The Painted Man / The Warded Man

So okay, once again I was late for this party. I have no excuse, really, as I received ARCs from both the UK and the USA before basically anyone had even heard from Peter V. Brett. And yes, this debut garnered quite a lot of rave reviews and sold quite well. To add insult to injury, Brett's sequel to The Painted Man/The Warded Man ended up on bestseller lists in the UK, Germany, and the USA. That's when it hit me that I was probably missing out on something special and I needed to do something about it. . .

Here's the blurb:

The time has come to stand against the night.

As darkness falls each night, the corelings rise–demons who well up from the ground like hellish steam, taking on fearsome form and substance. Sand demons. Wood demons. Wind demons. Flame demons. And gigantic rock demons, the deadliest of all. They possess supernatural strength and powers and burn with a consuming hatred of humanity. For hundreds of years the demons have terrorized the night, slowly culling the human herd that shelters behind magical wards–symbols of power whose origins are lost in myth and mystery, and whose protection is terrifyingly fragile.

It was not always this way. Once, men and women battled the corelings on equal terms. Once, under the leadership of the legendary Deliverer, and armed with powerful wards that were not merely shields but weapons, they took the battle to the demons . . . and stopped their advance.

But those days are gone. The fighting wards are lost. Night by night the demons grow stronger, while human numbers dwindle under their relentless assault.

Now, with hope for the future fading, three young survivors of vicious demon attacks will dare the impossible, stepping beyond the crumbling safety of the wards to risk everything in a desperate quest to regain the secrets of the past.

Arlen will pay any price, embrace any sacrifice, for freedom. His grim journey will take him beyond the bounds of human power.

Crippled by the demons that killed his parents, Rojer seeks solace in music–only to discover that music can be a weapon as well as a refuge.

Beautiful Leesha, who has suffered at the hands of men as well as demons, becomes an expert healer. But what cures can also harm. . .

Together, they will stand against the night.

The Painted Man/The Warded Man is a character-driven novel, first and foremost. Hence, the worldbuilding remains in the background throughout most of the tale. Brett offers us a few glimpses of his creation through some legends, the religion, and Arlan's discovery of the ruined city of Anoch Sun, yet the worldbuilding elements remain more or less discreet as the tale progresses. As such, readers don't get any answers to the panoply of questions that come to mind as one reads on. This book is an introduction to what should be a much bigger and multilayered story arc. I felt that Brett lay the groundwork for a lot of things to come, but like the characters we are left in the dark regarding most of what goes on. That doesn't take anything away from the reading experience, mind you. It just makes you want to read the next volume even more.

When the book was initially released, on various message boards some readers opined that this was a YA title. Peter V. Brett even weighed in on that issue in a Q&A we did back then. Brett's voice in The Painted Man/The Warded Man is indeed YA in tone, but the book tackles adult-oriented themes such as rape, sex, etc. The YA tone is due to the fact that the POV characters are quite young, and I expect Brett's voice to evolve as his protagonists age in subsequent installments. Unlike Brandon Sanderson, it doesn't feel as though Brett is shying away from sex (when it is needed to further the plot) or swearing.

Speaking of characters, it can be very tricky to capture the imagination of adult readers and suck them into your tale when your main protagonists are all children or teenagers. As I mentioned, though the tone is definitely YA, the themes and issues the characters must deal with are not. And I feel that this may have helped Brett's commercial success, for The Painted Man/The Warded Man can appeal to fantasy readers of all ages. There is a good balance between POV sections, though at times I thought that the Roger storyline left a little to be desired. Yet overall, though Arlen remains the star of the book, both Roger and Leesha's plotlines were interesting. I'm curious to see them mature and see where Brett will take their interwoven tales.

Peter V. Brett paced this one adroitly, which is a rare trait for a debut. Sure it drags a bit at the beginning, and the ending is to some extent predictable. But all in all, the narrative flows extremely well.

The Painted Man/The Warded Man is a solid effort and a quality debut. I'm now eager to see what happens next in The Desert Spear (Canada, USA, Europe).

The final verdict: 7.75/10

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

US cover art for Jacqueline Carey's NAAMAH'S BLESSING

As expected, Naamah's Blessing follows the same style as its predecessors. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

New Paolo Bacigalupi Interview

Lev Grossman interviewed Hugo and Nebula award-winning author Paolo Bacigalupi for Techland.

Here's a teaser:

It's all so far outside of what I expected for this book. When I wrote Windup Girl originally…I mean, I finished it, and I remember the exact feeling I had when I was going through the final copy edits and cleaning the manuscript before it was supposed to go out. It was done, and I'm looking at the page proofs, and I remember reading the book and just feeling this incredible sense of embarrassment about it.

I felt sort of apologetic that I was putting it out. I had no faith in it and I had no sense that it was something that should even be out in the world. I remember waiting for the reviews to come in and just feeling sick each time I heard that there was gonna be a new review coming out because I was just waiting for the eviscerating comments to come in.

And then the reviews started coming in and they were almost all very positive. The attack didn't come.

And then as the awards were coming in it's just been… I mean, I remember being at the Nebulas,and China Miéville was there, and I mean, you know, he's a great writer. So I remembered seeing him there and I thought, somebody tipped him. That's why he's here. You don't show at the Nebulas from England without having prior knowledge. And I was like, that's it. That makes sense.

I remember when I won the award I heard my name called and I stood up, and then there was this moment where I stood there thinking, I hallucinated that. I wanted this so badly that I just stood up, and I actually wrote my own name into somebody else's name being called. And I remember standing there looking around trying to figure out if China was standing up or not.

Follow this link to read the full Q&A.

And whatever you do, make sure you read The Windup Girl (Canada, USA, Europe). Celebrating 10 years of fantasy and science fiction

The nice folks running the SFF website are now celebrating their 10th anniversary! Which is quite an accomplishment, no question about it! is the equivalent of genre-oriented websites such as and they do a terrific job of covering speculative fiction from both sides of the Atlantic. Check them out at

Mes chers amis d',

Laissez-moi donc vous souhaiter un joyeux anniversaire et vous féliciter pour 10 belles années pendant lesquelles votre travail fut reconnu et apprécié à petite et grande échelle, faisant d' l'un des meilleurs sites internet couvrant tout ce qui concerne la fantasy et la science fiction, non seulement à travers la Francophonie mais dans le monde entier. Et puisque qu'on me considère un peu comme un pionnier, pour ne pas dire un fossile, après seulement 6 ans en ligne, force est d'admettre qu'une décennie ce n'est pas rien.

Ne sachant pas si je serai moi-même de la partie encore longtemps, je vous encourage à continuer votre superbe travail et je vous souhaite un autre 10 ans plein de succès! Un gros bravo à toute l'équipe, mais aussi à la communauté d'internautes que l'on retrouve sur les forums et qui donne vie au site tout entier.

Long vie et bonne continuation! =)

Musical Interlude

For some reason, this hauntingly beautiful song will always remind me of my Southeast Asian adventure. It kept showing up in the shuffle of my iPod during those bus rides in Thailand and beyond.

Though I can't understand a single word she says, the singer's voice mesmerizes me. . .

By the way, this is the end credit song for Hayao Miyazaki's Oscar-winning Spirited Away(Canada, USA, Europe).


This one piqued my curiosity ever since the ARC ended up in my mailbox. And since I'm not quite sure if I'll have the chance to give it a go prior to New Year's Eve, I still wanted to give Mark Hodder's The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack some exposure in case I elected to retire from the SFF Blogosphere. And thanks to the folks at Pyr, here's an extract to give you a taste of the book. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

London, 1861.

Sir Richard Francis Burton—explorer, linguist, scholar, and swordsman; his reputation tarnished; his career in tatters; his former partner missing and probably dead.

Algernon Charles Swinburne—unsuccessful poet and follower of de Sade; for whom pain is pleasure, and brandy is ruin!

They stand at a crossroads in their lives and are caught in the epicenter of an empire torn by conflicting forces: Engineers transform the landscape with bigger, faster, noisier, and dirtier technological wonders; Eugenicists develop specialist animals to provide unpaid labor; Libertines oppose repressive laws and demand a society based on beauty and creativity; while the Rakes push the boundaries of human behavior to the limits with magic, drugs, and anarchy. The two men are sucked into the perilous depths of this moral and ethical vacuum when Lord Palmerston commissions Burton to investigate assaults on young women committed by a weird apparition known as Spring Heeled Jack, and to find out why werewolves are terrorizing London's East End.

Their investigations lead them to one of the defining events of the age, and the terrifying possibility that the world they inhabit shouldn't exist at all!


The Aftermath of Africa

Everything Life places in your path is an opportunity.
No matter how difficult.
No matter how upsetting.
No matter how impenetrable.
No matter how you judge it.
An opportunity.


By God! He’s killed himself!”

Sir Richard Francis Burton staggered back and collapsed into his chair. The note Arthur Findlay had passed to him fluttered to the floor. The other men turned away, took their seats, examined their fingernails, and fiddled with their shirt collars; anything to avoid looking at their stricken colleague.

From where she stood on the threshold of the “robing room,” hidden by its partially closed door, Isabel Arundell could see that her lover’s normally dark and intense eyes were wide with shock, filled with a sudden vulnera­bility. His mouth moved spasmodically, as if he were struggling to chew and swallow something indigestible. She longed to rush to his side to comfort him and to ask what tidings had wounded him; to snatch up that note and read it; to find out who had killed himself; but such a display would be unseemly in front of the small gathering, not to mention embarrassing for Richard. He, among all men, stood on his own two feet, no matter how dire the situation. Isabel alone was aware of his sensitivity; and she would never cause it to be exposed to others.

Many people—mostly those who referred to him as “Ruffian Dick”— considered Burton’s brutal good looks to be a manifestation of his inner nature. They could never imagine that he doubted himself; though if they were to see him now, so shaken, perhaps it might strike them that he wasn’t quite the devil he appeared, despite the fierce moustache and forked beard.

It was difficult to see past such a powerful façade.

The Committee had only just gathered at the table, but after glancing at Burton’s anguished expression, Sir Roderick Murchison, the president of the Royal Geographical Society, came to a decision.

“Let us take a moment,” he muttered.

Burton stood and held up a hand in protest. “Pray, gentlemen,” he whis­pered hoarsely, “continue with your meeting. The scheduled debate will, of course, have to be cancelled, but if you’ll allow me half an hour, perhaps I can organise my notes and make a small presentation concerning the valley of the Indus, so as not to disappoint the crowd.”

“That’s very good of you, Sir Richard,” said one of the Committee mem­bers, Sir James Alexander. “But, really, this must have come as a terrible blow. If you would rather—”

“Just grant me thirty minutes to prepare. They have, after all, paid for their tickets.”

“Very well. Thank you.”

Burton turned and walked unsteadily to the door, passed through, closed it behind him, and stood facing Isabel, swaying slightly.

At five eleven, he personally bemoaned the lost inch that would have made him a six­footer, though, to others, the breadth of his shoulders, depth of his chest, slim but muscular build, and overwhelming charisma made him seem a giant, even compared with much taller men.

He had short black hair, which he wore swept backward. His skin was swarthy and weather­beaten, giving his straight features rather an Arabic cast, further accentuated by his prominent cheekbones, both disfigured by scars—a smallish one on the right, but a long, deep, and jagged one on the left, which tugged slightly at his bottom eyelid. They were the entry and exit wounds caused by a Somali spear that had been thrust through his face during an ill­fated expedition to Berbera, on the Horn of Africa.

To Isabel, those scars were the mark of an adventurous and fearless soul. Burton was in every respect her “ideal man.” He was a wild, passionate, and romantic figure, quite unlike the staid and emotionally cold men who moved in London’s social circles. Her parents thought him unsuitable but Isabel knew there could be no other for her.

He stumbled forward into her arms.

“What ails you so, Dick?” she gasped, holding him by the shoulders. “What has happened?”

“John has shot himself!”

“No!” she exclaimed. “He’s dead?”

Burton stepped back and wiped a sleeve across his eyes. “Not yet. But he took a bullet to the head. Isabel, I have to work up a presentation. Can I rely on you to find out where he’s been taken? I must see him. I have to make my peace with him before—”

“Of course, dear. Of course! I shall make enquiries at once. Must you speak, though? No one would fault you if you were to withdraw.”

“I’ll speak. We’ll meet later, at the hotel.”

“Very well.”

She kissed his cheek and left him; walked a short way along the elegant marble­floored corridor and, with a glance back, disappeared through the door to the auditorium. As it swung open and closed, Burton heard the crowd beyond grumbling with impatience. There were even some boos. They had waited long enough; they wanted blood; wanted to see him, Burton, shame and humiliate the man he’d once considered a brother: John Hanning Speke.

“I’ll make an announcement,” muttered a voice behind him. He turned to find that Murchison had left the Committee and was standing at his shoulder. Beads of sweat glistened on the president’s bald head. His narrow face was haggard and pale.

“Is it—is it my fault, Sir Roderick?” rasped Burton.

Murchison frowned. “Is it your fault that you possess exacting standards while, according to the calculations John Speke presented to the Society, the Nile runs uphill for ninety miles? Is it your fault that you are an erudite and confident debater while Speke can barely string two words together? Is it your fault that mischief­makers manipulated him and turned him against you? No, Richard, it is not.”

Burton considered this for a moment, then said, “You speak of him so and yet you supported him. You financed his second expedition and refused me mine.”

“Because he was right. Despite his slapdash measurements and his pre­sumptions and guesswork, the Committee feels it likely that the lake he dis­covered is, indeed, the source of the Nile. The simple truth of the matter, Richard, is that he found it while you, I’m sorry to say, did not. I never much liked the man, may God have mercy on his soul, but fortune favoured him, and not you.”

Murchison moved aside as the Committee members filed out of the robing room, heading for the presentation hall.

“I’m sorry, Richard. I have to go.”

Murchison joined his fellows.

“Wait!” called Burton, pacing after him. “I should be there too.”

“It’s not necessary.”

“It is.”

“Very well. Come.”

They entered the packed auditorium and stepped onto the stage amid sarcastic cheers from the crowd. Colonel William Sykes, who was hosting the debate, was already at the podium, unhappily attempting to quell the more disruptive members of the restless throng; namely, the many journalists— including the mysterious young American Henry Morton Stanley—who seemed intent on making the occasion as newsworthy as possible. Doctor Livingstone sat behind Sykes, looking furious. Clement Markham, also seated on the stage, was chewing his nails nervously. Burton slumped into the chair beside him, drew a small notebook and a pencil from his pocket, and began to write.

Sir James Alexander, Arthur Findlay, and the other geographers took their seats on the stage.
The crowd hooted and jeered.

“About time! Did you get lost?” someone shouted waggishly. A roar of approval greeted the gibe.
Murchison muttered something into the colonel’s ear. Sykes nodded and retreated to join the others.

The president stepped forward, tapped his knuckles against the podium, and looked stonily at the expectant faces. The audience quieted until, aside from occasional coughs, it became silent.
Sir Roderick Murchison spoke: “Proceedings have been delayed and for that I have to apologise—but when I explain to you the cause, you will pardon me. We have been in our Committee so profoundly affected by a dreadful calamity that has—”

He paused; cleared his throat; gathered himself.

“—that has befallen Lieutenant Speke. A calamity by which, it pains me to report, he must surely lose his life.”

Shouts of dismay and consternation erupted.

Murchison held out his hands and called, “Please! Please!”

Slowly, the noise subsided.

“We do not at present have a great deal of information,” he continued, “but for a letter from Lieutenant Speke’s brother, which was delivered by a runner a short while ago. It tells that yesterday afternoon the lieutenant joined a hunting party on the Fuller Estate near Neston Park. At four o’clock, while he was nego­tiating a wall, his gun went off and severely wounded him about the head.”

“Did he shoot himself, sir?” cried a voice from the back of the hall.

“Purposefully, you mean? There is nothing to suggest such a thing!”

“Captain Burton!” yelled another. “Did you pull the trigger?”

“How dare you, sir!” thundered Murchison. “That is entirely unwar­ranted! I will not have it!”

A barrage of questions flew from the audience, a great many of them directed at Burton.

The famous explorer tore a page from his notebook, handed it to Clement Markham, and, leaning close, muttered into his ear. Markham glanced at the paper, stood, stepped to Murchison’s side, and said something in a low voice.

Murchison gave a nod.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he announced, “you came to the Bath Assembly Rooms to hear a debate between Captain Sir Richard Burton and Lieutenant John Speke on the matter of the source of the Nile. I, of course, understand you wish to hear from Sir Richard concerning this terrible accident that has befallen his colleague, but, as you might suppose, he has been greatly affected and feels unable to speak at this present time. He has, however, written a short statement which will now be read by Mr. Clement Markham.”

Murchison moved away from the podium and Markham took his place.

In a quiet and steady tone, he read from Burton’s note: “The man I once called brother today lies gravely wounded. The differences of opinion that are known to have lain between us since his return from Africa make it more incumbent on me to publicly express my sincere feeling of admiration for his character and enterprise, and my deep sense of shock that this fate has befallen him. Whatever faith you may adhere to, I beg of you to pray for him.”

Markham returned to his chair.

There was not a sound in the auditorium.

“There will be a thirty­minute recess,” declared Murchison, “then Sir Richard will present a paper concerning the valley of the Indus. In the mean­time, may I respectfully request your continued patience whilst we rearrange this afternoon’s schedule? Thank you.”

He led the small group of explorers and geographers out of the audito­rium and, after brief and subdued words with Burton, they headed back to the robing room.

Sir Richard Francis Burton, his mind paralysed, his heart brimming, walked in the opposite direction until he came to one of the reading rooms. Mercifully, it was unoccupied. He entered, closed the door, and leaned against it.

He wept.

* * *

“I’m sorry. I can’t continue.”

It was the faintest of whispers.

He’d spoken for twenty minutes, hardly knowing what he was saying, reading mechanically from his journals, his voice faint and quavering. His words had slowed then trailed off altogether.
When he looked up, he saw hundreds of pairs of eyes locked on to him; and in them there was pity.

He drew in a deep breath.

“I’m sorry,” he said more loudly. “There will be no debate today.”

He turned away from the crowd and, closing his ears to the shouted ques­tions and polite applause, left the stage, pushed past Findlay and Livingstone, and practically ran to the lobby. He asked the cloakroom attendant for his overcoat, top hat, and cane, and, upon receiving them, hurried out through the main doors and descended the steps to the street.

It was just past midday. Dark clouds drifted across the sky; the recent spell of fine weather was dissipating, the temperature falling.

He waved down a hansom.

“Where to, sir?” asked the driver.

“The Royal Hotel.”

“Right you are. Jump aboard.”

Burton clambered into the cabin and sat on the wooden seat. There were cigar butts all over the floor. He felt numb and registered nothing of his sur­roundings as the vehicle began to rumble over the cobbles.

He tried to summon up visions of Speke; the Speke of the past, when the young lieutenant had been a valued companion rather than a bitter enemy. His memory refused to cooperate and instead took him back to the event that lay at the root of their feud: the attack in Berbera, six years ago.

* * *

Berbera, the easternmost tip of Africa, April 19, 1855. Thunderstorms had been flickering on the horizon for the past few days. The air was heavy and damp.

Lieutenant Burton’s party had set up camp on a rocky ridge, about three­quarters of a mile outside the town, near to the beach. Lieutenant Stroyan’s tent was twelve yards off to the right of the “Rowtie” that Burton shared with Lieutenant Herne. Lieutenant Speke’s was a similar distance to the left, sep­arated from the others by the expedition’s supplies and equipment, which had been secured beneath a tarpaulin.

Not far away, fifty­six camels, five horses, and two mules were tethered.

In addition to the four Englishmen, there were thirty­eight other men— abbans, guards, servants, and camel­drivers, all armed.

With the monsoon season imminent, Berbera had been virtually abandoned during the course of the past week. An Arab caravan had lingered, but after Burton refused to offer it an escort out of the town—preferring to wait instead for a supply ship that was due any time from Aden—it had finally departed.

Now, Berbera was silent.

The expedition had retired for the night. Burton had posted three extra guards, for Somali tribes from up and down the coast had been threatening an attack for some days. They believed the British were here either to stop the lucrative slave trade or to lay claim to the small trading post.
At two thirty in the morning, Burton was jolted from his sleep by shouts and gunfire.

He opened his eyes and stared at the roof of his tent. Orange light quiv­ered on the canvas.

He sat up.

El Balyuz, the chief abban, burst in.

“They are attacking!” the man yelled, and a look of confusion passed over his dark face, as if he couldn’t believe his own words. “Your gun, Effendi!” He handed Burton a revolver.

The explorer pushed back his bedsheets and stood; laid the pistol on the map table and pulled on his trousers; snapped his braces over his shoulders; picked up the gun.

“More bloody posturing!” He grinned across to Herne, who’d also awoken, hastily dressed, and snatched up his Colt. “It’s all for show, but we shouldn’t let them get too cocky. Go out the back of the tent, away from the campfire, and ascertain their strength. Let off a few rounds over their heads, if necessary. They’ll soon bugger off.”

“Right you are,” said Herne, and pushed through the canvas at the rear of the Rowtie.

Burton checked his gun.

“For Pete’s sake, Balyuz, why have you handed me an unloaded pistol? Get me my sabre!”
He shoved the Colt into the waistband of his trousers and snatched his sword from the Arab.

“Speke!” he bellowed. “Stroyan!”

Almost immediately, the tent flap was pushed aside and Speke stumbled in. He was a tall, thin, pale man, with watery eyes, light brown hair, and a long bushy beard. He usually wore a mild and slightly self­conscious expres­sion, but now his eyes were wild.

“They knocked my tent down around my ears! I almost took a beating! Is there shooting to be done?”

“I rather suppose there is,” said Burton, finally realising that the situa­tion might be more serious than he’d initially thought. “Be sharp, and arm to defend the camp!”

They waited a few moments, checking their gear and listening to the rush of men outside.
A voice came from behind them: “There’s a lot of the blighters and our confounded guards have taken to their heels!” It was Herne, returning from his recce. “I took a couple of potshots at the mob but then got tangled in the tent ropes. A big Somali took a swipe at me with a bloody great club. I put a bullet into the bastard. Stroyan’s either out cold or done for; I couldn’t get near him.”

Something thumped against the side of the tent. Then again. Suddenly a veritable barrage of blows pounded the canvas while war cries were raised all around. The attackers were swarming like hornets. Javelins were thrust through the opening. Daggers ripped at the material.

“Bismillah!” cursed Burton. “We’re going to have to fight our way to the supplies and get ourselves more guns! Herne, there are spears tied to the tent pole at the back—get ’em!”

“Yes, sir!” responded Herne, returning to the rear of the Rowtie. Almost immediately, he ran back, crying, “They’re breaking through the canvas!”

Burton swore vociferously. “If this blasted thing comes down on us we’ll be caught up good and proper. Get out! Come on! Now!”

He plunged through the tent flaps and into the night, where he found himself facing twenty or so Somali natives. Others were running around the camp, driving away the camels and pillaging the supplies. With a shout, he leaped forward and began to set about the attackers with his sabre.
Was that Lieutenant Stroyan lying over in the shadows? It was hard to tell. Burton slashed his way toward the prone figure, grimacing as clubs and spear shafts thudded against his flesh, bruising and cutting him, drawing blood.

He momentarily glanced back to see how the others were doing and saw Speke stepping backward into the tent entrance, his mouth hanging open, eyes panicked.

“Don’t step back!” he roared. “They’ll think that we’re retiring!”

Speke looked at him with an expression of utter dismay and, right there, in the midst of battle, their friendship ended, for John Hanning Speke knew that his cowardice had been recognised.
A club struck Burton on the shoulder and, tearing his eyes away from the other Englishman, he spun and swiped his blade at its owner. He was jostled back and forth. One set of hands kept pushing at his back, and he wheeled impatiently, raising his sword, only recognising El Balyuz at the very last moment.

His arm froze in midswing.

His head exploded with pain.

A weight pulled him sideways and he collapsed onto the stony earth.

Dazed, he reached up. A barbed javelin had transfixed his face, entering the left cheek and exiting the right, knocking out some back teeth, cutting his tongue, and cracking his palate.

He fought to stay conscious.

Someone started dragging him away from the conflict.

He passed out.

* * *

In front of the Rowtie, Speke, driven to a fury by the exposure of the shameful flaw in his character, strode into the melee, raised his Dean and Adams revolver, pressed its muzzle against the chest of the man who’d downed Burton, and pulled the trigger.

The gun jammed.

“Blast it!” said Speke.

The tribesman, a massive warrior, looked down at him, smiled, and punched him over the heart.
Speke fell to his knees, gasping for air.

The Somali bent, took him by the hair, pulled him backward, and, with his other hand, groped between Speke’s legs. For an instant, the Englishman had the terrifying conviction that he was going to be unmanned. The tribesman, though, was simply checking for daggers, hidden in the Arabic fashion.

Speke was thrust onto his back and his hands were quickly tied together, the cords pulled cruelly tight. Yanked upright, he was marched away from the camp, which was now being looted and destroyed.

* * *

Lieutenant Burton regained his wits and found that he was being pulled toward the beach by El Balyuz. He recovered himself sufficiently to stop his rescuer and to order the man, via sign language and writing in a patch of sand, to go and fetch the small boat that the expedition party had moored in the harbour, and to bring it to the mouth of a nearby creek.

El Balyuz nodded and ran off.

Burton lay on his back and gazed at the Milky Way.

I want to live! he thought.

A minute or so passed. He raised a hand to his face and felt the barbed point of the javelin. The only way to remove it was by sliding the complete length of the shaft through his mouth and cheeks. He took a firm grip on it, pushed, and fainted.

* * *

As the night wore on, John Speke was taunted and spat upon by his captors. With their sabres, they sliced the air inches from his face. He stood and endured it, his eyes hooded, his jaw set, expecting to die, and he wondered what Richard Burton would say about him when reporting this incident.

Don’t step back! They’ll think that we’re retiring!

The rebuke had stung, and if Burton put it on record, Speke would be forever branded as less than a man. Damn the arrogant blackguard!

One of his captors casually thrust his spear through Speke’s side. The lieutenant cried out in pain, then fell backward as the point pierced him again, this time in the shoulder.

This is the end, he told himself.

He struggled back to his feet and, as the spear was stabbed at his heart, deflected it with his bound hands. The point tore the flesh behind his knuckles to the bone.

The Somali stepped back.

Speke straightened and looked at him.

“To hell with you,” he said. “I won’t die yellow.”

The tribesman leaped in and prodded the spear into Speke’s left thigh. The explorer felt the blade scrape against bone.

“Shit!” he coughed in shock, and grabbed reflexively at the shaft. He and the African fought over it—one trying to gain possession, the other strug­gling to retain it. The Somali let go with his left hand and used it to pull a shillelagh from his belt. He swiped at Speke’s right arm and the cudgel con­nected with a horrible crack. Speke dropped the spear shaft and crumpled to his knees, gasping with agony.

His attacker walked away, turned back, and ran at him, plunging the spear completely through the Englishman’s right thigh and into the ground beyond.

Speke screamed.

Instinct took over.

With his awareness strangely separated from his body, he watched as his hands gripped the weapon, pulled it free of the ground, out through his thigh, and threw it aside. Then he stumbled into his attacker and his bound fists swept up, smashing into the man’s face.

The warrior rocked back, raising a hand to his face as blood spurted from his nose.

Speke half walked, half hopped away, his disengaged mind wondering how he was staying upright with such terrible injuries.

Where’s the pain? he mused, entirely unaware that he was afire with it.

He hobbled, barefoot, across jagged rock, down a slope, and onto the shingle of the beach. Somehow, he started to run. What tatters of clothing remained on him streamed behind.
The Somali snatched up the spear and gave chase, threw the weapon, missed, and gave up.
Other tribesmen lunged for the Englishman but Speke dodged them and kept going. He outdistanced his pursuers and, when he saw that they’d given up the chase, he collapsed onto a rock and chewed through the cord that bound his wrists.

He was faint with shock and loss of blood but knew that he had to find his companions, so, as dawn broke, he pushed on until he reached Berbera. Here he was discovered by a search party led by Lieutenant Herne and was carried to the boat at the mouth of the creek. He’d run for three miles and had eleven wounds, including the two that had pierced the large muscles of his thighs.

They placed him onto a seat and he raised his head and looked at the man sitting opposite. It was Burton, his face bandaged, blood staining the linen over his cheeks.

Their eyes met.

“I’m no damned coward,” whispered Speke.

* * *

The battle should have made them brothers. They both acted as if it had— and less than two years later they embarked together on one of the greatest expeditions in British history: a perilous trek into central Africa to search for the source of the Nile.

Side by side, they endured extreme conditions, penetrating into lands unseen by white men and skirting dangerously close to Death’s realm. An infection temporarily blinded and immobilised Burton. Speke became per­manently deaf in one ear after attempting to remove an insect from it with a penknife. They were both stricken with malaria, dysentery, and crippling ulcers.

They pressed on.

Speke’s resentment simmered.

He constructed his own history of the Berbera incident, excising from it the most essential element: the fact that a thrown stone had cracked against his kneecap, causing him to step back into the Rowtie’s entrance. Burton had looked around at that very instant and had plainly seen the stone bounce off Speke’s knee and understood the back­step for the reaction it was. He’d never for one moment doubted his companion’s courage.

Speke knew the stone had been seen but chose to forget it. History, he discovered, is what you make it.

They reached the central lakes.

Burton explored a large body of water called by the local tribes “Tan­ganyika,” which lay to the south of the Mountains of the Moon. His geograph­ical readings suggested that it could be the Nile’s source, though he was too ill to visit its northernmost shore from whence the great river should flow.

Speke, leaving his “brother” in a fevered delirium, trekked northeastward and found himself at the shore of a vast lake, which he imperiously named after the British monarch, though the tribes that lived on its shores already had a name for it: “Nyanza.”

He tried to circle it, lost sight of it, found it again farther to the north— or was it the shore of a second lake?—took incomplete, incompetent meas­urements, and returned to Burton, the leader of the expedition, claiming to have found, on his own and without a shadow of a doubt, the true source of the great river.

They recovered a modicum of health and undertook the long march back to Zanzibar where Burton fell into a fit of despondency, blaming himself for what, by his demanding standards, was inconclusive evidence.

John Speke, less scientific, less scrupulous, less disciplined, sailed back to England ahead of Burton and en route fell under the influence of a man named Laurence Oliphant, an arch­meddler and poseur who kept a white panther as a pet. Oliphant nurtured Speke’s pique, turned it into malice, and seduced him into claiming victory. No matter that it was the other man’s expedition; Speke had solved the biggest geographical riddle of the age!

John Speke’s last words to Burton had been “Good­bye, old fellow; you may be quite sure I shall not go up to the Royal Geographical Society until you have come to the fore and we appear together. Make your mind quite easy about that.”

The day he landed in England, Speke went straight up to the Royal Geo­graphical Society and told Sir Roderick Murchison that the Nile question was settled.

The Society divided. Some of its members supported Burton, others sup­ported Speke. Mischief makers stepped in to ensure that what should have been a scientific debate rapidly degenerated into a personal feud, though Burton, now recovering his health in Aden, was barely aware of this.

Easily swayed, Speke became overconfident. He began to criticise Burton’s character, a dangerous move for a man who believed that his cow­ardice had been witnessed by his opponent.

Word reached Burton that he was to be awarded a knighthood and should return to England at once. He did so, and stepped ashore to find him­self at the centre of a maelstrom.

Even as the reclusive monarch’s representative touched the sword to his shoulders and dubbed him Sir Richard Francis Burton, the famous explorer’s thoughts were on John Speke, wondering why he was taking the offensive in such a manner.

Over the following weeks, Burton defended himself but resisted the temptation to retaliate.
Life is fickle; the fair man doesn’t invariably win.

Lieutenant Speke, it gradually became apparent, had made a lucky guess: the Nyanza probably was the source of the Nile.

Murchison knew, as Burton had been quick to point out, that Speke’s readings and calculations were badly faulted. In fact, they were downright amateurish and not at all admissible as scientific evidence. Nevertheless, there was in them the suggestion of a potential truth. This was enough; the Society funded a second expedition.

John Speke went back to Africa, this time with a young, loyal, and opinion­free soldier named James Grant. He explored the Nyanza, failed to circumnavigate it, didn’t find the Nile’s exit point, didn’t take accurate meas­urements, and returned to England with another catalogue of assumptions which Burton, with icy efficiency, proceeded to pick to pieces.

A face ­to­ face confrontation between the two men seemed inevitable.

It was gleefully engineered by Oliphant, who had, by this time, myste­riously vanished from the public eye—into an opium den, according to rumour—to pull strings like an invisible puppeteer.
He arranged for the Bath Assembly Rooms to be the venue and Sep­tember 16, 1861, the date. To encourage Burton’s participation, he made it publicly known that Speke had said: “If Burton dares to appear on the plat­form at Bath, I will kick him!”

Burton had fallen for it: “That settles it! By God, he shall kick me!”

* * *

The hansom drew up outside the Royal Hotel, and Burton’s mind reengaged with the present. He emerged from the cab with one idea uppermost: someday, Laurence Oliphant would pay.
He entered the hotel. The receptionist signalled to him; a message from Isabel was waiting.

He took the note and read it:

John was taken to London. On my way to Fullers’ to find out exactly where.

Burton gritted his teeth. Stupid woman! Did she think she’d be wel­comed by Speke’s family? Did she honestly believe they’d tell her anything about his condition or whereabouts? As much as he loved her, Isabel’s impa­tience and lack of subtlety never failed to rile him. She was the proverbial bull in a china shop, always charging at her target without considering any­thing that might lie in her path, always utterly confident that what she wanted to do was right, whatever anyone else might think.

He wrote a terse reply:

Left for London. Pay, pack, and follow.

He looked up at the hotel receptionist. “Please give this to Miss Arun­dell when she returns. Do you have a Bradshaw?”

“Traditional or atmospheric railway, sir?”


“Yes, sir.”

He was handed the train timetable. The next atmospheric train was leaving in fifty minutes. Time enough to throw a few odds and ends into a suitcase and get to the station.

From The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack (Prometheus Books, 2010). Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

Vampires That Don't Sparkle

Got to love Lou and the rest of the Pyr crew! :P

Haven't read Vampire Empire, but you should definitely put Jasper Kent's Twelve (Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks) and Thirteen Years Later (Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks) on your reading list!

New Game of Thrones featurette from HBO

An interview with Gemma Jackson.

Excerpt from Paul Kearney's CORVUS

Meant to post this last week, but I totally forgot about it. . . =(

There is a sample chapter from Paul Kearney's upcoming Corvus available for download on The Solaris Editors' Blog. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

It is twenty-three years since a Macht army fought its way home from the heart of the Asurian Empire. The man who came to lead that army, Rictus, is now a hard-bitten mercenary captain, middle-aged and tired. He wants nothing more than to lay down his spear and become the farmer that his father was. But fate has different ideas. A young warleader has risen to challenge the order of things in the very heartlands of the Macht. A soldier of genius, he takes city after city, and reigns over them as king. What is more, he had heard of the legendary leader of the Ten Thousand. His name is Corvus, and the rumours say that he is not even fully human. He means to make himself absolute ruler of all the Macht. And he wants Rictus to help him.

Follow this link to download the extract.

United Nations to appoint Earth contact for aliens

I kid you not, believe you me. . .

It's not enough that the UN has become a cock-sucking and brown-nosing organization that is little more than a soap box for every radical fuckwit in the world like Ahmadinejad to spit out their venom at the rest of the globe, but this. . . I mean, come on man!

Aliens!?! With the UN now involved, their coming, whenever that occurs, will probably be blamed on the Jews. It's all a big Zionist plan for world domination, I tell you!

Here's an extract:

The United Nations was set today to appoint an obscure Malaysian astrophysicist to act as Earth's first contact for any aliens that may come visiting.

Mazlan Othman, the head of the UN's little-known Office for Outer Space Affairs (Unoosa), is to describe her potential new role next week at a scientific conference at the Royal Society’s Kavli conference centre in Buckinghamshire.

She is scheduled to tell delegates that the recent discovery of hundreds of planets around other stars has made the detection of extraterrestrial life more likely than ever before - and that means the UN must be ready to coordinate humanity’s response to any “first contact”.

During a talk Othman gave recently to fellow scientists, she said: “The continued search for extraterrestrial communication, by several entities, sustains the hope that some day humankind will receive signals from extraterrestrials.

Follow this link for the full story. . .

Science Fiction from India

Found out about this flick on Tad Williams' Facebook page.

Robot looks like something that doesn't take itself too seriously, and my curiosity is piqued. Don't know what's the deal with all the dancing, but the movie looks like something that would make me laugh.

Could it be Slumdog Millionaire meets The Matrix!?!

Coming Attractions

When I announced that I was considering retiring from the SFF Blogosphere a little over a week ago, it felt as though December 31st was a lifetime away. Trouble is, it's coming pretty fast now that I've actually had time to sit down and think about what I have on my plate till then.

I haven't made up my mind yet. . . I'm giving myself a few weeks to think matters through. I have to admit that I was more than a little astonished to realize that my announcement generated such a buzz around the Blogosphere and Twitter. I received love and was dragged through shit in equal measures!

Since I don't want to make commitments I can't honor before New Year's Eve, this list will be a bit shorter than previous editions. If I do decide to keep going, it will just be business as usual. And if not, at least I'll go down swinging!

Book Reviews

I'm done with Peter V. Brett's The Warded/Painted Man (Canada, USA, Europe), so you can expect a review soon. I'm currently plodding through Stephen R. Donaldson's atrociously slow-moving Against All Things Ending (Canada, USA, Europe). Still have about 200 pages to go, so there is more than enough time for the author to turn everything around. But as things stand, it is probably the weakest Covenant book ever. At work I've just begun Harry Connolly's Games of Cages (Canada, USA, Europe).

Given that we only have three months to go in 2010, at the rate I'm going it means that I can read about 10 novels before the end of the year. And if I'm calling it quits, I want to go out in style. So I was able to secure early reads for a few eagerly anticipated SFF titles:

- Robert Jordan/Brandon Sanderson's Towers of Midnight (Canada, USA, Europe)
- Ian Cameron Esslemont's Stonewielder (Canada, USA, Europe)
- Joe Abercrombie's The Heroes (Canada, USA, Europe)
- Steven Erikson's The Crippled God (Canada, USA, Europe)
- R. Scott Bakker's The White-Luck Warrior (Canada, USA, Europe)

I heard back from Patrick Rothfuss' editor, and I might get lucky and score one of the extremely limited ARCs (they will be numbered and tracked to prevent people from posting them online) for The Wise Man's Fear (Canada, USA, Europe). So I might get the opportunity to polish this one off as well.

Finally, I'm also trying to get an early read for Scott Lynch's The Republic of Thieves (Canada, USA, Europe), but I haven't heard back from the parties involved. . .

If I do get my hands on the last two, it would mean that there would be room in my reading schedule for about three titles. And I'm at a total loss as to what to read. . . I'll likely give R. Scott Bakker's Disciple of the Dog (Canada, USA, Europe) a shot. But other than that, there are simply too many novels in my "books to read" piles to choose from. So I guess I'll be playing it by ear. At least until my decision is made. . .

In any case, whatever I decide to do, you have a lot to look forward to in the next three months!


This last Q&A with Jasper Kent was the only one I had in the works.

I'm waiting to hear back from George R. R. Martin regarding the possibility to do something special to promote the HBO TV series. That's the only project I have on the backburner for the moment.

There should be couple more interviews before the year is out, though. You can expect something with Joe Abercrombie and Steven Erikson, and probably a few more surprises. ;-)


Right now, the only contest that's been confirmed will be a giveaway for signed copies of Robert Jordan/Brandon Sanderson's Towers of Midnight. Stay tuned for that!

But there will be more, have no fear!

Guest Blogs

I've invited a few authors to be guest reviewers and I've heard back from a number of them. They include Peter V. Brett, Sam Sykes (hopefully reviewing a Twilight book), and Daniel Abraham, among others. Maybe they can show me how it's done! :P

That's it for now. . . But I think most of you will agree that there's some cool stuff coming your way! =)

New Jasper Kent interview

With the excellent Twelve (Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks) now out in the USA, and with Thirteen Years Later (Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks) on its way on this side of the Atlantic, I felt that the time was right for a little chat with Jasper Kent.

My partner in crime this time around was Mark Yon, better known as Hobbit on Between the two of us, I feel that we came up with another interesting Q&A!


- Without giving anything away, what can you tell potential readers about TWELVE?

A team of Russian soldiers recruit twelve Wallachian mercenaries to help kick Napoleon out of their country. One of the Russians, Captain Aleksei Ivanovich Danilov, becomes increasingly suspicious of the behaviour and methods of his knew comrades, and eventually comes to the gruesome realization that the Twelve are vampires. I’ve seen a few reviews that think this is a twist, but I never really expected anyone to approach the book without knowing it was about vampires, so I don’t think readers should be too surprised. In the end it turns out that the Wallachians aren’t too fussy about whether their victims are Russians or French and Aleksei makes it his duty to destroy them. It’s at that point that things start to get complicated, and he discovers that in one of the Wallachians, Iuda, he may have met his match.

Of course, looking at it from another angle, what it’s really about, just like Buffy and Dracula itself, is friendship. And I don’t mean that in the sense that that is what all stories are about – I’m being quite specific. Nobody has any friends in Thirteen Years Later or The Third Section. They’re more about family.

Also, it’s an allegory for how the Mujahedeen transformed into Al-Qaeda. Seriously; though the idea did get a little lost along the way, so you really have to look for it.

- Although TWELVE turned out to be a bestseller in the UK, it seemed to take quite a while for the book to find a home in North America. Do you think that TWELVE being another vampire book worked against your finding an American publisher?

I’m not sure it really took too long to be picked up in the USA – not compared with the three years it took to find a publisher in the UK. As to whether it being a vampire novel caused a delay, what can you do? TWELVE is what it is (it is its own special creation).

- How happy are you to have joined Lou Anders and the Pyr family?

Lou is great – extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic. There’s been a lot of communication between us concerning the cover and marketing and so forth, second only to the dialogue I have with my UK editor, Simon Taylor.

- Can you tell us a little more about the road that saw this one go from manuscript form to finished novel?

Once I was happy with the text I started sending it directly to publishers (reasoning, wrongly, that it would be easier to get over the single hurdle of being accepted by a publisher than having to face being accepted first by an agent and then by a publisher). All the feedback that wasn’t cursory was pretty positive in terms of the content, but at the time publishers couldn’t really find much of a place for horror. Peter Lavery at Macmillan was particularly enthusiastic and suggested I contact John Jarrold as a literary agent. John managed to get it seen by more publishers, but still without a bite.

After that I wrote a couple of non-supernatural novels, neither of which has sold, but then the market for horror began to pick up and about three years after first submitting it, John retried a few publishers and Transworld, who had liked it the first time, finally picked it up. Even that was just a start rather than a finish, with quite a bit of rewriting being done before the final version came out. There’s even one tiny rewrite between the trade and mass market editions in the UK. A signed copy for the first person who spots it.

- THIRTEEN YEARS LATER has been out for several months on your side of the Atlantic. How well-received has it been compared to TWELVE?

In terms of the quality of reviews and other feedback, I’d say THIRTEEN YEARS LATER has been received slightly better than TWELVE. Of those reviews that have specifically mentioned it, I’ve only seen one that preferred the first book, and several the new one. On the other hand, the reviews have been coming in more slowly for THIRTEEN YEARS LATER, which maybe down simply to the fact that there is more interest in a new author and a new series. Also the closure of Borders in the UK has probably had an effect – they put a lot of promotion into TWELVE when it first came out.

- Speaking of vampires, what do you think your books offer that other such novels don’t?

I’m not sure that there’s anything absolutely unique in my novels, though compared with contemporary novels they probably have a unique combination of elements. In many ways, I’ve deliberately tried to be very old-fashioned. I suppose one thing that is a little different is that TWELVE particularly isn’t really about vampires, as people will see, particularly towards the end. It’s about war and a soldier’s relationship with his comrades. The vampires are introduced to give Aleksei the realization that there might be an enemy more serious than the French.

- The difficulty for you as a writer is that your books also have a rich historical tapestry behind them. How much background research have you had to do before you write each one?

There’s a huge amount of research, and I love doing it – both from books and on actual visits. It can almost become a distraction. I’m often asked about the amount of research I’ve done into vampires, and the answer to that is relatively little, because I’m having so much fun looking at the history. And with the history there’s a right and wrong, whereas with vampires I’m free to make them my own. The hard part of the research is eventually forcing myself to stop and start writing and make use of what I’ve discovered.

- How long had you been developing the ideas for the series before you began with TWELVE?

I initially wrote TWELVE without any thought to there being a series. The ideas for it all came fairly quickly from the point I’d come up with Russian Napoleonic vampires, though many of the more general concepts had probably been knocking around in my head. In researching TWELVE I discovered that many of the Russian veterans of 1812 became Decembrists in 1825, and then it was easy to see the historical line to the revolutions of 1917. The fact that I have vampires means that I can have a character whose life spans that entire period, which gives me a wonderful way to personalize history.

- How have you found developing the series after TWELVE? What did you want to achieve in THIRTEEN YEARS LATER that you hadn’t in TWELVE?

The hardest bit about developing the rest of the series has been choosing which historical events to focus on – in the sense that I’m spoilt for choice. 1825 and the Decembrist uprising was essential, and then the Crimean war was reasonably obvious, because of the British involvement. The end point is clearly 1917, but there was so much going on around then that I’m going to have to force myself to be specific. Book four is the one that’s been moving around most. Originally I was going to set it in Wallachia in the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-1878, but now I’m more inclined to cover the assassination of Alexander II in 1881. Maybe I’ll find a way to include both.

I’m not sure that I felt there was anything left unachieved in TWELVE; different books are about different things. That was a story about invasion, friendship and faith; THIRTEEN YEARS LATER is about revolution and resurrection; THE THIRD SECTION is about industrialization and parents and children.

- What can you tell us about the third volume? Any tentative title or release date yet?

It’s called THE THIRD SECTION, which was the usual name for The Third Section of His Imperial Majesty’s Own Chancellery – the secret police under Nicholas I. It scheduled for release in the UK in March 2011 (and, it seems, is currently ranked 634,788th in Amazon UK sales). It begins with Dmitry Alekseevich, Aleksei’s son, fighting the French and British in the Crimea, while Tamara Valentinovna, whom we met as a child in THIRTEEN YEARS LATER, travels to Moscow to take up her new job with the Third Section. It’s hard to say too much without spoiling THIRTEEN YEARS LATER.

- We understand the fifth book will probably take place in the First World War. Have you thought about going any further ahead? Can we, for example, envisage vampires in the Cold War?

I think one has to stop somewhere, and for me 1917 is historically, as well as in the books, the end of a story that began in 1812. I’m not saying I’d never do Cold War vampires, but it would be another story.

- I'm sure Simon and Lou have already spoken to you about this, but what are the odds of a future Danilov installment featuring a dumbass female protagonist caught in a love triangle with a skinny emo vampire and a burly good-looking werewolf?

Clearly you’ve been sneaking in and reading my notes. I do move with the times. THE THIRD SECTION does have human on vampire action and a love triangle, but nothing is ever quite as it seems. No werewolves though. That’s just over-egging the pudding. It’ll Abbott and Costello next.

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

Yes, I keep an eye on it and yes, it is a distraction. But it’s irresistible if people are talking about you.

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

In TWELVE, probably Dmitry Fetyukovich. He’s the character who sits on the moral cusp, and so is the one who with whom it was harder to guess which way he’ll go. Major characters do tend to have their personality dictated somewhat by plot needs, so often it’s minor characters who are surprising; Natalia Borisovna, for example. In THIRTEEN YEARS LATER, Raisa Styepanovna appears for only a few pages, but becomes one of the main characters in THE THIRD SECTION.

- You also have an interest in music: you have co-written musicals. Can we expect some of this background to appear later in the series: set at a Russian Opera or concert, for example?

Dmitry Alekseevich grows up to be a talented pianist, which is an on-going theme. It’s fun as a kind of historical sub-plot to be going through such a hugely important century in terms of the development of music. In TWELVE Aleksei mentions seeing Beethoven’s Fidelio soon after it was first written. At the time of THIRTEEN YEARS LATER, Chopin was just being recognized as a prodigy and by THE THIRD SECTION he was dead. There are scenes set at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow in both books 2 and 3, and indeed in TWELVE – at least on the site of it; it was burned down at the time.

- I absolutely love the Paul Young covers for both TWELVE and THIRTEEN YEARS LATER and I'm thrilled that Lou Anders elected to go for them for the US edition. 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 covers that grace your books?

I love the covers as well and I hope we can manage to maintain the theme all the way through the quintet. Having said that, I don’t want that desire to influence what I write. I think covers can be viewed with rather too much of a belief in their precise reference to the plot, rather than just giving an overall feel for the book. For example, I read a comment from someone online saying that they felt the fact that the big figure from the cover of TWELVE is repeated on the cover of THIRTEEN YEARS LATER gave away the fact that the villain, Iuda, is going to reappear in that book. For my part, I’ve never been under the impression that that figure was Iuda. It certainly doesn’t match his description. My guess is that, if it’s anyone in particular, it’s Aleksei. I’ll have to ask Paul what he thinks.

Paul’s cover has been taken up in almost every other country that TWELVE has been published in. Only Rizzoli in Italy has gone for something completely of its own, which nice not least for the benefit of just seeing something new.

- Anything you wish to add?

That’s the first interview I’ve done in ages without a question about the rats. Good job too – they were thinking about getting their own agent.

Book trailer for William Gibson's ZERO HISTORY


I wasn't even aware that William Gibson had something on the way, and Zero History (Canada, USA, Europe) is already out!

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (September 21st)

In hardcover:

Sherrilyn Kenyon's No Mercy debuts at number 3.

William Gibson's Zero History debuts at number 9. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings is down four spots, finishing the week at number 11. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks.

S. M. Stirling's The High King of Montival debuts at number 12. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Terry Brooks' Bearers of the Black Staff is down six positions, ending the week at number 20. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Charlaine Harris' Dead in the Family is down one spot, finishing the week at number 21. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Justin Cronin's The Passage is down ten positions, ending the week at number 34. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks.

In paperback:

Stephen King's Under the Dome is down three positions, ending the week at number 16 (trade paperback).

Charlaine Harris' Dead and Gone is down two spots, finishing the week at number 29.

S. M. Stirling's The Sword of the Lady debuts at number 31.

Gail Carriger's Blameless is down fifteen positions, ending the week at number 35.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part 1 Trailer

Looks like a much darker film. Great trailer!

Really makes you want to go see the movie!

Teaser extract from Aaron Dembski-Bowden's THE FIRST HERETIC

Thanks to the folks at Black Library, here's a teaser of the upcoming The First Heretic by Aaron Dembski-Bowden (Canada, USA, Europe).

Here's the blurb:

Amidst the galaxy-wide war of the Great Crusade, the Emperor castigates the Word Bearers for their worship. Distraught at this judgement, Lorgar and his Legion seek another path while devastating world after world, venting their fury and fervour on the battlefield. Their search for a new purpose leads them to the edge of the material universe, where they meet ancient forces far more powerful than they could have imagined. Having set out to illuminate the Imperium, the corruption of Chaos takes hold and their path to damnation begins. Unbeknownst to the Word Bearers, their quest for truth contains the very roots of heresy

Another excerpt from the novel can be found here.


The nearby speaker towers blared their message, over and over. ‘Strict weight allowances are in effect for personal belongings on the evacuation craft. All residents of Inaga District are to report to Yael-Shah Skyport or the Twelfth Trade Gate immediately. Strict weight allowances are...’

Cyrene tuned out the warnings, watching the people flocking through the streets below, strangling traffic with their slow, marching queues. There, at the end of the street, one of the XIII Legion directed the herds of people like livestock. In its hands, the false angel carried the same weapon as its brothers, the massive rifle with its supply of explosive ammunition.

Cyrene leaned on the balcony’s railing, bearing witness to the eternal theatre of oppressor and oppressed, of conquerors and the conquered. Her district was due to be evacuated by tomorrow morning. The process was stilted, with a great deal of curses cried and lamentations
heaped upon the silent false angels.

‘Strict weight allowances are in effect,’ the speakers boomed again. Those vox-towers had been used for the city’s thrice-daily prayer readings, speaking words of tolerance and enlightenment to all sheltering within the city. Now their holiness was perverted, as they served as the invaders’ mouthpieces.

Too late, Cyrene saw she’d been noticed.

The air turned thicker and hotter from engine wash, as a small skycraft drifted over the street at the same level as her balcony. A two-man vehicle, its skin formed from sloping blue armour, was suspended on whining turbines as it weaved through the air. The false angels seated in its cockpit scanned the second-level windows of the buildings as they passed.

Cyrene’s shiver threatened to become a tremble, yet she remained where she was.

The craft hovered closer. Rotor fans blew hot air from the craft’s anti-gravitational engines. The false angel in the gunner seat leaned forward, adjusting a hidden control on his armour’s collar.

‘Citizen,’ the warrior’s vox-voice was a raw bark over the speeder craft’s engine. ‘This sector is being evacuated. Proceed to street level immediately.’

Cyrene took a breath, and didn’t move.

The warrior glanced at his companion in the pilot’s seat, then looked back to Cyrene in her quiet defiance.

‘Citizen, this sector is being evac–’

‘I heard you,’ Cyrene said, loud enough to carry over the craft’s infernal din.

‘Proceed to street level immediately,’ the warrior said.

‘Why are you doing this?’ she asked, her voice still raised.

The gunner shook his head and gripped the handles of the massive calibre weapon mount, aiming it directly at Cyrene. The young woman swallowed – the gun’s muzzle was the size of her head. Every bone in her body gave a panic-twinge, pleading she run.

‘Why are you doing this?’ she demanded, drowning her fear with anger. ‘What sins have stained us all, that we must leave our homes? We are loyal to the Imperium! We are loyal to the God-Emperor!’

The false angels remained unmoving for several seconds. Cyrene closed her eyes, waiting for the
hammer-hard impact that would spell her destruction. Despite the moment, she felt a smile tickling her lips. This was an insane way to die. There’d be nothing left to bury.


She opened her eyes. The warrior had lowered the cannon’s aim. ‘The Emperor, beloved by all, ordered the XIII Legion here and mandated our actions. Look at us. Look upon our armour, and the weapons we bear. We are his warriors, and we do his will. Proceed to street level and evacuate the district.’

‘The God-Emperor demanded that we abandon our lives?’

The warrior snarled. It was a crackling machine-growl, only rendered human by the hint of anger within. This was the first emotion Cyrene had heard from the invaders.

‘Proceed to street level.’ The warrior brought the cannon to bear again. ‘Now. I will slay you where you stand if you cast your ignorant heathen words once more over the name of the Emperor, beloved by all.’

Cyrene spat over the side of the balcony. ‘I will go, only because I seek illumination. I will find the truth in all this, and I pray there will come a reckoning.’

‘The truth will be revealed,’ the warrior said, as the craft made ready to hover away. ‘At sunrise on the seventh day, turn and look back to your city. You will witness the illumination you crave.’

And so dawned the seventh day.

The lightening sky found Cyrene Valantion standing atop a rise in the Galahe Foothills, her traditional dress hidden beneath a long jacket clutched tightly against the worsening autumn wind. Her hair blew free in a mane, and she watched the utterly silent, utterly still city to the east. In the last hours, burning blurs had floated upwards: each one a landing craft belonging to
the XIII Legion, each one returning to the heavens now that their warriors’ work was done.
With creeping inevitability, the sun reached the horizon. Pale gold – cold for all its gentle brightness – spilled over the minarets and domes of Monarchia. A city of unrivalled beauty, the spear-tips of its ten thousand towers turned golden by the dawn.

‘Holy Blood,’ the young woman whispered, unable to find her voice and feeling the wet warmth of tear trails on her cheeks. To think that mankind could create such marvels. ‘Holy Blood of the God-Emperor.’

The sky grew brighter still – too bright, too fast. Barely past dawn, it was already becoming as bright as noon. Cyrene raised her head, watching with weeping eyes as the clouds of heaven lit up with a second sunrise.

She saw the fire fall from the sky, lances of unbelievable light spearing into the perfect city from above the clouds. But she did not watch for long. The sun-spears’ incomparable brightness stole her sight after only the first few moments, leaving her in darkness as she listened to the sounds of a city dying. The world shook beneath Cyrene’s feet, casting her to the ground. Worst of all, her eyes itched as they failed, and the last clear sight she ever saw was Monarchia in ruin, its towers falling into the flames.

Blind and betrayed by fate, Cyrene Valantion cried out to the heavens and prayed for a reckoning, while the city of her birth burned.