More inexpensive ebook goodies!

For a limited time, you can download Samantha Shannon's The Priory of the Orange Tree for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

A world divided.
A queendom without an heir.
An ancient enemy awakens.

The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction--but assassins are getting closer to her door.

Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.

Across the dark sea, Tané has trained all her life to be a dragonrider, but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel.

Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.

Empire of Grass

If you've been hanging out in these parts for a while, then you know that I've always been a big Tad Williams fan. Regardless of the shortcomings that certain readers find so annoying and/or off-putting about the author, I've always managed to overlook them and enjoy Williams' books/series. Seriously, I'm aware of these perceived weaknesses, but Williams has always found a way to scratch my itch, no matter if it's epic fantasy, science fiction, urban fantasy, or everything else in between. Having read To Green Angel Tower when it originally came out, I'd been waiting for a very long time to find out what happens next. Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn turned out to be a seminal work of fantasy, one of the very best of its era. Like countless readers, I couldn't wait to sink my teeth into The Witchwood Crown.

The Heart of What Was Lost was the perfect companion book for anyone who loved Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, as well as the perfect setup book for The Last King of Osten Ard trilogy. Understandably, expectations were extremely high for this new trilogy. Given how long it took for the author to finally elect to write this sequel, we could expect nothing less.

Needless to say, The Witchwood Crown had big shoes to fill. And just a few chapters into the book, I realized that something was wrong. It was a veritable chore to go through. The slog of slogs, no doubt about it. And although it did get a little better toward the end, in my humble opinion The Witchwood Crown was by far Williams' weakest work to date. Which did not bode well for subsequent installments.

Early reviews opined that Empire of Grass was better than its predecessor. Keeping my fingers crossed that it was the case, I jumped into it with renewed enthusiasm. Unfortunately, my excitement was short-lived and it soon dawned upon me that the novel suffered from the same shortcomings that sunk The Witchwood Crown. Ultimately, it's more of the same for the most part, with very little improvement to speak of. There is no way to sugarcoat the fact that Empire of Grass was another disappointing read.

Here's the blurb:

Set in Williams' New York Times bestselling fantasy world, the second book of The Last King of Osten Ard returns to the trials of King Simon and Queen Miriamele as threats to their kingdom loom...

The kingdoms of Osten Ard have been at peace for decades, but now, the threat of a new war grows to nightmarish proportions.

Simon and Miriamele, royal husband and wife, face danger from every side. Their allies in Hernystir have made a pact with the dreadful Queen of the Norns to allow her armies to cross into mortal lands. The ancient, powerful nation of Nabban is on the verge of bloody civil war, and the fierce nomads of the Thrithings grasslands have begun to mobilize, united by superstitious fervor and their age-old hatred of the city-dwellers. But as the countries and peoples of the High Ward bicker among themselves, battle, bloodshed, and dark magics threaten to pull civilizations to pieces. And over it all looms the mystery of the Witchwood Crown, the deadly puzzle that Simon, Miriamele, and their allies must solve if they wish to survive.

But as the kingdoms of Osten Ard are torn apart by fear and greed, a few individuals will fight for their own lives and destinies—not yet aware that the survival of everything depends on them.

As is the author's wont, the superior worldbuilding really shines. In that regard at least, Empire of Grass shows a Tad Williams writing at the top of his game. Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn was vast in scope and vision and this new series builds on storylines that already echoed with depth. Several new dimensions are added to what has always been a multilayered work of fiction, and on this front the first two volumes of The Last King of Osten Ard delivered. As I keep saying, the Sithi and the Norns are not your typical elf-like race, and for some reason Williams is the only fantasy author who can bring out the darker nature of the fairy folk in such a fashion. To finally get the chance to discover more about the inner workings of the Norn society was undoubtedly the most fascinating aspect of The Heart of What Was Lost. Three decades down the line, the plans that were put in motion in the heart of Nakkiga are now bearing fruit and we learn even more about them. Queen Utuk'ku has awakened and the world is about to find out that the Hikeda'ya are not the vanquished foe so many people believed them to be. Those hoping to find out more about the Sithi will be pleased to learn that we actually discover more about them in this sequel. Tantalizing hints insinuate that the Garden was another planet and that the Norns, the Sithi and the Tinukeda'ya are the descendants of an alien race that reached Osten Ard via space ships or other means of transportation. It will be interesting to see if this is truly the case or not in the final installment.

Geographically speaking, like its predecessor Empire of Grass takes place in various locales all over Osten Ard. Nabban and the Thrithing lands are the stage for what became major storylines. The same can be said of the Aldheorte forest. As you can see, this second volume is another far-reaching novel that covers a lot of ground. And once again, this is something that doesn't necessarily always work in the book's favor. Indeed, the tale is hitting many of the locales and events from Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, often for little or no reason plot-wise, or for reasons that feel a little contrived.

As was the case with the first volume, one of the most important shortcomings of Empire of Grass is the decidedly weak political intrigue. As I mentioned before, Tad Williams excels in many different aspects when it comes to writing novels, but politicking is definitely not one of them. This was true then, and sadly it remains true now. Instead of playing to his strengths in The Witchwood Crown and this new sequel, likely to have more appeal to fans of George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire and other politically-involved fantasy series, Williams put political intrigue at the heart of a number of major plot threads. Which, due to the clumsiness in execution of such intrigues, put the Hernystir, the Nabban, and the Thrithing plotlines on very shaky ground. Add to that the fact that Simon and Miri continue to make for particularly inept and occasionally dumb rulers who have surrounded themselves with not necessarily the brightest of people at court, and you have an incompetent government so totally unprepared to deal with any sort of crisis that it is second only to the Donald Trump administration in that regard. Ultimately, since a large part of Empire of Grass hinges precisely on political intrigue, it can be quite a setback at times. As I've said before, not everyone can be a politicking master like Martin, Katherine Kurtz, or Jacqueline Carey. Tad Williams took quite a risk when he chose to go down that path. In my last review, I opined that time would tell if he could pull it off. But based on The Witchwood Crown, it would be an uphill battle and the odds were stacked against him. It's now evident that Williams has built a fragile house of cards with political intrigue as its foundation. Which means that the whole thing can come crashing down at any time.

One more, the novel's biggest flaw is the characterization, which is habitually one of the aspects in which Williams truly shines. As was the case with The Witchwood Crown, this second volume is a veritable mess of points of view. I remain convinced that this book would have benefited from a lesser number of perspectives. I lost track of exactly how many POVs there were in the first installment and Empire of Grass features even more of them. While some storylines are engaging, at times some perspectives are downright boring, which bogs down the narrative with pointless scenes that go nowhere. Why Tad Williams elected to introduce readers to so many disparate characters and give them their own POV, I'll never know. But it continues to kill momentum as you skip from an interesting sequence to an unnecessary conversation or info-dump that brings little or nothing to the tale. Plotlines featuring Tiamak, Binabik, Qina, Eolair, Cuff, Vorzheva, Jesa, and Princess Lillia in particular often make you want to throw the novel across the room. This poor characterization precludes any kind of tight focus on any of the storylines, and in the long run it once again hurts this sequel in a myriad of ways.

Like The Witchwood Crown, Williams' latest also suffers from a manifestly poor cast. Simon and Miriamele continue to be only shadows of who they once were in Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn. Middle age has enfeebled and made them fearful. Especially Miriamele, who was such a strong female lead in the first series. She's a little better in Empire of Grass, yet the Nabban storyline shows just how far she has fallen. How such a couple with a deficient court held on to power for so long defies comprehension. How they could remain so unaware of what goes on in and around their kingdom when the writing is on the wall, so to speak, remains shocking. Prince Morgan, heir to the High Throne, continues to be a great disappointment. Yes, I know the author is setting him up as a complete dumbass so that we can experience his transformation and root for him when he finally has his coming-of-age moment. Problem is, it appears that he will not bloom any time soon. Until the second portion of Empire of Grass, when his situation changes and things finally get interesting (though Morgan himself remains an idiot), I came to dread any chapter featuring him. POV protagonists include all the familiar faces from The Witchwood Crown, as well as a number of new ones. Again, that's just too many POVs. And even the most engrossing and thrilling plotlines from the first installment, such as those of Viyeki, Nezeru, or Jarnulf, fail to captivate in similar fashion this time around.

One would have thought that with most of the groundwork already laid out, Empire of Grass would have been a more fluid read. Alas, the pace is atrocious for the better part of the novel. It is a tedious read, every step of the way. Another slog of slogs. The mess of perspectives doesn't help, true. Nor does the info-dumps or all the extraneous stuff that bogs down the narrative in many a chapter. Did we really need the full back stories of both Tzoja and Vorzheva? The pointless bantering scenes featuring Binabik, his wife, his daughter, and Little Snenneq? The 3-year-old princess' point of view? Jessa worrying about everything in every scene she appears in? Simon, acting like a beffudled old man who can't even tie his own shoes and a monarch completely clueless of what goes on at his court? Yada yada yada. A good 150 pages could probably have been excised without the plot losing anything important. All Tad Williams novels are overwritten to some extent, but these last two have been quite problematic in that regard. Everything moves at a snail's pace, with good and exciting sequences few and far between. There are some compelling scenes and storylines, no doubt about it. And yet, it's a chore to get through to them because very little actually happens in most chapters and all the good stuff is buried so deeply under superfluous scenes that it robs them of most of the desired impact. As I said, I've always been a big fan, but I've never had such a hard time reading anything by Tad Williams.

The Witchwood Crown turned out to be little more than a vast introduction to an even bigger and more complex tale. As such, it introduced a panoply of characters, concepts, and plot threads, but it offered very little in terms of resolution. Given the way Empire of Grass was going, I expected something gripping and exciting to close the show. It looked as though Williams had a grand finale in store for his readers and the rhythm picks up in the final portion of the book. Alas, it was not to be. Once more, I reached the last page and could only shake my head in disappointment. There is no showdown. No big payoff. No resolution of any sort. Every single plotline ends in a cliffhanger. I'm so sad that this turned out to be another underwhelming novel.

Disappointing. . .

The final verdict: 6/10

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

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Kevin Hearne's Hounded, the first volume in the Iron Druid Chronicles, for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

The first novel in the Iron Druid Chronicles—introducing a cool, new, funny urban fantasy hero.

Atticus O’Sullivan, last of the Druids, lives peacefully in Arizona, running an occult bookshop and shape-shifting in his spare time to hunt with his Irish wolfhound. His neighbors and customers think that this handsome, tattooed Irish dude is about twenty-one years old—when in actuality, he’s twenty-one centuries old. Not to mention: He draws his power from the earth, possesses a sharp wit, and wields an even sharper magical sword known as Fragarach, the Answerer.

Unfortunately, a very angry Celtic god wants that sword, and he’s hounded Atticus for centuries. Now the determined deity has tracked him down, and Atticus will need all his power—plus the help of a seductive goddess of death, his vampire and werewolf team of attorneys, a bartender possessed by a Hindu witch, and some good old-fashioned luck of the Irish—to kick some Celtic arse and deliver himself from evil.

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (July 8th)

In paperback:

Stephen King's The Outsider is up one spot, finishing the week at number 5 (trade paperback).

Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett's Good Omens is down two positions, ending the week at number 7 (trade paperback).

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale maintains its position at number 13 (trade paperback).

Win a copy of Chuck Wendig's WANDERERS

I'm giving away my review copy of Chuck Wendig's Wanderers to one lucky winner! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

A decadent rock star. A deeply religious radio host. A disgraced scientist. And a teenage girl who may be the world’s last hope. In the tradition of The Stand and Station Eleven comes a gripping saga that weaves an epic tapestry of humanity into an astonishing tale of survival.

Shana wakes up one morning to discover her little sister in the grip of a strange malady. She appears to be sleepwalking. She cannot talk and cannot be woken up. And she is heading with inexorable determination to a destination that only she knows. But Shana and her sister are not alone. Soon they are joined by a flock of sleepwalkers from across America, on the same mysterious journey. And like Shana, there are other “shepherds” who follow the flock to protect their friends and family on the long dark road ahead.

For as the sleepwalking phenomenon awakens terror and violence in America, the real danger may not be the epidemic but the fear of it. With society collapsing all around them—and an ultraviolent militia threatening to exterminate them—the fate of the sleepwalkers depends on unraveling the mystery behind the epidemic. The terrifying secret will either tear the nation apart—or bring the survivors together to remake a shattered world.

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

For a limited time, you can get your hands on the digital edition of Kameron Hurley's excellent Apocalypse Nyx for only 1.99$ here. There is a price match in Canada.

If you find yourself in need of a primer, so to speak, something that works as a great introduction to one of the most badass heroines in SFF history and to one of the best science fiction series of the new millennium thus far, then Apocalypse Nyx is just what the doctor ordered. And if you're already a fan, download this book ASAP!

Here's the blurb:

Move over Mad Max—here comes Nyx.

Ex-government assassin turned bounty-hunter Nyx is good at solving other people’s problems. Her favorite problem-solving solution is punching people in the face. Then maybe chopping off some heads. Hey—it’s a living.

Her disreputable reputation has been well earned. To Nyx’s mind, it’s also justified. After all, she’s trying to navigate an apocalyptic world full of giant bugs, contaminated deserts, scheming magicians, and a centuries-long war that’s consuming her future. Managing her ragtag squad of misfits has required a lot of morally-gray choices.

Every new job is another day alive. Every new mission is another step toward changing a hellish future—but only if she can survive.

Apocalypse Nyx is the much-anticipated print edition of Kameron Hurley’s five newest Nyx novellas, as well as the first e-book collection of her gritty, exciting adventures.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on the digital edition of George R. R. Martin's The Ice Dragon for only 2.99$ here. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

The Ice Dragon is an enchanting tale of courage and sacrifice for young readers and adults by the wildly popular author of the #1 New York Times bestselling Song of Ice and Fire series, George R.R. Martin. Lavish illustrations by acclaimed artist Luis Royo enrich this captivating and heartwarming story of a young girl and her dragon.

In the world of A Song of Ice and Fire the ice dragon was a creature of legend and fear, for no man had ever tamed one. When it flew overhead, it left in its wake desolate cold and frozen land. But Adara was not afraid. For Adara was a winter child, born during the worst freeze that anyone, even the Old Ones, could remember.

Adara could not remember the first time she had seen the ice dragon. It seemed that it had always been in her life, glimpsed from afar as she played in the frigid snow long after the other children had fled the cold. In her fourth year she touched it, and in her fifth year she rode upon its broad, chilled back for the first time. Then, in her seventh year, on a calm summer day, fiery dragons from the North swooped down upon the peaceful farm that was Adara's home. And only a winter child—and the ice dragon who loved her—could save her world from utter destruction.

This new edition of The Ice Dragon is sure to become a collector's item for fans of HBO's megahit Game of Thrones.

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

You can also download Gene Wolfe's The Knight for only 2.99$ here. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

A young man in his teens is transported from our world to a magical realm that contains seven levels of reality. Very quickly transformed by magic into a grown man of heroic proportions, he takes the name Able and sets out on a quest to find the sword that has been promised to him, a sword he will get from a dragon, the one very special blade that will help him fulfill his life ambition to become a knight and a true hero.

Inside, however, Able remains a boy, and he must grow in every sense to survive the dangers and delights that lie ahead in encounters with giants, elves, wizards, and dragons. His adventure will conclude next year in the second volume of The Wizard Knight, The Wizard.

Gene Wolfe is one of the most widely praised masters of SF and fantasy. He is the winner of the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement, the Nebula Award, twice, the World Fantasy Award, twice, the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, the British Fantasy Award, and France's Prix Apollo. His popular successes include the four-volume classic The Book of the New Sun.

With this new series, Wolfe not only surpasses all the most popular genre writers of the last three decades, he takes on the legends of the past century, in a work that will be favorably compared with the best of J. R. R. Tolkien, E. R. Eddison, Mervyn Peake, and T. H. White. This is a book---and a series---for the ages, from perhaps the greatest living writer in (or outside) the fantasy genre.

Finally, you can download Margaret Weis' Mistress of Dragons for 2.99$ here. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

As Anne McCaffrey is to science fiction, Margaret Weis is to fantasy . . . for she is the genre's Mistress of Dragons.

Mistress of Dragons is the first volume in an epic fantasy trilogy entitled The Dragonvald. Here is a world where men and dragons coexist amid political intrigue and dark magic, where the uneasy balance of power between the two is on the verge of becoming undone, threatening to unleash waves of destruction that will pit humans against humans as well as dragons against men for the domination of the world. Humanity's very survival is at risk . . . .

The power to hold the chaos at bay, the terrible secret that maintains the balance, rests in the hands of a new and inexperienced Mistress of Dragons.

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (July 1st)

In hardcover:

Neal Stephenson's Fall; or, Dodge in Hell maintains its position at number 14.

In paperback:

Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett's Good Omens is up six positions, ending the week at number 5 (trade paperback).

Stephen King's The Outsider is down two spots, finishing the week at number 6 (trade paperback).

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale is down one position, ending the week at number 13 (trade paperback).

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can download J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings: One Volume for only 2.99$ here!

Here's the blurb:

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

In ancient times the Rings of Power were crafted by the Elven-smiths, and Sauron, the Dark Lord, forged the One Ring, filling it with his own power so that he could rule all others. But the One Ring was taken from him, and though he sought it throughout Middle-earth, it remained lost to him. After many ages it fell by chance into the hands of the hobbit Bilbo Baggins.

From Sauron's fastness in the Dark Tower of Mordor, his power spread far and wide. Sauron gathered all the Great Rings to him, but always he searched for the One Ring that would complete his dominion.

When Bilbo reached his eleventy-first birthday he disappeared, bequeathing to his young cousin Frodo the Ruling Ring and a perilous quest: to journey across Middle-earth, deep into the shadow of the Dark Lord, and destroy the Ring by casting it into the Cracks of Doom.

The Lord of the Rings tells of the great quest undertaken by Frodo and the Fellowship of the Ring: Gandalf the Wizard; the hobbits Merry, Pippin, and Sam; Gimli the Dwarf; Legolas the Elf; Boromir of Gondor; and a tall, mysterious stranger called Strider.

This new edition includes the fiftieth-anniversary fully corrected text setting and, for the first time, an extensive new index.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Helene Wecker's excellent The Golem and the Jinni for only 1.99$ here!

Here's the blurb:

Helene Wecker's dazzling debut novel tells the story of two supernatural creatures who appear mysteriously in 1899 New York. Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a strange man who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. When her master dies at sea on the voyage from Poland, she is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York Harbor. Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian Desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop.

Struggling to make their way in this strange new place, the Golem and the Jinni try to fit in with their neighbors while masking their true natures. Surrounding them is a community of immigrants: the coffeehouse owner Maryam Faddoul, a pillar of wisdom and support for her Syrian neighbors; the solitary ice cream maker Saleh, a damaged man cursed by tragedy; the kind and caring Rabbi Meyer and his beleaguered nephew, Michael, whose Sheltering House receives newly arrived Jewish men; the adventurous young socialite Sophia Winston; and the enigmatic Joseph Schall, a dangerous man driven by ferocious ambition and esoteric wisdom.

Meeting by chance, the two creatures become unlikely friends whose tenuous attachment challenges their opposing natures, until the night a terrifying incident drives them back into their separate worlds. But a powerful menace will soon bring the Golem and the Jinni together again, threatening their existence and forcing them to make a fateful choice.

Marvelous and compulsively readable, The Golem and the Jinni weaves strands of folk mythology, historical fiction, and magical fable into a wondrously inventive and unforgettable tale.

You can also download Brian McClellan's Promise of Blood for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb for the first volume:

The Age of Kings is dead . . . and I have killed it.

It's a bloody business overthrowing a king...
Field Marshal Tamas' coup against his king sent corrupt aristocrats to the guillotine and brought bread to the starving. But it also provoked war with the Nine Nations, internal attacks by royalist fanatics, and the greedy to scramble for money and power by Tamas's supposed allies: the Church, workers unions, and mercenary forces.

It's up to a few...
Stretched to his limit, Tamas is relying heavily on his few remaining powder mages, including the embittered Taniel, a brilliant marksman who also happens to be his estranged son, and Adamat, a retired police inspector whose loyalty is being tested by blackmail.

But when gods are involved...
Now, as attacks batter them from within and without, the credulous are whispering about omens of death and destruction. Just old peasant legends about the gods waking to walk the earth. No modern educated man believes that sort of thing. But they should...

In a rich, distinctive world that mixes magic with technology, who could stand against mages that control gunpowder and bullets? PROMISE OF BLOOD is the start of a new epic fantasy series from Brian McClellan.

Winner of the David Gemmell Morningstar Award for Best Debut Fantasy.

You can also get your hands on the digital edition of R. A. Salvatore's Timeless for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

At long last, New York Times bestselling author R. A. Salvatore returns with one of fantasy's most beloved and enduring icons, the dark elf Drizzt Do'Urden, in an all-new trilogy full of swordplay, danger, and imaginative thrills.

Centuries ago, in the city of Menzoberranzan, the City of Spiders, the City of Drow, nestled deep in the unmerciful Underdark of Toril, a young weapon master earned a reputation far above his station or that of his poor house.

The greater nobles watched him, and one matron, in particular, decided to take him as her own. She connived with rival great houses to secure her prize, but that prize was caught for her by another, who came to quite enjoy the weapon master.

This was the beginning of the friendship between Zaknafein and Jarlaxle, and the coupling of Matron Malice and the weapon master who would sire Drizzt Do’Urden.

R. A. Salvatore reveals the Underdark anew through the eyes of Zaknafein and Jarlaxle—an introduction to the darkness that offers a fresh view of the opportunities to be found in the shadows and an intriguing prelude to the intriguing escapes that lie ahead in the modern-day Forgotten Realms. Here, a father and his son are reunited and embark on adventures that parallel the trials of centuries long past as the friends of old are joined by Drizzt, Hero of the North, trained by Grandmaster Kane in the ways of the monk.

But the scourge of the dangerous Lolth’s ambitions remain, and demons have been foisted on the unwitting of the surface. The resulting chaos and war will prove to be the greatest challenge for all three.


I have to admit that I was intrigued when Chuck Wendig's Wanderers showed up in my mailbox a few days before my going on a hiking trip in New Hampshire. Having read Stephen King's The Stand just weeks before, I was curious to see if this modern day apocalyptic novel could truly be as good.

I didn't think it was possible, but that's not what made me reticent to bring the book on my roadtrip. You may recall that Marvel fired the author from Star Wars gigs for being too outspoken on social media. And even though the cover blurb enticed me, I was concerned that Wendig would use this work as a political soapbox and I had no interest in that. It's one thing to read vulgar and inflammatory tweets, but it is quite another to go through nearly 800 pages' worth of political vitriol.

Hence, I did something I very seldom do before making a decision and I perused online reviews of the novel. Sadly, as expected, it seemed that Chuck Wendig was going at it pretty bad with the socio-political commentary. And yet, most agreed that the story was also quite compelling. So against my better judgement, I decided to bring the book with me.

Was it a mistake? Well, yes and no. Wanderers is at times a captivating read. Nowhere near as good as The Stand, mind you. Wendig is not talented enough an author to achieve such a milestone, I'm afraid. But the tale and its back story are engrossing, even if the execution leaves something to be desired at times. No, what prevented this book from being great was the author's political bias. Wendig simply couldn't refrain himself and he imbued every single plotline with his passionate hatred for Republicans, Right-leaning voters, devout Christians, capitalists, white supremacists, yada yada yada. Imagine Terry Goodkind's narratives beating you on the head with a stick so his political views can sink in and Chuck Wendig is a hundred times worse. I kid you not. There is no middle ground in this novel. Pretty much everything is black or white, with no shades of gray.

If you can put aside your personal political views when they clash with Wendig's, it is still possible to enjoy Wanderers for the most part. Although there are cringe-worthy moments in basically every single chapter, if you can look beyond the author's socio-political spiel and his extremely negative portrayal of most Americans living south of the Mason-Dixon Line, there is still plenty of good stuff in there. Arguably, most right-leaning, or even center-leaning, people will likely have a hard time doing that. If you're one of those, perhaps it would be better to steer clear of this book. On the other hand, if you are the kind of reader who shares "The future that liberals want" memes on Facebook and Twitter on a daily basis, you'll eat everything up with a spoon and will probably come out experiencing various intellectual orgasms. Chuck Wendig is preaching to the choir here and goes all out in this anti-Trump, anti-Republicans, anti-Right, anti-etc book. Wanderers will likely be a very divisive novel, with the bulk of readers either loving it and raving about it, or hating it with a passion. And given the world we live in these days, this was probably to be expected.

Here's the blurb:

A decadent rock star. A deeply religious radio host. A disgraced scientist. And a teenage girl who may be the world’s last hope. In the tradition of The Stand and Station Eleven comes a gripping saga that weaves an epic tapestry of humanity into an astonishing tale of survival.

Shana wakes up one morning to discover her little sister in the grip of a strange malady. She appears to be sleepwalking. She cannot talk and cannot be woken up. And she is heading with inexorable determination to a destination that only she knows. But Shana and her sister are not alone. Soon they are joined by a flock of sleepwalkers from across America, on the same mysterious journey. And like Shana, there are other “shepherds” who follow the flock to protect their friends and family on the long dark road ahead.

For as the sleepwalking phenomenon awakens terror and violence in America, the real danger may not be the epidemic but the fear of it. With society collapsing all around them—and an ultraviolent militia threatening to exterminate them—the fate of the sleepwalkers depends on unraveling the mystery behind the epidemic. The terrifying secret will either tear the nation apart—or bring the survivors together to remake a shattered world.

If there is one thing that Wendig does particularly well, it's explaining the science behind the pandemic and how they're trying to deal with it. Most authors would rely on massive info-dumps, but Wendig somehow managed to incorporate all the information in a rather fluid fashion that never bogs down the narrative. This is quite important because Wanderers is a huge work of fiction and there is a lot of scientific stuff involved. Kudos to Wendig for being able to convey all those details in a nearly seamless manner and in a way that is easily understood by neophytes. I never thought I'd learn so much about disease outbreaks and how they grow and how the CDC and the WHO are called upon to deal with them.

In my opinion, the characterization is the aspect that leaves the most to be desired. While Stephen King's magnum opus featured a stellar cast, the same cannot be said of Wanderers. While some protagonists are well-drawn and genuine, others are little more than caricatures. Shana, the teenage girl who is the closest thing to a main character, is probably the most discordant protagonist of the bunch. Although she looks and acts like your regular 17-year-old girl, she doesn't sound like one. Chuck Wendig is known to include a panoply of pop culture references in his novels and Wanderers is no different. Problem is, though Shana is a millennial, she talks like she's a child from the 80s or 90s. Hence, her inner monologues can be quite jarring and not in synch with the sort of 2019 teenager she is meant to be. Moreover, with all that teenage angst and dumbass adolescent stupidity, she often felt woefully inadequate to carry this story on her shoulders. A better balance between the POVs would have worked wonders for the characterization. Benji, the disgraced scientist who sabotaged his career at the CDC, is by far the most interesting character of the cast. It's mostly through him that we discover what's going on and what they can try to do about it. He is also the most deeply realized protagonist in the book. Being selected by a powerful AI to follow the flock and try to save mankind from extinction is a tall order, but he'll do whatever he can or die trying. Pete Corley, the rock star, is mostly the tale's comic relief. Though he is trying to deal with homosexuality, something he has kept hidden from his fans, his wife, and his kids for years, for the most part his exuberance and I-don't-give-a-shit-about-anything attitude is often a breath of fresh air in a story that can be decidedly dark and forbidding. Again, no matter how fun and at times necessary his plotline turned out to be, I doubt that a real-life David Lee Roth or Vince Neal would matter a great deal in such a dire situation. And then there's Matthew Bird, pastor of a small church, who gets sucked into something that grows bigger and more sinister than he ever thought possible. It's through this character that the author explores the theme of redemption and it's one of the most engaging storylines of the novel. The supporting cast is comprised of a number of interesting men and women, chief among them Marcy, Cassie, Arav, Sadie and, of course, Black Swan, the mysterious AI. I would have liked to see events unfold through their eyes a lot more, for I believe that their perspectives could occasionally have worked better than those of the main characters and that would have added more depth.

As mentioned above, what hurts Wanderers time and time again is that it often reads like an open letter to Donald Trump and Republicans inviting them to go fuck themselves. Of course, the release of the disease is due to the actions of a billionaire right-wing capitalist. Wendig's depiction of most Americans from the Southern states is often demeaning and a broad exaggeration that is a step away from caricature. As if absolutely everyone was a God-fearing, gun-wielding, neckbeard fucktard. And a White Supremacist to boot! True, there are lots of Americans that fit that description. But there are also millions of Americans from those same states that don't. To portray basically everyone living below the Mason-Dixon Line in such a way felt a little insulting, truth be told. Imagine the uproar if instead of White Supremacists/Republicans/devout Christians/capitalists the bad guys had been Muslims. Fundamentalists, yes, but Muslims nonetheless. Such a broad generalization would have spawned condemnation and movements to ban this book. Chuck Wendig would have been called upon to explain himself and there would have been hell to pay. But since the author is preaching to the liberal choir with this story, I doubt that there will be a lot of noise in that regard. It just feels weird that Wendig appears to believe that hicks from the South could be that nation's most nefarious threat. Pretty much all the bad guys are white Christian Southerners supporting a Trump-like candidate from the coming US election. As a matter of course, the good guys are made up of gay and straight people of colors of different ethnic and religious backgrounds for the most part.

There is no way to sugarcoat this. The pace, especially in the middle portion of the novel, can be atrocious. Following a great start, a good chunk of Wanderers simply follows the flock of sleepwalkers across the country and not much takes place. It can be absolutely boring for fifty pages or so and then something happens and gets you interested again. With such an uneven rhythm, the book is occasionally off-putting. I mean, at times it's brilliant and a veritable page-turner. But as hard to put down as those sections can be, there are several portions that are slogs to go through. In the end, it felt as though we spend way too much time in some protagonists' head, especially Shana, which bogs down the narrative and serves little or no purpose. You could probably excise a good hundred pages from this novel without missing anything important and improving the pace by doing do.

Because ultimately, it's the endgame that readers are interested in. The showdown between the forces of "good" and the forces of "evil" to determine if humanity can survive extinction. Unfortunately, Chuck Wendig spent too much time paving the way for a grand finale that never truly comes. The final battle and then the long epilogue offer resolution, yet little in the way of satisfaction. Nor will the out-of-left-field ending please most readers, methinks.

It's a bit sad, because Wanderers had all the ingredients necessary for a great book. Alas, Wendig sabotaged the plot by climbing on his political soap box and spitting vitriol every chance he got. And in the end, though there are some great and emotional moments, though there are some clever ideas and ingenuous concepts, Wanderers is a more or less forgettable novel. Some critics called it a career-defining work, but here's to hoping that Chuck Wendig can do much better than that. Indeed, this just a saveur du jour anti-Trump and his ilk manifesto on par with the worst Terry Goodkind crap. Just at the other end of the political spectrum.

The final verdict: 6/10

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

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Might want to keep an eye out for this one. . .

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While honeymooning in the Tower of Babel, Thomas Senlin loses his wife, Marya.

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A man broken in body and spirit, Cazaril returns to the noble household he once served as page and is named secretary-tutor to the beautiful, strong-willed sister of the impetuous boy who is next in line to rule. It is an assignment Cazaril dreads, for it must ultimately lead him to the place he most fears: the royal court of Cardegoss, where the powerful enemies who once placed him in chains now occupy lofty positions.

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The soldiers of the Black Company don’t ask questions, they get paid. But being “The Lady’s favored” is attracting the wrong kind of attention and has put a target on their backs, and the Company’s historian, Croaker, has the biggest target of all.

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Despite certain flaws, I felt that Ed McDonald's Blackwing was a promising debut. The kind of work Joe Abercrombie and Glen Cook would come up with if they ever teamed up to collaborate on a novel. And even though the second volume showed marked improvement regarding certain facets, it did suffer from some of the same shortcomings that had plagued its predecessor. In my review of Ravencry, I opined that the author needed to elevate his game if he was to finish this trilogy with panache and if he wanted to take his place among the best grimdark writers out there.

And though Crowfall isn't perfect, I feel that McDonald stepped up to the plate and delivered a compelling finale. The talent and the potential were definitely there and it was up to the author to bring it on. Which he did!

Here's the blurb:

In the third gritty installment of the Raven’s Mark series, Blackwing Captain Ryhalt Galharrow finds that all power comes with a price…

A sorcerous cataclysm has hit the Range, the final defensive line between the republic and the immortal Deep Kings.

Tormenting red rains sweep the land, new monstrosities feed on fear in the darkness, and the power of the Nameless, the gods who protect the republic, lies broken. The Blackwing captains who serve them are being picked off one by one, and even immortals have learned what it means to die. Meanwhile, the Deep Kings have only grown stronger, and they are poised to deliver a blow that will finally end the war.

Ryhalt Galharrow stands apart from it all.

He has been deeper into the wasteland known as the Misery than ever before. It has grown within him–changed him–and now the ghosts of his past, formerly confined to the Misery, walk with him everywhere.

They will even follow him–and the few surviving Blackwing captains–on one final mission into the darkness.

Although McDonald doesn't divulge as much information as I would have liked, the worldbuilding was once again my favorite aspect of this book. As mentioned in my previous reviews, I love the concept behind the Misery, a dangerous post-apocalyptic wasteland where reality itself unraveled when a magical weapon detonated. In Ravencry, the author took Galharrow to the very heart of it. All the way to the Endless Devoid, the epicenter of the Misery. The place where the Heart of the Void created a fault line in existence. And the Misery's taint changed Galharrow in a profound way. More than we saw in that novel, I believed. And I was right. By the beginning of Crowfall, the Blackwing captain has spent the better part of six years living in isolation and traveling the length and breadth of the Misery. The man is part of it and the Misery is now part of him as well.

Since reviewing the first installment, I've bemoaned the fact that Ed McDonald came up with lots of interesting concepts and ideas, yet he continues to play his cards very close to his chest and does not elaborate a whole lot on them. Thankfully, he wasn't as parsimonious regarding information in the second volume. He didn't reveal much, mind you, but we did learn more about Crowfoot and the other Nameless, the Deep Kings and their objective, and more. We finally discovered some things about the world at large, and the conflict that opposes the Nameless and the Deep Kings. Still, nothing that explained why what is occurring at what appears to be the ass end of the world was of capital importance. For better or worse, Crowfall continues in the same vein. We are taken on a magical journey to another continent across the ocean and we witness the Heart of the Void being deployed all those years ago, but for the most part the back story remains shrouded in mystery.

As a matter of course, Crowfall features the first person narrative of Captain Ryhalt Galharrow. As I said in my other reviews, as battle-hardened veteran whose past nearly unmade him, his perspective once again made for a captivating read. One the one hand, he remains a kick-ass, no-nonsense kind of officer, so not always the most likable of fellows. But on the other, he is also a broken man who continues to drink himself into a stupor so he won't dream about his past and fall from grace. It took me a while to get used to his idiosyncrasies, but now it's impossible for me not to root for the poor guy. McDonald made an effort to humanize Galharrow in Ravencry and this is paying dividends in Crowfall. Bringing himself to care for other people is not easy for the main protagonist, for it makes him vulnerable. That vulnerability is once more in evidence in this third installment and Galharrow shows yet more character growth. I don't want to spoil anything, so suffice it to say that the supporting cast consists of a number of familiar faces, some of them surprising while others were expected. By now it is obvious that Ed McDonald has a knack for creating engaging protagonists, which serves him well in this final volume.

And now that the Deep Kings have an Emperor and their forces are on the march to end this war once and for all and there's little the Nameless can do about it, the proverbial shit is about to hit the fan and an all but powerless Crowfoot sends Galharrow on one last mission to try to save mankind. But it is unclear whether or not the Nameless wish to unveil another weapon akin to the Heart of the Void and which could rend the world asunder, or if something more sinister is afoot. Meanwhile, Ryhalt Galharrow and his allies have their own plan, but they may not live long enough to see it through.

Both Blackwing and Ravencry suffered from an uneven pace. At times, the rhythm could be quite sluggish, and then it was balls-to-the-wall action. These pacing issues didn't take much away from the overall reading experience, but they could be off-putting. Not so with Crowfall, however. The rhythm remains fluid enough throughout the novel and the pace is never a problem. And once again, Ed McDonald closes the show with style. As was the case in the second volume, the endgame was thrilling and led to a rousing finale which packed a surprisingly powerful emotional punch. McDonald would like us to believe that he's this badass sword-wielding grimdark writer, but deep down he's probably just a hopeless romantic.

McDonald now has three quality grimdark yarns under his belt. Which bodes well for whatever comes next. There have been glimpses of a bigger, more ambitious story arc in all three installments of the Raven's Mark trilogy, yet the author seemed satisfied with offering readers just a few tantalizing hints about it. I have a feeling that he simply needs to up his game a little more.

Ed McDonald has the potential to be the next Joe Abercrombie. Let us hope that like Abercrombie, having written an gripping trilogy will give him the confidence to push the envelope a little further and elevate his writing to another level. Time will tell if he can do that. . .

The final verdict: 7.75/10

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

Peter McLean Interview

With the release date of Peter McLean's Priest of Lies (Canada, USA, Europe) just around the corner, I took the opportunity to have a chat with the author about the novel, the series, and many other things.


- Without giving too much away, can you give potential readers a taste of the tale that is the War for the Rose Throne series?

War for the Rose Throne is a gangster family saga set in a fantasy secondary world roughly analogous to Tudor England. Tomas Piety is the Godfather figure, gangster turned soldier turned priest. Tomas grew up dirt-poor in the northern city of Ellinburg, where he and his younger brother turned their backs on their father’s trade of bricklaying and instead set themselves up as businessmen. This initially entailed running protection rackets around the Stink, the slum neighbourhood they grew up in, and progressed to owning taverns, inns, brothels and gambling dens across their patch. When war came they were conscripted along with every other man of fighting age, and they were dragged through the horrors of the campaigns in Messia and Abingon. Promoted to priesthood in the army against his wishes, Tomas survived the war and returned home to find his business empire stolen from him by foreign gangsters. He didn’t take that lying down, and that’s where Priest of Bones begins.

- What can fans expect from the latest instalment, PRIEST OF LIES?

Consequences, primarily. The events of the end of Priest of Bones have far-reaching consequences for everyone involved. That aside, you’ll see more of Tomas’s world in Priest of Lies, travelling with him to the capital city of Dannsburg, home of the Rose Throne. And the Queen’s Men. Priest of Lies is the story of a man who has regained what was taken from him, through the sweat of his brow and the blood of his enemies. It’s the story of a man who is now richer and more powerful than he had ever dreamed of being before. It’s the story of what that wealth and power does to him, and those around him.

- How well-received has PRIEST OF LIES been thus far?

Well it’s very early days but the reception has been extremely positive so far, and I’ve really been blown away by the early reviews. It’s great to see so many readers and bloggers loving this series.

- What can readers expect from the upcoming sequels? Any tentative titles and release dates?

We’re still in discussions with the publishers so there’s nothing I can tell you on that front at the moment, I’m afraid. However, in terms of the story itself the theme of consequences continues to run through it to the very end. No one acts in isolation, and even minor deeds can trigger repercussions far beyond the perpetrator’s expectations.

- What was the spark that generated the idea which drove you to write the War for the Rose Throne series in the first place?

I’ve always loved gangster stories like The Godfather, Goodfellas, Peaky Blinders and Gangs of New York, and I’ve always loved what I call “swords and horses” fantasy too. Mashing the two together just seemed like something I was meant to do. The setting itself was heavily inspired by my wife’s home city of Edinburgh in Scotland. Edinburgh is all hills and, in the Old Town at least, narrow winding closes and steps and tall, looming tenements. There’s something about the place, the sense of history and dark deeds, that just speaks to me, and that became Ellinburg in the books.

- The reasons behind the war between the Queen and the Skanians have remained relatively nebulous thus far. Will upcoming sequels shine more light on the conflict and its origins?

Oh yes, definitely. The reason for the Skanian hostility it an absolutely key plot point, which is why my cards are very close to my chest indeed on that subject. Tomas certainly has no idea, as yet, what that reason is.

- The same can be said of the cunning and magic in general. PRIEST OF LIES hints that magic will play a bigger role in the struggle to come, so will the plot unveil more secrets about the magical arts in the next installments?

The House of Magicians and what goes on in there does become important, yes. It’s something I wanted to play with in this series – the Magicians practise something very similar to real historical medieval magic, which amounted to philosophy, astrology, astronomy, mathematics, and chemistry. What Billy and Old Kurt and the other Cunning Folk have is something much more primal and mysterious.

- Although the trilogy is being billed as epic fantasy/grimdark, the War for the Rose Throne is a more tightly focused tale than most novels/series in those subgenres. In a market full of sprawling works that are vast in scope, was this your objective from the start?

Yeah it was. I enjoy reading a sprawling epic fantasy as much as the next person, but I’m a thriller writer at heart. I like the pacing of thrillers, the thing that keeps you turning the pages and putting off going to bed for just one more chapter. You don’t get the same depth and detail of worldbuilding as you do with a really Big Fat Fantasy like say Wheel of Time or A Song of Ice and Fire, admittedly, but I do think you can often end up with a more fast-paced and exciting story.

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

I had the main plot points of the story arc worked out in advance, and those haven’t changed and I very much doubt that they will. Everything you’ve read so far is leading to a very specific ending that I’ve been set on from the beginning. That said, everything I write ends up growing arms and legs in the process and sometimes characters turn around and do or say something unexpected that means I need to tweak a sub-plot here, a pace anchor there. I like that, and it keeps the creative process feeling fresh, but I do keep them largely in line.

- You first made a name to yourself with the Burned Man urban fantasy series. How would you describe those books?

They’re kind of urban fantasy noir, a sort of a mixture of Raymond Chandler and a 1970s crime show like Callan set in London. With demons. Our hero (I use the word loosely) is Don Drake, a demon-summoning hitman who quite literally works for the underworld. Throw in a murderous, chain-smoking angel who hasn’t fallen, just slipped a bit, and light the fuse. They’re thrillers too, obviously, but much more rooted in the tradition of Mickey Spillane.

- Do you have a different approach when you write grimdark and urban fantasy projects?

My approach has definitely changed since I was writing the Burned Man books. When I wrote Drake I pretty much made it up as I went along, but I’m much, much more of an outliner now than I used to be. I’ll sit and plot out the whole thing before I start writing. I probably won’t stick to the letter of that outline, as things develop in writing and as I say my characters have an annoying habit of deciding to go off-script and do their own thing sometimes, but at least now I always know where I’m going, where the end point of each book is.

- Last year, you released "Baphomet by Night," a military science fiction tale set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Do you have any other short fiction pieces in the pipeline that fans can look forward to?

I’ve done quite a few short stories for Black Library and Warhammer Horror now, the most recent being Blood Sacrifice which came out in June as a digital direct download and acts as a sequel to Baphomet by Night. I’ve also written about the Tallarn Desert Raiders and the Imperial Navy in various formats, and have a story in the Age of Sigmar spin-off Warcry anthology which is out later this year. Other than that, I have one War for the Rose Throne short story called Hunger and the Lady. It’s a Billy the Boy origin story, published in Grimdark Magazine #18 earlier this year:

- What do you feel is your strength as a writer/storyteller?

Oh, that’s always a difficult question to answer. You end up so close to your own work after pouring over it for the best part of a year that it’s hard to remain objective sometimes. Personally I think that characterisation and character voice is probably what I do best, but I’d love to hear other people’s opinions on this one!

- By the same token, what would be your weaknesses, or aspects of your craft you feel you need to work on?

Oddly enough for a self-professed thriller writer, it’s plot. Characters and settings just fall into my lap like gifts from the gods, but coming up with a good story and a solid plot is hard work for me. I mean, obviously I think I can do it, but I always find it’s always the hardest part of any book.

- Were there any perceived conventions of the fantasy genre which you wanted to twist or break when you set out to write PRIEST OF BONES and its sequels? What about the Burned Man books?

With Priest of Bones yes, definitely. I’ve talked about this before, but ultimately it’s about consequences and the importance of them. It really bugs me in any fiction when the heroes return from war and live happily ever after, just like that. Real life doesn’t work like that. War is hell, and it tears soldiers apart mentally as well as physically, and that’s something I really wanted to get into. Tolkien knew it, of course, and his own trauma from fighting in the First World War can be clearly seen in the end of The Lord of the Rings. That’s what I wanted to do here, start at that end point and work forward with characters already broken before their story even begins.

In the Burned Man books I was more playing with the fluffy new-age idea of angels as sparkly do-gooders. Mine’s not. Mine is a proper Old Testament angel with a flaming sword and a killer instinct. Angels are bloody terrifying!

- What comes first for you when it comes time to consider your next novel: themes you wish to explore, a setting you're interested in, or characters you want to write about?

It’s always either settings or characters that come to mind first. When the two come to mind together, the right characters in the right setting, I know that’s an idea worth running with. Themes tend to come later, once I’ve started stitching together the bare bones of a plot, and once I have the themes to explore with the characters in the setting I find the story begins to fall into place around them.

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

Billy the Boy, without a doubt. When I was writing my original outline for Priest of Bones it wasn’t even going to be Billy who was the one with magical ability; he was really just going to be a motif for the horrors of war. Young Billy wasn’t having any of that though, and he really went off-piste while I was writing him. I ended up loving the end result so went with it and moved a lot of names around in my outline to make it work.

- If your readers could only take one thing away from having read PRIEST OF LIES (apart from enjoying the read) what would you want that thing to be?

I’m an entertainer first and foremost, but I guess the key theme of Priest of Lies is that power corrupts, and in none so much as those used to being powerless. And if it makes you think about war and its consequences, and perhaps about family and what that means, then I’ll be a happy man.

- According to George R. R. Martin, most authors are either architects or gardeners. Which type of writer are you?

A bit of both. I’ll plan everything out in advance as I say, but if a character goes off-script and does something cool I’ll work with them on that and adjust the plan accordingly to make it fit. That said I’m much more of an architect than a gardener these days.

- Given the choice, would you take a New York Times bestseller, or a World Fantasy/Hugo Award? Why, exactly?

Oh the NYT bestseller, any day! I’ve never been invested in awards, and probably couldn’t tell you who won either of those in the last five years. Bestseller means lots of people bought it, and that (hopefully) means lots of people read it, and that’s what I write for. To be read, and to entertain as many people as possible. Awards are incidental to that, in my opinion. And the money wouldn’t suck, either.

- Cover art has become a very hot topic of late. What are your thoughts pertaining to that facet of a novel, and what do you think of the cover that graces your books?

I absolutely adore all my cover art. Katie Anderson at Berkley did a wonderfully evocative job with the War for the Rose Throne covers, and Chris Thornley who did the Burned Man covers perfectly captured the noir, almost graphic novel vibe I was going for. I have framed prints of all of my covers on my library walls at home. People say never judge a book by its cover but we all know that in a literal sense, everyone does. Cover art can make or break a book all by itself, and I’m hugely grateful to both Katie and Chris for the splendid art they made for me.

- Anything else you wish to share with us?

If you want to get in touch or stay up to date with what I’m doing, the best way is to follow me on Twitter at @PeteMC666. I’m far more active on there than anywhere else, although I have an Instagram with the same user name, and a Facebook author page. My website with book details, contact email, and press kit can be found at

Lastly, thank you very much for interviewing me, it’s been a pleasure.

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You can now download Jacqueline Carey's Starless for only 2.99$ here. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

Jacqueline Carey is back with an amazing adventure not seen since her New York Times bestselling Kushiel’s Legacy series. Lush and sensual, Starless introduces us to an epic world where exiled gods live among us, and a hero whose journey will resonate long after the last page is turned.

Let your mind be like the eye of the hawk…Destined from birth to serve as protector of the princess Zariya, Khai is trained in the arts of killing and stealth by a warrior sect in the deep desert; yet there is one profound truth that has been withheld from him.

In the court of the Sun-Blessed, Khai must learn to navigate deadly intrigue and his own conflicted identity…but in the far reaches of the western seas, the dark god Miasmus is rising, intent on nothing less than wholesale destruction.

If Khai is to keep his soul’s twin Zariya alive, their only hope lies with an unlikely crew of prophecy-seekers on a journey that will take them farther beneath the starless skies than anyone can imagine.

You can also download R. F. Kuang's The Poppy War, which many consider the fantasy debut of 2018, for only 2.99$ here. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

A "Best of May" Science Fiction and Fantasy pick by Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Audible, The Verge, SyFy Wire, and Kirkus.

A brilliantly imaginative talent makes her exciting debut with this epic historical military fantasy, inspired by the bloody history of China’s twentieth century and filled with treachery and magic, in the tradition of Ken Liu’s Grace of Kings and N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy.

When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.

But surprises aren’t always good.

Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.

For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .

Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.

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

In hardcover:

Blake Crouch's Recursion debuts at number 7.

Neal Stephenson's Fall; or, Dodge in Hell is down ten positions, ending the week at number 14.

In paperback:

Stephen King's The Outsider is up one spot, finishing the week at number 4 (trade paperback).

Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett's Good Omens is down two positions, ending the week at number 11 (trade paperback).

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale returns at number 12 (trade paperback).

Provisional Speculative Fiction Top 10 of 2019

Time flies and we've reached the halfway point of the year! And 2019 has been a quality year thus far! Here are the top 10 speculative fiction works published in 2019 I've read. =) Click on each title to read my review. You can expect the one for Ed McDonald's Crowfall to go up soon.

In the history of the Hotlist, only Joe Abercrombie ever managed to end up with two spots on my annual Top 10. As things stand, Mark Lawrence holds three of those spots, with another book coming out before the end of the year. Can he hold on to them, or even snatch another one? Time will tell. . .

1- Tiamat's Wrath by James S. A. Corey (Canada, USA, Europe)

Here's the blurb:

The eighth book in the NYT bestselling Expanse series, Tiamat’s Wrath finds the crew of the Rocinante fighting an underground war against a nearly invulnerable authoritarian empire, with James Holden a prisoner of the enemy. Now a Prime Original series.

Thirteen hundred gates have opened to solar systems around the galaxy. But as humanity builds its interstellar empire in the alien ruins, the mysteries and threats grow deeper.

In the dead systems where gates lead to stranger things than alien planets, Elvi Okoye begins a desperate search to discover the nature of a genocide that happened before the first human beings existed, and to find weapons to fight a war against forces at the edge of the imaginable. But the price of that knowledge may be higher than she can pay.

At the heart of the empire, Teresa Duarte prepares to take on the burden of her father’s godlike ambition. The sociopathic scientist Paolo Cortázar and the Mephistophelian prisoner James Holden are only two of the dangers in a palace thick with intrigue, but Teresa has a mind of her own and secrets even her father the emperor doesn’t guess.

And throughout the wide human empire, the scattered crew of the Rocinante fights a brave rear-guard action against Duarte’s authoritarian regime. Memory of the old order falls away, and a future under Laconia’s eternal rule — and with it, a battle that humanity can only lose — seems more and more certain. Because against the terrors that lie between worlds, courage and ambition will not be enough…

2- The Devil Aspect by Craig Russell (Canada, USA, Europe)

Here's the blurb:

A terrifying novel set in Czechoslovakia in 1935, in which a brilliant young psychiatrist takes his new post at an asylum for the criminally insane that houses only six inmates–the country’s most depraved murderers–while, in Prague, a detective struggles to understand a brutal serial killer who has spread fear through the city, and who may have ties to the asylum.

In 1935, Viktor Kosárek, a psychiatrist newly trained by Carl Jung, arrives at the infamous Hrad Orlu Asylum for the Criminally Insane. The state-of-the-art facility is located in a medieval mountaintop castle outside of Prague, though the site is infamous for concealing dark secrets going back many generations. The asylum houses the country’s six most treacherous killers–known to the staff as The Woodcutter, The Clown, The Glass Collector, The Vegetarian, The Sciomancer, and The Demon–and Viktor hopes to use a new medical technique to prove that these patients share a common archetype of evil, a phenomenon known as The Devil Aspect. As he begins to learn the stunning secrets of these patients, five men and one woman, Viktor must face the disturbing possibility that these six may share another dark truth.

Meanwhile, in Prague, fear grips the city as a phantom serial killer emerges in the dark alleys. Police investigator Lukas Smolak, desperate to locate the culprit (dubbed Leather Apron in the newspapers), realizes that the killer is imitating the most notorious serial killer from a century earlier–London’s Jack the Ripper. Smolak turns to the doctors at Hrad Orlu for their expertise with the psychotic criminal mind, though he worries that Leather Apron might have some connection to the six inmates in the asylum.

Steeped in the folklore of Eastern Europe, and set in the shadow of Nazi darkness erupting just beyond the Czech border, this stylishly written, tightly coiled, richly imagined novel is propulsively entertaining, and impossible to put down.

3- A Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay (Canada, USA, Europe)

Here's the blurb:

International bestselling author Guy Gavriel Kay’s latest work is set in a world evoking early Renaissance Italy and offers an extraordinary cast of characters whose lives come together through destiny, love, and ambition.

In a chamber overlooking the nighttime waterways of a maritime city, a man looks back on his youth and the people who shaped his life. Danio Cerra’s intelligence won him entry to a renowned school even though he was only the son of a tailor. He took service at the court of a ruling count–and soon learned why that man was known as the Beast.

Danio’s fate changed the moment he saw and recognized Adria Ripoli as she entered the count’s chambers one autumn night–intending to kill. Born to power, Adria had chosen, instead of a life of comfort, one of danger–and freedom. Which is how she encounters Danio in a perilous time and place.

Vivid figures share the unfolding story. Among them: a healer determined to defy her expected lot; a charming, frivolous son of immense wealth; a powerful religious leader more decadent than devout; and, affecting all these lives and many more, two larger-than-life mercenary commanders, lifelong adversaries, whose rivalry puts a world in the balance.

A Brightness Long Ago offers both compelling drama and deeply moving reflections on the nature of memory, the choices we make in life, and the role played by the turning of Fortune’s wheel.

4- Holy Sister by Mark Lawrence (Canada, USA, Europe)

Here's the blurb:

They came against her as a child. Now they face the woman.

The ice is advancing, the Corridor narrowing, and the empire is under siege from the Scithrowl in the east and the Durns in the west. Everywhere, the emperor’s armies are in retreat.

Nona faces the final challenges that must be overcome if she is to become a full sister in the order of her choice. But it seems unlikely that Nona and her friends will have time to earn a nun’s habit before war is on their doorstep.

Even a warrior like Nona cannot hope to turn the tide of war.

The shiphearts offer strength that she might use to protect those she loves, but it’s a power that corrupts. A final battle is coming in which she will be torn between friends, unable to save them all. A battle in which her own demons will try to unmake her.

A battle in which hearts will be broken, lovers lost, thrones burned.

5- Nest of the Monarch by Kay Kenyon (Canada, USA, Europe)

Here's the blurb:

Kim Tavistock, undercover in Berlin as the wife of a British diplomat, uncovers a massive conspiracy that could change the course of the war—and she’s the only one in position to stop it in the electrifying conclusion to the Dark Talents series.

November, 1936. Kim Tavistock is in Berlin on her first Continental mission for SIS, the British intelligence service. Her cover: a sham marriage to a handsome, ambitious British consul. Kim makes the diplomatic party circuit with him, hobnobbing with Nazi officials, hoping for a spill that will unlock a secret operation called Monarch. Berlin is a glittering city celebrating Germany’s resurgence, but Nazi brutality darkens the lives of many. When Kim befriends Hannah Linz, a member of the Jewish resistance, she sets in motion events that will bring her into the center of a vast conspiracy.

Forging an alliance with Hannah and her partisans, Kim discovers the alarming purpose of Monarch: the creation of a company of enforcers with augmented Talents and strange appetites. Called the Progeny, they have begun to compel citizen obedience with physical and spiritual terror. Soon Kim is swept up in a race to stop the coming deployment of the Progeny into Europe. Aligned against her are forces she could never have foreseen, including the very intelligence service she loves; a Russian woman, the queen of all Talents, who fled the Bolsheviks in 1917; and the ruthless SS officer whose dominance and rare charisma may lead to Kim’s downfall. To stop Monarch and the subversion of Europe, she must do more than use her Talent, wits, and courage. She must step into the abyss of unbounded power, even to the point of annihilation. Does the human race have limits? Kim does not want to know the answer. But it is coming.

6- The Plotters by Un-Su Kim (Canada, USA, Europe)

Here's the blurb:

From the novelist dubbed “the Korean Henning Mankell” (The Guardian) comes a fantastical crime novel set in an alternate Seoul where assassination guilds compete for market dominance. Perfect for fans of Han Kang and Patrick deWitt.

Behind every assassination, there is an anonymous mastermind–a plotter–working in the shadows. Plotters quietly dictate the moves of the city’s most dangerous criminals, but their existence is little more than legend. Just who are the plotters? And more important, what do they want?

Reseng is an assassin. Raised by a cantankerous killer named Old Raccoon in the crime headquarters “The Library,” Reseng never questioned anything: where to go, who to kill, or why his home was filled with books that no one ever read. But one day, Reseng steps out of line on a job, toppling a set of carefully calibrated plans. And when he uncovers an extraordinary scheme set into motion by an eccentric trio of young women–a convenience store clerk, her wheelchair-bound sister, and a cross-eyed librarian–Reseng will have to decide if he will remain a pawn or finally take control of the plot.

Crackling with action and filled with unforgettable characters, The Plotters is a deeply entertaining thriller that soars with the soul, wit, and lyricism of real literary craft.

7- Priest of Lies by Peter McLean (Canada, USA, Europe)

Here's the blurb:

Tomas Piety has been many things: soldier, priest, gangster…and spy. As Tomas’s power grows, the nobility better watch their backs, in this dark and gritty epic fantasy series.

People are weak, and the poorer and more oppressed they are, the weaker they become–until they can’t take it anymore. And when they rise up…may the gods help their oppressors.

When Tomas Piety returned from the war, he just wanted to rebuild his empire of crime with his gang of Pious Men. But his past as a spy for the Queen’s Men drew him back in and brought him more power than he ever imagined.

Now, with half of his city in ashes and the Queen’s Men at his back, the webs of political intrigue stretch out from the capital to pull Tomas in. Dannsburg is calling.

In Dannsburg the nobility fight with words, not blades, but the results are every bit as bloody. In this pit of beasts, Tomas must decide once and for all whether he is truly the people’s champion…or just a priest of lies.

8- Crowfall by Ed McDonald (Canada, USA, Europe)

Here's the blurb:

In the third gritty installment of the Raven’s Mark series, Blackwing Captain Ryhalt Galharrow finds that all power comes with a price…

A sorcerous cataclysm has hit the Range, the final defensive line between the republic and the immortal Deep Kings.

Tormenting red rains sweep the land, new monstrosities feed on fear in the darkness, and the power of the Nameless, the gods who protect the republic, lies broken. The Blackwing captains who serve them are being picked off one by one, and even immortals have learned what it means to die. Meanwhile, the Deep Kings have only grown stronger, and they are poised to deliver a blow that will finally end the war.

Ryhalt Galharrow stands apart from it all.

He has been deeper into the wasteland known as the Misery than ever before. It has grown within him–changed him–and now the ghosts of his past, formerly confined to the Misery, walk with him everywhere.

They will even follow him–and the few surviving Blackwing captains–on one final mission into the darkness.

9- One Word Kill by Mark Lawrence (Canada, USA, Europe)

Here's the blurb:

In January 1986, fifteen-year-old boy-genius Nick Hayes discovers he’s dying. And it isn’t even the strangest thing to happen to him that week.

Nick and his Dungeons and Dragons-playing friends are used to living in their imaginations. But when a new girl, Mia, joins the group and reality becomes weirder than the fantasy world they visit in their weekly games, none of them are prepared for what comes next. A strange—yet curiously familiar—man is following Nick, with abilities that just shouldn’t exist. And this man bears a cryptic message: Mia’s in grave danger, though she doesn’t know it yet. She needs Nick’s help—now.

He finds himself in a race against time to unravel an impossible mystery and save the girl. And all that stands in his way is a probably terminal disease, a knife-wielding maniac and the laws of physics.

Challenge accepted.

10- Limited Wish by Mark Lawrence (Canada, USA, Europe)

Here's the blurb:

One choice. Two possible timelines. And a world hanging in the balance.

It’s the summer of 1986 and reluctant prodigy Nick Hayes is a student at Cambridge University, working with world-renowned mathematician Professor Halligan. He just wants to be a regular student, but regular isn’t really an option for a boy-genius cancer survivor who’s already dabbled in time travel.

When he crosses paths with a mysterious yet curiously familiar girl, Nick discovers that creases have appeared in the fabric of time, and that he is at the centre of the disruption. Only Nick can resolve this time paradox before the damage becomes catastrophic for both him and the future of the world. Time is running out—literally.

Wrapped up with him in this potentially apocalyptic scenario are his ex-girlfriend, Mia, and fellow student Helen. Facing the world-ending chaos of a split in time, Nick must act fast and make the choice of a lifetime—or lifetimes.

Game on.