Win a copy of Jasper Kent's TWELVE


I have three copies of Jasper Kent's debut, Twelve, up for grabs, compliments of the folks at Pyr. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks.

Here's the blurb:

Russia, 1812.

It began as a last stand against Napoleon's invading army. It would end as a fight against an enemy of mankind itself... The voordalak —a creature of legend, the tales of which have terrified Russian children for generations. But for Captain Aleksei Ivanovich Danilov—a child of more enlightened times—it is a legend that has long been forgotten. Besides, in the autumn of 1812, he faces a more tangible enemy: the Grande Armée of Napoleon Bonaparte.

City after city has fallen to the advancing French, and it now seems that only a miracle will keep them from Moscow itself. In desperation, Aleksei and his comrades enlist the help of the Oprichniki—a group of twelve mercenaries from the furthest reaches of Christian Europe, who claim that they can turn the tide of the war. It seems an idle boast, but the Russians soon discover that the Oprichniki are indeed quite capable of fulfilling their promise... and much more.
Unnerved by the fact that so few can accomplish so much, Aleksei remembers those childhood stories of the voordalak. And as he comes to understand the true, horrific nature of these twelve strangers, he wonders at the nightmare they've unleashed in their midst....

Full of historical detail, thrilling action, and heart-stopping supernatural moments, Twelve is storytelling at its most original and exciting
.

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

The portrayal of Muslims in videogames


Saladin Ahmed wrote an interesting article on the way Muslims have been portrayed in videogames since the 80s.

Here are a few extracts:

Videogames have, often enough, contributed to this rhetoric, but games also complicate and even undermine such universal hatred. Like TV and Hollywood movies, the purposes of videogames are to make money, and to entertain. But that's not all videogames do - games can also teach us how to think about "other" peoples, how to hate "bad guys," and, once in a rare while, how to take a second, more critical look at the Us vs. Them dichotomy that we've been handed by other parts of our culture.

[...]

The original Prince of Persia, a ground-breaking platformer released in 1989, is the game that made this mold. Its plot revolves around a blonde-ish foreigner who comes to ancient Persia, falls in love with the princess and is swiftly locked up in the Sultan's dungeon by the evil vizier Jafar. He spends the course of the game escaping the dungeon. I can recall how refreshing it was for me as a young geek to sit there controlling the on-screen hero, hanging from ledges, avoiding spiked pits and quaffing potions - doing all the stuff that videogame heroes did - all while being the Prince of Persia! For a young Muslim gamer, it was nothing short of revolutionary. It wasn't until years later that I reflected on the fact that the hero was blonde, while the evil swordsmen wore turbans.

[...]

In general, such games set in the "Exotic East" mythologize the Arabian/Islamic past rather than demonizing it. But this is a mixed blessing. These games reinforce the notion that the only Arabs or Muslims worth rooting for are those who exist in the distant, mythical past - and those who are fighting other Arabian types. Videogames in general draw on the mythical past for their heroes - knights and wizards, ninjas and barbarians. But it's worth noting that, as far as gaming is concerned, the safe, distant past is the only realm in which an Arab can be a hero.

[...]

Distinct in some sense from both the mythologizing Arabian Nights-inspired games of yore and the "blow 'em away" games that are more popular nowadays is a very small handful of titles that attempt to depict something more complex than either sympathetic cartoonish nostalgia or negative killfests. This category is the least populated, but the games that fall into it are titans.

[...]

The relatively short history of videogame depictions of Muslim characters so far closely mirrors the rest of American popular culture, but that doesn't mean that games must continue to follow suit. Intriguing possibilities for a more honest portrayal of Middle Easterners are already presenting themselves. Games like Assassin's Creed and Civilization have paved the way for diverse depictions of Muslim heroes. More controversially, the Medal of Honor franchise - in a move that has infuriated armchair patriots but has met with mixed reactions from actual soldiers - will soon complicate simplistic hero/villain dichotomies by offering the option to play as the Taliban during multiplayer matches. I don't know that such moves will forever solve the dilemma of the Middle East's depiction in gaming. But I do know that I'm not the only Muslim geek out there hoping to spend more of my gaming hours jumping off buildings in medieval Jerusalem and fewer of them blowing away guys who look like my Dad.

Given the Ground Zero Mosque polemic and the threat of Iran as a nuclear power, the article has not been that well-received. Perhaps the timing isn't that great, or maybe it's indeed the perfect time to release such an article.

But anything that makes people sit down and think is a good thing. . .

Problem is, I can already see people throw their hands up in the air and scoff at Saladin's article. I'm afraid that one of the comment will also be echoed by many readers: "maybe if moderate muslims took a more front and center position against extremists, and took back your religion from facists that seek to define it and jihad as some war against non believers, instead of the internal struggle with faith."

Needless to say, this article won't solve any of the problems American Muslims face on a daily basis. Still, well worth a read. . .

Blue and Gold


I'm starting to believe that the enigmatic author K. J. Parker should concentrate on short form works. After the excellent Purple and Black novella last year, Blue and Gold is another winner. I haven't read Parker's The Folding Knife yet, but if it's half as fun as Blue and Gold it should be a very good read.

By the way, I didn't forget to include the cover art with this review. The artwork isn't ready yet. . .

Here's the blurb:

“Well, let me see,” I said, as the innkeeper poured me a beer. “In the morning I discovered the secret of changing base metal into gold. In the afternoon, I murdered my wife.”

For a man as remarkable as the philosopher Saloninus, just another day.

Of course, we only have his word for it, and Saloninus has been known to be creative with the truth. Little white lies are inevitable expedients when you’re one jump ahead of the secret police and on the brink of one of the greatest discoveries in the history of alchemy. But why would a scientist with the world’s most generous, forgiving patron be so desperate to run away? And what, if anything, has blue got to do with gold?

As I mentioned, the novella format appears to bring the very best out of Parker. The limited wordcount precludes unending technological and scientific details and explanations, which often get in the way of the actual storytelling in the author's novel-length projects. In short form, Parker's wit and sense of humor are allowed to roam free, making for a fun-filled reading experience.

Although technical minutia doesn't bog down the narrative, K. J. Parker does elaborate on alchemy quite a bit. But such passages never hinder the plot. They simply had a layer of realism to the story arc.

The pace is just about perfect. Indeed, I read Parker's Blue and Gold in one sitting. Not because it's such an engrossing read, but because it's so much fun that I couldn't put it down. Intelligence is one of the author's hallmarks, and it's very much present throughout the narrative. Yet it's Parker's sense of humor which carries this tale forward.

Saloninus the Philosopher is a very smart men who has nevertheless made a series of questionable choices in the past. Unscrupulous, he makes for a great POV character. The novella is written in the first person, ensuring that we see everything unfold through Saloninus' eyes. And the fact that he lies throughout Blue and Gold as he tells his story means that there is never a dull moment from start to finish.

As was the case with Purple and Black, Blue and Gold is a well-crafted and amusing novella. It's a work that should thoroughly satisfy Parker's fans and win the author a new audience.

The final verdict: 7.75/10

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

Musical Interlude



This track kept playing on and on during my stay in Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina. I had never heard of Professor Green (we don't get his stuff in Canada), but I used to be a big INXS fan. The sampling and the good beat made it so that this song got stuck in my mind...

New cover art for Mark Charan Newton's CITY OF RUIN


Ah man. . . I really like Mark, and I wish him all the success in the world. I really do.

But the cover art for the UK mass market paperback edition of City of Ruin (Canada, USA, Europe) is awful. =(

I like the background: The city, the moon, the falling snowflakes, the color scheme. But the Harlequin dude must go. It's not as bad as the infamous Patrick Rothfuss gay cover, yet it remains something I would never, ever, pick up in a bookstore.

I can only hope that, much like the new Abercrombie covers in the UK, this one will help Mark move more units.

Check out his blog. He seems quite satisfied with the new cover. Which is what matters, I guess. . .

From Steven Erikson -- With gratitude to you all


Speaking of Erikson, I can't believe it took me close to a month to find out about this on malazanempire.com:

Hello all.

In a response I just posted on the Life As A Human site (not in the last installment, the one before that, I think, the one with 30-odd comments), I described my feeling as if I have staggered out from under an enormous burden. And it was last week, on my facebook page, when I announced the closure of an adventure that has spanned almost thirty years of my life, from those wild ambitions of youth – all that manic gaming with Cam where we forged an entire world from our imaginations and from all that inspired us from the literary genre of Fantasy – to this ageing man stumbling free, finally, not yet ready to look back, not yet capable of making sense of all this, and it may be that I never will.

I look out the window on my left now, onto the High Street of Falmouth, watching the crowds moving back and forth, and it was while seated on this leather sofa about a week ago that I wrote the last line of The Crippled God, saying goodbye to the most extensive story I will ever tell. I’ve since joked that my next project is a twenty-four volume saga set in the same world, chronicling the life of a character from birth to seven years of age, whereupon said character is jailed for being a career criminal. Called The Malazan Book of the Felon. Flippancy can be a useful defense mechanism, for a while, but eventually the silence returns.

On the speakers here in Mango Tango, Dylan asks ‘How does it feel?’ and that acerbic tone invites derision, in my case self-directed, as if a voice inside wants to say ‘big deal. Besides, mate, the best is now behind you.’ And I’m reminded of the last poem in the book, which invites something very different, as if to answer my self-doubts with a caustic regard for the willfully blind. What do I mean with all that? Wait and see. As for me, the willful blindness persists, and I see nothing ahead and nothing behind. I’m empty, and it feels all right.

I often remind myself that The Malazan Book of the Fallen will never challenge the bestsellers within the genre; will never achieve the broad appeal of, say, The Lord of the Rings, or even The Wheel of Time. But still, I feel an immense gratitude for the readers I have found – for you who participate on this site and for all the lurkers staying in the shadows. We have been in conversation for some time now, you and me, sharing an investment in time and energy; and while I have been the one in the know when you have speculated and wondered, the time is coming when the roles will reverse – when I am the one who can only look on, not knowing what is coming next, as you (hopefully) continue to explore the series, with all the authority that only fans can achieve.

So, I have already begun my wait. To see what you think. What you feel. To see all that you take from these books, and to see what you will make of them. Forgive me if I stay in the shadows. But this is now yours, not mine. And that is as it should be.

With gratitude,

Steven Erikson

You can read the entire thread here. . .

And it is only fitting to post the original cover art for Gardens of the Moon to accompany these words from the author. It was this beautiful painting by Chris Moore which prompted me to pick up the novel. Okay, so I then let both Gardens of the Moon and Deadhouse Gates sit there for a couple of years, but I did wise up in the end. . .

Better late than never, as they say! ;-)

If like many, you have yet to give The Malazan Book of the Fallen a shot, I suggest you do so ASAP, if only to find out for yourself what the buzz is all about!

- Gardens of the Moon (Canada, USA, Europe)
- Deadhouse Gates (Canada, USA, Europe)
- Memories of Ice (Canada, USA, Europe)
- House of Chains (Canada, USA, Europe)
- Midnight Tides (Canada, USA, Europe)
- The Bonehunters (Canada, USA, Europe)
- Reaper's Gale (Canada, USA, Europe)
- Toll the Hounds (Canada, USA, Europe)
- Dust of Dreams (Canada, USA, Europe)

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (August 24th)

In hardcover:

Charlaine Harris' Dead in the Family is down two spots, finishing the week at number 19. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Justin Cronin's The Passage is down two positions, ending the week at number 21. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks.

Sean Williams' Star Wars: The Old Republic: Fatal Alliance is down three spots, finishing the week at number 26. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks.

Death's Excellent Vacation, an anthology edited by Charlaine Harris & Toni L.P. Kelner, is down twenty positions, ending the week at number 28.

In paperback:

Stephen King's Under the Dome maintains its position at number 6 (trade paperback)

Charlaine Harris' Dead and Gone is up three spots, finishing the week at number 14.

Charlaine Harris' Dead Until Dark is up two positions, ending the week at number 23.

Stephenie Meyer's The Host is up one position, ending the week at number 27 (trade paperback).

Win a copy of Steven Erikson's THE FIRST COLLECTED TALES OF BAUCHELAIN AND KORBAL BROACH


Thanks to the kind folks at Transworld, I have fives copies of the omnibus containing the first three adventures featuring our favorite necromancers in fantasy, Bauchelain and Korbal Broach. Odd that this one was released months ago in the USA. . . For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

"Blood Follows" - In the port city of Lamentable Moll, a diabolical killer stalks the streets and panic grips the citizens like a fever. As Emancipor Reese's legendary ill luck would have it, his previous employer is the unknown killer's latest victim. But two strangers have come to town, and they have posted in Fishmonger's Round a note, reeking of death-warded magic, requesting the services of a manservant. "The Lees Of Laughter's End" - After their blissful sojourn in Lamentable Moll, the sorcerers Bauchelain and Korbal Broach - along with their manservant, Emancipor Reese - set out on the open seas aboard the sturdy ship Suncurl. Alas, there's more baggage in the hold than meets the beady eyes of the crew, and unseemly terrors awaken. For Bauchelain and Korbal Broach, and Emancipor Reese, it is just one more night on the high seas, on a journey without end. "The Healthy Dead" - The city of Quaint's zeal for goodness can be catastrophic, and no one knows this better than Bauchelain and Korbal Broach, two stalwart champions of all things bad. The homicidal necromancers - and their substance-addled manservant, Emancipor Reese - find themselves ensnared in a scheme to bring goodness into utter ruination. Sometimes you must bring down civilization...in the name of civilization.

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

New Peter F. Hamilton interview


Since we haven't had a chance to chat with Hamilton since 2007, I felt that it the timing was right for another Q&A. Especially with The Evolutionary Void (Canada, USA, Europe) just released on our side of the pond and the book coming out next week in the UK.

My partners in crime for this interview were two big Hamilton fans: Adam (http://www.thewertzone.blogspot.com/) and Mark (http://www.walkerofworlds.com/). So many thanks to them for accepting the invitation!

And thanks to the folks at Pan Macmillan for making it happen! Last but not least, special thanks to Peter F. Hamilton for taking time off his busy schedule to answer our questions.

Enjoy!
-------------------

- Without giving anything away, what can you tell your fans about THE EVOLUTIONARY VOID?

That is does tie up everything from the first two books, and that this time the story focus shifts back to the Commonwealth segments. Though there is still a lot going on the the Void itself. Anything else would be a spoiler, and you really don't want that at this stage.

- THE EVOLUTIONARY VOID marks the conclusion of the Void Trilogy and also resolves some long-standing mysteries from the Commonwealth Saga. Did the ending turn out as you'd hoped?

I was almost smug with myself in the way that the ending was extremely close to the one I'd originally plotted out five years ago. I consider that quite an achievement (certainly for me) to keep something on line over such a length, and avoiding bloating the story.

- Have the plotlines diverged much since you began writing the series, or did you have the entire plot more or less figured out from the very beginning? Were any characters added or further fleshed out beyond your original intention? Have you made any changes to your initial plans during the course of the writing of the series?

See above, I sat down before I started writing the trilogy and drew up an extensive storyline for everyone. Certainly all the main themes stayed as I envisaged them. In fact Morton was cut altogether from the story, there's an extract on mywebsite that was intended as his re-introduction from the Commonwealth Saga, which when I started writing it I felt was just a plotline too many. Other than that, the characters doDod get added to in unexpected ways, that's the part of writing I enjoy the most.

- Was Groundhog Day an influence on the Edeard subplot of THE EVOTUIONARY VOID? The ability to go back and change major life decisions is shown to be a cursed gift, and hindsight is shown to be not that much help. There's also allusions to chaos theory as changing one small event is shown to have unpredictable consequences. What was your aim with that storyline?

I certainly started thinking about the parallels with Groundhog Day once I started writing the reset ability, though it wasn't an influence on putting the book together. Chaos theory certainly comes into it, in that it helped show Edeard the true burden of absolute power, it plays out along the lines of: No good deed goes unpunished.

- After writing science fiction/space opera for so long, how different was it to create the fantasy-type setting of Querencia to tell Edeard's story in the Void Trilogy?

I'm still not convinced the Querencia sections qualify as high fantasy, more like planetary romance. But they were fun to write, it harks back to the old classics where humans have mental powers. And the worldbuilding mechanism applies for all, SF and Fantasy. Rules are rules...

- You've already said that your next big series will be another trilogy set in the Void. Is there anything you can tell us about what it will be about? Will familiar characters appear? Will there be strong SF elements or will the setting of the Void mean it's a more fantasy-esque work?

This is some way off, I won't even start the plotting for another couple of years -assuming a publisher is interested. However, Fallers (provisional title) is set on a different planet with a very different set of problems. No one from the Commonwealth Saga or Void Trilogy will be appearing (at the moment). And this will be more Science Fantasy than hard SF. I think. Ask me again in five years.

- Your next two books will be a new short story collection and a stand-alone novel entitled GREAT NORTH ROAD. Do you find working on these shorter projects useful and refreshing after finishing a big series? Do you prefer writing short stories, stand-alone novels or multi-thousand-page series?

I find short stories incredibly difficult. The collection is every one I've written since Second Chance At Eden came out, and that was 12 years ago. There were so few to go in the new collection I had to write an extra one to bring the word-length up to a respectable level, which says a lot. But I'm certainly looking forward to writing a one off in a brand new setting. A change is always a good thing.

- Beyond that, do you think you'll ever return to the Greg Mandel or Night's Dawn universes? Or are those settings and characters now done and dusted for good?

Greg Mandel, no. Night's Dawn, possible -but not for a very long time. I'd need to have a story that would suit being told in that universe.

- Paula Myo has become one of your most popular characters, and her investigations would seem ripe for development in more novels or short stories. Have you any plans along these lines? Were you satisfied with Paula's storyline in the Void Trilogy and were you tempted to give her a larger role?

The additional short story for the collection was a Paula Myo one. And I think that will be the last for a long while. Again, if I ever come up with a puzzle which would suit her I'll be happy to write it. As to her role in Evolutionary, it possibly wasn't as central as I originally expected, but she is pivotal.

- Characters often take a life of their own. Which of your characters did you find the most unpredictable to write about?

Troblum, without a doubt. I was never quite sure how to make him do what he had to do.

- You're known for writing what can only be described as doorstoppers - do you prefer writing at this length, or is this simply due to the nature of the story you wish to tell?

Every story is its own length. I admit I do enjoy the complexity involved. But again there's no hard and fast rule. I I come up with a short plot, I won't try and add to it.

- You've said previously that you like to write the sort of novels that you'd like to read - what book recommendations can you give to your readers? Do you still find time to read, and if so what have you currently got on the go?

I get so little read these days. I'm really not the best to give advice. But I am about to start The Dervish House by Ian McDonald

- How special is it to see your work being released as collector's editions by Subterranean Press?

Subterranean Press do a superb job. My only problem is where to store all those copies, because I'm certainly not handing those out to friends as freebies.

- More and more, authors/editors/publicists/agents are discovering the potential of all the SFF blogs/websites/message boards on the internet. Do you keep an eye on what's being discussed out there, especially if it concerns you? Or is it too much of a distraction?

Like anyone I'm interested in what is being said about me. But I don't use any of it to change what I'm writing. That's too much like writing by committee - a recipe for disaster.

- Other than a few exceptions, SFF works blessed with commercial success seldom get a nod when the Hugo nominations are revealed. Multi-volume space opera series don't appear to be a hit with voters, yet is a Hugo Award something you'd like to win one of these days?

Any award is welcome, not to mention flattering, but I don't get all torn up about not being nominated, though. Awards for books does seem slightly contrary to what books are about. This isn't the music charts after all, we're not in any competition -or at least I'm not.

- There will be a book launch and a signing at Forbidden Planet on September 10th to celebrate the release of THE EVOLUTIONARY VOID. Will you also be touring to promote the book?

Yes.

Friday 10th September, 6pm – 7pm

Signing at Forbidden Planet, 179 Shaftesbury Avenue, London

For more details, see http://forbiddenplanet.com/

Mon 13th September 11am

Signing at BuyTheBook in Oakham

Tues 14th September pm, 7pm

Event at Birmingham Central Library

Thurs 16th September 7pm

Reading and signing at Waterstone’s Deansgate, Manchester

Tickets £3 redeemable against the book on the night

Saturday 18th September 6:30pm

Signing at Waterstone’s Nottingham Bridlesmith Gate

Sunday 19th September

Peter will be taking part in several events at Fantasycon, Britannia Hotel, 1 St James Street, Nottingham

For further details, see http://sites.google.com/site/fantasycon2010

Wednesday 22nd September time tbc

Reading, Q&A and signing at Waterstone’s Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow

Thursday 23rd Sept 6pm

Reading, Q&A and signing at Waterstone’s West End, Edinburgh

- After what can only be called an illustrious and prolific career, what motivates you to keep on writing?

My brain can't switch off. It's one of life's better problems to have.

- Anything else you wish to share with your fans?

Thanks for reading.

25 classic science fiction movies that everybody must watch


Thanks to Rob for linking this on Facebook. The folks from io9 put together a list of "must see" scifi flicks.

From the io9 website:

Science fiction has rocked cinemas for a century, and the genre has produced many undisputed classics during that time. But which movies are essential viewing for anyone interested in the genre? We broke down the 25 must-watch science fiction films.

Methodology: We looked at a few different criteria, including overall cinematic excellence. We wanted to include films that were important to the development of the genre, and which had helped to raise the overall level of awesomeness in science fiction films. We also wanted to represent as many different types of films as possible. And we looked for films that had an original concept, or which were the first of their kind in some way.

But most of all, we looked for films that would represent science fiction well to a new audience and totally rock a neophyte's brain.

I've seen 16 of the 25 movies on the list end enjoyed them all. Some more than others, true, but I don't feel one can go wrong with giving most of these films a shot.

What do you think???

Another extract from Peter F. Hamilton's THE EVOLUTIONARY VOID

In addition to the one I posted on the Hotlist last week, the folks at Pan Macmillan have an excerpt from Peter F. Hamilton's The Evolutionary Void on their website. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

For those in the London area, there will be a book launch and signing at Forbidden Planet on September 10th.

Click on this link to read the extract. =)

Only a few more days to go before the book is released. . .

Favorite SFF characters

My "Most hated SFF Characters" post of a few weeks back created some waves, which proves that the SFF online community has grown a bit lame in some regards in the last couple of years. Some dumbasses argued that I totally missed the point, that those authors wanted readers to dislike these characters, even though I had already commented on the issue. Ah well, what can you do!?!

Anyway, some people opined that I should post a list of my favorite SFF characters to put things into perspective, so here you go. Make of this what you will. . . =)

In no particular order:



- Anomander Rake (Steven Erikson's The Malazan Book of the Fallen): The Dragnipur-wielding Son of Darkness is too cool for school! One of the most enigmatic and fascinating fantasy character ever!

- Alaric Morgan (Katherine Kurtz's Deryni saga): The King Kelson books wouldn't be the same without him!

- Gerald Tarrant (C. S. Friedman's The Coldfire Trilogy): Villain, antihero, or both, this is one of the most memorable SFF protagonists ever. This quote sums up this character well: You cannot begin to comprehend my motivations.

- Matrim "Mat" Cauthon (Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time): Blood and bloody ashes! Nuff said!

- Nakor the Isalani (Raymond E. Feist's The Riftar, The Serpentwar, and other Midkemia novels): Eccentric trickster, this little magician of a man is often the highlight of a Feist book. Want an orange?

- Drusas Achamian (R. Scott Bakker's Prince of Nothing and The Aspect-Emperor series): A member of the Mandate School of magic, he joins the Holy War by order of his superiors. But when he teaches Anasûrimbor Kellhus his secrets, he realizes that there is a lot more than meets the eye.

- FitzChivalry (Robin Hobb's The Farseer and The Tawny Man series): Boy does Hobb make this poor guy suffer in these books. The first person narrative makes us feel every second of it. The author nearly made me cry twice, once in each trilogy. . .

- Jon Snow (George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire): For my money, probably the most interesting character in the whole series. GRRM likely has a heartbreaking demise in store for him, though. . .

- Angus Thermopyle (Stephen R. Donaldson's The Gap series): Not the most likeable character, true, but man did he make that scifi series an unforgettable read!

- Harry Dresden (Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files): Not always the sharpest tool in the shed, it's impossible not to root for this down-on-his-luck wizard!



- Ben Adaephon Delat (Steven Erikson's The Malazan Book of the Fallen): We may not know all of Quick Ben's secrets yet, but there's no denying that this former priest of the Shadow is one cool character!

- Kalam Mekhar (Steven Erikson's The Malazan Book of the Fallen): Assassin and Bridgeburner, the man is so bad-ass that even elite members of the Claw fear him! Being paired with Quick Ben always makes for fun times and fireworks!

- Admiral Thrawn (Timothy Zahn's Star Wars: The Thrawn Trilogy and The Hand of Thrawn): God knows Lucas Books have sold out years ago, producing turd after turd. But Admiral Thrawn was a great character!

- Locke Lamora (Scott Lynch's The Gentleman Bastard): Yes, he fucks up and gets the shit beaten out of him in every book, but it doesn't get much better than this! Lynch created a superstar, no question about it!

- Moiraine Damodred (Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time): Along with Siuan Sanche, the only well-drawn Aes Sedai character of the series.

- al'Lan Mandragoran (Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time): Diademed Battle Lord, uncrowned king of Malkier, and Warder to Moiraine, Lan is doubtless one of the best characters in WoT. Of course, RJ had to marry him to Nynaeve. . .

- Kennit (Robin Hobb's The Liveship Traders): Come on, pirate captains don't get cooler than this!

- Jimmy the Hand (Raymond E. Feist's The Riftwar, The Serpent War, and The Riftwar Legacy): Street urchin turned nobleman, Jimmy the Hand is probably the best Feist character ever!

- Roland of Gilead (Stephen King's The Dark Tower): Bad-ass no-nonsense gunslinger! Nuff said!

- Jaime Lannister (George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire): Villain and then good guy, I love how GRRM turned him around and made readers root for him.

- Tyrion Lannister (George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire): This misshapen dwarf nicknamed "The Imp" has become a fan-favorite. In addition, he is in my opinion the most interesting POV character.

- Haplo the Patryn (Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman's The Death Gate Cycle): Sent to scout the elemental worlds in search of the Sartan and throw them into chaos to pave the way for the return of the Patryn, Haplo and his dog were a wonderful pair in a series that showcased Weis and Hickman at their peak.

- Inquisitor Glokta (Joe Abercrombie's The First Law): Some characters sometimes take on a life of their own and steal the spotlight of entire novels and series. Glotka is one of those, and hopefully one day we'll get to see him again. . .

- Fiddler (Steven Erikson's The Malazan Book of the Fallen): This sapper didn't look like much early on, but he surely came into his own as the series progressed. As things stand, he's one of the most interesting character in the series.

- Whiskeyjack (Steven Erikson's The Malazan Book of the Fallen): Bridgeburner sergeant, the man doesn't necessarily say or do a whole lot. But all of his men defer to him, and that respect rubs off on the readers.

- Arya Stark (George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire): Hands down, my favorite of the Stark siblings. She's got more balls than many male characters, and her storyline has the potential to be one of the most interesting in the entire series.

- Raistlin Majere (Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman's Dragonlance): The sickly golden-skinned wizard with the hourglass eyes who went back in time to face the legendary mage Fistandantilus and then challenged the Queen of Darkness herself to become a god captured the imagination of a twelve-year-old and introduced me to fantasy novels. The rest, as they say, is history!


The next speculative fiction bestseller?


After Justin Cronin's The Passage (Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks), Alden Bell's The Reapers are the Angels appears to be the next big hit. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Already out in the USA in trade paperback, the novel will be released in hardback in the UK next week. It has already garnered a slew of rave reviews.

Here's the blurb:

God is a slick god. Temple knows. She knows because of all the crackerjack miracles still to be seen on this ruined globe...

Older than her years and completely alone, Temple is just trying to live one day at a time in a post-apocalyptic world, where the undead roam endlessly, and the remnant of mankind who have survived, at times, seem to retain little humanity themselves.

This is the world she was born into. Temple has known nothing else. Her journey takes her to far-flung places, to people struggling to maintain some semblance of civilization – and to those who have created a new world order for themselves.

When she comes across the helpless Maury, she attempts to set one thing right, if she can just get him back to his family in Texas then maybe it will bring redemption for some of the terrible things she's done in her past. Because Temple has had to fight to survive, has done things that she's not proud of and, along the road, she’s made enemies.

Now one vengeful man is determined that, in a world gone mad, killing her is the one thing that makes sense

Sounds interesting based on all the great reviews, but I have to admit that I'm getting tired of zombies, vampires, werewolves, and angels. . .

Here's the book trailer:



GAME OF THRONES in Vanity Fair


Saw this on Winter is Coming:

This from HBO co-president Michael Lombardo in a recent interview with Vanity Fair discussing HBO’s ability to garner so many Emmy nominations and wins:

Lombardo, for example, mentioned the upcoming adaptation of the fantasy-novel series Game of Thrones, a genre in which he’d candidly mentioned not being the world’s leading expert: “The fact that it was genre, i.e. a little bit of magic, in a world that is not in fact real was irrelevant to the storytelling. The human drama that I read in the page, the characters as scripted by David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss]—I was hooked on the pilot after reading it, and I’ve done this enough now to know that doesn’t happen all the time and when it happens you need to pay attention to it. Because to have a great show, I got to tell you, what you have to start with is a great script. It was a great script.”

This looks like it's going to be something special! =)

Brandon Sanderson contest winners!

Our three winners will get their hands on an autographed copy of Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings, compliments of the cool folks at Tor Books. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The book comes out in a week, so only a few more days to go! =)

The winners are:

- Jasun Branson, from Canton, Georgia, USA

- Brad M. Saenz, from Gurnee, Illinois, USA

- Marie Barnes, from Hilliard, Ohio, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

In related news, Adam, Ken, Larry, and I (the same foursome who brought you the Sanderson WoT interview) will have another Q&A with the author. We were supposed to get the first crack at Sanderson, but I'm not sure if we managed to get our questions to him on time to make it happen. In any event, we have a new Brandon Sanderson interview on the way!

Win a copy of Brent Weeks' THE BLACK PRISM


One lucky winner will get a complimentary copy of Brent Weeks' The Black Prism, courtesy of the nice folks at Orbit. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks.

Here's the blurb:

Gavin Guile is the Prism, the most powerful man in the world. He is high priest and emperor, a man whose power, wit, and charm are all that preserves a tenuous peace. But Prisms never last, and Guile knows exactly how long he has left to live: Five years to achieve five impossible goals.

But when Guile discovers he has a son, born in a far kingdom after the war that put him in power, he must decide how much he's willing to pay to protect a secret that could tear his world apart.

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

L. E. Modesitt, jr. contest winners!

Thanks to the generosity of the folks at Tor Books, each of our winners will receive a copy of L. E. Modesitt, jr.'s Imager's Intrigue! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks.

This is a great new series, so give Imager (Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks) and Imager's Challenge (Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks) a chance! I'm sure you won't be disappointed!

The winners are:

- Joel Prinster, from San Diego, California, USA

- Amber Lovvorn, from Hillsboro, Tennessee, USA

- Brian Zoetewey, from Orlando, Florida, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

Serbia likes me!


Which is good, for I like Serbia! ;-)

You can imagine my surprise when I discovered that Serbia's Ambassador to the World had linked the blog post in which I invited my readers to check out my Belgrade photo album. You can find their post here.

As a matter of course, I will have to return to Serbia at some point to see more of the country. After a couple of nights of partying in Belgrade, that goes without saying! Plus, I was too hungover to take my sorry ass to Novi Sad on that fateful Sunday morning. . . Yet one more reason to go back!

And I still have 3500 dinars that no one in Zagreb would exchange, so there's my booze money right there! And I'd kill for a couple of meals at Little Bay, which offers the most affordable fine dining experience in Europe!

And the beautiful women, of course!

Hmmm, seems like there are a lot of good reasons to go back. . . =)

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (August 17th)

In hardcover:

Death's Excellent Vacation, an anthology edited by Charlaine Harris & Toni L.P. Kelner, debuts at number 8.

Charlaine Harris' Dead in the Family maintains its position week at number 17. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Justin Cronin's The Passage is down five positions, ending the week at number 19. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks.

Sean Williams' Star Wars: The Old Republic: Fatal Alliance is down ten spots, finishing the week at number 23. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks.

Kelley Armstrong's Waking the Witch is down eight positions, ending the week at number 24.

In paperback:

Stephen King's Under the Dome is down one position, ending the week at number 6 (trade paperback)

Charlaine Harris' Dead and Gone is up five spots, finishing the week at number 17.

Charlaine Harris' Dead Until Dark is up six positions, ending the week at number 25.

Stephenie Meyer's The Host is down four positions, ending the week at number 28 (trade paperback).

Fuck me, Ray Bradbury!



This is hilarious!

Rachel Bloom is so cool! ;-)

Who Fears Death


Based on a couple of reviews I've read since my return from the Balkans last month, I was keen to read this novel. I was aware that it would be unlike what I normally read, which made Nnedi Okorafor's first work aimed at the adult market even more appealing. My only fear was that it would turn out to be as underwhelming and politically heavy-handed as Ngugi wa Thiong'o's Wizard of the Crow. Fortunately, though there are social and political facets to Okorafor's tale, the author avoided the usual pitfalls and wrote a compelling coming-of-age story featuring a strong-willed heroine one can root for.

Here's the blurb:

International award-winning author Nnedi Okorafor enters the world of magic realist literature with a powerful story of genocide in the far future and of the woman who reshapes her world.

In a post-apocalyptic Africa, the world has changed in many ways, yet in one region genocide between tribes still bloodies the land. After years of enslaving the Okeke people, the Nuru tribe has decided to follow the Great Book and exterminate the Okeke tribe for good. An Okeke woman who has survived the annihilation of her village and a terrible rape by an enemy general wanders into the desert hoping to die. Instead, she gives birth to an angry baby girl with hair and skin the color of sand. Gripped by the certainty that her daughter is different—special—she names her child Onyesonwu, which means “Who Fears Death?” in an ancient tongue.

From a young age, stubborn, willful Onyesonwu is trouble. It doesn’t take long for her to understand that she is physically and socially marked by the circumstances of her violent conception. She is Ewu—a child of rape who is expected to live a life of violence, a half-breed rejected by both tribes.

But Onye is not the average Ewu. As a child, Onye’s singing attracts owls. By the age of eleven, she can change into a vulture. But these amazing abilities are merely the first glimmers of a remarkable unique magic. As Onye grows, so do her abilities—soon she can manipulate matter and flesh, or travel beyond into the spiritual world. During an inadvertent visit to this other realm she learns something terrifying: someone powerful is trying to kill her.

Desperate to elude her would-be murderer, and to understand her own nature, she seeks help from the magic practitioners of her village. But, even among her mother’s people, she meets with frustrating prejudice because she is Ewu and female. Yet Onyesonwu persists.

Eventually her magical destiny and her rebellious nature will force her to leave home on a quest that will be perilous in ways that Onyesonwu can not possibly imagine. For this journey will cause her to grapple with nature, tradition, history, true love, the spiritual mysteries of her culture, and ultimately to learn why she was given the name she bears: Who Fears Death?

The tale is set in a post-apocalyptic Africa, in the Seven Rivers Kingdom, which is comprised of the lands that used to be known as the Kingdom of Sudan. And although it is set in a far future, the story is a reflection of the atrocities committed in the Darfur region and elsewhere on the continent. The African setting is a welcome change from the habitual European medieval environment so common in speculative fiction. Yet the worldbuilding doesn't intrude on the story itself. A character-driven tale, Nnedi Okorafor only provides enough background information to keep the plotlines moving forward. Still, African traditions and folklore are at the heart of Who Fears Death, adding a layer of uniqueness to an already special story.

As a child of rape, Onyesonwu is an outcast in her community. Brazen, confused, alienated, I feel that the author truly captured the very essence of a bitter, mad, and ambivalent teen girl. But though Onyesonwu is a well-depicted three-dimensional character, such a spirited and uncertain person can be annoying at times. Indeed, the first person narrative means that everything is channeled through Onyesonwu, which can be frustrating from time to time. One thing that particularly got on my nerves was the fact that Onyesonwu cries all the time; when she's sad, when she's hurt, when she's frustrated, when she's scared, when she's happy, etc.

Having said that, such episodes are minor inconveniences when the time comes to weigh in the good and the bad. Who Fears Death is an emotional tale that can pull on the heartstrings when you least expect it. If there is a speculative fiction title about the triumph of the human spirit in the face of adversity and atrocities, Who Fears Death has to be it. I know that some readers have been criticizing Nnedi Okorafor for writing a feminist work daring to explore subject matters best left undisturbed, such as the practice of clitorectomy, genocide, racism between various tribes, rape, sexuality, and violence. I find that a bit pathetic, as I feel that the author should be commended for having produced a tale that pacts such a powerful emotional punch.

As far as the characterization goes, I feel that Okorafor had a number of interesting characters which comprised the supporting cast. But Onyesonwu's first person narrative prevented the author from giving most of them substance. As a result, most of them are like extras and never truly come into their own as the story progresses. The relationship between Onyesonwu and Mwita, especially, could have been more fleshed out.

Who Fears Death is a relatively short novel, yet the pace can be an issue at times. Though the narrative flows well for the better part of the book, the rhythm can occasionally be sluggish, especially when Onyesonwu and her traveling companions first depart on their quest.

This emotionally charged tale is brought to a very satisfying ending, one that you don't see coming. Who Fears Death is a touching and rewarding read.

I find it shocking that the speculative fiction feminist clique which extolled the virtues of inferior novels such as Ellen Kushner's The Privilege of the Sword has not been lauding Who Fears Death. I would expect them to be singing the praise of such a work chronicling the moving coming-of-age tale of a young child of rape such as Onyesonwu. It's a strange world we live in. . .

To learn more about the novel, the author, and a panoply of other details, check out Okorafor's website.

The final verdict: 7.75/10

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

Jeff Somers contest winner!

This lucky winner will receive a complimentary copy of Jeff Somers' The Terminal State, courtesy of the fine folks at Orbit. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks.

The winner is:

- Jim Lai, from Chicago, Illinois, USA

Can't wait to read this one!

Many thanks to all the participants!

Yikes!!!


Before going to work today, I decided to count just how many novels I had in my many "books to read" piles. And those are the real deal, not the "maybe" pile.

I was aware that there were a lot of books, but I was shocked when I reached 125 novels with more to go. We're talking about books by Neil Gaiman, George R. R. Martin, Tad Williams, China Miéville, Gene Wolfe, C. S. Friedman, David Weber, L. E. Modesitt, jr., Glen Cook, Neal Stephenson, Haruki Murakami, Ian McDonald, Peter F. Hamilton, Kate Elliott, Janny Wurts, Katherine Kurtz, Alastair Reynolds, Ian M. Banks, Jacqueline Carey, Dan Simmons, Terry Pratchett, Richard Morgan, Tim Powers, Daniel Abraham, Jim Butcher, Stephen King, Mark Z. Danielewski, Greg Keyes, Paul Kearney, J. V. Jones, Stephen R. Donaldson, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Tobias S. Buckell, David Farland, Kim Stanley Robinson, Greg Bear, Peter S. Beagle, and many, many more. And that's just the "big names"!

To my dismay, if I were to stop accepting new review copies and ARCs today, a quick calculation showed me that at the rate I'm reading (40-something books a year) it would take me three years to go through my back log!!!! Christ!

But it's all a question of perspective, I know. For instance, Larry could go through those books on a slow weekend, while Aidan will have grandchildren before he can ever hope to get such a task done. Still, over three years' worth of reading material awaiting my attention! Much more than that if you consider all the new releases I want to read ASAP. . .

If every author could be like GRRM and Patrick Rothfuss, maybe I could work my way through at least a pile or two before their new titles came out. But no, we have writers like Steven Erikson cranking up new books like its a bodily function! What can a poor book blogger do!?! I try to keep up, but I'm in over my head.

So when you're shocked that I haven't read something, just know that it's in one of the piles, somewhere in my apartment. . . I'll get to it, eventually. Promised!

New James Barclay interview

There's a very interesting Q&A with fantasy author James Barclay over at Falcata Times. Here's an extract:

How would you say that your perspective has changed about selling your own work with multiple novels under your belt?

It’s funny because my immediate reaction was to assume that I was more relaxed but that isn’t the case. When Dawnthief was published there was massive excitement and plenty of hope. Ten books later, I have a little less excitement and a whole lot more expectation. I have developed a fairly accurate gut feel about how well a book will do as well. That’s both a blessing and a curse, I find.

Then there’s the internet and marketing. It’s completely exploded in the last ten years and authors need to be aware of the sheer number of forums, blogs, review sites and stores there are out there. Selling a novel is a global (or certainly trans-Atlantic) operation from day one. Authors need to be able to respond to the live nature of the internet so it isn’t just doing the interviews and writing blog posts on their own websites. Being available for live podcast, forum chats and there to respond on individual forum threads... all of this and much more is part of the author’s job. This is not a complaint, by the way. I absolutely love it.

With Chronicles of the Raven (Dawnthief (Canada, USA, Europe, Noonshade (Canada, USA, Europe), and Nightchild (Canada, USA, Europe)) now published in the USA by Pyr, you might hear more and more about James Barclay. . .

Serbia photo album


Well, that's it. . . =(

Finishing sorting out travel pictures is always a bummer, because it's at that moment that it dawns upon you that the adventure is truly over.

I screwed up in my last posts and would be remiss if I did not pimp the great hostels I stayed at in Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Serbia. So here they are:

Zagreb, Croatia: Hobo Bear Hostel: Cool digs, great location, friendly staff!

Zadar, Croatia: Old Town Zadar: A bit rough around the edges, but you can't beat the location!

Split, Croatia: Situs Hostel: It's like sharing a flat with a few people. Peter was a great host!

Dubrovnik, Croatia: HI Dubrovnik: I try to steer clear of HI hostels whenever possible, but this one did the job for my two stays in town.

Kotor, Montenegro: Montenegro Backpackers' Club: Smack down in the middle of the old town!

Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina: Majda's Hostel: You simply can't beat that kind of unforgettable hospitality!

Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina: Hostel City Center: Wonderful accomodation in the heart of Sarajevo!

Belgrade, Serbia: Backpackers' Lounge: As cool as it gets, with the best staff!

Belgrade may not possess the mass appeal of other cities such as Prague, Budapest, Berlin, etc. Yet where nightlife is concerned, Belgrade takes a backseat for no one. Los Angeles, New York City, London, Montreal, Miami, yada yada yada, are all renowned for their nightlife. But in Belgrade, it's for keeps. People really know how to party, you can take my word for it.

Which explains the high ratio of party pics in this album. Keep in mind that I returned to the hostel past 4:30am three nights in a row. Blame it all on cheap booze, good music, fun times, and beautiful women (Serbian and otherwise!). Man, but Belgrade was a blast! ;-)

Click on this link to see the photos.

It's a great big world out there, and you should all go out and see it. . . =) Seriously!

Musical Interlude



This is hands down the best Coldplay track ever, with an undeniably cool video to boot!

Lovers, keep on the road you're on
Runners, until the race is run
Soldiers, you've got to soldier on
Sometimes even right is wrong

Could listen to this tune all day. . . =)

Exclusive excerpt from Peter F. Hamilton's THE EVOLUTIONARY VOID



Thanks to both the folks at Pan Macmillan and Peter F. Hamilton, I was granted permission to post this exclusive extract from The Evolutionary Void. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Enjoy!
----------------------

It was the fifth time Edeard had watched the militia forces close in on the hidden valley. There had been a lot of mistakes previously; ge-eagles had been spotted, fastfoxes mauled the first militiamen over the lip, the bandit forces had fought back with a secret cache of weapons, hothead officers didn’t quite follow orders, allowing the Gilmorn to rally his people. Each time there had been too many deaths. Each time Edeard reset the universe to the night before, and attempted to mitigate the problem.

Last time he was sure he’d got it right, then the bandit gang had produced rapid-fire guns from a cache that he hadn’t found the first three times. Even with third hands joined together to add extra strength to their shielding, the troopers had been cut to shreds before Edeard himself could reach them.

So . . .

This time he had slipped unseen and unsensed through the valley for two hours just after midnight. He’d destroyed the second lot of rapid-fire guns the bandits had hidden, and snatched away the ones belonging to guards after rendering them unconscious. It was politically important that the militias thought they alone had overcome the bandits; while Edeard and Finitan wanted the rapid-fire guns to vanish into legend. Now he stood on a small rise half a mile from the valley as the pre-dawn light slowly overwhelmed the nebulas. Bulku was the first to vanish, its undulating stream of pale indigo fading away just above the eastern horizon, as if the land had somehow opened to swallow it. Edeard could well believe that. The valley which the bandits had chosen as their last redoubt was a narrow crack in the undulating grasslands that made up the southernmost part of Rulan province, lapping against the low mountains of Gratham province which rose in the distance. Not hard to imagine it as a fissure slicing through the whole world.

As the scarlet-spiked glory of Odin’s Sea began to diminish far above, he farsighted the troopers of the Pholas and Zelda regiment break cover from the spinneys beyond the valley where they’d gathered during the night. They were supported by provincial militiamen from Plax and Tives. The men moved silently, like a black stream winding round the soft knolls and hummocks of the grasslands, out of farsight from the sentries within the valley. Edeard concentrated on subverting the ge-eagles gliding high above, insinuating his own orders into their sharp, suspicious little minds. That just left the fastfoxes. He was too far away to help with them. Brawny ge-wolves and fast ge-hounds slunk forwards, accompanying the marauder groups of sheriffs and Wellsop rangers whose control over their genistars was second to none.

‘Go,’ Edeard’s directed longtalk urged Dinlay.

The Lillylight and Cobara regiment, along with militias from Fandine, Nargol and Obershire, emerged from their forward positions to the west of the valley. It was the Nargol troopers and their unfettered eagerness that had been the problem the second time around. Since then Edeard had emphasized how important it was to keep them moving along the planned route. Colonel Larose had done a good job keeping the provincials in line ever since; ignoring their muttered resentments about city folk lording it over the countryside.

With the assault under way, Edeard mounted a ge-horse which the Eggshaper Guild had sculpted purely for speed. His ebony cloak swirled around him, flowing across the saddle before rippling above the beast’s hide. Felax and Marcol scrambled on to similar mounts on either side of him. He didn’t have to say anything to them. His mind urged the ge-horse forward at a gallop and the young constables followed.

The three beasts thundering over the grassland in the cold silence of the ebbing night sounded incredibly loud to Edeard, yet he knew they were too far from the valley to be heard. Up in front of him the troopers were an unstoppable swarm as they converged on the valley.

Finally, the alarm was raised by the bandits. Those sentries still awake shouted to their armed comrades for help, only to find them lying in a deep unnatural slumber, their weapons gone. More shouts and frantic longtalk roused the rest of the sleeping group.

So far, so exactly as before; and this time going to plan.

Fastfoxes flittered silently along the valley with the speed of hurricane clouds. The invading militias urged their ge-wolves on ahead. Along the top of the valley, troopers fell to the ground, their pistols held over the edge. Shots were fired. Ge-wolves and fastfoxes clashed head-on, powerful animal screams reverberating across the grasslands as grey light crept over the dew-soaked ground.

The Pholas and Zelda regiment reached the far end of the valley, and began to follow their ge-wolves down into the deep narrow cleft. Dinlay and Argain were close to the front, using their farsight to expose anyone with the concealment ability. Most of the bandits could perform the trick. Edeard held his breath, the memory of another deep gulley on another night stirring in his mind – the fateful ambush. This time would be different, he promised himself, this time he could guarantee there would be no surprises.

Troopers along the top of the valley provided a thick covering fire for their comrades sweeping forward below. As always, the Gilmorn gathered his stalwarts together in a tall fortress-like outcrop of rock. They still had their ordinary pistols, and fired ruthlessly at the advancing troopers. Concealment made it hard for anyone to return fire with any accuracy. Argain hurried forward to assist the troopers closing in on the outcrop.

Edeard arrived at the head of the valley, and dismounted. He refused to rush forward, even though it was what everyone was expecting. His farsight observed troopers rounding up the bandits who had surrendered and isolating the few who resisted. Then it was just the Gilmorn and his cadre left offering resistance. Dinlay and Larose moved the militiamen forwards cautiously; men wriggled on their bellies along small clefts in the land, and dashed between convenient boulders. Within ten minutes, the Gilmorn was completely surrounded.

As Edeard made his way along the stony floor of the valley he passed groups of smiling troopers hauling their captives along. Several were men from the tribes who lived in the wildlands beyond Rulan’s boundaries. They were just as he’d encountered them all those years ago on the caravan back from Witham. Ringlet hair and bare chests caked in dark mud that was flaking off. They glanced at the Waterwalker with sullen expressions, their minds tightly shielded. In all the clashes over the last few years, Edeard had never seen one of them wielding a rapid-fire gun; those weapons were possessed by the Gilmorn’s people alone. He halted one of the tribesmen escorted by five wary troopers, a man he guessed to be in his late fifties though with none of a city dweller’s laxness about him; he had pale grey eyes which glared out of a face that showed all the anger and defiance his mind refused to show.

‘Why?’ Edeard asked simply. ‘Why did you join them?’

‘They are strong. We benefit.’

‘How? How do you benefit?’

The older tribesman gave Edeard a superior snort. He gestured round the grasslands. ‘You are gone. Even now you will never return. This land will be ours.’

‘All right, I can see that. I can even understand how the killing and destruction becomes a perverted addiction for some of you. But why these lands? There are lands unclaimed to the west. Land with forests and herds to hunt. No one even knows how much land. Why ours? You don’t farm. You don’t live in stone houses.’

‘Because you have it,’ the tribesman said simply.

Edeard stared at him, knowing he’d never get a better answer. Nor a more honest one, he thought. He was looking for complexity and purpose where there was none. It was the Gilmorn and his kind, the remnants of Owain’s ruthless One Nation followers, who had intent. The tribesmen were simply useful innocents who’d been duped into an allegiance they had never fully comprehended.

He dismissed the escort with a curt wave of his hand, and the tribesman was dragged off to the jail pens that were being established up on the grasslands.

‘We should get down there,’ Marcol said eagerly. The young man’s farsight was sweeping over the fortress outcrop, exposing the concealed bandits with ease.

Edeard did his best not to grin. Marcol’s psychic abilities had developed considerably since the day of banishment, almost as much as his sense of duty. He was a devoted constable and utterly loyal to the Grand Council; yet there was still some of the old Sampalok street boy in there. He was spoiling to join the fight.

‘Let the militias have their moment of glory,’ Edeard said quietly. ‘This has been a hard campaign. They deserve to be the ones ending it all.’ Which was true enough. For eight months the forces of city and countryside had been allied, chasing the Gilmorn and his remaining supporters across the provinces further and further to the west until finally there was nowhere left to run.

‘Politics,’ Felax said with a disgusted grunt.

‘You’re learning,’ Edeard said. ‘Besides, you two have nothing to prove, not after Overton Falls. I heard the daughters of those caravan families made their appreciation clear enough.’

The two young constables looked at each other, and shared a knowing smirk.

Down by the outcrop, Larose’s longtalk was delivering a sharp ultimatum to the Gilmorn. They were outnumbered fifty to one, and completely surrounded. They had no food. Their ammunition was almost gone. There was no help coming.

Edeard wasn’t convinced that was quite the right thing to point out to a merciless fanatic like the Gilmorn. Though in truth, they’d never reached this point of the assault before, so he didn’t know what would work.

They carried on down the valley, passing several dead fastfoxes and ge-wolves. Edeard tried not to grimace at the brutally torn flesh on the animals. Argain was sitting on a moss-covered boulder where the valley opened out, quietly munching on a red apple. Several squads of militia were milling around, also wanting in on the finale. Their corporals and sergeants were having a hard time keeping them in line. Everyone quietened down as Edeard appeared.

‘Will he surrender?’ Edeard asked.

Argain shrugged, and bit down hard. ‘He has nothing to lose. Who knows what he’s thinking.’

‘I see. Well, fortunately we can wait. For as long as it takes.’

‘Ah,’ Marcol exclaimed. ‘They’re arguing.’

Argain gave the young constable a searching stare, then turned his attention to the outcrop. There was indeed an argument spilling out from the jagged rocks. A loud one, full of anger. Two men were confronting the Gilmorn, telling him they were walking out to surrender to the militia. Edeard’s farsight showed him the men turning away. The Gilmorn lifted his pistol and brought it up to point at the back of one man’s head. Edeard’s third hand slipped out and twisted the firing pin, bending it slightly out of alignment. The Gilmorn pulled the trigger. There was a metallic click. The bullet didn’t fire.

Marcol cleared his throat in a very pointed fashion.

Another argument broke out, even more heated than the first. Fists were swung. Third hands attempted to heartsqueeze. Men started wrestling.

Larose gave the order to combine shields and move in.

Two minutes later it was all over.

* * *

There were militiamen perched on top of the rocky pinnacles, cheering wildly and waving beer bottles above their heads. Whole regiments were spilling over the site of the last fight, singing and embracing their comrades. Edeard couldn’t help but smile as he walked among them, taking the occasional swig from a proffered bottle, shaking hands, hugging older friends exuberantly. They were glad to see the Waterwalker who had led the campaign, but they were prouder that they’d won the final battle themselves. Colonel Larose had established his camp on the far side of the fortress outcrop. Carts were drawn up in a large circle, long rows of tents were laid out, ready to be put up. A big open-sided canvas marquee had already been raised, with the cooks preparing a meal inside. Smoke from the cooking fires was starting to saturate the still air. At the centre of the camp, the field headquarters tent was a drab khaki, guarded by alert senior troopers and a pack of ge-hounds. Orderlies and runners were skipping in and out. Eleven regimental flags fluttered weakly on top of their poles outside, representing the finest of city and country.

The guards saluted Edeard as he went inside. Larose was sitting behind the wooden trestle table which served as his desk, while a flock of adjutants hovered around with requests and queries. His drab-green field uniform jacket was open to the waist, revealing a stained grey shirt. Senior officers were clustered together at a long bench with all the administrative paraphernalia necessary to move and orchestrate such a large body of men. Even though it had only been a couple of hours since victory, orders and reports had already begun to pile up. Larose stood and embraced Edeard warmly.

‘We did it,’ Larose exclaimed. ‘By the Lady, we did it.’

The officers started to applaud. Edeard gave them a grateful nod.

‘You should be very satisfied with your men,’ Edeard told him, loud enough for the other commanders to hear, especially those of the country regiments. ‘They behaved impeccably.’

‘That they did.’ Larose grinned round generously. ‘All of them.’

‘And you,’ Edeard told the colonel, ‘you should stand for election when we return. The residents of Lillylight would appreciate a man representing them who’s actually accomplished something outside the city.’

Larose gave a shrug that was close to bashful. ‘That would cause my family’s senior members some surprise and satisfaction, I imagine.’

Edeard gave him a warm smile. ‘You were never a black sheep.’

‘No. Not like you, at any rate. But I like to think I had my moments.’

‘Indeed you did. But I hope you’ll give the idea some thought.’

‘It’s never as far away as we believe, is it, Makkathran?’

‘No.’ Edeard let out a sigh. ‘Is he behaving himself?’

‘So far.’ Larose gestured to a flap at the back of the tent, and they went through. An encircling wall of tents and fences had produced a small secure area at the rear. Right at the centre, a tall narrow tent was standing all alone. Two guards stood to attention outside, older seasoned militiamen who Larose trusted implicitly; their ge-wolves pulling on the leash. Both animals gave Edeard a suspicious sniff as he approached.

‘You know something odd?’ Larose said. ‘For years the bandits have terrorized communities with impunity. Every survivor told stories of fearsome weapons. Yet throughout this whole campaign, we haven’t found one of the bastards armed with anything other than a standard pistol.’

‘That’s good,’ Edeard said, staring straight ahead. ‘Would you want a new weapon to exist? One powerful enough to kill entire platoons in less than a minute?’

‘No. No, I don’t suppose I would.’

‘Me neither.’

‘I don’t suppose anybody could build anything like that, not really. Not even the Weapons Guild.’
‘No,’ Edeard agreed. ‘They can’t. Those weapons are just a fable that people used to tell each other about in times gone by.’

‘Like the exiles. You know, nowadays I find it hard to picture what Owain looked like. He and his fellows must have travelled a long way from Makkathran. Nobody ever found them.’

‘Losing an election can demoralize you like that. Nobody wants to dwell on what has been, not now we all have a future.’

‘We do?’

‘It’s unknown, as always, but it’s there all right.’

Colonel Larose pursed his lips, and walked on.

The Gilmorn was standing in the middle of the tent, with Dinlay and Marcol in attendance. Of all the aspects which resulted from Edeard’s ability to reset time, he always found this the strangest. Seeing someone alive who he’d previously watched die. And this Gilmorn was one he’d killed himself in a fashion which didn’t withstand too much sober examination.

Inevitably the man was unchanged. Not that Edeard had ever seen him at his best before. Last time, his round face with the idiosyncratic nose had been suffused with pain and anguish as his legs were ruined by the boulder. Now he simply looked tired and sullenly resentful. Not defeated, though. There was still defiance burning behind his mental shield, mostly fuelled by good old Grand Family arrogance, Edeard suspected.

The blacksmith was just leaving. He’d taken an hour to shackle the Gilmorn securely, with big iron rings around his wrists and ankles, linked together with tough chains. This way there were no fancy locks for his telekinesis to pick away at. The metal had to be broken apart by another blacksmith or simple brute strength; Edeard could do it, and probably Marcol, but few others on Querencia would be capable.

‘Finitan’s pet,’ the Gilmorn said contemptuously. ‘I might have guessed.’

‘Sorry I missed our earlier appointment at the valley beyond Mount Alvice,’ Edeard replied casually.

The Gilmorn gave him a startled glance.

‘So who are you?’ Edeard asked. ‘Not that it really matters, but you never did tell me your name back at Ashwell.’

‘Got your forms to fill out, have you?’

‘You do understand this is over now, don’t you? You are the last of them. Even if One Nation had any supporters left back in Makkathran, they’ll deny everything, especially you. The Family Gilmorn has lost considerable status among the city’s Grand Families since Tannarl’s exile; they’re desperate to regain it. You won’t be accepted back, not by them. Of course you could try to throw in with Buate’s surviving lieutenants, the ones I banished. Though they too seem incapable of adapting. Over a dozen have been sentenced to the Trampello mines in the last two years. At least they’ll have company; my old friend Arminel is still incarcerated there. Mayor Finitan changed the mine governor from Owain’s crony to someone who’s a little stricter.’

The Gilmorn held his hands up, the chain clanking as he did so. ‘Is this what you’re reduced to, Waterwalker, gloating over your victims?’

‘And you? Goading someone whose village you destroyed?’

‘Touche´.’

‘You set me on the path that led to this day. I enjoy that.’

‘As Ranalee and others enjoy Salrana. I’ve heard she’s very popular. Fetches quite a high price in the right circles so I understand.’

Dinlay’s hand fell on Edeard’s shoulder. ‘Let me deal with him.’

‘You?’ the Gilmorn sneered. ‘A eunuch does the Waterwalker’s dirty work? How amusing.’

Dinlay’s face reddened behind his glasses. ‘I am not—’

‘Enough of this,’ Larose said. ‘Waterwalker, do you have any serious questions for this bastard? Some of my men can get answers out of him. It might take a while, but they’ll persist.’

‘No,’ Edeard said. ‘He has nothing vital for me. I just wondered why he kept on fighting, but now I know.’

‘Really?’ the Gilmorn said. ‘And that is?’

‘Because I have taken everything else away from you. There is nothing else for you to do. Without your masters you are nothing. You are so pitiful you cannot even think of anything else to devote yourself to. When the time comes for your life to end you will have achieved nothing, you will leave no legacy, your soul will never find the Heart. Soon, this universe will forget you ever even existed.'

‘So that is what you have come here for, to kill me. The Waterwalker’s revenge. You’re no better than me. Owain never went into exile. I know you murdered him and the others. Don’t set yourself up as some aloof judge of morals. You’re wrong to say I leave nothing behind. I leave you. I created you. Without me, you would be a countryside peasant with a fat wife and a dozen screaming children, scrabbling in the mud for food. But not now. Not any more. I forged a true ruler, one who is every bit as ruthless as Owain. You say I can do nothing else? Take a look at yourself. Do you tolerate anyone who doesn’t comply? Is that not me, the very ethos you claim to despise?’

‘I enforce the law; equally and impartially for all. I abide by the results of elections.’

‘Words words words. A true Makkathran politician. May the Lady help your enemies when you become Mayor.’

‘That’s a long time in the future, if I ever do stand.’

‘You will. Because I would.’

Edeard’s cloak flowed aside with the smoothness of jamolar oil. He reached into a pocket and took out the warrant. ‘This is the proclamation signed by the Mayor of Makkathran, and notarized by the provincial governors of the militias alliance. Given the scale of the atrocities you have perpetrated for years, you will not be returned to civilization for trial.’

‘Ha, a death warrant. You are nothing more than the tribal savages we enlisted.’

‘You will be taken to the port of Solbeach, where a ship will sail eastwards. When the captain has voyaged as far as the seas will allow him, he will search for an island with fresh water and vegetation. There you will be abandoned with seed stock and tools sufficient for your survival. You will live out your life there alone to contemplate the enormity of your crimes. You will not attempt to return to civilization. If you are found within the boundary of civilization you will immediately be put to death. May the Lady bless your soul.’ Edeard rolled up the scroll.

‘Constables Felax and Malcol will accompany you on the journey to ensure the sentence is carried out. I’d advise you not to annoy them.’

‘Fuck you. I won and you know it. This alliance is the start of One Nation.’

Edeard turned and started to leave the tent.

‘Owain won,’ the Gilmorn shouted after him. ‘You’re nothing more than his puppet. That’s all. Do you hear me Waterwalker? Puppet to the dead; puppet to the man you murdered. You are my soul twin. I salute you. I salute my final victory. Family blood will govern this world. They say you can see souls. Can you see the soul of Mistress Florrel laughing? Can you?’

Edeard hardened the shield his third hand created, blotting out the vicious shouting as he walked away.

* * *

Edeard wanted to travel on alone, but Dinlay wouldn’t hear of it. He wouldn’t argue, he just said nothing while Edeard shouted hotly at him, maintaining his quiet stubborn self. So in the end Edeard gave in as they both knew he would, and ordered the regiment’s cavalry master to saddle two horses. The pair of them rode off together towards Ashwell.

The landscape itself hadn’t altered, only the use it had once been put to. Half a day’s ride from his destination, Edeard began to recognize the features that had dominated his childhood. Shapes on the horizon started to register. They were cloaked in different colours now as the vegetation had changed; crops giving way to a surge of wilder plants. The road was completely overgrown, hard to distinguish, though the buried stony surface was still perceptible to farsight. The fields around the village, once rich and fertile, had long reverted to grassland and bushes, with their old hedges sprouting up into small trees. Drainage ditches were clotted with leaves and silt, swelling out into curiously long pools.

It was a warm day, with few clouds in the bright azure sky. Sitting in his saddle, Edeard could see for miles in every direction. The cliff was the first thing he identified. That hadn’t changed at all. It set off a peculiar feeling of trepidation in his heart. He had truly never expected to come back here. On the day after the attack, he’d left with the posse from Thorpe-by- Water, and had only glanced back once, seeing blackened ruins chuffing a thin smoke into the open sky, and even that image was blurred by tears and anguish. It had been too painful to attempt another look; he and Salrana had ridden away together, holding hands and bravely staring on ahead.

Now, nature had completed what Owain and the Gilmorn had started. Years of rain and wind and insects and tenacious creepers had accelerated the decay begun by the fires. All the village council’s half-hearted repairs along the rampart walls had finally started to give way, leaving the broad defences sagging and uneven. The outer gates had gone, their charcoal remnants rotting to a thin mulch where tough weeds infiltrated their roots. Their absence exposed the short tunnel under the ramparts, a dank uninviting passage of gloomy fungus-coated brick. Above them, the stone watchtowers sagged; their thick walls held fast, though the slate and timber roofs under which so many sentries had sheltered across the decades were gone.

Edeard dismounted, and tethered his skittish horse to the iron rings just outside the arching portal. The sturdy metal at least remained untouched.

‘You okay?’ Dinlay queried cautiously.

‘Yes,’ Edeard assured him, and walked through the dripping tunnel, sweeping aside the curtain of trailing vines. As soon as he emerged into the village, birds took flight, great swirls of them shrieking as they flapped their way into the sky. Small creatures scampered away over the rough mounds of debris.

Edeard was prepared for ruins, but the size of the village caught him by surprise. Ashwell was so small. He’d never considered it in such terms before. But, really, the whole area between the cliff and the rampart walls could fit easily into Myco or Neph, the smallest city districts.

The basic layout of the village remained. Most of the stone walls survived in some form or another, though collapsing roofs had demolished a lot of them. Streets were easy to make out, and his memory filled in the lines wherever slides of rubble obscured the obvious routes. The big guild halls had withstood the fires well enough to retain their shapes; though they were nothing more than empty shells, without roofs or internal walls. Edeard sent his farsight sweeping out to examine them, then immediately halted. Lying just below the thin coating of dirt and ash and weeds that had engulfed the village were the bones of the inhabitants. They were everywhere. ‘Lady!’

‘What?’ Dinlay asked.

‘There was no burial,’ Edeard explained. ‘We just left. It was too . . . enormous to deal with.’

‘The Lady will understand. And the souls of your friends certainly will.’

‘Maybe.’ He looked round the desolation, and shuddered again.

‘Edeard? Do any linger?’

Edeard let out a long reluctant sigh. ‘I don’t know.’ Once again he reached out, pushing his farsight to the limit of resolution, striving to catch any sign of spectral figures. ‘No,’ he said eventually. ‘There’s nobody here.’

‘That’s good, then.’

‘Yes.’ Edeard led the way towards the carcass of the Eggshaper Guild Hall.

‘This is where you grew up?’ Dinlay asked with interest as he scanned round the nine sides of the broken courtyard.

‘Yes.’ Somehow Edeard had expected to find some trace of Akeem. But now, actually standing beside the listing stables and unsafe hall, he knew he never would. There were bones aplenty, even whole skeletons, but it would take days of careful examination to try and identify any of them. And ultimately, for what purpose? Who am I trying to appease and satisfy here? Would the souls of the dead villagers care that he was here? Would Akeem want him grubbing through the dirt to find some pieces of his long-dead body? I bury all of them, or I bury none. Of course, there was one other thing Edeard could do. His recollection of that night was perfect: himself and the other apprentices meeting up in the cave for an evening of fun and kestric. Even as he thought it, he looked up at the cliff, seeing the small dark cleft that they wriggled through to find the cavern that offered privacy from their masters.

That simple recollection triggered a whole wave of memory. He could see the village as it had been that last fine summer. People striding along the streets, talking and laughing. Market stalls being set up; farmers bringing their produce in on big wagons. Apprentices hurrying about their duties. Village elders in their finer clothes. Children scampering about, chasing each other with shrieks of laughter.

I can do it. I can go back to that moment. I can defeat the bandits that night, I can give them all a life again.

He shook his head as if to clear it. Tears began to roll down his cheeks. This was far worse than any temptation Ranalee had ever offered.

I would have to go to Makkathran, this time with Akeem’s letter of sponsorship. I would be an apprentice at the Blue Tower. But Owain would still be there, and Buate, and Tannarl and Mistress Florrel and Bise. I would have to dispose of them once more.

‘I can’t,’ he whispered. ‘I can’t do that again.’

‘Edeard?’ Dinlay asked gently. His hand squeezed Edeard’s shoulder.

Edeard wiped the tears away, banishing forever the sight of the village as it had been. Standing in the cracked doorway arch to the Eggshaper Guild Hall, Akeem regarded Edeard with sad eyes.

Edeard knew that look so well. A rebuke which had been directed at him a thousand times as an apprentice. Don’t let me down.

‘I won’t,’ he promised.

Dinlay frowned. ‘Won’t what?’

Edeard breathed in deeply, calming his rampaging emotions. He stared at the broken doorway. Akeem wasn’t there. A smile touched his lips. ‘Fail them,’ he told Dinlay. ‘I won’t fail the people who died so I might ultimately wind up where I am today, where we all are. It doesn’t always apply, you know.’

‘What doesn’t?’

‘Sometimes to do what’s right you have to do what’s wrong.’

‘I always thought that was stupid. I bet Rah never actually said it.’

Edeard laughed out loud, and took a last look around the old nine-sided courtyard. He put his arm round his friend’s shoulders. ‘You’re probably right. Come on, let’s go home. Home to Makkathran.’

‘About time. I know you had to come here, but I’m not sure it’s healthy. We all regard the past too highly. We should cut ourselves free of it. You can only ever look forward to the future.’

Edeard pulled him closer. ‘You’re really quite a philosopher, aren’t you?’

‘Why do you say that with so much surprise?’

‘That was not surprise, that was respect.’

‘Humm.’

‘Anyhow,’ Edeard teased, ‘Saria will be waiting for you. Waiting eagerly.’

‘Oh dear Lady. I don’t want to speak ill of the dead, but what in Honious did Boyd ever see in her?’

‘What? No! She’s a lovely girl.’

‘She is a nightmare.’

‘Kristabel thinks highly of her.’

‘Yes. But Kristabel thinks highly of you, too.’

‘Ouch! That hurt. Okay then, perhaps Kanseen could steer someone more to your liking.’

‘No! And certainly not Kanseen. Do you know what her definition of “nice girls” is, let alone “suitable” ones? This is what you’ve all been doing since the four of you got married. It’s embarrassing. Besides, I like being single.’

‘Married life is wonderful.’

‘Lady! Just stop it will you.’

Edeard walked out of his former guild courtyard grinning contentedly.