If you have been hanging around these parts for a while, you probably remember that I promoted Somers' series as much as I could every time a new novel was released. And though it's been five years since the last installment, it was fun to be reunited with Avery Cates in "The Shattered Gears", the first short story that chronicles the aftermath of the original book sequence.
The last volume, The Final Evolution, appeared to bring the overall story arc to an end and no other misadventures seemed to be forthcoming for our favorite gunner. But now, someone appears to be looking for Cates. Someone set up a trap to capture him. And in "The Shattered Gears" we found out that the answers he's looking for might be in Moscow. Only Moscow got turned into slag during the war. Now in "The Walled City", Cates knows that some people are after him and he's trying to discover who they are and why they're searching for him. But first, he needs to survive in a world where mankind seems to be on the brink of extinction.
Here's the blurb:
Continuing Avery Cates' story from "The Shattered Gears," "The Walled City" sees the aging Gunner tangle with a psionic who has set himself up as a City Lord in the crumbling remnants of civilization.
As usual, the post-apocalyptic worldbuilding is a nice touch giving the series its own flavor. This being a piece of short fiction means that this facet remains in the background and doesn't intrude on the tale itself. Still, readers will definitely feel on familiar grounds. Now that the entire world order has collapsed, powerful individuals are manoeuvering to carve up small kingdoms and city-states for themselves. With most technology no longer working, psionics are gradually coming into power around the world.
The first person narrative filled with wise cracks and dark humor makes for an enjoyable reading experience. As I mentioned before, Avery Cates is a despicable, manipulative, immoral, lousy, and sick fuck. Yet for all his faults and shortcomings, it's well nigh impossible not to root for the poor sod.
You can always count on Cates to somehow find himself in deep trouble, even when he's not looking for it. And now that he's actually looking for it, you can be sure that he's going to find it! Add an extremely gifted psionic and his henchmen, as well as former Stormers from the System, to the mix, and you have the habitual recipe for disaster for Cates. Which bodes well for us!
Following on the heels of "The Shattered Gears", "The Walled City" shows that even though Avery Cates is an old man past his expiration date, and even though it appears that this is mankind's final generation on this Earth, it looks as though fate still has a lot in store for him. Whether he likes it or not.
The final verdict: 7.5/10
You can download this piece of short fiction for only 0.99$ here.
I've always had an interest in the Pacific War, an interest that increased last year when I visited the Philippines, and even more so this year when I visited Pearl Harbor. I've been meaning to watch the HBO mini-series The Pacific for quite a while now, and I've begun doing just that when I returned from Hawaii last weekend.
As usual, the Hans Zimmer soundtrack is amazing! And the intro is so haunting, so beautiful.
You can now download The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, an anthology edited by Jonathan Strahan, for only 1.99$ here.
Here's the blurb:
For the first time ever, award-winning editor Jonathan Strahan has assembled the best science fiction and the best fantasy stories of the year in one volume. More than just two books for the price of one, this book brings together over 200,000 words of the best genre fiction anywhere. Strahan's critical eye and keen editorial instincts have served him well for earlier best of the year round-ups in the Best Short Novels, Science Fiction: Best of and Fantasy: Best of series, and this is his most impressive effort yet.
Mistborn: Secret History, a new novella by Brandon Sanderson, can be downloaded for only 4.99$ here.
Here's the blurb:
Mistborn: Secret History is a companion story to the original Mistborn Trilogy. As such, it contains huge spoilers for the books Mistborn (The Final Empire), The Well of Ascension, and The Hero of Ages. It also contains very minor spoilers for the book The Bands of Mourning. Mistborn: Secret History builds upon the characterization, events, and worldbuilding of the original trilogy. Reading it without that background will be a confusing process at best. In short, this isn't the place to start your journey into Mistborn. (Though if you have read the trilogy--but it has been a while--you should be just fine, so long as you remember the characters and the general plot of the books.) Saying anything more here risks revealing too much. Even knowledge of this story's existence is, in a way, a spoiler. There's always another secret.
You can now download Neal Stephenson's excellent Quicksilver, first volume of The Baroque Cycle, for only 1.99$ here.
Here's the blurb:
Quicksilver is the story of Daniel Waterhouse, fearless thinker and conflicted Puritan, pursuing knowledge in the company of the greatest minds of Baroque-era Europe, in a chaotic world where reason wars with the bloody ambitions of the mighty, and where catastrophe, natural or otherwise, can alter the political landscape overnight. It is a chronicle of the breathtaking exploits of "Half-Cocked Jack" Shaftoe -- London street urchin turned swashbuckling adventurer and legendary King of the Vagabonds -- risking life and limb for fortune and love while slowly maddening from the pox. And it is the tale of Eliza, rescued by Jack from a Turkish harem to become spy, confidante, and pawn of royals in order to reinvent Europe through the newborn power of finance. A gloriously rich, entertaining, and endlessly inventive novel that brings a remarkable age and its momentous events to vivid life, Quicksilver is an extraordinary achievement from one of the most original and important literary talents of our time. And it's just the beginning ...
Kay Kenyon recently got in touch with me to inquire if I'd be interested in a guest review for a soon-to-be-released SFF debut. I was intrigued by Dan Koboldt's The Rogue Retrieval, so I was happy to oblige. As a big fan of Kenyon's The Entire and the Rose, I encourage you to give it a shot ASAP! The series is comprised of Bright of the Sky, A World Too Near, City Without End, and Prince of Storms.
And since Dan Koboldt's The Rogue Retrieval just came out last week, the timing was perfect to post this review.
Here's the blurb:
Sleight of hand…in another land. Stage magician Quinn Bradley has one dream: to headline his own show on the Vegas Strip. And with talent scouts in the audience wowed by his latest performance, he knows he’s about to make the big-time. What he doesn’t expect is an offer to go on a quest to a place where magic is all too real. That's how he finds himself in Alissia, a world connected to ours by a secret portal owned by a powerful corporation. He’s after an employee who has gone rogue, and that’s the least of his problems. Alissia has true magicians…and the penalty for impersonating one is death. In a world where even a twelve-year-old could beat Quinn in a swordfight, it's only a matter of time until the tricks up his sleeves run out. Scientist and blogger Dan Koboldt weaves wonder, humor, and heart into this debut novel, The Rogue Retrieval. Fans of Terry Brooks and Terry Pratchett will find this a thrilling read.
An appealing mix of fantasy and science fiction, The Rogue Retrieval offers up a Las Vegas magician, corporate power brokers, and a high-tech team trying to pass as indigenous wayfarers on a world where magic is real.
One night on the Las Vegas strip, showman Quinn Bradley receives an offer he can't refuse from a CIA-like duo: a hard-nosed woman named Kiara, and her sizable partner, Logan, a big man with obvious military chops. Lured by an extravagant fee, Quinn learns they work for CASE Global, a company preparing a mission to extract a rogue executive from an area they consider their private domain. That real estate happens to be another world accessed through a portal that only the company knows about and commands.
CASE wants Quinn because he has a skill that will round out the mission in a way only a seasoned magician can--with slight-of-hand expertise and an instinct for dramatic magic tricks. Once the team is assembled on a secret island in the Pacific-- where the portal (somehow) exists--Quinn is trained in hand-to-hand fighting and tech-enhanced magic displays. There he learns that the mission's goal is to exfiltrate from CASE's private reserve--a land called Alissia--a researcher who went rogue, crossing through the portal. Quinn's role is to bolster a three-person team and its cover as they penetrate potentially hostile territory and bring the employee back.
First time novelist Dan Koboldt shows us a Star Gate-type portal and the land beyond. Worldbuilding is not a strength of this story, with its generic medieval culture of rival feudal kingdoms. The most interesting feature of the world is that here, magic is real. Thus The Rogue Retrieval straddles the land between science fiction and fantasy in a quirky, pleasing blend that freshens the milieu. Koboldt obviously is having fun exposing the likable team--especially Quinn--curious, ironic and determined to put on a good show--and the sarcastic, likable Logan. The fun of this story is watching the team dodge, lie and fight their way across a medieval world where their charade could cost them their lives.
We suspect that a Las Vegas showman will chafe at military and corporate protocols, and it's exactly the case. Bradley Quinn is used to running his own show, and true to form, he rankles authority, takes unauthorized risks, and begins to put together an agenda of his own. His main strength is his instinct for gullible marks, and he uses this talent to hoodwink the locals and hold his own on the covert mission--all enjoyably tongue-in-cheek, as he's clearly saving his own hide as well. Even as he earns the team's grudging respect, he knows there's plenty he's not being told. What exactly does CASE have to fear from Richard Holt? What are CASE's plans for the new world, and how far are they willing to go to achieve it? And perhaps the most interesting question, one that Quinn alone can explore: Can a knack for illusion deepen into true magic?
Obvious set ups signal that a sequel is coming. One could hope that future installments will answer the larger questions such as what is this world, and what is the implication for other worlds, portals, and inter-dimensional travel? For now, these issues are airily ignored, as is the question of how the Alisians happen to be human. A few clues to these mysteries would have made the story more memorable, but Koboldt has chosen to defer them. With his science background, this author might have some intriguing answers in store.
As it stands, The Rogue Retrieval is a fast-paced, engaging read with an appealing hero and a solid ensemble cast that grows deeper with every challenge.
I don't know for how long, but right now you can download the digital edition for only 2.99$ here!
Kay Kenyon is the author of twelve science fiction and fantasy novels. Her latest novels are the fantasies Queen of the Deep, about an enchanted ship, both a colossal steam vessel and a Renaissance kingdom; and A Thousand Perfect Things, about a Victorian woman's bid for forbidden powers in an altered India of magic. She is currently working on a paranormal espionage novel.
You can now get your hands on the digital edition of Kate Elliott's A Passage of Stars for only 1.99$ here.
Here's the blurb:
In the crackling first book of Kate Elliott’s Highroad trilogy, strong-spirited Lily Ransome leaves her home planet—and the life she’s always known—to rescue an abducted friend. Willful as well as physically brave, Lily Ransome is dissatisfied by the options available to her on Unruli: She can either join her family’s lucrative mining business or begin procreating. When Heredes, her beloved martial arts instructor, tutor, and father figure, is kidnapped by alien bounty hunters, Lily spurns the expectations of her home planet and ventures into space to find him. Befriending a persecuted minority class of humans called the Ridani, she becomes involved in an intergalactic rebellion and finds love in an unexpected place—as well as true strength within herself. A Passage of Stars is the first book of the Highroad trilogy, which continues with Revolution’s Shore and The Price of Ransom.
You can download Brandon Sanderson's Steelheart for only 1.99$ here.
Here's the blurb:
There are no heroes. Every single person who manifested powers—we call them Epics—turned out to be evil.
Here, in the city once known as Chicago, an extraordinarily powerful Epic declared himself Emperor. Steelheart has the strength of ten men and can control the elements. It is said no bullet can harm him, no sword can split his skin, no explosion can burn him. He is invincible. It has been ten years. We live our lives as best we can. Nobody fights back . . . nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans who spend their lives studying powerful Epics, finding their weaknesses, then assassinating them. My name is David Charleston. I’m not one of the Reckoners, but I intend to join them. I have something they need. Something precious, something incredible. Not an object, but an experience. I know his secret. I’ve seen Steelheart bleed.
You can now download Jason LaPier's Unexpected Rain for only 1.99$ here.
Here's the blurb:
In a domed city on a planet orbiting Barnard's Star, a recently hired maintenance man has just committed murder. Minutes later, the airlocks on the neighbourhood block are opened and the murderer is asphyxiated along with thirty-one innocent residents. Jax, the lowly dome operator on duty at the time, is accused of mass homicide and faced with a mound of impossible evidence against him. His only ally is Runstom, the rogue police officer charged with transporting him to a secure off-world facility. The pair must risk everything to prove Jax didn't commit the atrocity and uncover the truth before they both wind up dead.
Yes, another Dresden Files review! As I mentioned in my past reviews, I read Blood Rites, Dead Beat, and Proven Guilty back-to-back over the course of two weeks just before the Holidays, unable to stop myself from doing so. I hadn't realized how I'd missed Jim Butcher, so I couldn't help but pick up the next book as soon as I finished the one I was reading!
With hundreds of casualties and wounded members, the White Council of Wizards has recruited Harry Dresden and named him Warden and regional commander. With the escalating war with the Red Court, this was done out of necessity, not out of respect and faith in the man. Many of Harry's peers resent his nomination. And with all eyes on him, he is acutely aware that he doesn't have much room to manoeuver.
Here's the blurb:
There's no love lost between Harry Dresden, the only wizard in the Chicago phone book, and the White Council of Wizards, who find him brash and undisciplined. But war with the vampires has thinned their ranks, so the Council has drafted Harry as a Warden and assigned him to look into rumors of black magic in the Windy City. As Harry adjusts to his new role, another problem arrives in the form of the tattooed and pierced daughter of an old friend, all grown-up and already in trouble. Her boyfriend is the only suspect in what looks like a supernatural assault straight out of a horror film. Malevolent entities that feed on fear are loose in Chicago, but it's all in a day's work for a wizard, his faithful dog, and a talking skull named Bob...
Now a full-fledged member of the White Council, at the beginning of the novel we find Harry attending the execution of a young adolescent found guilty of black magic. Knowing that this could have been his fate at a younger age, Harry ends up in an argument with the Merlin. What is already a bad day gets worse when two members of the Senior Council approach him secretly with requests of their own. Harry's old mentor, Ebenezar, with whom Harry is no longer on speaking terms, would like him to use his Faerie connections to discover why Mab, the Winter Queen, hasn't declared war on the Red Court for their recent transgression within the realm of Faerie itself. But everything must be kept on the down low, for Ebenezar is not the only one who suspects that the White Council traitor could well be a member of the Senior Council. The older man also bears a missive from the Gatekeeper. The mysterious wizard asks Harry to investigates repeated acts of black magic around Chicago, and it appears that he must keep this to himself as well. And as if Harry didn't have enough on his plate already, as his investigation gets underway he receives an unexpected call from Molly Carpenter, daughter of his friend Michael, wielder of one of the blades of the Knights of the Cross, who ended up in jail and turns to Harry for help.
As a matter of course, one of the highlights of the series remains the first-person hardboiled narrative of the endearing, if frequently inept, wizard Harry Dresden. Harry's heart is always in the right place, and his flawed nature definitely makes him one of the most likeable SFF characters out there. Witnessing events occurring through Harry Dresden's eyes is never dull, and Proven Guilty is another doozy!
As the only POV protagonist, Harry must take centre stage once more. And yet, it's the supporting cast which helps make this 8th volume the best one yet. The relationship between Dresden and Murphy continues to evolve and they finally face the fact that the have feelings for one another. Thomas finally moved out of Harry's apartment, but the bond between them will continue to grow. Molly Carpenter, who is no longer a little girl, plays a big role in this one, and it's obvious that Butcher has a lot more in store for her. Revelations about her mother, Charity, also have important repercussions throughout this novel. Familiar faces from both Summer and Winter make appearances as Harry gets in touch with his Faerie contacts.
Proven Guilty is the most convoluted installment yet. While his inquiry among the Faerie offers disconcerting news that could spell doom for the White Council, Harry investigates acts of black magic which have left people dead and injured at a local horror movie convention. What will follow will unveil shocking truths about Molly and will take Harry Dresden and his companions down dangerous and unanticipated paths. The endgame was the most satisfying one yet, though the novel's title makes what comes after a bit predictable. The aftermath will change both Harry and Murphy in profound ways, and it opens the door for so much more. Indeed, it appears that they were all manipulated by an unknown power that's playing for extremely high stakes.
Dead Beat was in fact the point where the Dresden Files shifted into high gear. Now Proven Guilty builds on the storylines introduced in basically every other installment and pushes the envelope even further. Once again, far from losing steam, this series continues to grow in size, scope, and inventiveness. As things stand, the sky truly appears to be the limit for the subsequent volumes. Having grown as a writer, Jim Butcher has now hit his stride and he appears to be more confident, more ambitious. And with so many plot threads now coming together to form a striking tapestry, the potential for what comes next is huge.
Fun, witty, entertaining, engrossing, with superior character development, and multilayered plotlines; that's Proven Guilty in a nutshell!
You can now download Dan Simmons' excellent The Terror for only 4.90$ here.
Here's the blurb:
The men on board HMS Terror have every expectation of triumph. As part of the 1845 Franklin Expedition, the first steam-powered vessels ever to search for the legendary Northwest Passage, they are as scientifically supported an enterprise as has ever set forth. As they enter a second summer in the Arctic Circle without a thaw, though, they are stranded in a nightmarish landscape of encroaching ice and darkness. Endlessly cold, with diminishing rations, 126 men fight to survive with poisonous food, a dwindling supply of coal, and ships buckling in the grip of crushing ice. But their real enemy is far more terrifying. There is something out there in the frigid darkness: an unseen predator stalking their ship, a monstrous terror constantly clawing to get in.When the expedition's leader, Sir John Franklin, meets a terrible death, Captain Francis Crozier takes command and leads his surviving crewmen on a last, desperate attempt to flee south across the ice. With them travels an Inuit woman who cannot speak and who may be the key to survival, or the harbinger of their deaths. But as another winter approaches, as scurvy and starvation grow more terrible, and as the terror on the ice stalks them southward, Crozier and his men begin to fear that there is no escape. The Terror swells with the heart-stopping suspense and heroic adventure that have won Dan Simmons praise as "a writer who not only makes big promises but keeps them" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer). With a haunting and constantly surprising story based on actual historical events, The Terror is a novel that will chill you to your core.
For a limited time, you can get your hands on the digital edition of Stephen King's Joyland for only 2.99$ here.
Here's the blurb:
Set in a small-town North Carolina amusement park in 1973, Joyland tells the story of the summer in which college student Devin Jones comes to work as a carny and confronts the legacy of a vicious murder, the fate of a dying child, and the ways both will change his life forever.
Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files has become one of my favorite speculative fiction series on the market today. Urban fantasy it may be, yet it is as good and convoluted as can be! Yes, I'm quite late to this party, I know. But better late than never, right? With the last couple of installments all topping the New York Times bestseller list, there is no denying that this series is now one of the most popular out there.
The author has seriously upped his game in the last three volumes, making it impossible for me not to read the next book as soon as I reached the last page of Blood Rites. And the same thing happened when I reached the end of this book! Which means that I've read Blood Rites, Dead Beat, and Proven Guilty back-to-back, and it's the most fun I've had reading since I went through the first six Malazan novels back in 2006. With a significantly larger, more convoluted, and more ambitious overall story arc, Jim Butcher has shown us that urban fantasy can be as awesome and multilayered as any other subgenre.
Here's the blurb:
There's an entire world that exists alongside the everyday life of mankind. There are powers, nations, monsters, wars, feuds, alliances - everything. Wizards are part of it. So are a lot of other things you've heard about in stories, and even more you've never heard of...Vampires. Werewolves. Faeries. Demons. Monsters. It's all real. Harry Dresden knows full well that such creatures exist. Paranormal investigations are his stock-in-trade, and Chicago is his beat as he tries to bring law and order to a world that exists on the edges of imagination. Luckily Harry's not alone in this struggle. And though most inhabitants of the Windy City don't believe in magic, there's a department that's been set up within the Chicago PD to deal with "strange" cases: the Special Investigations department. Karrin Murphy is the head of SI and a good friend of Harry's. So when a deadly vampire threatens to destroy Murphy's reputation unless Harry helps her, he has no choice. The vampire wants the Word of Kemmler and all the power that comes with it - but first Harry has to determine what the Word of Kemmler is. Now Harry is in a race against time - and six necromancers - to find the Word before Chicago experiences a Halloween night to wake the dead.
As always, the first-person hardboiled narrative of the engaging, if frequently inept, wizard Harry Dresden remains a highlight of this series. Not always the sharpest tool in the shed, Harry's heart is unfailingly in the right place, and his flawed nature makes him one of the most likeable SFF protagonists out there. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Witnessing events occurring through Harry Dresden's eyes is never dull.
As the only POV character, Dresden takes centre stage throughout the book. But as it has often been the case in this series, it's the supporting cast which helps make this installment the best one yet. When the vampire-sorceress Mavra threatens to blackmail Murphy and possibly end her career, Harry has no choice but to go along with her request. But he'll soon find out that he may have bitten off more than he can chew. Surprisingly enough, neither Mavra nor Murphy play much of a role in this novel. Murphy is almost totally absent, what with her flying to Hawaii for a well-deserved vacation. Her absence changed the dynamics of this book, especially given how the relationship between her and Harry has evolved in the last few installments. We are introduced to a number of powerful necromancers like Grevane, Cowl, and Kumori, all of them searching for Word of Kemmler. And when the White Council of Wizards is called upon to help, we are also introduced to a number of never-seen-before Wardens, such as Ramirez, Captain Luccio, and Listens-to-Wind. Add a dangerous Faerie figure known as the Erlking to the mix, and the only wizard in the Chicago phone book soon finds himself in a harrowing ordeal he might not survive. With few allies other than Thomas and Mouse, who is no longer a cute puppy, Harry truly has his hands full in this one. We also learn more about Bob the skull's past, which was nice. Polka-loving medical examiner Waldo Butters is another nice and often hilarious addition to the ever-growing cast of the Dresden Files. Hence, even with Murphy's absence, there are more than enough people to keep things interesting.
In my review of Blood Rites I opined that in the last three volumes, the introduction of new concepts, the addition of new characters, and developments hinted at the fact that this was a series that resounded with a lot more depth than meets the eye. But it's in Dead Beat that the more ambitious and complex overall story arc I've allued to in the past really begins to unfold. Plot threads from previous installments come to the fore and we get a better idea of what goes on behind the scenes. Storylines such as the war between the White Council and the Red Court, Dresden's debts owed to the Faerie courts, his strange bond with the fallen angel Lasciel, his relationship with Thomas; they all start to come together in this book. New revelations about a possible traitor within the Senior Council could throw everything in jeopardy. Indeed, it does appear that the proverbial shit has truly hit the fan in this seventh volume, which bodes well for the future!
Dead Beat is definitely the point where the Dresden Files shifts into high gear. Far from losing steam, this series continues to grow in size, scope, and inventiveness. So much so that it appears that the sky's the limit for the subsequent installments. Jim Butcher keeps growing as a writer, just has Harry Dresden keeps growing as a wizard. And with so many plot threads now coming together to form an impressive tapestry, the potential for what comes next is enormous.
With lots of new developments, further complications, and heart to boot, Dead Beat is impossible to put down!
Thanks to the generosity of the folks at Del Rey, here's an extract from Kevin Hearne's Staked. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.
Here's the blurb:
Iron Druid Atticus O’Sullivan, hero of Kevin Hearne’s epic New York Times bestselling urban fantasy series, has a point to make—and then drive into a vampire’s heart. When a Druid has lived for two thousand years like Atticus, he’s bound to run afoul of a few vampires. Make that legions of them. Even his former friend and legal counsel turned out to be a bloodsucking backstabber. Now the toothy troublemakers—led by power-mad pain-in-the-neck Theophilus—have become a huge problem requiring a solution. It’s time to make a stand. As always, Atticus wouldn’t mind a little backup. But his allies have problems of their own. Ornery archdruid Owen Kennedy is having a wee bit of troll trouble: Turns out when you stiff a troll, it’s not water under the bridge. Meanwhile, Granuaile is desperate to free herself of the Norse god Loki’s mark and elude his powers of divination—a quest that will bring her face-to-face with several Slavic nightmares. As Atticus globetrots to stop his nemesis Theophilus, the journey leads to Rome. What better place to end an immortal than the Eternal City? But poetic justice won’t come without a price: In order to defeat Theophilus, Atticus may have to lose an old friend.
While the bathwater ran, I unwrapped one of those laughably small hotel soaps and then looked at the mud caked on Oberon’s fur, especially his belly. It was a David and Goliath situation, but I had little choice except to proceed and hope the wee bar of soap would win.
“All right, buddy, here we go,” I said, starting out by splashing him underneath and then pouring cups of water on his back. “No shaking yourself until we’re through.”
Hee hee! It tickles, Atticus! Hurry up and distract me.
“Okay, let’s begin,” I said.
To understand what happened to me, you have to know a little bit of Toronto history first.
I had come to Toronto in the fall of 1953 as a pre-med student. The world had learned a lot about surgery and patching up bodies after shooting the hell out of everything in two world wars and another war in Korea, and I thought I might be able to pick up something useful, so I enrolled in the University of Toronto under the name of Nigel Hargrave, with every intention of staying a few years as an earnest wannabe doctor. I wound up staying only a few months, and the reason for that is a spooky old building and a tragedy in the nineteenth century.
The University of Toronto was actually a collection of old colleges, many of which were religiously affiliated, and one such college—now the Royal Conservatory of Music on Bloor Street—used to be a Baptist seminary long ago. It’s a red stone Gothic marvel built in 1881, the kind of building where you’re sure the architect was laughing maniacally to himself as he huffed a lungful of lead-based paint fumes. Pointy spires and sharply sloped roofs and large windows. Wood floors that echo and creak when you step on them. And attending the seminary in the late nineteenth century was a young man named Nigel, betrothed to Gwendolyn from Winnipeg, dark of hair and possessed of a jealous eye.
Oberon interrupted my narrative with a question. Hey, isn’t there a monster named Jealousy, Atticus? You told me about it once, and I remember because it didn’t treat meat well.
“Oh, yes, that was a Shakespeare thing, from Othello. Jealousy is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.”
Not a sensible monster then.
One summer day way back when—these were the days before automobiles, when people rode around in horse-drawn carriages or else they walked—Gwendolyn was crossing the hard-packed dirt of Bloor Street to pay a visit to her Nigel. She had baked a cake specially, and she had a red dress on with a thin matching shawl about her shoulders. Nigel had bought the dress for her, and she knew he was wearing a gray pinstriped suit she had bought him, and she probably thought privately that the two of them made a very smart couple with excellent taste. But because she was worried about dropping her cake, she didn’t cross the street to the seminary college as quickly as perhaps she should have. And she wasn’t paying attention to her surroundings. That’s why she didn’t even try to get out of the way of the horse and carriage that ran her down—she didn’t see it.
Knocked over and trampled by a quarter-ton animal, then run over by the weighted carriage wheels, ribs broken and bleeding internally inside a restrictive corset, all poor Gwendolyn could think of was getting to see Nigel one more time. She first dragged herself and then got some help to make it to the flat stone steps of the seminary, where she died mere seconds before Nigel emerged to investigate the cries for help. Seeing his fiancée’s pale dead face there and the callous driver of the carriage continuing down Bloor Street as if nothing had happened, he was filled with a rage unbecoming a minister. Everything he cared about had been ripped from him, and he wanted an eye for an eye. Or at least a chance to deliver a good punch to the jaw, or maybe three. So he rashly chased after the man who had run down his girl and eventually caught him. And then he got himself killed, for the driver of that carriage was armed with a revolver and ill-disposed to fisticuffs with a muttonchopped ginger man wearing a gray pinstripe and gold pocket watch.
Nigel’s spirit quite sensibly moved on wherever it was he thought he should go, no doubt missing that he had just been given an object lesson on why it’s better sometimes to turn the other cheek. Gwendolyn, however—she had unfinished business. The horribly mangled cake didn’t matter except as a visible symbol of her undying love. She couldn’t move on until she told Nigel she loved him and heard him say it in return, just one more time. So her spirit moved in to the seminary building, where she searched for him and haunted the building as the Lady in Red for decades afterward.
Oh, no, this is going to be bad for you, my hound said as I soaped him up.
Oh, yeah, you’re doomed.
“Yes, I am.”
No one had warned me about the Lady in Red before I entered that building in 1953. No reason why they would, really. She was a shy and retiring sort of spirit, looking for a ginger man named Nigel with muttonchops and wearing a gray suit. If you didn’t meet the criteria or catch her feeling sorry for herself, you’d probably never see her. During that time the building was in a sort of limbo, used by the university as an administrative dump and also to proctor certain exams. The Royal Conservatory of Music didn’t take over the building until the 1970s. I had to go there to take exams and on my first visit noticed that many of the rooms were unused and might make ideal rendezvous spots. Such spots were prized by college students because dorms were very closely monitored to prevent “lewd and immoral acts.”
Well, opportunity eventually presented itself and I met a coed who had a strange thing not for muttonchops or gingers but for guys named Nigel. Being fit was just a bonus to her; somehow there was nothing so attractive to her as the name of Nigel Hargrave—she told me it sounded rich and aristocratic. Maybe that’s what she was actually into—aristocracy, I mean, not my name; I never really figured her out. But I was lonely and not particularly principled, so I arranged a meeting at one of those rooms in the old building. The scheduled exams were listed on a bulletin board in the entrance hall, so we chose a room on the second floor, I picked the lock, and we entered to take consensual delight in each other on top of a desk.
And while we were in the middle of those delights, half dressed but fully enthusiastic, Gwendolyn, the Lady in Red, finally discovered a man who bore a striking resemblance to her fiancé, Nigel. That he was in sexual congress with another woman displeased her mightily, and she could not be mistaken—she knew it was her Nigel, because my partner kept shouting that name, and I had the ginger muttonchops and the same gray suit she’d expected him to be wearing that day she came to deliver the lovey-dovey cake. It was at that point that the shy, retiring ghost became a completely unhinged poltergeist. Desks began moving in the room, including the one we were on. Chairs left the floor—wildly inaccurate at first, like the Imperial stormtroopers in Cloud City, but growing closer as a cry of betrayal built and built and effectively killed the mood dead.
My partner stopped calling out my name and appropriately freaked out, dashing half-clothed from the room. I never saw her again.
“NNNNNigel! Hhhhhow could youuuuuu!” a breathy, ethereal voice raged at me.
“I, uh . . . think there’s been a mistake. Who are you?”
A red apparition swirled into form, very proper and charming and allowing me to note details of the dress, which helped me place her origins later. The illusion of propriety broke down around the mouth: It gaped unnaturally wide as it shouted at me. “I’m your fiancée! Gwendolyn!”
“What? Hey, I’m not the guy you’re looking for. My name’s not really Nigel either.”
The furniture got really aggressive at that point and clocked me pretty good, and there was very little I could do but run. There’s nothing a Druid can do about a ghost, honestly. Nothing physical about them to bind or unbind, and my cold iron amulet is just a hunk of metal to them.
That does not mean, however, that ghosts are not subject to being bound—they are typically bound to a space near where they died, albeit by intangible spiritual tethers rather than anything tied to the earth. For me to escape her, all I had to do was escape the building. Or so I thought.
As I pelted through the hall and then down the grand staircase leading to the exit, all manner of papers and books and dust devils followed me along with her screams. I got a textbook to the temple at one point and fell down but scrambled back up again, staggering a bit. She chased me right out the door in a rather shockingly immodest display and then, much to my horror, kept going. Now that she’d found her Nigel, she had moored herself to me and unchained herself from the building. I had to skedaddle, which I think is the best possible word for getting the hell out when a poltergeist thinks you’ve jilted her. Where the university’s law library is now, there used to be a giant old oak that I had tethered to Tír na nÓg, and I used that to shift away to safety and do some research on who or what she was.
Later on, I shifted back in and waited to be attacked, but Gwendolyn the poltergeist wasn’t lurking by the oak. She had probably returned to the building she had haunted before, but there was no way I was returning to check. I picked up what few things I had at my lodgings and took off before she could locate me again, never to return to Toronto until today.
So that Gwendolyn Lady in Red could still be out there right now? Oberon said as I rinsed him off.
And she could still be very mad at Nigel?
“Yep. She appears to have quite the impressive memory for a ghost.”
And you’re going to dress up as Nigel Hargrave again on purpose?
“That’s right. Except this time I will try to be her Nigel instead of the pre-med student she mistook for him. She’s capable of talking—she has things she desperately wants to say to Nigel, you see—and I have something I need to say too.”
You should sing her a love song. Music soothes the savage ghost.
“Uh, that’s breast, Oberon, savage breast, not savage ghost. William Congreve wrote the original line, and he gets misquoted a lot.”
Well, it’s no wonder. I’ve never met a savage breast. Tasty ones, yeah, fried up and covered in gravy, but never savage.
“You’ve been a good hound in the bath. Let’s get you dried off and feed you a sausage or two.”
You can still download Brian Staveley's The Emperor's Blades for only 4.99$ here!
Here's the blurb:
In The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley, the emperor of Annur is dead, slain by enemies unknown. His daughter and two sons, scattered across the world, do what they must to stay alive and unmask the assassins. But each of them also has a life-path on which their father set them, destinies entangled with both ancient enemies and inscrutable gods. Kaden, the heir to the Unhewn Throne, has spent eight years sequestered in a remote mountain monastery, learning the enigmatic discipline of monks devoted to the Blank God. Their rituals hold the key to an ancient power he must master before it's too late. An ocean away, Valyn endures the brutal training of the Kettral, elite soldiers who fly into battle on gigantic black hawks. But before he can set out to save Kaden, Valyn must survive one horrific final test. At the heart of the empire, Minister Adare, elevated to her station by one of the emperor's final acts, is determined to prove herself to her people. But Adare also believes she knows who murdered her father, and she will stop at nothing—and risk everything—to see that justice is meted out.
The folks at tor.com have just posted "Two's Company," a never before published short stories by Joe Abercrombie.
According to the author, this is one of five stories from his forthcoming collection Sharp Ends that feature his female Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser style thief and warrior odd couple, Shevedieh and Javre, and that form a kind of spine to the whole thing around which the other stories are arranged.
Here's the blurb:
Lost in the wide and barren North, Javre, Lioness of Hoskopp, runs into Cracknut Whirrun on a bridge far too narrow for the expansive egos of either. With the King of the Northmen and the High Priestess of Thond in pursuit, can Shevedieh, the greatest thief in Styria, persuade either one of these proud heroes to step aside?
For a limited time, you can download Myke Cole's Gemini Cell for only 1.99$ here.
Here's the blurb:
Myke Cole continues to blow the military fantasy genre wide open with GEMINI CELL, an all-new epic adventure in the highly acclaimed Shadow Ops universe. US Navy SEAL Jim Schweitzer is a consummate professional, a fierce warrior, and a hard man to kill. But when he sees something he was never meant to see on a covert mission gone bad, he finds himself – and his family – in the crosshairs. Nothing means more to Jim than protecting his loved ones, but when the enemy brings the battle to his front door, he is overwhelmed and taken down.
It should be the end of the story. But Jim is raised from the dead by a sorcerer and recruited by a top secret unit dabbling in the occult, known only as the Gemini Cell. With powers he doesn’t understand, Jim is called back to duty – as the ultimate warrior. As he wrestles with a literal inner demon, Jim realises his new superiors are determined to use him for their own ends and keep him in the dark – especially about the fates of his wife and son…
I'm giving away my review copy of Alan Dean Foster's The Force Awakens to one lucky winner! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.
Here's the blurb:
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The official novelization of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the blockbuster film directed by J. J. Abrams, featuring an 8-page color photo insert of thrilling images from the hit movie. More than thirty years ago, Star Wars burst onto the big screen and became a cultural phenomenon. Now the next adventures in this blockbuster saga are poised to captivate old and new fans alike—beginning with the highly anticipated Star Wars: The Force Awakens. And alongside the cinematic debut comes the thrilling novel adaptation by New York Times bestselling science fiction master Alan Dean Foster. Set years after Return of the Jedi, this stunning new action-packed adventure rockets us back into the world of Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, C-3PO, R2-D2, and Luke Skywalker, while introducing a host of exciting new characters. Darth Vader may have been redeemed and the Emperor vanquished, but peace can be fleeting, and evil does not easily relent. Yet the simple belief in good can still empower ordinary individuals to rise and meet the greatest challenges. So return to that galaxy far, far away, and prepare yourself for what happens when the Force awakens. . .
The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam)gryphonwood.net with the header "FORCE." 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.
The powerful city-state of Saraykeht is a bastion of peace and culture, a major center of commerce and trade. Its economy depends on the power of the captive spirit, Seedless, an andat bound to the poet-sorcerer Heshai for life. Enter the Galts, a juggernaut of an empire committed to laying waste to all lands with their ferocious army. Saraykeht, though, has always been too strong for the Galts to attack, but now they see an opportunity. If they can dispose of Heshai, Seedless's bonded poet-sorcerer, Seedless will perish and the entire city will fall. With secret forces inside the city, the Galts prepare to enact their terrible plan. In the middle is Otah, a simple laborer with a complex past. Recruited to act as a bodyguard for his girlfriend's boss at a secret meeting, he inadvertently learns of the Galtish plot. Otah finds himself as the sole hope of Saraykeht, either he stops the Galts, or the whole city and everyone in it perishes forever.
I helped promote Sebastien de Castell's Traitor's Blade when the novel was originally released in the summer of 2014. I was a bit intrigued at first, but decided to forgo reading it because it felt like it would be something light akin to works by R. A. Salvatore, with lots of action and choreographed battle scenes, but with little depth and substance. Subsequent positive reviews made me keep the ARC on my "maybe" pile of books to read, but still something kept nagging at me and I elected not to read it. And then, recently some people started claiming that this was a good book for Malazan fans. Now that caught my attention and I inserted Traitor's Blade in the rotation.
Let me begin by stating that de Castell's debut has absolutely nothing to do with anything ever written by Steven Erikson. Not in style or in tone. Not in scope or vision. All in all, it's a light fantasy offering that is a world away from Erikson's magnum opus. Not even close. Having said that, it is nevertheless a super fun read! The kind of book that Sanderson and Lynch would write if they ever teamed up together, and Scott convinced Brandon to forget about worldbuilding and concentrate on exciting action sequences. Like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Traitor's Blade suffers from too much analysis, yet it's a fun swashbuckling romp of a fantasy novel!
Here's the blurb:
Falcio is the first Cantor of the Greatcoats. Trained in the fighting arts and the laws of Tristia, the Greatcoats are travelling Magisters upholding King’s Law. They are heroes. Or at least they were, until they stood aside while the Dukes took the kingdom, and impaled their King’s head on a spike. Now Tristia is on the verge of collapse and the barbarians are sniffing at the borders. The Dukes bring chaos to the land, while the Greatcoats are scattered far and wide, reviled as traitors, their legendary coats in tatters. All they have left are the promises they made to King Paelis, to carry out one final mission. But if they have any hope of fulfilling the King’s dream, the divided Greatcoats must reunite, or they will also have to stand aside as they watch their world burn…
The worldbuilding is well below par when compared to other fantasy works by de Castell's peers. There are some plot holes and gaps in the storylines, so don't expect things to always make sense. The lack of depth is evident throughout and could potentially kill this book for many a reader. Perusing the online reviews, it appears that this was the case for many people. And Traitor's Blade does suffer from a decidedly weak beginning, which doesn't help at all. But stick with it, forget about its inherent flaws, and you'll suddenly find yourself in the middle of a fun and entertaining read. Think of it as an action flick. Don't think too much, buckle up, and enjoy the ride!
The structure of the novel is akin to that of Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora, which means that it relies quite heavily on flashback scenes. Such sequences are great for revealing the backstory, but they do kill the momentum of what is occurring in real time. Oddly enough, the tale reached a point where the flashbacks were more interesting than current events. Indeed, reliving the rise and fall of the Greatcoats was far more fascinating than the actual plot. At some point, the past catches up with the present. But it felt as though too much is being kept from the reader, and the endgame feels contrived and doesn't pack a powerful enough punch.
The characterization is at times very good and at times lackluster. The three Greatcoats, de Castell's versions of the Three Musketeers, are often too witty and over-the-top for their own good. So much so that they often become caricatures. Falcio Val Mond is a more three-dimensional protagonist than his two companions, for he is a POV character and thus more fleshed out. Loyal to a fault and supposedly smart, he's a flawed man that's not always the sharpest tool in the shed. Falcio is dense when the story demands it and it cheapens the entire plot when it happens. Still, Falcio's perspective makes for an engaging POV. Brasti and Kest, on the other hand, just come out as the best swordsman and the best archer to ever see the light of day. There is no substance to either of them. The slapstick dark humor and witty repartee will make you chuckle in basically every single chapter. Traitor's Blade is the kind of novel that doesn't take itself too seriously, but oftimes de Castell kills a scene and robs it of any kind of emotional impact simply by trying to be too funny. As a result, the humor doesn't always work as intended.
One of the main problems with this novel is that everything is so black or white. There are no shades of gray to speak of. In that regard, the author's characterization is very much akin to that of Brandon Sanderson. Which is why I believe that fans of Sanderson might really enjoy this one. The most absurd demonstration of this shortcoming has to do with de Castell's depiction of the nobility. They are cruel and evil to the marrow of their bones, and none of them seems to posses even a shred of compassion or human decency. That approach is so excessive and exaggerated that none of them feel like genuine people.
Traitor's Blade is a fast-paced affair packed to the brim with battle scenes that are choreographed down to the smallest of details. For those who enjoy action adventure fantasy stories, this book will likely hit all the right buttons. Unfortunately, those who expect things to make sense and to echo with some depth will probably think that this work leave a lot to be desired. The plot is more or less a series of misadventures meant to showcase another fight which will be narrated in detailed fashion. Take away the fight scenes and you're left with a manifestly feeble plot that's nothing to write home about. De Castell's debut, like most first volumes in fantasy series, is little more than an introduction that paves the way for the rest of the trilogy. But it would have benefited from more storytelling and less swashbuckling action.
In light of all this, Sebastien de Castell's Traitor's Blade should have been a major disappointment. With very little worldbuilding to speak of, black-and-white characterization, protagonists that are too badass for their own good, too much action and a distinctly weak plot, as well as a predictable ending, this debut has enough flaws to make it a failure to launch. And yet, for all of its shortcomings, once I decided to stop analyzing everything too deeply, this turned out to be a very fun read. Sure, there are quite a few issues with this book. But if you can overlook them, and that's the crux of the matter, Traitor's Blade makes for a very entertaining read. It was so much fun that I went through it in just a few sittings. Can't really explain why.
It will be interesting to see if the author managed to up his game in the second installment, Knight's Shadow, or if the book will suffer from the same flaws. I'm not sure I would enjoy the sequel if it shows the exact same flaws the second time around. Let's hope that the best is yet to come for Sebastien de Castell.
For a limited time, you can get your hands on Sam Sykes' The City Stained Red for only 1.99$ here.
Here's the blurb:
A long-exiled living god arises. A city begins to break apart at the seams. Lenk and his battle-scarred companions have come to Cier'Djaal in search of Miron Evanhands, a wealthy priest who contracted them to eradicate demons --- and then vanished before paying for the job. But hunting Miron down might be tougher than even these weary adventurers can handle as two unstoppable religious armies move towards all-out war, tensions rise within the capital's cultural melting pot, and demons begin to pour from the shadows... And Khoth Kapira, the long-banished living god, has seen his chance to return and regain dominion over the world. Now all that prevents the city from tearing itself apart in carnage are Lenk, Kataria, a savage human-hating warrior, Denaos, a dangerous rogue, Asper, a healer priestess, Dreadaeleon, a young wizard, and Gariath, one of the last of the dragonmen.
Darkness wars with darkness as the hard-bitten men of the Black Company take their pay and do what they must. They bury their doubts with their dead. Then comes the prophecy: The White Rose has been reborn, somewhere, to embody good once more… This omnibus edition comprises The Black Company, Shadows Linger, and The White Rose—the first three novels in Glen Cook's bestselling fantasy series.
With a 40cm snow storm last week and temperatures going all the way down to -29°C with the windchill yesterday, it's high time for me to escape the harsh Canadian winter. So on Friday I'm flying away to Hawaii for a well-deserved vacation! I'll be spending 6 nights in Maui, basing myself in Pa'ia to explore the island. Then I'll fly to Ohahu, where I'll spend 8 nights in Waikiki.
If anyone finds themselves in that area at the same time, let me know and maybe we can meet up! =)
Well, I totally forgot about this. But today Pat's Fantasy Hotlist turned 11 years old! Moreover, unless something really bad happens to me, I will reach my 500th review at some point this spring/summer! =)
Can't quite believe that this whole thing began all the way back in January 2005! Thanks for sticking around, guys! It wouldn't be as much fun without an audience. To the haters, I'm persuaded that you'll find more things to bitch about again this year. . . ;-)
Another Harper Voyager deal, you can get your hands on the digital edition of Nathan Garrison's Veiled Empire for only 0.99$ here.
Here's the blurb:
The Empire is Shrouded, not only by the barrier that covers the land, but by the lies and oppression of the mierothi regime. Magic is the privilege of the elite, and the people of this shadowed country have forgotten what it means to hope under their rule. But there are some who would resist, with plans put into motion millennia before. For returned to the Empire is a valynkar, servant of the god of light, and with him come the strength and cunning that could tip the scales to end the Emperor's reign. He has gathered a group of heroes ready to ignite the flame of rebellion and fight against the dark power that has ruled for nearly two thousand years. A power that has champions of its own. Nathan Garrison's Veiled Empire throws a mythical land into chaos, with races long thought forgotten, and magics only just discovered. Steel and sorcery clash as brave souls vie for freedom and control in this astonishing debut novel.
You can now download Elizabeth Moon's Oath of Fealty for only 1.99$ here.
Here's the blurb:
BONUS: This edition contains an excerpt from Elizabeth Moon's Kings of the North. For the first time in nearly twenty years, Elizabeth Moon returns to the thrilling realm of her superb Deed of Paksenarrion trilogy. Thanks to Paks’s courage, the long-vanished heir to the half-elven kingdom of Lyonya has been revealed as Kieri Phelan, a formidable mercenary who earned a title—and enemies—in the neighboring kingdom of Tsaia, where Prince Mikeli suddenly faces the threat of a coup. Acting swiftly, Mikeli strikes at the powerful family behind the attack: the Verrakaien, magelords steeped in death and evil. Mikeli’s survival—and that of Tsaia—depend on the only Verrakai whose magery is not tainted with innocent blood. Two kings stand at a pivotal point in the history of their worlds. For dark forces are gathering against them, knit in a secret conspiracy more sinister and far more ancient than they can imagine.
You can also download the classic Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut for only 1.99$ here.
Here's the blurb:
Adapted for a magnificent George Roy Hill film three years later (perhaps the only film adaptation of a masterpiece which exceeds its source), Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) is the now famous parable of Billy Pilgrim, a World War II veteran and POW, who has in the later stage of his life become ""unstuck in time"" and who experiences at will (or unwillingly) all known events of his chronology out of order and sometimes simultaneously. Traumatized by the bombing of Dresden at the time he had been imprisoned, Pilgrim drifts through all events and history, sometimes deeply implicated, sometimes a witness. He is surrounded by Vonnegut's usual large cast of continuing characters (notably here the hack science fiction writer Kilgore Trout and the alien Tralmafadorians who oversee his life and remind him constantly that there is no causation, no order, no motive to existence). The ""unstuck"" nature of Pilgrim's experience may constitute an early novelistic use of what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; then again, Pilgrim's aliens may be as ""real"" as Dresden is real to him. Struggling to find some purpose, order or meaning to his existence and humanity's, Pilgrim meets the beauteous and mysterious Montana Wildhack (certainly the author's best character name), has a child with her and drifts on some supernal plane, finally, in which Kilgore Trout, the Tralmafadorians, Montana Wildhack and the ruins of Dresden do not merge but rather disperse through all planes of existence. Slaughterhouse-Five was hugely successful, brought Vonnegut an enormous audience, was a finalist for the National Book Award and a bestseller and remains four decades later as timeless and shattering a war fiction as Catch-22, with which it stands as the two signal novels of their riotous and furious decade.