The Genius Plague


My review copies of David Walton's quantum physics murder mysteries Superposition and Supersymmetry have been sitting on my "books to read" pile for a long, long time. I've always known that I'll get to them at some point, but there's always another novel/series that gets in the way. Still, when Pyr sent me an advance reading copy of The Genius Plague, the premise immediately piqued my curiosity and I knew that I wouldn't wait forever to read this one. I scheduled things so that my review would go up around its pub date and here it is!

Let's be honest. The cover art is absolutely atrocious and likely won't attract potential readers' attention. Which is a shame, for this science fiction thriller is one of my favorite reads of 2017!

Here's the blurb:

THE CONTAGION IS IN YOUR MIND.

In this science fiction thriller, brothers are pitted against each other as a pandemic threatens to destabilize world governments by exerting a subtle mind control over survivors.

Neil Johns has just started his dream job as a code breaker in the NSA when his brother, Paul, a mycologist, goes missing on a trip to collect samples in the Amazon jungle. Paul returns with a gap in his memory and a fungal infection that almost kills him. But once he recuperates, he has enhanced communication, memory, and pattern recognition. Meanwhile, something is happening in South America; others, like Paul, have also fallen ill and recovered with abilities they didn’t have before.

But that’s not the only pattern–the survivors, from entire remote Brazilian tribes to American tourists, all seem to be working toward a common, and deadly, goal. Neil soon uncovers a secret and unexplained alliance between governments that have traditionally been enemies. Meanwhile Paul becomes increasingly secretive and erratic.

Paul sees the fungus as the next stage of human evolution, while Neil is convinced that it is driving its human hosts to destruction. Brother must oppose brother on an increasingly fraught international stage, with the stakes: the free will of every human on earth. Can humanity use this force for good, or are we becoming the pawns of an utterly alien intelligence?

The bulk of this novel takes place in Brazil and the Amazon rainforest, as well as in and around the National Security Agency compound in Maryland, and the Washington, D.C. area. Other than the presence of the intelligent fungus and everything that it engenders, The Genius Plague reads like an ordinary thriller. The best thing about this book is that it's not hard science fiction per se. David Walton did a wonderful job explaining the science and the concepts involved without dumbing down the plot. The author also managed to avoid the pitfall of peppering the narrative with info-dumps that would have killed its momentum. The result is a compelling science fiction thriller. With its relatively short chapters, The Genius Plague is a real page-turner.

As the blurb implies, brothers Neil and Paul Johns take center stage. Their father is battling with Alzheimer's disease, and the sad repercussions this has on the entire family touches the story in a myriad ways. The scenes involving Neil, his mother, and his father's memory loss are emotional and occasionally gut-wrenching. Like Neil, readers find out that the life of a cryptologist working at the NSA certainly isn't all that's cracked up to be. As interesting and three-dimensional as the two brothers turned out to be, there's no denying that it's the supporting cast that makes this novel such a memorable read. Indeed, it would never have been the same without the presence of characters such as Shaunessy Brennan, Melody Muniz, and Andrew.

One of my favorite facets of this book is that there are no true villains. Mother Nature can be unpredictable and scary. The fungus does what it feels is required to ensure its own survival. There are no definite plans behind its actions and the aftereffects of the plague on the human brain of its hosts are always unexpected and shocking. With The Genius Plague, David Walton keeps readers on the edge of their seats and you never know what's going to happen next.

The science fiction elements notwithstanding, The Genius Plague was meant to be a thriller and for it to work it must read like one. Short chapters ending with startling cliffhangers create a page-turning pace that makes this novel hard to put down. This is the kind of work that you go through in just a few sittings.

Intelligent, touching, and captivating, David Walton's environmentally consciousThe Genius Plague is a joyride from beginning to end! Highly recommended.

The final verdict: 8/10

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

Quote of the Day

Religion and ethics were not always--or even frequently--mutually compatible. The demands of religious absolutism or fundamentalism or rampaging relativism often reflected the worst aspects of contemporary culture or prejudices rather than a system which both man and God could live under with a sense of real justice.

- DAN SIMMONS, The Fall of Hyperion (Canada, USA, Europe)

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


You can get your hands on the digital edition of Paul Tremblay's A Head Full of Ghosts for only 1.99$ here. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

WINNER OF THE 2015 BRAM STOKER AWARD FOR SUPERIOR ACHIEVEMENT IN A NOVEL

A chilling thriller that brilliantly blends psychological suspense and supernatural horror, reminiscent of Stephen King's The Shining, Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, and William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist.

The lives of the Barretts, a normal suburban New England family, are torn apart when fourteen-year-old Marjorie begins to display signs of acute schizophrenia.

To her parents’ despair, the doctors are unable to stop Marjorie’s descent into madness. As their stable home devolves into a house of horrors, they reluctantly turn to a local Catholic priest for help. Father Wanderly suggests an exorcism; he believes the vulnerable teenager is the victim of demonic possession. He also contacts a production company that is eager to document the Barretts’ plight. With John, Marjorie’s father, out of work for more than a year and the medical bills looming, the family agrees to be filmed, and soon find themselves the unwitting stars of The Possession, a hit reality television show. When events in the Barrett household explode in tragedy, the show and the shocking incidents it captures become the stuff of urban legend.

Fifteen years later, a bestselling writer interviews Marjorie’s younger sister, Merry. As she recalls those long ago events that took place when she was just eight years old, long-buried secrets and painful memories that clash with what was broadcast on television begin to surface—and a mind-bending tale of psychological horror is unleashed, raising vexing questions about memory and reality, science and religion, and the very nature of evil.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


You can now download Jim Butcher's Proven Guilty for only 1.99$ here. There is a price match in Canada.

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...

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


You can still download Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian: 20 Adventure Tales of Conan for only 0.99$ here. 1339 pages featuring Conan the Cimmerian for less than 1$, it doesn't get much better than this!

Here's the blurb:

Conan The Barbarian is the original stories about adventure stories of conan the cimmerian written by Robert E. Howard in 1934-1936. In this book contains 20 stories of Conan The Cimmerian.

1.The Hyborian Age, first published in The Phantagraph, February-November 1936.
2.Shadows In the Moonlight, first published in Weird Tales, April 1934.
3.Queen Of the Black Coast, first published in Weird Tales, May 1934.
4.The Devil In Iron, first published in Weird Tales, August 1934.
5.The People Of the Black Circle, first published in Weird Tales, September, October and November 1934.
6.A Witch Shall Be Born, first published in Weird Tales in 1934.
7.The Jewels Of Gwahlur, first published in Weird Tales, March 1935.
8.Beyond the Black River, first published in Weird Tales magazine circa 1935.
9.Shadows In Zamboula, first published in Weird Tales, November 1935.
10.The Hour Of the Dragon, first published in Weird Tales, December 1935-April 1936.
11.Gods Of the North, first published in Fantasy Fan, March 1934.
12.Red Nails, First Published in Weird Tales, July, August-September, October 1936.
13. The Shadow of the Vulture, First published in the pulp magazine Magic Carpet Magazine, January 1934.
14.The Phoenix on the Sword, First published in 1932.
15.The Scarlet Citadel, First published in 1933.
16.The Tower of the Elephant, First published in 1933.
17.Black Colossus, First published in 1934.
18.The Slithering Shadow, First published in 1934.
19.The Pool of the Black One, First published in 1934.
20.Rogues in the House, First published in 1935.

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (October 9th)

In hardcover:

Stephen King and Owen King’s Sleeping Beauties debuts at number 1. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

In paperback:

Stephen King's It maintains its position at number 1 (trade paperback). For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid’s Tale is down one position, ending the week at number 3 (trade paperback). For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

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This probably ain't the first time this has happened, but King holding top spot on both the hardcover and paperback charts is pretty impressive!

Win a copy of Neil Gaiman's NEVERWHERE ILLUSTRATED EDITION


I have a copy of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere Illustrated Edition up for grabs, compliments of the folks at William Morrow. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

The #1 New York Times bestselling author’s dark classic of modern fantasy, beautifully illustrated for the first time by award-winning artist Chris Riddell, and featuring the author’s preferred text and his Neverwhere tale, “How the Marquis Got His Coat Back.”

Published in 1997, Neil Gaiman’s first novel, Neverwhere, heralded the arrival of a major talent. Over the years, various versions have been produced around the world. In 2016, this gorgeously illustrated edition of the novel was released in the UK. It is now available here, and features strikingly atmospheric, painstakingly detailed black-and-white line art by Chris Riddell, one of Gaiman’s favorite artistic interpreters of his work.

Richard Mayhew is a young London businessman with a good heart whose life is changed forever when he stops to help a bleeding girl—an act of kindness that plunges him into a world he never dreamed existed. Slipping through the cracks of reality, Richard lands in Neverwhere—a London of shadows and darkness, monsters and saints, murderers and angels that exists entirely in a subterranean labyrinth. Neverwhere is home to Door, the mysterious girl Richard helped in the London Above. Here in Neverwhere, Door is a powerful noblewoman who has vowed to find the evil agent of her family’s slaughter and thwart the destruction of this strange underworld kingdom. If Richard is ever to return to his former life and home, he must join Lady Door’s quest to save her world—and may well die trying.

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

Kitty in the Underworld


Time was, Carrie Vaughn's Kitty Norville book sequence was one of the best urban fantasy series on the market. Nearly as enjoyable as Jim Butcher's Dresden Files. I loved the fact that Vaughn takes her characters and storylines along unexpected paths, keeping this series fresh and very entertaining. And while the early books were more episodic in style and tone, in the middle installments the author continued to unveil various hints and offered lots of glimpses of a much bigger and more ambitious overall story arc. Urban fantasy is often characterized by short works which are episodic in nature and don't always allow the plotlines to progress overmuch. Up until the tenth volume, Vaughn had always managed to dodge the bullet and keep things moving, making you eager to read the next installment to find out what occurs next.

Unfortunately, in the eleventh book the series lost a lot of steam. Indeed, Kitty Rocks the House turned out to be the one in which Carrie Vaughn failed to live up to expectations. I'm not sure there was enough material to sustain a full novel and it showed. A lot of filler and not much killer, that novel felt like some kind of interlude and didn't have a whole lot going for it. For the first time ever, a Kitty Norville title was a disappointment for me.

And if its predecessor marked the point where the series started losing steam, Kitty in the Underworld definitely brought it to a standstill. This is by far the most underwhelming and often downright boring installment thus far.

Here's the blurb:

As Denver adjusts to a new master vampire, Kitty gets word of an intruder in the Denver werewolf pack's territory, and she investigates the challenge to her authority. She follows the scent of the lycanthrope through the mountains where she is lured into a trap, tranquilized, and captured. When she wakes up, she finds herself in a defunct silver mine: the perfect cage for a werewolf. Her captors are a mysterious cult seeking to induct Kitty into their ranks in a ritual they hope will put an end to Dux Bellorum. Though skeptical of their power, even Kitty finds herself struggling to resist joining their cause. Whatever she decides, they expect Kitty to join them in their plot . . . willingly or otherwise, in Carrie Vaughn's Kitty in the Underworld.

My disappointment evidently stems from the fact that Kitty Steals the Show raised the bar to new heights. The conference in London allowed Kitty to come in contact with a lot of supernatural creatures, most of them centuries old. We were introduced to yet more players in the Long Game, and once again it became obvious that the endgame was approaching. And the surprising side-story fleshing out the Cormac/Amelia plotline added yet more layers to the plot. All in all, Kitty Rocks the House turned out to be sort of lackluster and at times a bit boring. In the end, we were left with a weak plot that could likely have been part of another Kitty installment and the series would have been better for it. Sadly, Kitty in the Underworld suffers from the same shortcomings. And then some. Once again, there is not enough material to sustain a full book. Kitty gets kidnapped and she spends the better part of the novel talking to herself. That's pretty much it in a nutshell.

The book is told in the first-person narrative of the up-until-this point endearing werewolf radio host. With her supernatural knack for attracting trouble and the fact she's not always be the sharpest tool in the shed, there is seldom a dull moment in Kitty's life. And yet, with the odds stacked against her and the stakes always getting higher, her stubbornness keeps putting herself and her loved ones in mortal danger. In my last couple of reviews I've said that it doesn't always sit well with me and this continues to be the case. Kitty is definitely changing with each new installment. Although her heart remains in the right place, I think that Ben and Cormac need to have a serious talk with her. Especially Ben, who truly needs to start acting like a true man and not just a pillar on which she can lean on. Their relationship makes no sense and it's getting worse. The main problem with Kitty in the Underworld is that the bulk of the novel features Kitty by herself. And if she has grown particularly reckless in the last few volumes, she acts absurdly dumb in this one. Her inner monologue gets old after only a couple of chapters, and things keep going downhill after that. The supporting cast remains absent for most of the book and this is what kills the story. Kitty, at this juncture in the series, cannot, on her own at least, carry the weight of the tale on her shoulders. Not only is she acting stupid, but her association with a bunch of nutjobs while she is acutely aware that what they're doing could kill them all goes against everything she stands for.

Both Kitty's Big Trouble and Kitty Steals the Show were transition titles linking past plotlines and weaving them into the tapestry of threads that will lead us to the series' finale. The stage was set for other thrilling reads, but Kitty Rocks the House and Kitty in the Underworld were little more than subpar intermissions. At this point, it's obvious that both the author and Tor Books were milking Kitty's popularity for all it was worth. Here's to hoping that the last two installments will refocus and end this series on a high note.

The pace was terrible. I'm sorry, but there is no way to sugarcoat it. Thankfully, Vaughn has been laying out a lot of groundwork over the course of the last couple of books, and the endgame is approaching. For that reason, I'm more than willing to overlook two disappointing and uninspired novels if the subsequent books live up to the hype generated by what came before.

It would be a shame for the Kitty Norville book sequence to end in forgettable fashion. But the Long Game has been introduced years ago and it's obvious that the proliferation of sequels has hurt what used to be a quality series. Quality will always win over quantity.

Hopefully Low Midnight and Kitty Saves the World will be a return to form for Carrie Vaughn. . .

The final verdict: 6/10

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

Win a set of Peter Newman's The Vagrant trilogy


To help promote the release of Peter Newman's The Seven (Canada, USA, Europe), I have a full set of the series up for grabs, compliments of the folks at HarperVoyager. The prize pack includes:

- The Vagrant
- The Malice
- The Seven

Here's the blurb for the final volume:

Years have passed since the Vagrant journeyed to the Shining City, Vesper in arm and Gamma’s sword in hand.

Since then the world has changed. Vesper, following the footsteps of her father, journeyed to the breach and closed the tear between worlds, protecting the last of humanity, but also trapping the infernal horde and all those that fell to its corruptions: willing or otherwise.

In this new age it is Vesper who leads the charge towards unity and peace, with seemingly nothing standing between the world and a bright new future.

That is until eyes open.

And The Seven awaken.

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

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

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

Good luck to all the participants!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


You can now download PJ Manney's just-released (R)evolution for 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Scientist Peter Bernhardt has dedicated his life to nanotechnology, the science of manipulating matter on the atomic scale. As the founder of Biogineers, he is on the cusp of revolutionizing brain therapies with microscopic nanorobots that will make certain degenerative diseases become a thing of the past. But after his research is stolen by an unknown enemy, seventy thousand people die in Las Vegas in one abominable moment. No one is more horrified than Peter, as this catastrophe sets in motion events that will forever change not only his life but also the course of human evolution.

Peter’s company is torn from his grasp as the public clamors for his blood. Desperate, he turns to an old friend, who introduces him to the Phoenix Club, a cabal of the most powerful people in the world. To make himself more valuable to his new colleagues, Peter infuses his brain with experimental technology, exponentially upgrading his mental prowess and transforming him irrevocably.

As he’s exposed to unimaginable wealth and influence, Peter’s sense of reality begins to unravel. Do the club members want to help him, or do they just want to claim his technology? What will they do to him once they have their prize? And while he’s already evolved beyond mere humanity, is he advanced enough to take on such formidable enemies and win?

Win a copy of David Walton's THE GENIUS PLAGUE


I have two copies of David Walton's The Genius Plague for you to win, courtesy of the folks at Pyr. Don't let the atrocious cover art fool you. I'm almost done and it's one of my favorite reads of 2017! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

THE CONTAGION IS IN YOUR MIND.

In this science fiction thriller, brothers are pitted against each other as a pandemic threatens to destabilize world governments by exerting a subtle mind control over survivors.

Neil Johns has just started his dream job as a code breaker in the NSA when his brother, Paul, a mycologist, goes missing on a trip to collect samples in the Amazon jungle. Paul returns with a gap in his memory and a fungal infection that almost kills him. But once he recuperates, he has enhanced communication, memory, and pattern recognition. Meanwhile, something is happening in South America; others, like Paul, have also fallen ill and recovered with abilities they didn’t have before.

But that’s not the only pattern–the survivors, from entire remote Brazilian tribes to American tourists, all seem to be working toward a common, and deadly, goal. Neil soon uncovers a secret and unexplained alliance between governments that have traditionally been enemies. Meanwhile Paul becomes increasingly secretive and erratic.

Paul sees the fungus as the next stage of human evolution, while Neil is convinced that it is driving its human hosts to destruction. Brother must oppose brother on an increasingly fraught international stage, with the stakes: the free will of every human on earth. Can humanity use this force for good, or are we becoming the pawns of an utterly alien intelligence?

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

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

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

Good luck to all the participants!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


You can now download L. Ron Hubbard's Battlefield Earth for only 0.99$ here. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

In the year A.D. 3000, Earth is a barren wasteland, plundered of its natural resources by alien conquerors known as Psychlos. Fewer than thirty-five thousand humans survive in a handful of communities scattered across the face of a post-apocalyptic Earth.

From the ashes of humanity rises a young hero, Jonnie Goodboy Tyler. Setting off on an initial quest to discover a hidden evil, Jonnie unlocks the mystery of humanity’s demise and unearths a crucial weakness in their oppressors. Spreading the seeds of revolt, Jonnie and a small band of survivors pit their quest for freedom in an all-out rebellion that erupts across the continents of Earth and the cosmic sprawl of the Psychlo empire.

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (October 2nd)

In paperback:

Stephen King's It maintains its position at number 1 (trade paperback).

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid’s Tale is up five positions, ending the week at number 2 (trade paperback). For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Ernest Cline's Ready Player One is down two positions, ending the week at number 10 (trade paperback).

Win a copy of Kevin Hearne's A PLAGUE OF GIANTS


I was eager to read the first installment in Kevin Hearne's new series. But about 150 pages into A Plague of Giants, I had no choice but to give up. I wasn't feeling it at all and there was no way I could keep going. It's such a disappointment, for I had high hopes for this one. :/ So I'm giving my review copy away to one lucky winner. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

From the author of The Iron Druid Chronicles, a thrilling novel that kicks off a fantasy series with an entirely new mythology—complete with shape-shifting bards, fire-wielding giants, and children who can speak to astonishing beasts.

MOTHER AND WARRIOR
Tallynd is a soldier who has already survived her toughest battle: losing her husband. But now she finds herself on the front lines of an invasion of giants, intent on wiping out the entire kingdom, including Tallynd’s two sons—all that she has left. The stakes have never been higher. If Tallynd fails, her boys may never become men.

SCHOLAR AND SPY
Dervan is an historian who longs for a simple, quiet life. But he’s drawn into intrigue when he’s hired to record the tales of a mysterious bard who may be a spy or even an assassin for a rival kingdom. As the bard shares his fantastical stories, Dervan makes a shocking discovery: He may have a connection to the tales, one that will bring his own secrets to light.

REBEL AND HERO
Abhi’s family have always been hunters, but Abhi wants to choose a different life for himself. Embarking on a journey of self-discovery, Abhi soon learns that his destiny is far greater than he imagined: a powerful new magic thrust upon him may hold the key to defeating the giants once and for all—if it doesn’t destroy him first.

Set in a magical world of terror and wonder, this novel is a deeply felt epic of courage and war, in which the fates of these characters intertwine—and where ordinary people become heroes, and their lives become legend.

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

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

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

Good luck to all the participants!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


You can now download George R. R. Martin's A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms for only 3.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Taking place nearly a century before the events of A Game of Thrones, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms compiles the first three official prequel novellas to George R. R. Martin’s ongoing masterwork, A Song of Ice and Fire. These never-before-collected adventures recount an age when the Targaryen line still holds the Iron Throne, and the memory of the last dragon has not yet passed from living consciousness.

Before Tyrion Lannister and Podrick Payne, there was Dunk and Egg. A young, naïve but ultimately courageous hedge knight, Ser Duncan the Tall towers above his rivals—in stature if not experience. Tagging along is his diminutive squire, a boy called Egg—whose true name (hidden from all he and Dunk encounter) is Aegon Targaryen. Though more improbable heroes may not be found in all of Westeros, great destinies lay ahead for these two… as do powerful foes, royal intrigue, and outrageous exploits.

Featuring more than 160 all-new illustrations by Gary Gianni, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms is a must-have collection that proves chivalry isn’t dead—yet.

Geeks doing good: Puerto Rico fundraiser


A little over a week ago, I got in touch with a number of SFF authors, editors, and artists because I wanted to organize a fundraiser for Puerto Rico. I soon realized that the logistics involved would quickly overwhelm my efforts to do good. But Patrick Rothfuss said that he was considering launching his own fundraiser. Since he's the brain behind a number of highly successful fundraisers with Worldbuilders, we were all happy to support his newest effort!

Rothfuss is even putting up 50,000$ in matching funds, which means that every dollar people donate will have twice the impact.

As things stand, over 63,000$ have been raised out of the 100,000$ goal.

So if you want to help by donating a few bucks, please follow this link and help us do some good. =)

Thank you all for your time and consideration.

R. Scott Bakker contest winner!

This lucky winner is getting my extra copy of R. Scott Bakker's The Unholy Consult! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winner is:

- Robin Goodman, from Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Many thanks to all the participants!

Win a copy of L. E. Modesitt, jr.'s THE MONGREL MAGE


I have a copy of L. E. Modesitt, jr.'s The Mongrel Mage up for grabs, compliments of the folks at Tor Books. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

The Saga of Recluce chronicles the history of this world with world-building detail and an ingenious and disciplined magic system. L. E. Modesitt, Jr. returns to his longest and bestselling fantasy series with volume nineteen, The Mongrel Mage, which marks the beginning of a new story arc.

In the world of Recluce, powerful mages can wield two kinds of magic—the white of Chaos or the black of Order. Beltur, however, has talents no one dreamed of, talents not seen in hundreds of years that blend both magics.

On the run from a power hungry white mage, Beltur is taken in by Order mages who set him on the path to discover and hone his own unique gifts and in the process find a home.

However, when the white mage he fled attempts to invade his new home, Beltur must hope his new found power will be enough to save them all.

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

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

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

Good luck to all the participants!

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

In paperback:

Stephen King's It maintains its position at number 1 (trade paperback).

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid’s Tale maintains its position at number 7 (trade paperback). For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Ernest Cline's Ready Player One is up one position, ending the week at number 8 (trade paperback).

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


You can now download Peter Newman's The Vagrant for only 0.99$ here. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

The Vagrant is his name. He has no other.

Years have passed since humanity’s destruction emerged from the Breach.

Friendless and alone he walks across a desolate, war-torn landscape.

As each day passes the world tumbles further into depravity, bent and twisted by the new order, corrupted by the Usurper, the enemy, and his infernal horde.

His purpose is to reach the Shining City, last bastion of the human race, and deliver the only weapon that may make a difference in the ongoing war.

What little hope remains is dying. Abandoned by its leader, The Seven, and its heroes, The Seraph Knights, the last defences of a once great civilisation are crumbling into dust.

But the Shining City is far away and the world is a very dangerous place.

The Death and Life of Schneider Wrack


In its blurb for this novel, The Guardian claimed that it was a nautical sci-fi space battle zombie horror comedy adventure tale. Add to that the actual cover blurb and I knew I had no choice but to read Nate Crowley's The Death and Life of Schneider Wrack. I'm not too keen on zombies to begin with, but my curiosity was thoroughly piqued. If nothing else, I felt as though this book would be unlike anything else I had ever read. And believe you me, it was just that!

Needless to say, The Death and Life of Schneider Wrack was not what any reader would expect. Some times, this works in the novel's favor. On the other hand, occasionally it can be detrimental to the tale Crowley is telling.

Moreover, had I known of the book's genesis, perhaps my enthusiasm would have been a little more subdued going in. Problem is, you only find out at the very end, in the afterword and the acknowledgements, just how this work became a reality. And this explains the various shortcomings found therein. . .

You see, Nate Crowley was offered a book deal after coming up with 76 consecutive daily birthday tweets for one of his friends, tweets that soon became little stories in which said friend was portrayed as a fragile and vicious tyrant. The whole thing became viral and, wada wada wada, here we are with this work. This explains the author's ability to come up with countless witty and entertaining snippets throughout the novel. Alas, it also explains why these simply cannot form a cohesive whole that works as a plot.

Here's the blurb:

SCHNEIDER WRACK WAS DEAD.

Until he wasn’t.

Convicted of a crime he’s almost completely sure he didn’t commit, executed, reanimated, then pressed into service aboard a vast trawler on the terrible world of Ocean, he was set to spend his afterlife working until his mindless corpse fell apart.

But now he’s woken up, trapped in a rotting body, arm-deep in the stinking meat and blubber of a sea monster, and he’s not happy. It’s time for the dead to rise up.

From the stench and brine of Ocean to the fetid jungle of Grand Amazon, Schneider’s career as a revolutionary won’t be easy.

But sometimes a zombie’s gotta do what a zombie’s gotta do.

The worldbuilding is a bit of a mess. Another book review claims that the tale set in a thoughtfully constructed fantasy world, but I beg to differ. More often than not, Crowley doesn't even attempt to shine some light on the various concepts and ideas which are at the heart of The Death and Life of Schneider Wrack. There are plenty of questions throughout the novel. Yet the answers, when they come, are extremely few and far between. The author appears way more interested in coming up with a panoply of sea monsters and excuses for battle scenes filled with industrial quantities of blood and gore. If you're the kind of reader who doesn't ask too many questions and who can just buckle up and enjoy the ride, Crowley's debut just might work for you. It is a fun and easy read, no doubt about it. But the plot suffers from a little analysis. If you are the sort of reader who asks questions, who wants answers, who wants things to ultimately make sense, then things will quickly go down the crapper for you. As they did for me. To the vast majority of the "why this?" and "why that?" questions that come up in basically every chapter, Nate Crowley refuses to provide answers. It's not a failure of execution. The author doesn't even try to do so. The reader is expected to take everything on faith, hoping that the answers will be revealed at the end of the book and that things will make sense then. Unfortunately, answers are seldom offered, secrets are rarely unveiled, and nothing really makes sense, even when you reach the last page. What exactly was that tech that allowed people to create and control zombies and how did the city of Lipos-Tholos come into possession and control of it? How were they able to withstand such a siege forever. What were the Pipers fighting for? What are those gates and worlds? Continents on one planet, or different dimensions/worlds? What exactly was Teuthis and why is it drawn to High Sarawak? How did Dust puzzle out the truth behind the Tavuto and how it was the greatest prize to go for? The list goes on and on and on.

Nate Crowley's descriptive prose creates a stark and vivid imagery. It's often particularly gross, but the author makes you feel as though you are right in the thick of it. In that regard, the narrative deserves kudos for being such a multi-sensory experience. I kid you not. At times, you feel like you want to gag.

The characterization is by far the best aspect of this work. Events unfold through three different perspectives. That of Schneider Wrack, a librarian sentenced to death for being part of the Piper rebellion. That of Mouana, a dead soldier who used to be part of one of the mercenary companies laying siege to Lipos-Tholos. And that of General Dust, Mouana's former commander and leader of the Blades of Titan. Both Wrack and Mouana regain consciousness with almost no memories of who they used to be. But as the tale progresses, their back stories take shape as vague memories become clearer and clearer. It's at this juncture that Dust's POV gets introduced and from then on there is somewhat of a balance between the three perspectives. Although it was well-done, the characterization is often bogged down by too much bantering or inane dialogue.

But in the end, what truly sunk The Death and Life of Schneider Wrack was the fact that there is no ending whatsoever. No resolution to any of the main storylines, no answers regarding most of those aforementioned questions. No ending, period. It's as if the final chapters are missing. Imagine if Star Wars: A New Hope had ended with the scene of the rebel fleet taking off for the Battle of Yavin and that's pretty much how I felt when I reached the end of the book. I've never been a fan of those make-your-own-ending kind of novels and I found this quite off-putting. It's also a major cop-out for an author, especially when we're not talking about an ending that can be interpretated in various ways. With no sequel in the making, it makes you wonder why you actually read the whole novel. A variety of things made little or no sense as you read along. But the absence of a true ending that offers some resolution pretty much ensures that almost nothing makes sense.

The Death and Life of Schneider Wrack is a dark, often funny, entertaining, and gore-filled affair that is unlike anything else I've ever read. The book certainly had potential. Lots of it, in fact. Ultimately, it suffered from too many shortcomings to live up to it. Still, if you're looking for something that will surprise even the most jaded genre readers, this novel is definitely for you!

The final verdict: 6/10

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

John Picacio: LOTERIA ORIGINAL ART: HELP DISASTER VICTIMS


This from Hugo Award-winning illustrator John Picacio's website:

Our fellow humans in Houston, Florida, Mexico, and the Caribbean Islands have been walloped by natural disaster in recent days — and they need our help. Earlier this month, I made available one of my much-coveted shadowbox assemblages and it sold within minutes of being posted. A portion of that sale will be going to benefit Mexican earthquake relief efforts in Oaxaca, where they were devastated by an 8.1 earthquake on September 7th.

Now, I’m parting with five of my cherished Loteria drawings to generate more donation money toward recovery endeavors. A portion of these purchases will be donated to the food bank or relief effort of the buyer’s choice. I’m partial to the Mexican relief efforts because they delivered personnel and supplies to the US when Hurricane Harvey roared through Houston, and the honorable thing to do as Americans is reciprocate. Mexico City is recovering from a horrific 7.1 disaster on September 19th and I want to do all I can to help them. That said, I have friends and family in Houston, and while I’ve already donated to the Harvey effort, I would be thrilled to see more relief funds sent directly to Houston’s food banks. And of course, Florida and the Caribbean Islanders deserve our continuing attention as well, in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Many of you are aware of my ongoing Loteria art series. I feel that these Loteria drawings are some of the most resonant I’ve done in my career to date. I’m 100% Mexican American, so every time I work on one of these — it’s PERSONAL. These visions are not just about me. They’re about my culture, our identity, and our dreams. There will be only be fifty-four of these final drawings when the series is completed, and several have previously sold immediately.

Follow this link to check out the five original works that are now available for the first time.

Diana Gabaldon contest winners!

Our winners will get their hands on a copy of Diana Gabaldon's Seven Stones to Stand or Fall, compliments of the folks at Delacorte. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winners are:

- Parto Barkhordari, from Leesburg, Virginia, USA

- Raman Ohri, from Fishers, Indiana, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


For a limited time, you can get your hands on the digital edition of Richard Kadrey's The Everything Box for only 1.99$ here. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

Reminiscent of the edgy, offbeat humor of Chris Moore and Matt Ruff, the first entry in a whimsical, fast-paced supernatural series from the New York Times bestselling author of the Sandman Slim novels—a dark and humorous story involving a doomsday gizmo, a horde of baddies determined to possess its power, and a clever thief who must steal it back . . . again and again.

22000 B.C. A beautiful, ambitious angel stands on a mountaintop, surveying the world and its little inhabitants below. He smiles because soon, the last of humanity who survived the great flood will meet its end, too. And he should know. He’s going to play a big part in it. Our angel usually doesn’t get to do field work, and if he does well, he’s certain he’ll get a big promotion.

And now it’s time . . . .

The angel reaches into his pocket for the instrument of humanity’s doom. Must be in the other pocket. Then he frantically begins to pat himself down. Dejected, he realizes he has lost the object. Looking over the Earth at all that could have been, the majestic angel utters a single word.

“Crap.”

2015. A thief named Coop—a specialist in purloining magic objects—steals and delivers a small box to the mysterious client who engaged his services. Coop doesn’t know that his latest job could be the end of him—and the rest of the world. Suddenly he finds himself in the company of The Department of Peculiar Science, a fearsome enforcement agency that polices the odd and strange. The box isn’t just a supernatural heirloom with quaint powers, they tell him.

It’s a doomsday device. They think . . .

And suddenly, everyone is out to get it.

The sequel, The Wrong Dead Guy, is available for 2.99$ here. Same price in Canada.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


You can now download Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

From Nebula and Arthur C. Clarke Award nominated debut author, Ann Leckie, comes Ancillary Justice, a stunning space opera that asks what it means to be human in a universe guided by artificial intelligence.

On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest.

Breq is both more than she seems and less than she was. Years ago, she was the Justice of Toren--a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of corpse soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy.

An act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with only one fragile human body. And only one purpose--to revenge herself on Anaander Mianaai, many-bodied, near-immortal Lord of the Radch.

Kushiel's Mercy


Kushiel's Scion, the first volume in Jacqueline Carey's second Kushiel trilogy, had extremely big shoes to fill. Doubtless, it was unfair as far as expectations go. Its predecessor, Kushiel's Avatar was the culmination of a great tapestry of complex storylines that had been woven over the course of three unforgettable volumes. Naturally, it raised the bar sky-high and created lofty expectations that could not possibly be met by whatever came next. Overall, though it was a great read in its own right, Kushiel's Scion turned out to be a transition book bridging the gap between the two Kushiel series and a vast introduction setting the stage for what would take place in the two subsequent installments. With Kushiel's Justice, however, Carey truly knocked it out of the park. With most of the groundwork laid out in the first volume, the set-up phase was pretty much non-existent and the author took us on a number of memorable journeys that would change Imriel's life forever.

And with Kushiel's Avatar being such a grand slam, I had high hopes that Kushiel's Mercy would bring this second trilogy to the same kind of remarkable ending. Although this one started off quite strong, I felt that it relied a little too heavily on the romance between Imriel and Sidonie. As a result, it was not as multilayered as previous Kushiel books. And though it offers resolution regarding plotlines from both series and it closes the show on this second trilogy in satisfying fashion, Kushiel's Mercy was the weakest installment of the bunch. Granted, this has more to do with the fact that the five novels that preceded it were truly amazing reads. And weakest volume or not, there is no denying that Kushiel's Mercy remains better than most fantasy offerings on the market today.

Here's the blurb:

Having learned a lesson about thwarting the will of the gods, Imriel and Sidonie publicly confess their affair, only to see the country boil over in turmoil. Younger generations, infatuated by their heart-twisting, star-crossed romance, defend the couple. Many others cannot forget the betrayals of Imriel’s mother, Melisande, who plunged their country into a bloody war that cost the lives of their fathers, brothers, and sons.

To quell the unrest, Ysandre, the queen, sets her decree. She will not divide the lovers, yet neither will she acknowledge them. If they marry, Sidonie will be disinherited, losing her claim on the throne. There’s only one way they can truly be together. Imriel must perform an act of faith: search the world for his infamous mother and bring her back to Terre d’Ange to be executed for treason.

Facing a terrible choice, Imriel and Sidonie prepare ruefully for another long separation. But when a dark foreign force casts a shadow over Terre d’Ange and all the surrounding countries, their world is turned upside down, alliances of the unlikeliest kind are made, and Imriel and Sidonie learn that the god Elua always puts hearts together apurpose.

Jacqueline Carey's worldbuilding has always been astonishing and I feel that the author never received the respect she deserves in that regard. Eschewing the traditional European medieval environment, Carey's creation is akin to the Renaissance era and it is set in an alternate version of Western Europe. With each new book, she took us on fabulous journeys that enabled readers to discover more about her universe and she never disappointed in doing so. Richly detailed and imagined in terms of cultures, religions, and politics, like all its predecessors Kushiel's Mercy is another textured and sophisticated novel that hits all the right buttons. Still, the novel is not as dense and sprawling as most of the other Kushiel installments. Indeed, this time around the action is limited to Terre d'Ange (France), Cythera (Cyprus), Euskerria (Basque Country), and Tunisia (Carthage). As is the author's wont, the web of murder and political intrigue that Carey wove through this novel is as incredible and unexpected as the politicking of such masters as George R. R. Martin and Katherine Kurtz.

As I said before, Jacqueline Carey continues to write with an elegance that reminds me of Guy Gavriel Kay at his best. Her lyrical prose is something special and I have a feeling that it could well be the very best in the genre today. Even the darkest and more shocking scenes are written with a distinctive literary grace that makes them even more powerful than they would be in the hands of a less gifted author. Once again in Kushiel's Mercy, her gripping prose creates an imagery filled with wonder and beauty that never fails to fascinate. Like Robin Hobb, Carey also possesses a subtle human touch which imbues some scenes with even more emotional impact. Moreover, once again à la Hobb, Carey makes her characters suffer like no other genre authors out there. Given the dark and disturbing events that Imriel was forced to live through in Kushiel's Avatar, Kushiel's Scion, and Kushiel's Justice, one would think that the poor guy deserves a break. But no, far from it. Just when you thought that he had finally found some happiness after suffering to such a degree, yet again he gets the rug pulled from under him.

To a certain extent, I still miss the first person narrative of Phèdre nó Delaunay. As a deeply flawed character, her strengths and weaknesses made her genuine and her perspective, that of an older woman relating the tale of her past, misled readers on several occasions by playing with their expectations. I liked how Phèdre's strenghts often became her weaknesses and vice versa. And yet, Imriel is deeply flawed himself and his point of view, though it took some getting used to, now works nearly as well as that of his foster mother. Though relatively brief, Leander Maignard's POV offered a different perspective that was interesting. Jacqueline Carey has a knack for creating engaging and memorable secondary characters, and once again she came up with a good cast of men and women. Two of them, Kratos and Astegal, truly stand out in this final volume and they left their mark on this tale, if for vastly different reasons.

In my last review I mentioned that I had a feeling that Phèdre and Joscelin's quest for Hyacinthe would have repercussions in Kushiel's Mercy. But no, this is barely hinted at. Not surprisingly, this third volume focuses on the love story between Imriel and Sidonie, as well as on Carthage's magical treachery that has Terre d'Ange under its spell and which has brought the country on the brink of civil war. I am aware that the next series, the Naamah trilogy, takes place a few generations in the future. But I have no idea if that secret quest will have repercussions that will echo down through the years and have a role to play in that tale, or if readers will have to wait for a yet unwritten future series featuring Phèdre and Joscelin that will focus on that journey. Time will tell.

Kushiel's Mercy is the shortest book in the series. As far as the rhythm is concerned, the pace is never an issue. Though it's by no means a slim tome, it is no doorstopper of a book, the way its predecessors were. It is, however, another page-turner. Although there is a love story at the heart of the tale, the fate of both Terre d'ange and Aragonia hang in the balance. The author has a knack for coming up with plot twists that suck you in and won't let go. And let's say that Carthage's spell may be the biggest one yet. In a nutshell, Kushiel's Mercy is yet another sophisticated and convoluted read full of wonder and sensuality. Written on an epic scale and with an elegance seldom seen in this subgenre, Jacqueline Carey managed to do it again. Kushiel's Justice was more complex and rewarding, true, but there is no denying that Kushiel's Mercy is a worthy sequel and a satisfying ending to a superior fantasy series..

I've said it before and I'll say it again. These two trilogies deserve the highest possible recommendation. Give them a shot ASAP. You won't be disappointed!

The final verdict: 8/10

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

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

In paperback:

Stephen King's It is up three spots, finishing the week at number 1 (trade paperback).

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid’s Tale is down two positions, ending the week at number 7 (trade paperback). For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Ernest Cline's Ready Player One is down one position, ending the week at number 9 (trade paperback).

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


Not sure for how long, and this might be a glitch, but you can get your hands on the digital edition of R. Scott Bakker's The Unholy Consult for only 1.99$ here!

Here's the blurb:

In this shattering conclusion to The Aspect-Emperor books, praised for their “sweeping epic scale and detailed historical world building” (Grimdark Magazine), R. Scott Bakker delivers the series’ feverishly harrowing and long-awaited finish.

The Men of the Great Ordeal have been abandoned by Aspect-Emperor Anasurimbor Kellhus, and the formerly epic crusade has devolved into cannibalism and chaos. When Exalt-General Proyas, with the Imperial-Prince Kayutas at his side, attempts to control the lost Men and continue their march to Golgotterath, it rapidly becomes clear that the lost Lord-and-Profit is not so easily shaken from the mission.

When Sorweel, Believer-King of Sakarpus, and Serwa, daughter of the Aspect-Emperor, join the Great Ordeal they discover that the Shortest Path is not always the most obvious, or the safest. Souls, morals, and relationships are called into question when no one can be trusted, and the price for their sins is greater than they imagined.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


You can now download John Gwynne's Malice for only 2.50$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Young Corban watches enviously as boys become warriors, learning the art of war. He yearns to wield his sword and spear to protect his king’s realm. But that day will come all too soon.

Only when he loses those he loves will he learn the true price of courage. The Banished Lands has a violent past where armies of men and giants clashed in battle, the earth running dark with their heartsblood. Although the giant-clans were broken in ages past, their ruined fortresses still scar the land. But now giants stir anew, the very stones weep blood and there are sightings of giant wyrms.

Those who can still read the signs see a threat far greater than the ancient wars. Sorrow will darken the world, as angels and demons make it their battlefield. Then there will be a war to end all wars. High King Aquilus summons his fellow kings to council, seeking an alliance in this time of need. Prophesy indicates darkness and light will demand two champions, the Black Sun and the Bright Star. They would be wise to seek out both, for if the Black Sun gains ascendancy, mankind’s hopes and dreams will fall to dust.

Extract from L. E. Modesitt, jr.'s THE MONGREL MAGE


Here's an extract from L. E. Modesitt, jr.'s upcoming The Mongrel Mage, courtesy of the author. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

The Saga of Recluce chronicles the history of this world with world-building detail and an ingenious and disciplined magic system. L. E. Modesitt, Jr. returns to his longest and bestselling fantasy series with volume nineteen, The Mongrel Mage, which marks the beginning of a new story arc.

In the world of Recluce, powerful mages can wield two kinds of magic—the white of Chaos or the black of Order. Beltur, however, has talents no one dreamed of, talents not seen in hundreds of years that blend both magics.

On the run from a power hungry white mage, Beltur is taken in by Order mages who set him on the path to discover and hone his own unique gifts and in the process find a home.

However, when the white mage he fled attempts to invade his new home, Beltur must hope his new found power will be enough to save them all.

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

As Beltur walked along the stone walk on the south side of the causeway extending from the gates to the city, he glanced down at young Scanlon, walking beside him, half-wishing he hadn’t needed to bring the boy with him, but there was no help for that, not if he wanted to keep the burnet he was seeking from spoiling too soon. Satisfied that the ten year old was having no trouble keeping pace, Beltur studied the low-lying fields that stretched almost a kay eastward from the main gates of Fenard before reaching the outer walls. Supposedly, the watergates in the outer walls and levees could be opened to allow the river, such as it was, to flood the fields, making them impassible to an armed force.

The only problem, reflected Beltur, was that much of the time, the Anard River was little more than a stream, unlike the River Gallos, into which it flowed all too many kays to the northeast. He’d never quite understood how a cubit or two of water over the paved causeway and the fields would be much of deterrent to a determined army, but then no one had asked him, and it was unlikely anyone who mattered would, or that they’d listen to a third-rate mage.

In the meantime, he needed to see if he could find enough burnet – just because Salcer hadn’t gathered enough before he’d left, and there was no one else to gather it. Not that the great white mage Kaerlyt could be bothered, nor even Sydon. Beltur swallowed his resentment, if he dared to do otherwise, especially given that Kaerlyt was not only a powerful mage, but also his uncle and the only one standing between Beltur and his possible conscription as a battle mage for the Prefect’s army. The very fact that the Prefect needed so much burnet meant trouble, since his principal use for it was as the main ingredient in a balm used to stop blood loss, and stockpiling the ingredients for that balm was a good indication that someone anticipated significant losses of blood.

As for Kaerlyt getting the burnet himself, well, if Beltur were to be fair, he had to admit that it wouldn’t have been the best idea to let his uncle or even Sydon anywhere near herbs, given that they both carried so much chaos that their touch would wilt the herbs largely to uselessness. But then, while yours has much less chaos, you still carry enough to spoil the herbs. It would just take longer, Beltur knew. Which was why Scanlon was accompanying him to the old herbalist’s gardens.

Beltur took a deep breath and kept walking, thinking of the old rhyme.

Blood from the blade, screams in the night,
Bind him with burnet, in dark or in light,
So blood doesn’t flow
And order won’t go.

Although it was early morning, with the sun barely above the low rolling hills farther to the east, Beltur had not only to squint against the light, but to blot his forehead. The summer day was going to be hot, as were most of the days leading to harvest, and the stillness of the air made it seem even warmer than it was. He had no doubt that he’d be soaked through with sweat by the time he and Scanlon returned, since Arylla’s cottage and gardens were more than a kay from the nearest gate in the outer walls.

“Why couldn’t we have hired a cart, ser?” asked Scanlon.

“Carts and horses cost silvers. Walking doesn’t. If you want your coppers, don’t complain.”

“Yes, ser.” Scanlon shifted the empty cloth bag from one shoulder to the other.

Roughly a half glass later, after walking from the outer gates along the wall, Beltur rapped on the weathered door of the small cottage, whose gardens spread behind it under the old outer wall of Fenard. The gardens contained no trees. By edict of the Prefect, no trees were permitted within half a kay of the wall, despite the fact that all that lay between the outer walls and the city walls were fields and pastures.

The door opened, and a wiry woman stood there, wearing brown trousers and a patched brown tunic. Beneath short brown hair strewn with occasional gray, black eyes focused skeptically on Beltur, looking up at him just slightly, not exactly a surprise because Beltur was somewhat on the short side, and more than a head shorter than his uncle.

“Good morning, Arylla,” offered Beltur with a cheer he did not entirely feel.

Arylla looked sourly at Beltur, then at Scanlon. She shook her head. “Brinn or burnet?”

“Burnet.”

“Makes no sense to me why Prefect Denardre put a white mage in charge of making balms.”

“You know as well as I do, Arylla.” Because the few healers in Fenard wouldn’t. “You won’t do it, either.”

“I could, but knowing why he wants it, I wouldn’t sleep for days.” She stepped back and motioned for the two to enter the cottage, then closed the door behind them, turning and walking toward a narrow doorway at the rear of the cottage.

“That doesn’t make sense to me,” Beltur replied. “You aren’t even a healer. Besides, how can making something that can save a man’s life be chaotic?”

Arylla stopped, her hand on the latch to the rear door. “War is chaos, especially if you don’t have to fight. It’s not like the Marshal or the Tryant are ever going to attack Gallos. Or even the Viscount for all his talk. As for those traders from Spidlar, they hate war. Bad for trade, they say. Anyway, I’ve only got enough left for one bag.”

“You have more than that,” pressed Beltur.

“I do. You take that, and there won’t be any come next summer.”

He could sense the truth of her words, and that meant Kaerylt wouldn’t be happy. But then, his uncle was seldom happy, and when he was, it wasn’t for long, or so it seemed to Beltur.

“You have a bag for me to put the leaves in?”

“Scanlon, give her the bag.”

“You haven’t touched the bag, have you, Beltur?”

“No, and it hasn’t been near Kaerlyt, either.”

“That’d be some small help. Wait here.” She paused after opening the door. “And I’d thank you not to touch anything.” Then she stepped outside, leaving the door half open.

As he waited, Beltur was glad they were inside, because the cottage was cooler than outside, if not by much, and they were out of the sun.

“She never lets us go with her,” said Scanlon.

“No. Herbalists are like that.” Except Beltur knew that Arylla had no problem with Scanlon, just with Beltur. She was protective of her plants and bushes. He couldn’t blame her.

“Brinn costs more, doesn’t it?”

“Usually.”

“Why doesn’t Mage Kaerylt want more of it?”

“It’s not what he wants. It’s what the Prefect wants.” And burnet was easier to grow or find than brinn, and a great deal less expensive. “The Prefect most likely has all the brinn he needs.” Enough for his officers, at least.

Scanlon did not ask any more questions.

Beltur waited and watched as Arylla cut the burnet, easing the long leaves with their ragged-looking edges into the bag. Despite her deft movements, the wait seemed to stretch into what seemed to be almost a glass, but was undoubtedly only a fraction of that, before Beltur could see Arylla returning. He stood back as the herbalist re-entered the cottage and closed the rear door.

She handed the bag, seemingly slightly more than half-full, to Scanlon, then looked to Beltur. “Half a silver, and a bargain at that. You got more than half a bag.”

Beltur extended the five coppers. “Thank you.”

“Still doesn’t make any sense to me,” murmured the herbalist, shaking her head, then adding in a louder voice, “You’d best be on your way. It won’t get any cooler if you wait.”

In moments, Beltur and Scanlon were walking back along the dusty road that paralleled the outer wall, puffs of dust rising from the mage’s white boots with each step he took. He was careful to keep enough distance from Scanlon so that he wouldn’t inadvertently brush the bag of burnet. The last thing he wanted was for anything to happen to the burnet because his uncle would immediately blame him.

When the two of them reached the open gates of the outer wall, one of the guards in the black uniform and leathers of Gallos looked at Beltur. “What’s in the bag, Mage?”

“Burnet. It’s an herb for healing.” When the guard looked skeptical, Beltur said to Scanlon, “Open the bag a little and show the guard.”

“Don’t bother.”

The other guard frowned. “Why the boy? The bag’s not that heavy.”

“Chaos wilts the herbs, and they won’t stop the bleeding as well.”

The second guard waved them through.

The causeway was even hotter than the road outside the walls had been, and Beltur blotted his forehead again. He hated to think what the city proper would be like by late afternoon.

Unlike the guards at the outer gates, neither of the two at the inner gates gave more than a glance to Beltur and Scanlon, perhaps because they were more interested in a peddler and his cart, and the young woman with him. Once inside the walls, Beltur glanced up at the clear greenish-blue sky, then dropped his eyes to the ancient stones of the old city wall, a wall that supposedly dated back to the time of Fenardre the Great. Certainly, he could sense the age, with the random chaos that coated the old ordered stone blocks of the wall.

With a small sigh, he turned his steps toward the Great Square, well beyond which was the stone dwelling he shared with his uncle and Sydon, Kaerlyt’s main assistant, and also a much stronger mage than Beltur. Then he adjusted his heavy off-white tunic, almost wishing that he didn’t have to wear it, because of the early heat of the day, and because it led people to think that he was a more powerful mage than he really was, as opposed to the weak white wizard he was. Who can sense and use a small amount of order as well. Then again, the white tunic did mean that he was less likely to be the victim of a cutpurse or other less savory types.

From somewhere drifted the acridness of burning wood and the more enticing aroma of fowl roasting. For a moment, he thought that it was too early for that… except it was already midmorning, and whoever was roasting the bird or birds wanted to have them ready by noon.

Beltur could feel his entire body tightening, the way he felt when there was a concentration of chaos somewhere nearby. He kept walking, slowly looking across the Great Square, taking in the various peddlers and their carts and stalls. His eyes paused at a stall that featured all manner of blades, in mainly knives, but he realized that was because one of the older blades, an ancient cupridium shortsword of some sort, seemed to contain chaos. For use against ordermages? Pushing that thought aside, he kept searching, both with his eyes and senses, past a vendor with a rack of scarves, whose voice carried across the square.

“The finest in Hamorian shimmersilk scarves, all the way from Cigoerne… the very finest!”

“Perhaps the finest since the vanished silks of Cyad, if that,” murmured Beltur to himself, as he continued to seek out the source of chaos, his eyes going beyond the silks peddler to a heavyset man with a cart piled high with melons of at least two types, who was so ordered that he couldn’t possibly be the source of the chaos. Nor would a mage with that much chaos be comfortable for long near the grower.

Beltur glanced back over his shoulder and saw no one, but he could definitely sense the chaos several yards behind him, which meant that the mage was holding a concealment. The unseen mage was also fairly close. Wondering whether the mage was just moving across the square without wanting to be seen, or if he just might possibly be following them, although Beltur couldn’t imagine why anyone that powerful would follow him, he said to Scanlon, “This way,” and then turned to his right, away from the scarf vendor and between the stall with the knives and another stall where a wizened woman in gray was setting out cloth bags that looked to be herbal or fragrance sachets, not that Beltur could smell the fragrances amid the heavier odors of fowl and bodies.

Scanlon glared at Beltur for a moment, but kept pace with the mage.

After passing several rows of vendors, Beltur changed direction again, back toward the north side of the square and the side street that would lead to the old stone dwelling where he studied and lived under Kaerlyt’s sufferance – and largely did his uncle’s bidding. Unhappily, the concealed chaos mage remained behind him, if slighter farther back, but still fairly close. That wasn’t surprising, given that Beltur was a weak white who didn’t hold that much free chaos near him, and most whites sought out chaos in sensing, possibly because many strong whites were practically order-blind. Given the power and the amount of chaos Beltur sensed around the other, there really wasn’t too much else that he could do except continue on… and raise his feeble shields if it appeared that the mage following them was going to attack.

Still worrying, Beltur and Scanlon turned onto the street that led home, or the only place Beltur could have called home in the ten years since his father’s death, since Beltur had no other relatives. He tried to stay on the east side, where there was still some shade. The street had no real name, but everyone called it Nothing Lane, because unlike Joiners Lane, Coopergate, Baggersway, or Silver Street, there was no particular shop or occupation represented along its narrow way, among them a small inn with a sign proclaiming it was the Brass Bowl, even though most regulars called the public room the “yellow bucket,” a cloth merchant, a fuller’s shop, and a number of narrow dwellings including that of Kaerylt, although his could have been said to be on Middle Street as well, since it was on the corner of Middle and Nothing.

Kaerylt hadn’t been pleased the one time that Beltur had referred to its location as ‘half-nothing.”

Strangely, after Beltur and Scanlon had gone two blocks toward Middle, still two blocks from home, the other mage had stopped, then turned back toward the Great Square. Beltur wasn’t sure what that meant, but he was glad the man hadn’t kept following them. He blotted his forehead again. Even so, sweat was still running down the side of his narrow face and into his eyes. He took a slow deep breath and kept walking.

As the two neared the end of the second block, Beltur found he wasn’t sweating as heavily. He was sure the shade helped, but he had been worried about the mage who had been seemingly trailing him. When he reached the heavy oak door, just one step above the uneven bricks of the sidewalk, he paused, then took out the heavy brass key and unlocked the door. The lock was heavy and crude, but it kept out casual thieves. Even Beltur could muster enough chaos to take care of those who were less casual, and Kaerylt never left traces – except ash – of those who were foolish enough to enter.

Once inside, he just slid the lockbolt, and blotted his forehead again. At least the stone house was cooler than outside, and would remain so until late afternoon, perhaps even longer. He motioned for Scanlon to lead the way to the storeroom, then followed, stopping outside the locked outer door. He used a touch of order to shift the stored chaos from the lock to the sealed cupridium box fastened to the rear of the door, then unlocked the door and opened it, stepping back and turning to the boy. “You know what to do.”

“Yes, ser.” Scanlon stepped forward and opened the second door, revealing the thin sheet of iron attached to the back side, moved forward.

Beltur watched from the hallway as Scanlon put the bag on the second shelf, beside several others there, then stepped back and closed the inner door on the small storeroom, the one place in the house that neither Beltur nor Kaerlyt ever entered, unlike the larger storeroom and work spaces farther back in the house. Although the larger storeroom was also locked in the same fashion, a double door was not required.

After Beltur closed and locked the outer door to the small storeroom, replacing the chaos, Scanlon looked to Beltur, with a trace of a grin. “Do I get my coppers, now?”

“When we get to your house. Not until. The same as always.”

“Mother will take them.” Scanlon offered a mournful expression. “She always does.”

“We’ll see.” Beltur hid a smile.

The two made their way from the building that was both dwelling and workplace back out onto Nothing Lane, crossing Middle Street, and hurrying slightly to avoid a dray being driven too fast by a young-looking teamster, before entering the fourth door on the east side of the lane, over which was a signboard of sorts that displayed two baskets, rather the halves of two baskets, because displaying a complete basket would have been an invitation to theft as soon as it was completely dark.

In the small room behind the door stood a sturdy dark-haired woman with a worried face, concentrating on weaving osier shoots into a small basket. She looked up.

“We’re back, Therala.”

Therala looked to her son. “Were you good?”

“He was quite good.” Beltur nodded, then extracted the three coppers from his wallet and handed two of them to Scanlon, keeping the third hidden.

In turn, Therala held out her hand.

With a grimace and a sigh, Scanlon handed the coins to his mother.

“Your father needs help with the osier shoots.”

“I’ll go with him,” said Beltur. “I need to ask Zandyl about a basket-weave belt.”

“He doesn’t like to make those.” Therala shrugged. “Talk to him if you want.”

“It can’t hurt.” Beltur managed a rueful smile, then turned to follow Scanlon, who trudged toward the rear workroom. Just before they reached the archway into the workroom, Beltur slipped the last copper into Scanlon’s hand, murmuring, “Not a word.”

The boy managed not to grin, then said to the man at the workbench, “Ma said you needed me.”

“About – ” Zandyl broke off his words as he looked up and saw Beltur. “Didn’t know you were here, Mage.”

“Therala said you weren’t too keen on doing woven belts.”

“Basketweave anything for the right price.”

“I thought a woven belt might last longer than a leather one.”

“It true that you mages are hard on garments?”

“Some are harder than others. How much might a belt cost?”

“Half a silver.”

Beltur nodded. “I’ll have to think about it.”

“Think too long, and it might cost more.”

Beltur grinned. “Can’t say that surprises me.” He looked to Scanlon. “Thank you, again.”

Then he turned and headed back toward the front room. Therala barely looked up as he let himself out and began to walk back home.

He still couldn’t help but wonder why a powerful white mage had been holding a concealment in the Great Square… and why the man had followed him and Scanlon for two blocks from the Square before turning away.

Did he think you were someone else?

Why else would anyone follow a third-rate white mage?

Beltur certainly couldn’t think of any other reason.

In the meantime, he intended to clean up the main workroom, something that Sydon and Kaerylt felt was beneath them.