, Sigurd Adalbrand. She had been fifteen then. She was now seventeen years old.

The three of them—Aylaen, Garn, and Skylan—had been friends from the time their caretakers had laid them on blankets together. The three played together, which was unusual, for girls were generally kept at home to assist with household duties. Aylaen’s father was dead, her mother could not control her, and Aylaen “ran wild,” escaping from her chores to join Skylan and Garn in their play and in their fights. Skylan did not remember what he had done to anger Aylaen—perhaps he had roughly pulled her long red braids. Aylaen had rounded on him like a catamount, punching him in the face, splitting open his lip, bloodying his nose—and knocking him on his rump.

No boy in camp had ever bested Skylan in battle. He’d been so lost in admiration at Aylaen’s spirited attack that he forgot to fight back, and she walked triumphantly off the field, sucking her small bruised knuckles, mantled with the honors of the day.

Two years ago Skylan had told Aylaen that he meant to marry her. True, she had stuck out her tongue and jeered at him, but he was not discouraged. Since that time, he had not slept with another woman. He had made an offer of marriage to her stepfather and Sigurd, after some bargaining, had accepted. Skylan was waiting now only to obtain enough silver to pay Sigurd the bride-price in order to marry her. Marriages were always arranged among the Vindrasi. A woman had the right to refuse a suitor, however, and Aylaen was forever swearing she would never wed him, but she said it in a teasing manner. Skylan was confident she didn’t really mean it. He was the Chief’s son, after all, a valuable catch for any family, as her stepfather well knew.

He should have earned the silver with wealth captured in raids, but things had not gone as planned.

Skylan still considered himself blessed—he was, after all, handsome, strong, healthy, and the most skilled and honored warrior in the clan. But it seemed nothing was going right for him or for the Torgun Clan these days, and Skylan couldn’t understand it. The Torgun had been among the most feared clans of the Vindrasi. In years past, the Torgun’s dragonship, the Venjekar, meaning the Forging, had come back laden with cattle, silver, grain, and the precious jewels demanded by the Dragon Kahg in payment for his services.

Now it seemed the Torgun were cursed.

First there had been the poor harvest, then the unusually cold winter, and now this terrible drought. Raids on their neighbors had not remedied the situation. The Torgun’s neighbors had inexplicably been warned of the coming of the dreaded dragonship, and they’d fled into the hills, taking their treasure and their flocks with them, leaving behind nothing but stray cats and empty iron cooking pots.

Skylan and his warriors were forced to venture into unknown territory, and it seemed their luck had finally turned when they discovered a fat village of fat people and fat cattle. But when Treia, their Bone Priestess, prayed to the Dragon Kahg to join them in battle, the dragon did not answer. Skylan and his fierce band of warriors had not been concerned. They could take this village of blubbery cowards by themselves.

Unfortunately, another group of warriors had also spotted the village. The Venjekar’s lookout had spotted sails numerous as gulls squabbling over a dead fish on the horizon, driving toward them. Skylan had been amazed to recognize the triangular-sailed ships of an ancient foe, the ogres. Considerably outnumbered, Skylan had reluctantly ordered his single dragonship to take to the seas.

He had hated running from a fight, but without their dragon ally, the Torgun could not hope to battle both villagers and the brutish ogres. The faster, lighter Venjekar had skimmed the waves, and they were able to escape before the ogres caught them. Still, no one had celebrated. They had returned home, their ship empty, their warrior souls filled with shame.

“If only the Dragon Kahg had fought for us,” Skylan complained. “We would now be rolling in silver and swimming in cattle. I wonder why the dragon refused to answer Treia’s summons.”

Garn was startled at this sudden change in subject, but he knew how his friend’s mind worked, and thus he managed to make the bounding leap from talking of the gods to discussing the Torgun’s last disastrous raid. He was about to comment, but Skylan didn’t give him a chance.

“I want to go raiding again, but my father will not permit it. Norgaard says that until we know why the gods have turned against us, we will not take to the seas. I hate this!” Skylan exclaimed suddenly, slamming his fist into the trunk of a tree. “I hate sitting about like an old granny, wailing and doing nothing!”

“Norgaard speaks sense, though,” Garn replied. “And no one can call your father an old granny. His warrior days may be behind him, but he has a warrior’s heart still. And his valor lives in his son.”

Garn clapped Skylan on the shoulder. Garn was Skylan’s age, eighteen, his best friend, his cousin, his blood brother. The two had grown up in the same house together, for Garn had been orphaned at birth, his father having died in a raid, his mother dying of a fever. Because his mother had been Norgaard’s half sister, Norgaard and his pregnant wife Edda took Garn to raise as their own.

He and Skylan had been inseparable. Many considered their friendship odd, for the young men were vastly different. Garn was the quiet one, people said. He was taller than Skylan, slender, not so muscular. Garn was an adequate warrior, not a great one like his cousin. He was fair- complected with brownish-blond hair and somber, thoughtful brown eyes.

As to their unusual friendship, Garn had given it thought, coming to the conclusion that it was their differences that drew them together, as iron to the lodestone. Skylan, by contrast, never questioned their bond. He knew that Garn was his friend as he knew the sun would rise in the morning.

Skylan was thinking about what Garn had said about his father not being an old granny. Skylan was not certain he agreed, though it made him sad and ashamed to have to admit it. The warrior exploits of Norgaard Ivorson, Chief of the Torgun, were legendary. Then, five years ago, during the heat of battle, Norgaard had leaped off a high stone fortification in pursuit of his enemy. He had landed wrong and broke his leg. The break did not heal properly, forcing him to walk with the assistance of a forked stick under one shoulder. Since then, he had lived in constant pain, though one could never tell by looking at his stoic face. The only indication of what he suffered came from the terrible moans that escaped him in his restless sleep at night.

Norgaard remained a strong Chief, however, with his son acting as War Chief. Skylan did not consider his father weak or cowardly, but he did secretly think that his father, an old man who had seen almost forty- five winters, had grown overly cautious. Skylan would never criticize his father aloud, but Garn knew what his friend was thinking.

“Norgaard is responsible for the welfare of the entire clan,” Garn said, “and he dares not risk creating widows and orphans without knowing he will be able to feed them if their men do not come back.”

“So rather than dying like warriors, we starve to death and will go to Torval with beggars’ bowls in our hands instead of swords,” Skylan returned.

“Perhaps if Norgaard asked for a meeting with the Kai Priestess of the Vektia, Draya could tell us if the gods—”

“He did so a month ago,” Skylan interrupted tersely. “The priestess has not answered.”

Garn looked startled. “I did not know that.”

“No one does,” said Skylan. “My father says Draya’s silence is a bad sign, and he does not want to further discourage our people.”

Garn did not know what to say after that. Matters were worse than he had supposed, and even he had no words of comfort now. The two young men continued along the trail that led back to their village. They walked across vast plains of burnt, brown grass that should have been green and lush this time of year. A few surviving cattle—thin and bony creatures—stood in the hot sun, looking miserable. The thin and bony boys who tended them languished in the heat, swatting at flies. They perked up at the sight of Garn and Skylan and ran to ask eagerly if their hunt had been successful. Their faces fell at the sight of the young men carrying nothing but their spears. Scuffing their feet in the dust, the boys went back to keeping watch on the cattle.

The young men left the plains and entered the thickly forested hill country. Though they could not see it from this vantage point, their village lay far below them, rows of houses scattered along the coastline. The location was ideal. The Torgun’s swift-sailing dragonship could ply the waters in search of food and wealth, and when danger threatened, the women and children could seek the safety of the hills.

Garn breathed a sigh of relief as they entered the cool shade of the forest. Skylan scowled and increased his pace. He disliked forests. He felt smothered, surrounded by trees, unable to breathe the clean sea air. Then, too, fae creatures dwelt in the woods—faeries and dryads, wood fauns, fetches, and suchlike. The gods had no control over the fae folk, for the fae had been living in this world long before the gods found it.

The worst time of Skylan’s life had been during his passage to manhood, when, at the age of twelve, he was sent out with other boys to survive a week in the forest, armed with only a knife. He’d had to avoid the Torgun hunters, who searched for him and the others, gleefully dragging back those they caught. These unfortunates would have to spend another year as “children” before being allowed to take the test again. In addition to those trials, Skylan had to avoid being seduced by a dryad or lured off to unhallowed revels by a faun, never to be seen again.

Skylan had prayed constantly to Torval to protect him, and Torval had done so. Skylan had not encountered any of the fae folk, though he had been convinced he could hear their revels in the night. Skylan had given Torval a fine gift for having protected him from the wicked fae.

Trudging along the dusty forest trail now, dry twigs and leaves snapping underfoot, Skylan remembered vividly how he had lain awake at night, gripping his knife in his hand as he listened to the squawks and squeaks, the screams and groans and snarls, picturing the fae folk gathering around him, eager to drag him down below the earth to their dark kingdom forever.

Hearing something—not a faery—Skylan came to a sudden halt. He raised his free hand, a gesture that brought Garn to a stop, as well. The sound was an odd one—a rumbling grunting and snorting. They listened intently. Something incredibly large was crashing about in the dry brush.

The two glanced at each other. The noises came from up ahead and to their left. Skylan was still thinking of fae folk, and he gripped his spear more tightly. He was afraid of nothing born of mortal man, but the thought of encountering a hairy troll made his blood run cold.

Neither young man had been particularly quiet or stealthy in his movements. So near to home, there was no need. But they grew quiet now, moving silently toward the thing making the noise. Skylan motioned for Garn to go off to his right as both left the trail, plunging into the forest, planning to converge on what ever it was from different sides.

Skylan was the first to spot the creature, and he stood in amazement laced with relief.

A wild boar.

Skylan had heard tales of these enormous beasts. Wild pigs with huge tusks, they could weigh as much as five stout men. He had never seen one, for boars did not live around here. The boar had likely been driven from its accustomed hunting grounds in the mountains by the drought, but Skylan believed Torval had sent it in answer to his prayers. The gods might be angered at the Torgun, but Torval loved Skylan still.

The boar had either heard or sniffed trouble, for it lifted its massive head, glaring about as though aware it was being outflanked. The boar’s fur stood up in alarm, and it snarled a warning to keep away. The boar was a fearsome- looking beast. Its jutting, heavy head hung down from massive humped shoulders. It had two sets of tusks. One, the upper set, called honors, sharpened the lower, larger set, known as rippers for good reason. The lower tusks were designed to slash apart the flesh of a victim. Short, sturdy legs supported the heavy body.

Watching the boar, Skylan recalled the tales he had heard of hunters trying to bring one down. By all accounts, boars were fierce, vicious animals who would fight savagely to the death. His father had hunted boar in his youth. During one such hunt, a boar had slain a Torgun warrior, goring him in the stomach with its tusks. No one ever hunted boar alone. The warriors went out in parties, bringing nets to entangle the boar and dogs to attack and distract the beast, while the hunters closed in for the kill.

All this flashed through Skylan’s mind, even as he determined that he would bring down Torval’s boar by himself and haul it back to camp in triumph. The Torgun people would feast on boar meat this night and for many nights to come, and they would sing Skylan’s praises. Aylaen would at last look at him with love light in her green eyes—not with the fond, tolerant, sisterly glint of amusement he had come to loathe.

Skylan eyed the boar and considered his strategy. Garn appeared in the shadows of the trees opposite. Guessing Skylan’s intent, Garn waved his hands, urging Skylan to run away.

Skylan paid no heed. Spear raised, he advanced on the boar, motioning in turn for Garn to stay where he was. Skylan recalled his father saying that the boar carried a shield of cartilage atop its shoulders hard enough to stop a spear. He also remembered his father saying that one needed to make the first blow the killing blow.
Aim for the chest, the heart.

The boar smelled Skylan and fixed its eyes on him and lowered its head. He had been afraid it would flee, for boars had no honor to trouble them, and were content to run off and live to fight another day. This boar was hungry, however, and meat was meat, be it walking on two feet or four. With a savage snarl, the boar charged at Skylan.

Skylan had planned on charging the boar, and he was startled that the boar had taken the initiative and was charging him. The boar was the size of a boulder, and it seemed to grow as it thundered toward him. Skylan began to think he’d made an error in judgment. Garn was yelling for him to climb into the trees. Skylan briefly considered taking his friend’s advice; then he thought of Torval watching from where the god sat at his feast table in the Hall of Heroes, roaring with laughter to see the young man scramble for his life up a tree, clinging to the branches while the boar rooted and snorted beneath.

Skylan ran to the tree, but he did not climb it. He set his back against it, along with the butt end of his spear. He had to withstand the force of the charge, or else the boar would slam into him and knock him to the ground, then gore him with its tusks.

Seeing that Skylan was determined to fight, Garn dashed out of the woods and hurled his spear at the boar, hoping to at least wound and weaken it. Garn was not so strong as Skylan, but he had a good eye and a steady hand, and he often beat Skylan in contests where accuracy counted more than strength.

Garn’s spear struck the boar in the neck. Blood spurted, and the beast roared in pain, but it kept on going straight for Skylan.

“Torval, strengthen my arm and let my aim be true!” Skylan prayed.

A feeling of calm descended on Skylan. He had known such calm during battle, knew it to be a gift of Torval. Time slowed. Skylan focused on what he had to do, paying no heed to the crashing hooves and the horrible roarings and snortings or to Garn’s shouts. Skylan heard the beating of his own heart, the rush of his own blood, like the crashing waves of the sea that filled his sleep at night. He dug his feet into the ground, braced himself against the tree trunk, and leveled his spear.

The boar’s small red eyes burned with fury. Spittle flew from its mouth. Yellow tusks jutted upward from the outthrust lower jaw. Intent upon its prey, the boar rushed at Skylan. He drove the spear into the boar’s neck.

Blood flowed. The boar gave a grunt—more of surprise than of pain. The shock of the blow slammed Skylan back against the tree, jarring his spear arm and almost hurling him off his feet. He fought to remain standing, fought to drive the spear deeper into the boar, for he had not killed the beast. To his shock and astonishment, the boar kept on coming. Roaring, thrusting at him with its tusks, the boar pushed its body along the spear’s haft in a furious effort to destroy Skylan.

The boar was doing Skylan’s job for him, driving the spear deeper into its body, but it was also closing in on Skylan. Its head thrashed, its yellow tusks slashed at him, and they were wet with his blood.

Skylan could do nothing except press against the tree and hold fast to the spear and pray to Torval it did not break. Sweat rolled down his face and into his eyes, half- blinding him. He shook his head to see. His muscles were weakening, starting to shake from the tremendous exertion. He had the dim impression that Garn had joined the fight, striking at the boar with his knife.

Blood flew; tusks slashed. Skylan held fast.

The boar, spitted on the spear, twisted and turned, more than once nearly yanking the weapon out of Skylan’s hands. Gasping for breath, he threw the waning strength of his body into a last desperate spear thrust, driving as deep as he could.

With a slash of its tusks, the boar gave a gurgling grunt and crashed sideways onto the ground. It lay in a pool of blood, its flanks heaving and its feet twitching. Skylan held on to the spear until he saw the life gradually fade from the boar’s eyes. The boar gave a shudder and lay still. Its hatred remained in the staring eyes even after death.

Skylan let go of the spear and collapsed beside the warm, bloody corpse. He lay in its blood and his own beneath the tree and dragged air into his burning lungs. He was dizzy, and now he felt the pain. He looked at his body to try to determine the extent of his injuries, but his clothes, ripped to ribbons, were sticking to the wounds, preventing him from judging their severity. His hands and arms were slashed, and blood and pain were everywhere.

Garn knelt beside him, his own arms bloodied to the elbow. He did a swift battlefield assessment, cutting away the cloth of Skylan’s tight-fitting linen breeches and the long belted linen shirt.

“You have a deep gash in your thigh,” Garn reported after examining Skylan
from top to bottom. “But the blood is oozing, not pulsing.”

That was good. Blood pulsing from a wound have meant Skylan would bleed to death.

“You have lots of other wounds, but the thigh wound is the worst,” Garn announced. He rocked back on his heels. “You are damn lucky,” he added with a smile and a shake of his head.

Skylan smiled, too, through the haze of pain. He was not lucky. He was blessed. His wyrd, his fate, was bound with glory.

Orson Scott Card contest winner!

Our lucky winner will receive an autographed complimentary copy of Orson Scott Card's Ender in Exile, thanks to the nice folks at Tor Books! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winner is:

Paul Ivany, from St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada

Many thanks to all the participants!

You want some more???

For those of you who don't get their daily fill of drivel on the Hotlist, know that Yours Truly was interviewed last September by Bibliophile Stalker!

And you can read that Q&A here.

Hmmm, it's been so long. . . I guess I should take a look at that interview, for I don't quite remember what sort of answers I came up with. . .;-)

The Clone Wars

Last summer, I was proud to have managed to resist the temptation to pay good money and go see this flick on the big screen. Like many long-time fans, I sort of had it with Star Wars, thanks to the prequels. So I was reticent to pay 10$ for an animated feature.

As a 2-for-1 DVD rental, however, it proved to be a fun and entertaining movie. Lots of action, but the story arc was a bit on the thin side. And yet, though the overall feeling is at times corny and juvenile, and though they have borrowed heavily on all six films, I ended up enjoying The Clone Wars a lot more than Attack of the Clones.

I haven't been paying any attention to the TV series, so I have no idea if they have build up on the events and characters contained in this animated feature. But if they keep up the great picture and sound quality, then it's bound to be good. At least to a certain extent. . .

Anakin's new Padawan, Ahsoka Tano, is a clichéd but endearing character. If they could just get rid of the one-liners, she could end up as a decent character. The most intriguing new addition, for me at least, was the pseudo-Darth Maul Asajj Ventress.

Who knows, I might end up watching a few episodes of the TV series just for the heck of it! Anyone knows on which channels it's playing in Canada???

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

NFL SHOWDOWN: GRRM vs Pat (Week 12)

San Francisco 49ers: 22
Dallas Cowboys: 35

New York Giants: 37
Arizona Cardinals: 29

With the damned Redskins winning as well, the Cowboys must pile up a few more victories just to have a chance to get a wildcard spot. . .

Win a signed Advance Reading Copy of George R. R. Martin and friends' BUSTED FLUSH

Okay, so this giveaway is really something!

I have two ARCs autographed by all the contributors (GRRM, Melinda Snodgrass, Carrie Vaughn, S. L. Farrell, Victor Milán, John Jos. Miller, Kevin Andrew Murphy, Walton Simons, Caroline Spector, and Ian Tregillis), as well as two signed posters of Busted Flush (Canada, USA, Europe) up for grabs, courtesy of the nice folks at Tor Books!

The posters (11 x 18) feature the cover art and are printed on glossy paper. A signed combo of these posters and the ARCs should make for quite the collectors' items!

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

P. S. A new 10-way Wild Cards interview is on the way. . .:-)

Shameless Plug: What to read next???

With the Holidays just around the corner, many fans have asked me to come up with another list of works to read much like my original "What to read next" post. Feel free to first click on this link to see if there are some novels/series you may have missed. Everything found on that list should get priority to what will appear in this new one. Moreover, you get Amazon links for each and everyone of the works listed, which means that by buying any of them, used and new, you support Breast Cancer Research! And with authors like Feist, Donaldson, Modesitt, Friedman, Bakker, Kay, Stephenson, Kurtz, Williams, and more, how can you possibly go wrong!?!

By the same token, my shameless plugs regarding Guy Gavriel Kay, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, Tad Williams, Stephen R. Donaldson, Katherine Kurtz, and Raymond E. Feist should be perused. Strapped for cash, just browse through the Amazon links to find used copies of each novel for pennies!;-)

So what follows will be the first part of a series of "shameless plug" posts meant to provide suggestions concerning potential good reads to buy for the Holiday season. Each work listed is either a lesser-known or "older" book/series that deserves a little more exposure, or simply great works that you may or may not have missed since the Hotlist was created. Basically every entry is available in paperback, which makes these suggestions affordable to anyone's budget!

Good reading!

Terry Brooks' The Heritage of Shannara

- The Scions of Shannara (Canada, USA, Europe)

- The Druid of Shannara (Canada, USA, Europe)

- The Elf Queen of Shannara (Canada, USA, Europe)

- The Talismans of Shannara (Canada, USA, Europe)

As was the case with Raymond E. Feist, lackluster efforts from recent years have made me somewhat lose faith in Terry Brooks. But the fact remains that the man used to be one of my favorite fantasy authors out there. For my money, The Heritage of Shannara is Brooks writing at the top of his form. If you have always been daunted by the high number of Shannara installments on the market, check out this series. If you enjoy the books, chances are that you will like a number of novels that came our prior and after this series. The good thing is that you don't need to read past Shannara books to get into this one. You'll have more insight in characters and events, but it's not mandatory to have read what came before to appreciate what is probably Terry Brooks at his best.

Terry Brooks' The Word and the Void

- Running with the Demon (Canada, USA, Europe)

- A Knight of the Word (Canada, USA, Europe)

- Angel Fire East (Canada, USA, Europe)

Many detractors have always blamed Brooks for never taking a chance and go with something entirely different, something new. When this trilogy was originally published, it seemed that Brooks had finally done something that would silence his detractors. Of course, everything went down the crapper when the author tied up this series with his Shannara universe, yet the first three books of The Word and the Void remain some of Brooks' best and most interesting work to date.

Melanie Rawn's The Dragon Prince and The Dragon Star trilogies

- Dragon Prince (Canada, USA, Europe)

- The Star Scroll (Canada, USA, Europe)

- Sunrunner's Fire (Canada, USA, Europe)

- Stronghold (Canada, USA, Europe)

- The Dragon Token (Canada, USA, Europe)

- Skybowl (Canada, USA, Europe)

In the late 80s and early 90s, Melanie Rawn was a bestselling fantasy writer. These two trilogies established her as as one of Daw Books' top draws with Tad Williams. If you like dragons, endearing character, and some romance (a bit too much at times, but what the heck!?!), these books are definitely for you!

L. E. Modesitt, jr.'s The Corean Chronicles

- Legacies (Canada, USA, Europe)

- Darknesses (Canada, USA, Europe)

- Scepters (Canada, USA, Europe)

Many SFF fans appear to be concerned about the number of books in Modesitt's Recluce saga. If you are looking for a more accessible series that will permit you to get acquainted with the author's style, you should give the first three Corean books a shot!


- This Alien Shore (Canada, USA, Europe)

Many people know Friedman through her celebrated Coldfire trilogy, but the author actually made a name for herself writing science fiction. This stand-alone novel is one of her best efforts!

Kim Stanley Robinson' THE YEARS OF RICE AND SALT

- The Years of Rice and Salt (Canada, USA, Europe)

As far as alternate history novels go, this might be the best and most thought-provoking one I have ever read! The premise: What is the 14th-century plague that swept through Europe, the Black Death, and which killed between 30% and 40% of the population had killed 99% of the people. Christianity would have been a footnote in the history books, and Robinson extrapolates on the emergence of Islamic and Buddhist societies as the world's most dominant and influencial religious and political forces. A "must read!"

One or two additional "shameless plug" posts should follow this one in the coming weeks. . .:-)

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (November 18th)

Laurell K. Hamilton's Swallowing Darkness debuts at number 3.

Stephenie Meyer's The Host is down one position, ending the week at number 13.

R. A. Salvatore's The Pirate King maintains its spot at number 21. This marks the book's fifth week on the charts. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Charlaine Harris' From Dead to Worse is up two positions, ending its seventh week on the bestseller list at number 22.

James Luceno's Star Wars: Millennium Falcon is down eight spots, finishing its third week on the NYT list at number 27. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

In paperback:

Sherrilyn Kenyon's One Silent Night debuts at number 1.

Stephen King's Duma Key is down two positions, ending its third week on the prestigious list at number 6.

J. R. R. Tolkien's The Children of Húrin is down three spots, finishing its fourth week on the charts at number 12.

Karen Traviss' Gears of War: Aspho Fields is up one position, ending its second week on the NYT list at number 20. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Laurell K. Hamilton's A Lick of Frost debuts at number 28.

Keri Arthur's Destiny Kills is down eighteen spots, finishing its second week on the bestseller list at number 33.

Charlaine Harris' seven Sookie Stackhouse novels rank from number 9 to number 26.

Help raise funds for Breast Cancer Research

As was the case last year, from here on to December 31st I will donate the proceeds of my Amazon Associates Programs to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. Which means that simply by doing your Holiday shopping online at Amazon you can support this great cause!

So if you want to help, all you need to do is click on any of my Amazon links (the Canada, USA, Europe links you see in various posts) and purchase your stuff from there. It doesn't matter if you wish to buy that particular novel or not. As soon as you click on those links, you're good to go!:-) So whether you're shopping for books, DVDs, CDs, a computer, toys, video games, yada yada yada, old and new, every purchase you make will help raise funds to find a cure for Breast Cancer. You don't need to spend more, to donate any of your hard-earned dough, or to do anything special to support this worthy cause. Simply click on a link before buying whatever it is you want.

Though I hate to set an objective, for fear of being disappointed, I'm still gunning for 500$ this year. Yes, that's a lot more than the 115$ we raised last year, but the Hotlist is more popular now than it was at the same time in 2007. And if only half of the people who stop by actually lends a hand, then this should be a piece of cake! Some have suggested that I set up a foundation, but I don't feel comfortable asking money from people. By donating the proceeds of the Amazon Associate Program, you shop as you normally do, save with the Amazon discounts, and help raise some much-needed funds for Breast Cancer Research at the same time.

Two of the hottest items being pre-ordered right now are:

J. K. Rowling's The Tales of Beedle Bard (Canada, USA, Europe)

The latest Batman flick, The Dark Knight (Canada, USA, Europe)

So if you are considering purchasing any of these, please do so via the links!:-)

Many thanks to those who supported the cause last year, and thanks in advance to all of you who will do so in the new few weeks! And if you have a website or a blog, or if you are the admin of a forum and you wish to help spread the word about this, feel free to do so!;-)

Neal Asher contest winners!

All our winners will get their hands on a free copy of Neal Asher's The Glabble and Other Stories, courtesy of the cool folks at Pan MacMillan. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winners are:

- Gabriel Mulvaney, from Belfast, Northern Ireland

- Neil Mullins, from London, England, UK

- Catherine Baker, from Southampton, England, UK

- Robert Lock, from Swansea, England, UK (Bob Lock on

Thanks to all the participants!

Win a copy of the limited edition of Dan Simmons' MUSE OF FIRE

I have a copy of the limited edition of Dan Simmons' Muse of Fire for you to win, compliments of the folks at Subterranean Press. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe, and

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

PRINCE OF STORIES contest winners

Our three winners will receive a copy of Stephen Bissette, Christopher Golden, and Hank Wagner's Prince of Stories: The Many Worlds of Neil Gaiman, courtesy of the folks at St. Martin's Press. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winners are:

- Kurt Duerksen, from St Louis Park, Minnesota, USA

- Jason Durall, from Austin, Texas, USA

- Jason Lewis, from Monaca, Pennsylvania, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

Uncyclopedia entry for the Sword of Truth

If you want to blame someone for this, blame Larry!:p He came up with it!

Crap, I didn't recall that Che Guevara was in Faith of the Fallen!

Read the entry here.

More artwork for the limited edition of Steven Erikson's GARDENS OF THE MOON

Ah man, how much more visually stunning can Michael Komarck make these things??? Everything the artist has turned in has been incredible.

Here's the revised version (yes, another one!) of the cover art, as well as a superb Anomander Rake wraparound!

For more info about this title:

Empire in Black and Gold

Adrian Tchaikovsky's fantasy debut has been garnering a lot of positive online reviews since it was published last summer. So much so that I was eager to finally give it a shot. I was glad when fans selected Empire in Black and Gold for me to read in one of my latest polls. About 30 pages into it, I began to wonder exactly what was supposed to be so special about this book. But I kept plodding on, hoping and expecting things to take a turn for the better, and that the novel would start to deliver in the next chapter or the one which followed. To my dismay, the story never took off for me. . .

Which is not to say that Tchaikovsky's debut is a mediocre effort. It's a good enough fantasy novel, but nothing special or spectacular. As some fans pointed out on various message boards, the main story arc simply doesn't measure up with the original setting and the innovative concepts contained in this book. In the end, that makes for a rather uneven reading experience.

The worldbuilding is more or less standard, with an "evil" empire bent on domination threatening to take over the world. As a matter of course, only a handful of freedom fighters realize the risk posed by that empire, and they're the only people standing in its path. Taken at face value, such a premise is nothing to write home about. What makes the setting so special is that every human race possesses insect characteristics. Every insect-kinden and their ancestor's Art make for truly unusual concepts. In addition, the presence of technology and mechanical contraptions give Empire in Black and Gold a unique and different "flavor" from what's out there.

The characterization is probably what sort of killed it for me. Populating this creative world is a cast of clichéd characters. Indeed, beyond the "bug factor" which differentiates this book from its peers, each character has been seen countless times before in a different guise in a variety of fantasy novels/series. You have the badass killing machine fighter, the sexy yet deadly girl, the nerd who saves the day, the bad guy who develops a conscience and begins to question his actions, and so on and so forth. Add to that the fact that there is a near-total absence of character development throughout the book, and you end up with a characterization that leaves a lot to be desired. One would think that the tribulations they experience would result in a certain measure of character growth, yet that proved to be a vain hope. Che, Tynisa, Salma, and Totho hold on to their black and white world views basically from start to finish. As far as realism is concerned, à la R. A. Salvatore the good guys always manage to beat incredible odds and somehow live to fight another day. In that respect, Empire in Black and Gold feels more like a sword and sorcery offering than an epic fantasy work.

The pace is good for the better part of the novel, but the rhythm does drag in certain portions of the tale. What hurts the narrative the most is the somewhat sloppy POV jumps that see the point of view change without any sort of demarcation. At times it's hard to follow in which character's head the reader is supposed to be.

Overall, the political intrigue is decidedly simplistic and lacks depth. The Nazi influence was a nice touch to begin with, but the execution felt a little flat as the story progresses.

Some imaginative concepts allow Empire in Black and Gold to score some points. But the subpar characterization takes a lot of the lustre away from what could have been a superior tale.

For all its faults, Empire in Black and Gold is nevertheless an entertaining read. It's a book to bring on vacation, or for the morning commute. Beyond the insect-kinden stuff, this novel is pretty standard "fantasy lite" fare. It's a good enough tale, no doubt, just not something that will stay with you long after you finish it.

The final verdict: 6.5/10

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

Win a copy of George R. R. Martin and friends' INSIDE STRAIGHT

New to the Wild Cards universe? So was I at the same time last year, when I discovered that Inside Straight was fresh, hip, complex, and very entertaining! This book marks the beginning of a new series, one that is meant to satisfy long-time fans and newbies. So here's your chance to see what the buzz is all about!
I have five copies of the mass market paperback edition of Inside Straight up for grabs, compliments of the nice folks at Tor Books. Someone at Tor screwed up big time, however, and the blurb found on the paperback version of Inside Straight is the blurb from its sequel, Busted Flush. . . For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

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

P. S. The big Busted Flush giveaway is coming soon. . .;-)

UK cover art for Joe Abercrombie's BEST SERVED COLD

This is the full spread for Joe Abercrombie's forthcoming Best Served Cold.

Say one thing about Gollancz, say they make freaking cool covers!

CLOCKWORK PHOENIX contest winners!

Our two winners will get their hands on a complimentary copy of Clockwork Phoenix: Tales of Beauty and Strangeness, courtesy of the editor Mike Allen.

The winners are:

- Anna Decker, from Clawson, Michigan, USA

- Sarah Daniels, from Castle Rock, Colorado, USA

Thanks to all the participants!

This week's New York Times' Bestsellers (November 11th)

In hardcover:

Stephenie Meyer's The Host maintains its position at number 12.

James Luceno's Star Wars: Millenium Falcon is down five positions, ending its second week on the charts at number 19. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

R. A. Salvatore's The Pirate King is down two spots, finishing its fourth week on the bestseller list at number 21. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Charlaine Harris' From Dead to Worse is up four positions, ending its sixth week on the NYT list at number 24.

Kelley Armstrong's Living with the Dead is down nine spots, finishing its second week on the prestigious list at number 30.

In paperback:

Stephen King's Duma Key maintains its positions at number 5 for a second week.

J. R. R. Tolkien's The Children of Húrin is down three positions, ending its third week on the charts at number 9.

Keri Arthur's Destiny Kills debuts at number 15.

Karen Traviss' Gears of War: Aspho Fields debuts at number 21. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Drew Karpyshyn's Star Wars: Darth Bane: Rule of Two debuts at number 28.

Charlaine Harris' seven Sookie Stackhouse novels rank from number 8 to number 24.

Win a copy of Tom Lloyd's THE STORMCALLER

Thanks to the generosity of the cool folks at Pyr, I have two copies of the US edition of Tom Lloyd's fantasy debut, The Stormcaller, for you to win! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam) with the header "STORMCALLER." 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!;-)

Exclusive excerpt from R. Scott Bakker's THE JUDGING EYE

Well, Bakker finally agree to let me post an excerpt, so here it is! And no teaser, as was originally planned! You get the full prologue from The Judging Eye (Canada, USA, Europe)!;-)

You know Bakker has a visceral fear of them, so this sample chapter is spoiler-free! Actually, I'm quite pleased that he agreed to let me post this.

Though it doesn't contain any spoilers, I'm sure it will whet your appetite!

Exalt-Minister, most glorious, many be your days.

For the sin of apostasy, they were buried up to their necks in the ancient way, and stones were cast into their faces until their breathing was stopped. Three men and two women. The child recanted, even cursed his parents in the name of our glorious Aspect-Emperor. The World has lost five souls, but the Heavens have gained one, praise be the God of Gods.

As for the text, I fear that your prohibition has come too late. It was, as you suspected, an account of the First Holy War as witnessed by the exiled Schoolman, Drusas Achamian. Verily, my hand trembles at the prospect of reproducing his vile and abhorrent claims, but as the original text has already been committed to the flames, I see no other way to satisfy your request. You are quite correct: Heresy is rarely singular in its essence or its effects. As with diseases, deviations must be studied, curatives prepared, lest they erupt in more virulent form.

For the sake of brevity, I will limit my review to those particulars that either directly or indirectly contradict Doctrine and Scripture. In this text, Drusas Achamian claims:

I) To have had sexual congress with our Holy Empress on the eve of the First Holy War’s triumph over the heathen Fanim at Shimeh.

II) To have learned certain secrets regarding our Holy Aspect-Emperor, to whit: that He is not the incarnation of the God of Gods but rather a son of the Dûnyain, a secret sect devoted to the mastery of all things, body and spirit. That He transcends us not as gods transcend men, but as adults transcend children. That His Zaudunyani interpretation of Inrithism is nothing more than a tool, a means for the manipulation of nations. That ignorance has rendered us his slaves.

(I admit to finding this most unnerving, for though I have always known that words and events, no matter how holy, always admit wicked interpretations, I have never before considered the way beliefs command our actions. For as this Achamian asks, if all men lay claim to righteousness, and they do, who is to say which man claims true? The conviction, the belief unto death, of those I send from this world now troubles me, such is the treachery of the idle intellect.)

III) That our Holy Aspect-Emperor’s war to prevent the resurrection of the No-God is false. Granted, this is merely implied, since the text was plainly written before the Great Ordeal. But the fact that Drusus Achamian was once a Mandate Schoolman, and so cursed with dreams of the First Apocalypse, renders his suspicions extraordinary. Should not such a man hail the coming of Anasûrimbor Kellhus and his war to prevent the Second Apocalypse?

This is the sum of what I remember.

Having suffered this blasphemy, I understand the profundity of your concern. To hear that everything we have endured and cherished these past twenty years of war and revelation has been a lie is outrage enough. But to hear such from a man who not only walked with our Master in the beginning, but taught him as well? I have already ordered the execution of my body-slave, though I mourn him, for he only read the text at my behest. As for myself, I await your summary judgment. I neither beg nor expect your pardon: It is our doom to suffer the consequences of our acts, regardless of the piety of our intentions.

Some pollution begs not the cloth, but the knife; this I accept and understand.

Sin is sin.


When a man possesses the innocence of a child, we call him a fool. When a child possesses the cunning of a man, we call him an abomination. As with love, knowledge has its season.

—AJENCIS, The Third Analytic of Men

Autumn, 19 New Imperial Year (4131 Year-of-the-Tusk), the “Long Side”

A horn pealed long and lonely beneath the forest canopies. A human horn.

For a moment all was quiet. Limbs arched across the imperious heights, and great trunks bullied the hollows beneath. Shorn saplings thatched the intervening spaces. A squirrel screeched warning from the gloom of interlocking branches. Starlings burst into the squinting sky.

They came, flickering across bands of sunlight and shadow.

Running with rutting fury, howling with rutting fury, through the lashing undergrowth, into the tabernacle deep. They swarmed over pitched slopes, kicking up leaves and humus. They parted about the trunks, chopping at the bark with rust-pitted blades. They sniffed the sky with slender noses. When they grimaced, their blank and beautiful faces were clenched like crumpled silk, becoming the expressions of ancient and inbred men.

Sranc. Bearing shields of lacquered human leather. Wearing corselets scaled with human fingernails and necklaces of human teeth.

The distant horn sounded again, and they paused, a vicious milling rabble. Words were barked among them. A number melted into the undergrowth, loping with the swiftness of wolves. The others jerked at their groins in anticipation. Blood. They could smell mannish blood.

Seed jetted black across the forest floor. They stamped it into the muck. They exulted in the stink of it.

The scouts returned, and at their jabbering the others shuddered and convulsed. It had been so long since they had last glutted their rapacious hunger. So long since they knelt at the altar of jerking limbs and mewling flesh. They could see the panicked faces. They could see the gushing blood, the knife-made orifices.

They ran, weeping for joy.

Cresting a low ridge, they found their prey hastening along the base of a back-broken cliff, trying to make their way to the far side of a gorge that opened as though by miracle several hundred paces away. The Sranc howled and chattered their teeth, raced in wild files down the slope, skidding across leaves, their legs kicking in long leaps. They hit the ground where it flattened, scrambling, running, burning hard in their rotten breeches, watching the soft Men turning mere paces before them, their faces as enticing as thighs, coming closer and closer, almost within the circle of wild-swinging swords—

But the ground! The ground! Collapsing beneath them, like leaves thrown across sky!

Dozens of them were sucked shrieking into the black. The others clutched and jostled, tried to stop, only to be bumped screeching by their crazed kin. Their screams trailed as they plummeted into the concealed gorge, popped into silence one by one. Suddenly all was uncertain, all was threat. The war-party yammered in fear and frustration. None dared move. Eyes rolling, they stared in lust and apprehension …


A hard-bitten handful, running as though by magic across the false forest floor. They lunged into the Sranc’s midst, their heavy swords high and pitching. Shields cracked. Mouldered iron was bent and broken. Limbs and heads were thrown on arcs of glittering blood.

The Men roared and bellowed, hammered them to earth, hacked them to twitching ruin.


“Scalper!” the lone traveller cried out. His voice possessed the gravel of an old officer’s bawl. It boomed through the gorge, easily audible over the white roar of water. As one, the men upriver stood and stared in his direction.

Just like animals, he thought.

Indifferent to their gaze, he continued picking his way along the treacherous stones, sloshing through water every several steps. He passed a Sranc, white as a drowned fish, floating face down in a pool of translucent red.

The traveller glanced up to where the gorge walls pinched the sky into a wandering slot. Trees had been felled across the opening, forming the rafters for an improvised ceiling of saplings and sticks, covered over with leaves. The sky glared bright through numerous holes. Leaves still twittered down in a steady cascade. If the numbers of inert forms scattered and heaped about the rocks were any indication, it had been a very effective trap. In places, the river’s foam spouted pink and violet.

Most of the men had returned to their work, but three continued to watch him warily. He had no doubt that the one he sought was among them.

The traveller tramped into their midst. The smell of burst entrails soured that of water and scoured stone. Most of the party sorted through the dead Sranc. Bodies were kicked off bodies. Broken heads were pulled from the water. Knives flashed. It was the same each time: pinch, saw, swipe, then on to the next one. Pinch, saw, swipe—again and again. A flap of skin cut from the crown of every one.

Nearby, a young Galeoth swordsman washed a small hoard of scalps. He rinsed them, then laid them out, glistening and fatty white across dry stone. He handled each swatch with ludicrous care, the way a halfwit might handle gold—which scalps had pretty much become in the High Middle-North. Though the Aspect-Emperor had lowered the Hallow Bounty, a scalp still fetched a full silver kellic from honest brokers.

They were all extremely conscious of his arrival, the traveller knew. They simply pretended to be indifferent. Usually, they encountered outsiders only when they trekked south to the brokers, flush with hundreds of tanned scalps, bound and dangling from lengths of leather string. This work, the work of collecting and counting, was the least manly portion of their trade. It was their menial secret.

It was also the point.

Nearly eleven years had passed since the Aspect-Emperor had declared his bounty on Sranc scalps, before the last of the Unification Wars had ended. He placed the bounty on Sranc because of their vast numbers. He placed the bounty on scalps because their hairlessness made them distinctive to Sranc. Men such as these, the traveller supposed, would be far happier poaching something less inclined to kill back—like women and children.

So began the Scalping Years. Over that time, countless thousands had trudged into the northern wilderness, expedition after expedition, come to make their fortune as Scalpoi. Most died in a matter of weeks. But those who learned, who were wily and every bit as ruthless as their foe, prospered.

And some—a few—became legendary.

The man the traveller sought stood upon a rounded stone, watching the others work. He knew him from his dogged devotion to the traditional costume of his caste and race: the pleated war-skirt, stained grey and black and shot through with holes; the corselet with rusty scales stitched into rotting leather; the conical helm, bent back like a single ram’s horn. He looked a wraith from another age. A second man, his face concealed by a black cowl, sat three paces behind him, leaning forward as though straining to hear something in the water’s ambient rush. The traveller peered at him for a moment, as though trying to judge some peculiarity, then returned his gaze to the first man.

“I’m looking for the Ainoni,” he said. “The one they call Ironsoul.”

“That would be me,” the standing man replied. His face had been tattooed with the cosmetics favoured by his countrymen. Black lines about his eyes. Purpled lips. His look neither accused nor questioned but remained mild in the manner of bored assassins. Incurious.

“Veteran,” the traveller said, bowing his head in due respect. Failing to properly acknowledge and venerate a survivor of the First Holy War was no small offence.

“How did you find us?” the man asked in his native tongue. From the cadence of his voice, it was obvious that he despised speaking, that he was as jealous of his voice as he was of his women or his blood.

The traveller did not care. Men prized what they would.

“We find everyone.”

A barely perceptible nod. “What do you want?”

“You, Scalper. We want you.”

The Ainoni glanced back toward his cowled companion. No words were exchanged, only an inscrutable look.

Late Autumn, 19 New Imperial Year (4131 Year-of-the-Tusk), Momemn

Ever do Men seek to hide what is base and mean in their natures. This is why they talked of wolves or lions or even dragons when they likened themselves to animals. But it was the lowly beetle, the young boy decided, whom they most resembled. Belly to the ground. Back hunched against the world. Eyes blind to everything save the small circle before them.

His Whelming complete, Anasûrimbor Kelmomas crouched in the granite shadows, leaning between his knees to better watch the insect scuttle across the ancient floor. One of the great iron candle-wheels hung soundless between the pillars above, but its light was little more than a dull gleam across the beetle’s wagging back. Holding his knees, Kelmomas shuffled forward, absorbed by the insect’s tiny terrestrial struggles. Despite the gloomy forest of columns behind him, the choral voices sounded as close as his many shadows, singing hymns to frame the more fulsome reverberations of the Temple Prayer.

Sweet God of Gods
Who walk among us
Innumerable are your holy names …

“Show me,” Kelmomas whispered to the beetle. “Lead …”

Together they wandered into the deeper recesses of the Allosium, to where only the floating pinpricks of the godhouse votives illuminated the gloom. The beetle clambered about a column’s graven base, left tracks that resembled sutures across a swatch of dust—tracks that Kelmomas obliterated with his small sandalled foot. Soon they reached the Forum’s outermost aisle, where the idols of the Hundred Gods resided in their adorned recesses.

“Where are you going?” he murmured, smiling. He glimpsed the gauze of his exhalation on the chill air, puffed two breaths just to consider his breathing—spectral proof of material life. He laid his cheek to the cool tile and stared out across the vast plain of the aisle. The glazing soothed his skin. Quite oblivious to his scrutiny, the beetle continued its trek, tipping in and out of the joints between the cerulean tiles. Kelmomas watched it toil toward the leering mountain that was the idol of Ajokli, the Four-Horned Brother.

“The Thief?”

Compared to that of his brothers and sisters, the godhouse of Ajokli was as poor as a crippled fuller. The floor tiles stopped at the threshold. The stonework rimming the recess was bare, save for a series of notches scratched into the right post. The idol—a horned little fat man crouching as though over a chamberpot—was not much more than a play of shadow and gleam emerging from the velvet darkness. It was carved of black diorite, but without the jewelled eyes or silver fingernails that even Yatwer boasted. Rigid with the sensibilities of some long-dead artisan, its expression struck Kelmomas as improbable, if not outright inhuman. Grinning like a monkey. Snarling like a dog. Staring like a dew-eyed virgin.

It also watched the beetle as it scurried into its gloomy bower.

The young Prince-Imperial skipped into the cramped recess, ducking even though the decorative vaults reached far above his head. The air smelled of tallow, dusty stone and something coppery. He smiled at the graven God, nodded more than bowed, then assumed much the same posture, crouching over his witless subject. Moved by some unaccountable whim, he pinned the beetle to the gritty floor with his index finger. It writhed like a little automaton beneath his fingertip. He held it for a moment, savouring its impotence, the knowledge that he could, at any moment, crush it like a rotted seed. Then, with his other hand, he pinched off two of its legs.

“Watch,” he whispered to the laughing idol. Its eyes gazed down, blank and bulbous.

He raised his hand, fingers outstretched in a dramatic flourish. The beetle scrambled in shining panic, but the arrow of its course had been bent, so that it chipped around and around, sketching little ovals at the idol’s stump-toed feet. Around and around.

See?” he exclaimed to Ajokli. They laughed together, child and idol, loud enough to blot out the chorus of chanting voices.

“They’re all like that,” he explained. “All you have to do is pinch.”

“Pinch what, Kelmomas?” a rich, feminine voice asked from behind him. Mother.

Another boy would have been startled, even ashamed, to be surprised by his mother after doing such a thing, but not Kelmomas. Despite the obscuring pillars and voices, he had known where she was all along, following her prim footsteps (though he knew not how) in a corner of his soul.

“Are you done?” he exclaimed, whirling. Her body-slaves had painted her white, so that she looked like statuary beneath the folds of her crimson gown. A girdle etched with Kyranean motifs cinched her waist. A headdress of jade serpents framed her cheeks and pressed order on her luxurious black hair. But even disguised like this she seemed the world’s most beautiful thing.

“Quite done,” the Empress replied. She smiled and secretly rolled her eyes, letting him know that she would much rather dote on her precocious son than languish in the company of priests and ministers. So much of what she did, Kelmomas knew, she did for the sake of appearances.
Just like him—only not nearly so well.

“You prefer my company, don’t you, Mommy?” He spoke this as a question even though he knew the answer; it troubled her when he read aloud the movements of her soul.

Smiling, she bent and held out her arms. He fell into her myrrh-scented embrace, breathed deep her encompassing warmth. Her fingers combed through his unkempt hair, and he looked up into her smiling gaze. Even so far from the candle-wheels she seemed to shine. He pressed his cheek against the golden-plates of her girdle, held her so tight that tears were squeezed from his eyes. Never was there such a beacon, it seemed. Never was there such a sanctuary.


“Come,” she said, drawing him by the hand back through the pillared gallery. He followed, more out of devotion than obedience. He glanced back for one last look at Ajokli, saw with satisfaction that he still laughed at the little beetle scuttling in circles at his feet.

Hand in hand, they walked toward the slots of white light. The singing had trailed into a gaggle of hushed voices, and a deeper, more forbidding resonance had risen to take its place—one that shivered through the very floor. Kelmomas paused, suddenly loath to leave the Allosium’s dust-and-stone quiet. His mother’s arm was drawn out like a rope behind her; their interlocked fingers broke apart.

She turned. “Kel? What’s wrong, sweetling?”

From where he stood a bar of white sky framed her, reaching as high as any tree. She seemed little more than smoke beneath it, something any draft could dissolve and carry away.

“Nothing,” he lied.

Mommy! Mommy!

Kneeling before him, she licked the pads of her fingers, which were palm-pink against the white painted across the backs of her hands, and began fussing with his hair. Light twittered across the filigree of her rings, flashing like some kind of code. Such a mess! her grin said.

“It’s proper that you be anxious,” she said, distracted by her ministrations. She looked him square in the eye, and he stared into the pith of her, past the paint and skin, past the sheathe of interlocking muscles, down to the radiant truth of her love.

She would die for you, the secret voice—the voice that had been within him always—whispered.

“Your father,” she continued, “says that we need fear only when we lose our fear.” She ran her hand from his temple to his chin. “When we become too accustomed to power and luxury.”

Father was forever saying things.

He smiled, looked down in embarrassment, in the way that never failed to slow her pulse and quicken her eyes. An adorable little son on the surface, even as he sneered beneath.


Hate him, the secret voice said, but fear him more.

Yes, the Strength. He must never forget that the Strength burned brightest in Father.

“Was ever a mother so blessed?” the Empress beamed, clutching his shoulders. She hugged him once more, then stood with his hands cupped in her own. He allowed her, reluctantly, to tow him out to the towering eaves of the Allosium, then beyond, into the sunless brilliance.

Flanked by scarlet formations of Eothic Guardsmen, they stood blinking upon the crest of the monumental steps that fanned down to the expanse of the Scuari Campus. The long-weathered temples and tenements of Momemn crowded the horizon, growing indistinct the deeper they plumbed the humid distance. The great domes of the Temple Xothei rose chill and dark, a hazy, hulking presence in the heart of mud-brick warrens. The adjacent Kamposea Agora was little more than a gap in the rotted teeth of interposing streetscapes.

On and on it went, the vast and mottled vista of the Home City, the great capital of all the Three Seas. For his entire life it had encircled him, hedged him with its teeming intricacies. And for his entire life it had frightened him, so much so that he often refused to look when Samarmas, his idiot twin, pointed to something unnoticed in its nebulous weave.

But today it seemed the only safe thing.

“Look!” his mother cried through the roar. “Look, Kel!”

There were thousands of them packed throughout the Imperial Precincts: women, children, slaves, the healthy and the infirm, Momemnites and pilgrims from afar—uncounted thousands of them. Churning like floodwaters about the base of the Xatantian Arch. Crushed against the lower compounds of the Andiamine Heights. Perched like crows along the low walls of the Garrison. All of them crying out, two fingers raised to touch his image.

“Think of how far they have come!” his mother cried through the tumult. “From across all the New Empire, Kelmomas, come to witness your divinity!”

Though he nodded with the bewildered gratitude he knew she expected from him, the young Prince-Imperial felt nothing save brittle revulsion. Only fools, he decided, travelled in circles. Part of him wished he could drag the Grinning God out of his shrine to show him …

People were bugs.

They weathered the adulation for what seemed ages, standing side by side in their proscribed places, Esmenet, Empress of the Three Seas, and the youngest of her exalted children. Kelmomas looked up as he was taught, idly followed the course of pinprick pigeons against the smoke rising from the city. He watched sunlight gather distant rooftops in the wake of a retreating cloud. He decided he would ask for a model of the city when his mother was weak and eager to indulge. Something made of wood.

Something that would burn.

Thopsis, their Shigeki Master of Protocol, raised his massive eunuch arms, and the Imperial Apparati arrayed on the steps below turned as one toward them. The gold-ribbed Prayer Horns sounded, resonating through the roaring chorus. They had been fixed at intervals in the shadow of the Allosium’s facade, fashioned of jet and ivory and so long they nearly reached to the second landing.

Kelmomas looked down across his father’s Exalt-Ministers, saw everything from lust and tenderness to hatred and avarice in their blank faces. There was lumbering Ngarau, the Grand Seneschal from the Ikurei days. Phinersa, the Holy Master of Spies, a plain yet devious man of Kianene stock. The blue-tattooed Imhailas, the statuesque Exalt-Captain of the Eothic Guard, whose beauty sometimes turned his mother’s eye. The ever-cantankerous Werjau, the Prime Nascenti and ruler of the powerful Ministrate, whose far-flung agents ensured none went astray. The emaciated Vem-Mithriti, Grandmaster of Imperial Saik and Vizier-in-Proxy, which made him the temporary master of all things arcane in the Three Seas …

On and on, all sixty-seven of them, arranged in order of precedence along the monumental stair, gathered to witness the Whelming of Anasûrimbor Kelmomas, the youngest son of their Most Holy Aspect-Emperor. Only the face of his Uncle Maithanet, the Shriah of the Thousand Temples, defeated his momentary scrutiny. For an instant, his uncle’s shining look caught his own, and though Kelmomas smiled with a daft candour appropriate to his age, he did not at all like the flat consistency of the Shriah’s gaze.

He suspects, the secret voice whispered.

Suspects what?

That you are make-believe.

The last of the cacophony faded, until only the oceanic call of the Horns remained, thrumming so deep that Kelmomas’s tunic seemed to tingle against his skin. Then they too trailed into nothing.

Ear-ringing silence. With a cry from Thopsis, the whole world seemed to kneel, including the Exalt-Ministers. The peoples of the New Empire fell to the ground, fields of them, then slowly lowered their foreheads to the hot marble—every soul crowded into the Imperial Precincts. Only the Shriah, who knelt before no man save the Aspect-Emperor, remained standing. Only Uncle Maithanet. When the sun broke across the stair, his vestments flared with light: a hundred tiny Tusks kindled like fingers of flame. Kelmomas blinked at their brilliance, averted his eyes.

His mother led him down the steps by the hand. He clapped after her with his sandalled feet, giggled at her frown. They passed down the aisle opened between the Exalt-Ministers, and he laughed some more, struck by the absurdity of them, all shapes and ages and sizes, grovelling in the costumes of kings.

“They honour you, Kel,” his mother said. “Why would you laugh at them?”

Had he meant to laugh? Sometimes it was hard to keep count.

“Sorry,” he said with a glum sigh. Sorry. It was one of many words that confused him, but it never failed to spark compassion in his mother’s look.

At the base of the monumental stair, a company of green-and-gold dressed soldiers awaited them: some twenty men of his father’s hallowed bodyguard, the Hundred Pillars. They fell into formation about the Empress and her child, then, their shields bright and their looks fierce with concentration, they began leading them through the masses and across the Scuari Campus toward the Andiamine Heights.

As a Prince-Imperial, Kelmomas often found himself overshadowed by armed men, but the walk unnerved him for some reason. The smell was comforting at first: the perfumed muslin of their surcoats, the oils they used to quicken their blades and soften the leather straps of their harness. But with every step, the bitter-sweet bitumen of unwashed bodies came more and more to the fore, punctuated by the reek of the truly wretched. Murmurs rose like a haze about them. “Bless-bless-bless,” over and over, in a tone poised between asking and giving. Kelmomas found himself staring past the towering guards, out across the landscape of kneelers. He saw an old beggar, more husked than clothed, weeping, grinding his face against the cobbles as though trying to blot himself out. He saw a child only slightly younger than himself, a girl, her head turned in sacrilege, so that she could stare up at their monstrous passage. On and on the prostrate figures went, out to distant foundations.

He walked across a living ground.

And then he was among them, in them, watching his own steps, little more than a jewelled shadow behind a screen of merciless, chain-armoured men. A name. A rumour and a hope. A god-child, suckled at the breast of Empire, anointed by the palm of Fate. A son of the Aspect-Emperor.

They did not know him, he realized. They saw, they worshipped, they trusted what they could not fathom.

No one knows you, the secret voice said.

No one knows anyone.

He glanced at his mother, saw the blank stare that always accompanied her more painful reveries.

“Are you thinking of her, Mommy?” he asked. Between the two of them, “her” always meant Mimara, her first daughter, the one she loved with the most desperation—and hated.

The one the secret voice had told him to drive away.

The Empress smiled with a kind of sad relief. “I worry for your father and your brothers too.”

This, Kelmomas could plainly see, was a lie. She fretted for Mimara—even still, after all he had done.

Perhaps, the voice said, you should have killed the bitch.
"When will Father return?”

He knew the answer at least as well as she did, but at some level he understood that as much as mothers love their sons, they loved being mothers as well—and being a mother meant answering childish questions. They travelled several yards before she replied, passing through a fog of pleas and whispers. Kelmomas found himself comparing her to the countless cameos he had seen depicting her in her youth—back in the days of the First Holy War. Her hips were wider, perhaps, and her skin not so smooth beneath the veneer of white paint, but her beauty was legendary still. The seven-year-old could scarce imagine anyone more beautiful.

“Not for some time, Kel,” she said. “Not until the Great Ordeal is completed.”

He nearly clutched his breast, such was the ache, the joy.

If he fails, the secret voice said, he will die.

Anasûrimbor Kelmomas smiled what seemed his first true smile of the day.

Kneelers all around, their backs broken by awe. A plain of abject humanity. “Bless-bless-bless,” rising like whispers in a sick-house. Then a single, savage cry: “Curse! Curse!”

Somehow a madman managed to plunge past the shields and blades, to reach out, punctured and failing, with a knife that reflected shining sky. The Pillarian guardsmen traded shouts. The crowds heaved and screamed. The young boy glimpsed battling shadows.