The Edinburgh Dead

Having loved Brian Ruckley's The Godless World trilogy, I was keen to read his latest, The Edinburgh Dead. Mainly because it seemed to be a strange hybrid between history, horror, and science fiction.

In the end, Ruckley's The Edinburgh Dead is a dark, gritty, and atmospheric gothic tale that should satisfy any speculative fiction fans looking for something different.

Here's the blurb:

Edinburgh: 1828

In the starkly-lit operating theaters of the city, grisly experiments are being carried out on corpses in the name of medical science. But elsewhere, there are those experimenting with more sinister forces.

Amongst the crowded, sprawling tenements of the labyrinthine Old Town, a body is found, its neck torn to pieces. Charged with investigating the murder is Adam Quire, Officer of the newly- formed Edinburgh Police. The trail will lead him into the deepest reaches of the city's criminal underclass, and to the highest echelons of the filthy rich.

Soon Quire will discover that a darkness is crawling through this city of enlightenment - and no one is safe from its corruption.

The Edinburgh Dead is a powerful fusion of gothic horror, history, and the fantastical.

It's a new age of enlightenment for Edinburgh. Familiar with the premise of this tale since he was born there, I feel that the author captured the essence of Edinburgh of 1828 almost perfectly. Discoveries are made in both the scientific and the medical fields, yet there is a darker side to this time of changes. Ruckley knows how to set the mood, and Edinburgh almost becomes a character in its own right.

The characterization mostly focuses on Adam Quire, down-on-his-luck officer in the Edinburgh Police. Not the most flamboyant and likeable of characters, Quire nonetheless remains a protagonist to root for. He doesn't have it easy, but it is a joy to follow Quire's investigation and his morbid discoveries. The brief POV sections featuring the supporting cast help flesh out the story and give us the opportunity to witness events unfold via different perspective.

The presence of infamous historical figures like Burke and Hare, men who murdered innocent people to supply Edinburgh's anatomy schools with fresh corpses is a nice touch. But though The Edinburgh Dead is based on true events, Ruckley added various fictional elements (mostly from the dark fantasy and horror subgenres). And it's the mix of all those ingredients that gives this novel its flavor.

The book doesn't feature a fast-moving narrative, however. To be honest, the rhythm is rather slow. And yet, at no point in the story was I lost or bored. I found Brian Ruckley's depiction of Edinburgh and this age of enlightenment to be fascinating, and there is not a dull moment as we follow Adam Quire's ups and downs during his delicate investigation.

The Edinburgh Dead is a dark historical yet supernatural tale which should satisfy even jaded genre readers.

The final verdict: 7.5/10

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

George R. R. Martin is creepy (part 2)

Feminist fantasy aficionados respond to Sadt Doyle's scathing blogpost on Tiger Beatdown.

The first one is by Alyssa Rosenberg from Here's an excerpt:

It strikes me as oddly myopic to read a novel where literally every character makes grave strategic miscalculations as arguing that women’s bad decisions are caused by their lady bits. What’s interesting about A Song of Ice and Fire is that it depicts a world where norms and rules of engagement are shifting, rendering outcomes unpredictable for men and women alike. There is no man who seems like a more gifted rule or powerful strategic thinker than any given woman in Westeros or Essos, except perhaps Doran Martell and Varys, neither of whose plans have come to fruition yet, so it’s a bit too soon to tell. But it is telling that Sady entirely omits from her analysis Ygritte, Jon Snow’s lover, who keeps him alive when he’s failing to integrate with the wildlings; Melisandre, who is the most powerful religious figure in the novels and the only advisor who manages to keep her ruler on a trajectory that’s both strategic and moral; the Sand Snakes, powerful, aggressive Dornish women who are setting out to set various parts of Doran’s plan in action; Asha Greyjoy, by far the most strategically intelligent person in the Iron Islands; and Meera Reed, who manages to keep Bran, Hodor, and her brother alive on their quest to find the three-eyed crow; that she ignores that Brienne of Tarth is the highest living exemplar of chivalric ideals.

A world where women are perfectly safe, perfectly competent, and society is perfectly engineered to produce those conditions strikes me as one where we can’t tell any very interesting stories about women’s struggles and women’s liberation. If we tell ourselves stories in order to live, it doesn’t strike me that we do ourselves any favors as active feminists by leaching depictions of sexual violence, women making bad decisions, and institutionalized sexism from our fiction, or by dismissing entire swaths of consumers or modes of consuming fiction

The second is from Here's an excerpt:

Eddard Stark is betrayed, jailed and beheaded. Jaime Lannister, the best knight of the realm, loses his sword hand. And that’s a perfectly deliberate act performed by a mad and cruel torturer.

But they’re grown men, aren’t they? Well, Joffrey Baratheon, the boy king, aged thirteen, dies in horrible pain caused by poison. But Joffrey’s evil, isn’t it? Well, Bran Stark, aged seven, a nice, loveable, boy who enjoys climbing above all, becomes permanently crippled.

But they’re not humiliated like women are, are they? Okay, stop kidding here. The most tortured and humiliated character in the entire series is obviously Theon Greyjoy. I don’t think anyone having read A Dance With Dragons can deny it. He was physically and psychologically tortured by the cruelest character in the series, Ramsay Bolton. Theon is tortured to the point where he forgets his name and renounces all dignity. But he isn’t sexually tortured? Yes, he is. Believe me. Don’t ask.

Even the “forced wedding” matter is a problem for male characters as well as female. Robb Stark, a strong, positive, male character, is booned to marry some girl for political reasons. He weds another one. And you know what? He’s murdered for it. He is, not the girl

Keep an eye out, for I'm sure there will be others in the near future. . .

MODELLAND gets a positive review from Publishers Weekly

Yes, your eyes are not deceiving you! Publishers Weekly actually gave Tyra Banks' Modelland (Canada, USA, Europe) a positive review.

Here's a brief extract:

Banks throws a nonstop barrage of surrealism and wackiness at her characters: the male model academy is “Bestosterone”; Golden Ticket–like items called “SM-IZEs”—one of many winks to Top Model fans—help girls get into Modelland, etc. And if the resulting novel is overlong, the combination of absurdity, social commentary, and familiar tropes makes it an enjoyable guilty pleasure.

Follow this link for the full review.

George R. R. Martin is creepy

Sure, GRRM's A Song of Ice and Fire may not be for everyone. The dark and gritty style and tone will never make the series a unanimous crowd pleaser. All in all, it's understandable.

And yet, I don't think I've ever read a more vitriolic review than the one posted recently on Tiger Beatdown. Here's a teaser:

George R. R. Martin is creepy. He is creepy because he writes racist shit. He is creepy because he writes sexist shit. He is creepy, primarily, because of his TWENTY THOUSAND MILLION GRATUITOUS RAPE AND/OR MOLESTATION AND/OR DOMESTIC VIOLENCE SCENES. And I could write a post about those, to be sure. But you know what would be easier? I could just count them. One by one by one.


If you are an unmarried woman, it is 100% certain that you will be raped or experience attempted rape (4/6: Arya, Sansa, Daenerys, Brienne). If you are married or engaged, there is a 75% chance that your husband or fiancee will beat or sexually assault you (3/4: Sansa, Cersei, Daenerys). If you are an adult woman who exercises authority, you will be killed (Catelyn) or imprisoned (Cersei), because your attempts to exercise said power will backfire (Catelyn, Cersei). If you are a child who exercises authority, you will not be killed or imprisoned, and will be seen as competent (Daenerys). It helps if your subjects are cultural Others, in which case your superiority is assumed (Daenerys). As with all female children, however, you will be sexually assaulted (Arya, Sansa, Daenerys). If you have a traditionally male role, with traditionally male skills, you will merely be threatened with rape (Brienne, Arya); if you are traditionally feminine, or occupy a traditionally feminine role, attempts to sexually assault or beat you will be successful (Sansa, Cersei, Daenerys). If you are the rare character who is an adult, occupies a position of authority, exercises power, and has not been sexually assaulted or beaten by her partner (Catelyn), don’t worry: You’re not getting out of this story alive.

Follow this link to read the whole piece. And believe me, it's worth it. A more bitter and scathing review you likely won't find elsewhere.

Excerpt from Jasper Kent's THE THIRD SECTION

Here's an extract from Jasper Kent's third volume in the Danilov Quintet, The Third Section, compliments of the folks at Transworld. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

Russia 1855. After forty years of peace in Europe, war rages. In the Crimea, the city of Sevastopol is besieged. In the north, Saint Petersburg is blockaded. But in Moscow there is one who needs only to sit and wait – wait for the death of an aging tsar, and for the curse upon his blood to be passed to a new generation.

As their country grows weaker, a man and a woman - unaware of the hidden ties that bind them - must come to terms with their shared legacy. In Moscow, Tamara Valentinovna Komarova uncovers a brutal murder and discovers that it not the first in a sequence of similar crimes, merely the latest, carried out by a killer who has stalked the city since 1812.

And in Sevastopol, Dmitry Alekseevich Danilov faces not only the guns of the combined armies of Britain and France, but must also make a stand against creatures that his father had thought buried beneath the earth, thirty years before.


The valley of death lay far behind.

Even so, Owen could still hear the rhythmic thump of cannon fire – four tightly grouped reports, then silence, then four again, and again, and again. He looked over his shoulder, but could see nothing – no men, no horses. There must have been over six hundred of them at the beginning. All dead now, probably. Owen slowed his own horse to a canter.

The rhythm of the cannon changed – volleys of three now, rather than four. Owen laughed, briefly. There were no guns, not here. Back in the valley they might still be firing, but not here. He slowed his horse even more and the rhythm of hoofbeats changed again, quietening to almost nothing. There had been a point when the cannon had been loud enough to engulf the sound of twenty-four hundred thundering hooves, but not any more. He halted Byron. The horse breathed noisily. Byron had been at the gallop from the beginning, never questioning what he was instructed to do, just as Owen had never questioned. None of them had.

They’d charged down the valley behind Lord Cardigan, not for a moment pausing to query his command, even as canister hailed down from the hills to the left and right of them. Ahead had been the guns, the guns that they must take at any cost, because that was what they had been told to do. Cannonballs spun and bounced towards them along the valley floor, threatening to rip the brigade into tatters, but that only went to prove how essential it was to capture the position. Men and horses fell on either side, the blood of both spattering Owen’s face and uniform, but he kept going. Cardigan had kept on too – Owen remembered that much – as did everyone else, all those who hadn’t lost their mounts, or their lives. They got as far as the Russian guns; Owen, Cardigan, maybe a few hundred others. And once among them, it was child’s play to cut the gunners down, sabres making easy meat of men on foot, trained to fight targets at a distance of a thousand yards, not face to face. The Russians ran like cowards, and those who didn’t run perished. British casualties were heavy, but the guns had been taken.

And then realization had dawned upon them, realization of the futility of the whole charge. They were in Russian territory, and unsupported. They could never hold what they had gained, even if reinforcements arrived – and there was no sign of that. The retreat was sounded and the survivors of the Light Brigade had turned their horses, but there was only one path of escape – the corpse-strewn valley down which they had come. And there were still gun emplacements on the hills on either side, and when they left, the guns here would soon be manned once again. As many would die as had been lost already. Even so, it was the only way to go.

But not for Owen; he did not retreat. Instead he’d carried on at full tilt through the guns, through the cavalry behind, shocked into inaction by the futility of the British attack. Some might have seen him as brave to ride on further into enemy territory, others as a coward who had disobeyed orders and abandoned his comrades, but he was neither. Fear had made him incapable of any rational action – for both cowardice and bravery required decisiveness. He had done nothing, merely allowed Byron to continue his onward gallop, leading them where he might.

But no one need know that. When the count was taken, the name of Lieutenant P. E. A. Owen of the 17th Lancers would be among the hundreds missing, presumed dead. If he could make it back to the British lines soon enough, there would be no questions as to what had happened. They’d just be happy to know that there was one more healthy soldier – and healthy horse – able to fight another day. One less man dead or captured.

Though that wasn’t a certainty yet. He’d survived the battle, but was deep behind enemy lines. He was a good way north of Balaklava now, and heading north-east. That was for the best. He’d need to make a wide arc to get back to the British camp. If he circled left, he’d end up going past Sevastopol, which wouldn’t be clever. So he’d curve round to the right towards the coast and talk his way past the French – or even the Turks, God help him. But at least you knew where you were with the Turks; it was hard to break the habit of thinking of the French as the enemy.

Already the hills on his right were beginning to look intimidating. The land he was going through was pretty flat – mostly used for growing vines, though all hope of that seemed to have been abandoned for the time being with the arrival of armies from four nations. But Owen knew the line of the rocky hills ran from south-west to north-east and that if he didn’t venture across that line within an hour or so, then he’d be spending the night out in the open. He scanned the terrain, looking for an easy route between the peaks.

The pounding noise came again, but this time he wasn’t fooled into thinking it was gunfire. Anyone on horseback around here was likely to be Russian and a glance over Owen’s shoulder confirmed it. He cursed his stupidity at not having made some effort to disguise his uniform, but it was too late now. Byron showed no reluctance to break into his fastest gallop and they raced onwards, forced further from the prospective safety of the British lines with every yard they went. It was five minutes before Owen slowed the horse a little and risked turning to examine his pursuers.

There were three of them, over half a mile behind him. They weren’t going fast enough to get close very soon, but in this terrain they were unlikely to lose sight of him. Moreover, they knew the deployment of the other Russian troops in the area. They didn’t need to catch him – simply corral him.

The road, such as it was, forked, the less trodden path leading into the hills. This seemed the better bet, with more than enough twists in the road to put him out of their sight.

He quickly began to doubt his decision. He was coming to a town. If there were troops stationed here, he was finished. So far, he could see only peasants – Tatars by the look of them. He doubted that they could even tell a Russian from an Englishman, with or without the uniform.

The road weaved on ahead and began to steepen as the hills on either side turned into cliffs. Owen looked behind him again, but could not see the three horsemen. That didn’t mean they had given up. With the cliffs now rising on both sides, he had no choice over the direction he took. They didn’t need to see him to know that.

He was at the centre of the town now. On his right was a palace, in the Tatar style. Two towers – minarets, he supposed – strained elegantly towards the sky. From the roadside a woman stopped to look at him. She was old, and it was hard to tell whether the darkness of her skin was a result of dirt, or its natural hue. She showed no surprise at his arrival, making him fear that she was used to the presence of soldiers. On his left, the cliff ran alongside the road now, hanging over the palace. At one point natural weathering had shaped it into what could almost be interpreted as a face – a skull perhaps. He thought of the skull and bones of his regiment’s insignia on his cap badge. Death or Glory, it meant; and he’d abandoned any hope of glory.

He was soon out of the town and into the hills. The last building he saw was some kind of monastery, built into the cliffside itself. It was an odd contrast, so close to a Mohammedan village. The road had switched to the right-hand side of the valley and the hill dropped steeply away to his left before rising as a cliff on the other side. On his right the wooded slope towered above him. He was reminded of the valley he had ridden into at Balaklava. This was narrower and steeper, but he had no doubt the whole of the Light Brigade – what was left of them – would have merrily charged in here if so commanded. If there were any cannon lurking on the brow of the hill, waiting to fire down on him, then he was doomed.

He drew to a halt and looked ahead. Now he could see what his pursuers must always have known. It was a dead end. The track curved round the head of the valley and then wound up the other side to some sort of settlement. From here he had a reasonable view back down the route he had come, the leafless trees allowing glimpses of the path. The three horsemen were still there – advancing slowly towards him, but closer than when he had last seen them, before the village. They knew he was trapped.

He dismounted. The route ahead was impassable for Byron, or for any horse. He loosely tied the reins to a tree and patted the creature’s neck in a casual way that might fool both of them into believing their separation would be only temporary. The path tacked from side to side on the grassy slope, all of a sudden too steep for trees or bushes to find purchase. He would be a sitting duck if he followed it, so instead he scrambled directly up the steepest incline, towards the buildings he had seen.

It was more of a citadel than a settlement. The top part of the slope was a vertical cliff of perhaps twenty or thirty feet, making the buildings at its summit unassailable. Where there was no cliff, a wall had been built in its stead, with a gateway to which the path led. If Owen could get inside, then he might have some hope of defending himself. If he could get inside.

He tried the gate, but it was chained shut. He had no time to attempt to break through. To the right, where the wall and the natural cliff merged, there had been a rock fall. He scrambled up the collapsed boulders and was soon level with the top of the wall. At that moment he heard a shot and a bullet slammed into the rock, just yards away from him. He threw himself over the wall and on to the stone pathway below, landing badly, but not so badly that he couldn’t walk.

Inside was quite a sizeable town – a cave city where habitations had been built from naturally occurring structures in the rock. A few buildings were entirely manmade, but most owed their existence half to man, half to nature.

He heard voices from outside and peeped back over the cliff. The three Russians were approaching. Like him, they had dismounted. Two of them carried pistols, but Owen knew how primitive their weapons were. The other must have been the one who had fired and would have to reload before he could do so again. Owen squeezed his fingers around the grip of his Dean and Adams revolver and smiled. Five shots without reloading – and only three targets.

The men approached the rock fall that had been Owen’s path over the wall. They spoke to each other briefly, but he could make nothing of it. The one without a gun began to climb and the others eyed the cliff top, ready to take aim at anything that dared raise its head.

Owen’s shot rang out before they even saw his movement. The Russian climbing towards him made no sound, but fell away limply from the rocks, landing at the feet of his comrades. Owen stood and fired again, aiming at the one nearer to him. The bullet missed, but before the men could turn Owen was able to squeeze the trigger again and get off another shot.

He felt a searing pain in his hand and forearm. The powder had blown back from the chamber and he could see the black scorchmarks on the skin of his arm. He didn’t even realize he’d dropped the gun until he heard it clattering against the rocks below. It was well out of his reach, and thankfully out of theirs too. But now they were emboldened, and the two began climbing up towards him.

Owen ran. The citadel – abandoned by whoever had once lived here – stood on a narrow plateau, just a few hundred yards across. On the far side it was even less accessible. Another cliff dropped away vertically for twenty feet and then a steep, grassy slope descended hundreds more into the valley. There was no sign of a path on this side. In times of invasion, the place would have been impregnable.

He heard a sound behind him and turned. There was only one of them, picking his way between the cave mouths that covered this part of the plateau, pistol in hand. Owen drew his sword. The man fired, but missed. Owen charged across the rocky ground. Where the Russian stood was actually the roof of a cave. Several holes, quite large enough for either of them to fall through, were scattered in the rock around him – manmade, to guess by their shape. Beneath them the cave floor could be seen, six feet down.

The Russian had drawn his own sword and their blades clashed with the full force of Owen’s charge. The Russian stepped back, nearer to one of the gaps in the rock. Owen brought his blade down again, and again the Russian parried, spotting the trap that Owen had hoped would catch him and leaping over it, landing on the far side with both feet together. Now it was Owen who risked falling, his momentum carrying him forward so that he teetered on the edge, swinging his arms to keep his balance and having to abandon any defensive stance.

The Russian lunged at him, and even though he was falling, Owen managed to direct himself away from the blade. In an instant he was ready to counterattack. His opponent, overconfident in his assault, had been forced to step over the opening in the rock beneath him. Now he was in no position to bring his feet back together. He stood there, steady but ungainly, one foot on either edge of the aperture, as though a parade-ground march had been frozen in mid-step.

He would have done better to fall. Owen raised his sword in a feint to bring it down on his adversary’s left arm, but the intent was only to draw away the Russian’s own sword. Owen changed the direction of his blow and the blade embedded itself in the inside of the man’s leading thigh, slicing through the rough material of his uniform and sliding smoothly into the flesh beneath.

The Russian fell instantly, with no strength in his leg to support him. The ground seemed almost to swallow him up as he dropped into the cave below, and Owen heard a nauseating crack as his head caught the stone lip.

Moments later, he heard another sound – the report of one more pistol firing – and felt in the same instant a bullet hit his arm, just below the right shoulder. It was a flesh wound, but it would be enough to limit his ability with a sword. The last of his pursuers approached warily across the plateau. Owen stepped backwards, glancing at the ground behind him to avoid the fate that had so recently befallen his opponent. The surviving Russian, able to see where he was going, moved faster, but was still some yards away when Owen reached the cliff edge and knew he could go no further. He raised his sword, trying not to show the pain that it caused in his arm. There was little he could do to fight, and he knew he could not retreat.

But Owen had one advantage over his foe – he had already surveyed the terrain.

The Russian seemed hesitant to approach, but Owen knew it would be his only chance of survival. He clenched his left fist and shook both arms, baring his teeth to shout.

‘Come on, you fucking coward! Fight me!’

He doubted the Russian had understood a word, but the meaning must have been clear. The man ran towards him, sword in the air. He wasn’t a fool, and didn’t run so fast that Owen needed merely to sidestep to see him fling himself, arms flailing, over the precipice. But Owen’s plan was more subtle than that.

As he approached, Owen threw his sword to the ground and then, in a single motion, grabbed the soldier’s lapels and took a step backwards off the edge of the cliff. The Russian might have been able to stop himself alone from falling, but he had not been prepared for anything so suicidal.

The drop was not far – four feet at most. Owen had seen the ledge running just below the cliff top when he first looked out over that edge of the plateau. He landed heavily, feeling his head hit stone, but managed to remain conscious. With the Russian’s momentum still behind him, it was easy for Owen to roll and propel him those few extra feet which meant there would be no hidden ledge to save him. Owen felt fingers tugging at the sleeve of his tunic, but they could find no grip.

It took him a few seconds to crawl over and look down. The Russian’s body had hit the steep grass slope below the cliff and was now rolling over and over down to the valley beyond. It must have been thirty seconds before he came to a stop. As Owen watched, the Russian tried to pull himself to his feet, then collapsed. He would be horribly bruised, but perhaps not fatally injured. But even if he could walk, it would take him hours to get back round to the accessible side of the citadel, and by then it would be dark, and Owen could easily slip past him.

It was not too tricky to get back on to the plateau. A little way along the ledge were some roughly cut steps leading up. The cliff face itself was marked with a number of cave mouths to which the ledge gave access. Most of them were blocked by rubble, but even had they been open, Owen would have felt no desire to explore.

He made his way back to the scene of his swordfight and peered into the hole through which his opponent had fallen, but saw nothing. Now that the sun was low, he could not even make out the ground beneath. He scouted around and soon found another set of rough-hewn steps that led down to what seemed to be the more normal entrance of the cave. Inside, the man’s body lay on a pile of rocks. He was dead. It would not have been pleasant. The loss of blood from his leg would have been slow, but unceasing. Owen was surprised how little of it there was to be seen, but the boulders on which he lay were not tightly packed, and the blood would easily have found its way between them, to drip down on to whatever lay below. With luck, the man would have been knocked out by the fall, and not felt the life draining from him into the ground.

Owen walked back to the cave entrance and sat beside it, leaning against the wall. He put his hand to his arm. It was damp with blood, but he doubted the wound was serious. The pain in the back of his head from where it had hit the ground was more of a concern, and he could feel it blurring his senses. All he needed now was to get off the plateau and, in the shadow of darkness, make his way back to the British camp. With luck, Byron would still be there to carry him.

But first he would rest.

* * *

Owen didn’t know how long he had dozed, but it was dark now. The moon outside was a thin crescent, shining its light through the doorway and through the several holes in the ceiling, cutting through the cave in glowing, ethereal columns. The skin of the dead Russian, lying in one such ray of moonlight, looked as grey as the rocks beside him.

Next to the body stood the figure of a man.

Owen was instantly alert, afraid that one of his enemies had somehow survived, but fear soon gave way to confusion. The man was tall, and looked very old. Or perhaps more aged than old. He stood like a young man, proud and upright, without any hint of frailty, but his skin was wizened and wrinkled. He was dreadfully thin – emaciated. Owen could count every rib. His lips were dark, almost black.

He spoke. It sounded like Russian.

Ya nye gavaryu pa ruski,’ stammered Owen, using the one, self-contradictory fragment of the language that he knew.

En quelle année sommes-nous?’ said the man. Owen understood the language well enough, but it was a strange question.

‘1854,’ he replied, using the French with which he had been addressed.

‘1854?’ The man stuck with the same language. ‘Twenty-nine years.’

He said nothing more, but seemed to smile. Owen noticed that behind him a dark tunnel led downwards to more caves. When he had first arrived that afternoon, there had only been rubble lying there.

‘Who are you?’ Owen asked.

The man paused, thinking. Perhaps it had been twenty-nine years since anyone had asked him such a question. Perhaps he was the only remaining inhabitant of this citadel, abandoned when the others left.

‘I am called Prometheus,’ he said at length.

‘That’s a strange name.’

‘I’m a strange creature.’ Prometheus glanced at the body of the dead Russian. ‘Did you slaughter him?’

Owen nodded.

‘Thank you,’ said Prometheus. ‘But it will not be enough for all of us.’


Prometheus continued as if Owen had said nothing. ‘We must learn to share.’ He walked across the cave towards Owen at tremendous speed. ‘It will taste better if not filtered through the rocks.’

Prometheus opened his mouth wide and Owen saw for the first time his fang-like teeth. Owen raised his sword, but Prometheus grasped it by the blade and wrenched it from his grip. He felt a hand grab his head and another his arm and Prometheus’ mouth fell upon his neck. He could not see what was happening, but it felt as though his skin were being tightly pinched before suddenly yielding.

There was little pain. A sense of light-headedness filled him and he lost both the strength and the will to struggle. The most horrible part of it was the slurping sound as, gulp by gulp, the blood left Owen’s body and entered Prometheus. And at the same time, some splinter of Prometheus’ mind seemed to enter Owen’s. He could taste blood on his tongue, and knew it was his own. He could sense the gradual satiation of an ancient thirst. It was a strange but not unpleasant way to die.

And yet he did not die. Not straight away. After a few minutes, Prometheus stopped, and laid Owen gently down on the cave floor. He turned and called over his shoulder into the dark tunnel from which he must have come. Shadows moved and more figures emerged into the cave. And Owen knew – because he knew Prometheus’ mind – that they would not be so gentle with him.

L. E. Modesitt, jr. contest winners!

Thanks to the generosity of the folks at Tor Books, our winners will receive a copy of the 20th Anniversary Edition of L. E. Modesitt, jr.'s The Magic of Recluce. For more information about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winners are:

- Grant Peters, from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada

- Joel Berger, from Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA

- Karen Moore, from Boyceville, Wisconsin, USA

- Leland Eaves, from Boyd, Texas, USA

- Frank Jarome, from Niles, Ohio, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

Update: Girls of Geek 2012 Calendar

Just a quick update to let you guys know that all the models for the 2012 Girls of Geek calendar have been loaded to the official website. You can check them out here.

Remember that the first 1000 pre-orders will receive a Geeks Love Boobies wristband to show their support for the Breast Cancer Research Fund.

You can pre-order the Girls of Geek 2012 calendar here.

Game of Thrones Soundtrack

Just realized that I never did give you guys the lowdown on Ramin Djawadi's original score for HBO's Game of Thrones released by Varese Sarabande.

As far as I'm concerned (and I buy quite a few original movie scores every year), Ramin Djawadi's work is the best soundtrack of 2011 thus far. My only complain is that I wish it could have been a double album! Do check it out, as it makes for perfect background music while you read.

Here is the track list from the album:

1. Main Title (1:46)
2. North Of The Wall (3:48)
3. Goodbye Brother (3:07)
4. The Kingsroad (2:06)
5. The King’s Arrival (3:34)
6. Love In The Eyes (4:00)
7. A Raven From King’s Landing (1:16)
8. The Wall (1:59)
9. Things I Do For Love (1:52)
10. A Golden Crown (1:38)
11. Winter Is Coming (2:42)
12. A Bird Without Feathers (2:02)
13. Await The King’s Justice (2:00)
14. You’ll Be Queen One Day (1:36)
15. The Assassin’s Dagger (1:19)
16. To Vaes Dothrak (1:29)
17. Jon’s Honor (2:35)
18. Black Of Hair (1:40)
19. You Win Or You Die (1:57)
20. Small Pack Of Wolves (1:57)
21. Game Of Thrones (1:18)
22. Kill Them All (2:35)
23. The Pointy End (3:16)
24. Victory Does Not Make Us Conquerors (1:35)
25. When The Sun Rises In The West (2:40)
26. King Of The North (1:28)
27. The Night’s Watch (1:44)
28. Fire And Blood (4:30)
29. Finale (2:31)

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

Though every single track is pretty damn good, one of my favorites remains North of the Wall, which I have included here:

Balkans Photo Albums

Hey folks,

For those who might be interested in this sort of thing, I've uploaded pictures from my latest adventures in the southern Balkans. So here are links to my Facebook albums:



Macedonia and Belgrade, Serbia

If you are looking for awesome yet affordable destinations, the Balkans offer what is probably the best value in Europe. Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Macedonia deserve to be on anyone's itinerary!!!


This week's New York Times Bestsellers (August 23rd)

In hardcover:

George R. R. Martin's A Dance With Dragons is up one position, ending the week at number 1. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Jim Butcher's Ghost Story is down one position, ending the week at number 6. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Christie Golden's Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi: Ascension debuts at number 7.

Lev Grossman's The Magician King debuts at number 8.

Sherrilyn Kenyon's Retribution is down six spots, finishing the week at number 10.

In paperback:

George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones maintains its position at number 2.

George R. R. Martin's A Storms of Swords is up two positions, ending the week at number 5.

George R. R. Martin's A Clash of Kings is down two spots, finishing the week at number 6.

George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones is up one spot, finishing the week at number 9 (trade paperback).

George R. R. Martin's A Feast for Crows is up two positions, ending the week at number 9.

Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game is up ten spots, finishing the week at number 20.

George R. R. Martin's A Clash of Kings is up three positions, ending the week at number 23 (trade paperback).

Stephenie Meyer's The Host is up one spot, finishing the week at number 25.

George R. R. Martin's A Feast for Crows is up three spots, finishing the week at number 29 (trade paperback).

Max Brooks' World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War returns at number 31 (trade paperback).

Exclusive excerpt from Brian Ruckey's THE EDINBURGH DEAD

Thanks to the cool folks at Orbit, here's an extract from Brian Ruckley's latest, The Edinburgh Dead. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

Edinburgh: 1828

In the starkly-lit operating theaters of the city, grisly experiments are being carried out on corpses in the name of medical science. But elsewhere, there are those experimenting with more sinister forces.

Amongst the crowded, sprawling tenements of the labyrinthine Old Town, a body is found, its neck torn to pieces. Charged with investigating the murder is Adam Quire, Officer of the newly- formed Edinburgh Police. The trail will lead him into the deepest reaches of the city's criminal underclass, and to the highest echelons of the filthy rich.

Soon Quire will discover that a darkness is crawling through this city of enlightenment - and no one is safe from its corruption.

The Edinburgh Dead is a powerful fusion of gothic horror, history, and the fantastical.


“You there,” Quire heard the boy’s father suddenly saying, and he spun back to see what was happening.

The lantern’s light swept up and around, washing over the church, picking out for a moment the rough surface of the stone blocks, flashing from icicles hanging from the edge of the roof, rushing on and down. It fell across Munro’s shoulders and spilled around him, conjuring up out of the darkness ahead a strange tableau.

One man was already partway out over the graveyard wall. He dropped down out of sight even as Quire drew breath to shout, leaving only the image — a mere fragment of a moment, glimpsed at the light’s edge, and then gone — of a black- gloved hand clinging to the top of the wall.

That left one bulky figure inside the graveyard’s bounds, turning back towards them even as Munro drew near. There was a shovel hanging slack in one of the man’s big hands.

“Wait,” shouted Quire, trying to rush forwards but hampered by the snow that gave and slipped beneath his boots.

He glimpsed the disturbed grave: the sod slightly lifted, some black soil exposed. The body snatchers had hardly begun their work before being interrupted.

“Have you no shame, man?” Munro was shouting, entirely overcome by outrage.

“Wait,” Quire cried again.

He was staring at the grave robber’s face, though he could not see it well, for Munro’s head kept casting it into shadow or blocking his view as the church elder continued his querulous advance. But what little he could see worried him. The object of Munro’s ire was impassive, looking at them with a blank indifference entirely unsuited to the moment. His unblinking eyes seemed to encompass the whole dark scene without comprehension, as if he were unable, or disinclined, to distinguish living man from inanimate stone and snow.

“You’re desecrating . . .” Munro began.

The grave robber took one long stride forward, his leading foot stamping down into the snow. His arm came up smooth and fast, sweeping the shovel through the night air as if it were weightless. Its metal blade hit Munro’s head edge on, crunching in just above the crest of his cheekbone.

The terrible blow turned Munro about. He spun, and toppled, falling face first. He did not raise his arms to break the fall.

Everything after that happened quickly. Munro’s attacker made for the wall. Quire dropped the lantern and went to his knees beside Munro. The fallen man’s son slumped down as well, taking his father’s hand in his own.

“Father, Father,” he said, over and over again.

Quire tried gently to turn Munro on to his back. He knew, at once. He could tell, in the leaden weight of the shoulder at which he tugged; the utter motionless of the form. The side of Munro’s face was smashed in, bone visible in the crevice the shovel had opened up. His left eye was displaced. Shallow, flighty breaths rushed in and out of him, but Quire knew they would soon cease. It would be only minutes. The man was dead; his body just had not yet conceded the fact.

Quire looked over his shoulder. The second grave robber — the murderer — was atop the wall, swinging his lagging leg over. Not hurrying, not looking back. The bloodied shovel scraped against the stone.

“Father,” Duncan Munro whimpered.

“Stay with him,” Quire said. “Give me the gun.”

He made that last demand with reluctance — loading the thing had been reminder enough for one night of times past — but he was not about to test his skill with the baton against a shovel. The young man did not hear him. He was entirely possessed by the awful sight of his father, whose last breaths were pluming out between already pale lips, frail nets of steam cast into the winter night.

Carefully, Quire reached for the Brown Bess, dropped and forgotten in the snow. His heart ached; he had some sense of the inexpressible, appalling holes being torn in the younger Duncan Munro at this moment.

The fallen lantern lay on its side, flame still fluttering, throwing unsteady sheets of illumination across the graves. Quire left it where it was. Duncan might need it, and Quire surely did not. It would rob him of his night eyes, and you could not shoot into darkness without eyes accustomed to it. He had learned that quickly enough in Spain.

The wall was a head higher than Quire. He threw himself at it, got both elbows hooked over, and dragged himself up.

Rough ground sloped away from the foot of the wall. Humps and hollows, their underlying nature disguised by the snow, made an undulating descent towards the banks of Duddingston Loch. Two figures were fleeing across that narrow expanse. The first was already disappearing into the dense, obscuring vegetation at the edge of the ice; the second, bigger, slower, shovel still held loosely in one hand, was closer.

A fatter, brighter moon would have helped a good deal, for the world was indistinct. Imprecise. All shapes and shadows and shades of grey. But Quire knew — everybody knew — that the Resurrection Men did not come on the nights of a full moon. They liked the dark. So be it.

He dropped down from the wall far more carefully than his surging anger would have wished. He did not want a turned or broken ankle ending his hunt before it was properly begun. The snow cushioned his landing, and he sprang forward. Down across the field he ran, leaping from high point to high point, snow making clouds about his pounding feet. He carried the musket in one hand, hip-high, barrel to the fore, pointing the way ahead.

The first of the grave robbers — Blegg, a silent voice insisted over and over again within him; Blegg — was out of sight, vanished into the willow trees and reed beds, swallowed up by the enveloping darkness. But the second, Quire knew he could catch. The man had a long stride, but he ran with a strange lack of urgency. He was only now crashing noisily through the tangled bushes that marked the transition from land to water. Land to ice.

The slope levelled out beneath Quire’s feet. He found himself, surreally, running through a thick stand of tall reeds and bulrushes. Running on ice. He slowed, and that very caution, the change in his stride, sent his leading foot skidding out from under him. He fell heavily on his side, trapping the musket beneath his body and grinding the knuckles of the hand that held it into the ice. For one moment he was looking up through the forest of reeds, seeing them swaying above him, and beyond them the starry sky, black as ink.

Then he rolled on to his hands and knees, pushed himself up, and ran out on to the ice. A flat, open field of snow, stretching almost to the limits of his vision, though he knew that by day this did not seem a great body of water. Ghostly, almost, in its featureless perfection. Not silent. Quire could hear three things: his own increasingly heavy, increasingly strained breathing; the hollow, crunching thud of his feet beating on the hard skin of the loch; and another set of feet, out of time with his own, up ahead.

He saw his quarry lope to a gradual halt, and turn about and stand there, almost at the very centre of the loch. The grave robber waited. Quire’s blood was running hot and hard, but not sufficiently so as to render him witless. He slowed too, and approached the man at a slow walk, hefting the Bess in two hands now. Hoping that it would still discharge, if called upon; it had been so long since he had had to think of such things that he had failed to check it after climbing over the wall, or falling on the ice. Perhaps his blood was indeed running too hot for his own good.

“Put that shovel down, would you?” he called as he closed to within twenty paces.

He was startled by how loud and clear his voice sounded on the still, frigid air with the ice to set it ringing out in all directions. He stopped, and stood with his finger resting lightly on the trigger.

The man to whom he had spoken gave no response. Gave no sign at all, in fact, that he had heard Quire, or noticed his approach. Quire frowned. It was difficult to be certain, for he could see not much more of the man than his outline, but he did not seem to be breathing hard, as his exertions should surely have required.

“If you make me ask again, I’ll not be so polite,” Quire said.

The man came forward without haste; one, two long strides closing almost half the gap to Quire.

“For God’s sake, man,” Quire shouted, alarmed by the sudden arrival of a moment from which there would likely be no good outcome.

He hesitated, just for the space of one breath, hampered by an acquired restraint that never would have troubled him in his younger days. He had unlearned just enough to make him pause, make him think where once there would have been no thought.

He set the Brown Bess to his shoulder, shouting as he did so: “Stop.”

The man was raising the shovel. Quire sighted along the barrel, staring into the black mass of the man’s chest, worrying whether he could trust his left arm to hold the gun steady. Another half a second of doubt, washed away by one thought: he’s already killed one man tonight. He squeezed the trigger.

The rasping click of the hammer falling, the flint sparking. A flaring, blinding light in his right eye. Smoke puffing upwards. The musket kicking his shoulder, sending out a lance of flame and more white smoke from its mouth. The crash of the shot, loud as a cannon out here on the ice, echoing from the trees around the loch and from the great night- clad mass of Arthur’s Seat.

Quire blinked, chasing the dancing lights out of his eye, squinting through the drifting smoke. It had been a good shot, undoubtedly; he had put the ball right into the man’s chest. Probably killed him. He was therefore astonished to find the great dark figure bearing down on him at pace, the shovel lifted one- handed against the sky. That great spade was about as long as Quire’s own arm, and looked to be solidly made; how this man was wielding it like a little axe for chopping kindling was beyond him. His bewilderment did not slow him down.

Ears still ringing with the sound of the shot, he slithered to one side, finding the ice so treacherous that he had to go down on his haunches and up again to keep his balance. He lurched sideways, to avoid the blade of the shovel as it came scything down and bit into the ice, sending up a spray of chips.

Quire set both hands on the barrel of the gun. It was hot, but not unbearably so. He swung it without taking too much trouble about the aim. Just connect with the dark form assailing him; just knock the man down. He did land the blow, but it was inconclusive, the butt of the musket skidding off shoulder and forehead. The gun’s weight carried Quire round, his heels sliding helplessly over the ice.

He fell backwards, banging his skull against the rock- hard skin of the loch. It saved him, for the shovel came lashing back on a flat arc that would have struck him had he not fallen. Quire rolled. Heard another blow crunching down where he had been. Heard too a splintering, creaking groan run through the ice upon which he lay; felt a tremor. Fear coursed through him, then. They were far from the shore. Far from the thickest, firmest stretches of ice where it was anchored to the land. Too late to discover caution, though.

“Bastard,” he hissed, scrabbling, rolling.

A ferocious kick caught him in his stomach, just under the ribs, and lifted him, sent him sliding. It drove the wind from his lungs too, and his chest cramped down upon its own emptiness. The musket fell from his hands. He looked for it, and reached for it.

And he saw his assailant, poised for that one brief shard of time on one foot, go down through the ice. It gave with a brittle crackle of defeat, whole plates of it fracturing, and the big man slipped silently and instantly into the black water beneath. The ice beneath Quire’s legs gave too, and his feet dipped into the chill loch. He gasped and clawed himself forwards. He could hear the whisper of cracks running beneath him. His hips broke more ice. His flooded boots were like chill fists about his ankles, pulling at him. He hauled and strained, panic putting a desperate strength into his raking fingers and his shoulders, and he dragged himself just far enough to be able to swing his legs up and out of the water.

Quire lay on his back, sucking in the frosted air, blowing out grateful fogs of breath. The stars above glimmered. Moment by moment his breathing slowed, and he mastered the shock of fear. He got on to his hands and knees, every movement tentative, measured, and reclaimed the gun.

He looked back into the dark maw opened up in the ice. Little tremulous waves in the water’s surface caught tiny glints of moonlight. There were no hands reaching for the jagged edges of the hole. No sign at all of the grave robber.

Quire did not get to his feet. He did not trust the ice. Instead he crawled like a child, testing each placement of hand and knee before allowing his weight to fall through the limb, dragging the musket along as he went. His feet were numb and heavy.
Only when he had put a slow twenty yards between him and the broken ice did he rise cautiously, holding the Brown Bess out horizontally as he did so in the hope it might wedge itself across any gap should the ice break. He was starting to shiver.

He stood and looked out over the dark plain of the loch. All was still and quiet, as if nothing had happened, as if there were only the ice and the water beneath it and the world was just as it had always been. Quire blew into his left hand, the hot breath stinging his gelid skin.

Then there was a crunching thud from far across the loch. Quire squinted into the night, and saw nothing. It came again, a strangely muffled, dull sound. Like someone beating at a distant door. At the dimmest, furthest extent of his vision, he saw a patch of ice burst up, close to the southern shore. Numb — his body from the cold, his mind from disbelief — he watched the surface of the loch break apart from beneath and a dark form rise from it and force its way towards the land. He could hear quite clearly the ice splintering and shattering as the figure made its lurching retreat into the darkness.

After a moment or two the sound died away, and Quire could see nothing more. He stared out into the night for a little while longer, then turned back towards Duddingston village and began to walk, shaking.

FORT FREAK contest winners!

Our three winners will get their hands on a complimentary copy of Fort Freak, edited by George R. R. Martin, courtesy of the nice folks at Tor Books. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winners are:

- James Young, from Kapolei, Hawaii, USA

- Nick Brown, from Canon, Georgia, USA

- Alejandro Bonilla, from Newark, California, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

New book trailer for Brent Weeks' THE BLACK PRISM

Looks like Orbit went all out to create this book trailer for the paperback release of Brent Weeks' The Black Prism (Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks). The trailer was directed by Leo Kei Angelos.

George R. R. Martin and Tad Williams at the Fox Theatre

For your viewing pleasure!

The Inheritance And Other Stories

Although Robin Hobb has ranked among my favorite SFF authors for years, other than "Homecoming" and "Words Like Coins," prior to reading this collection I had never read any other piece of her short fiction. And as hard to believe it it may be, I had never read anything she had written under the pseudonym Megan Lindholm.

Yeah, yeah, I know. . . Stupid of me. Especially given the fact that the strongest short stories contained in The Inheritance and Other Stories were all written under the Megan Lindholm byline. I'll definitely have to track down novels written under that pseudonym.

Here's the blurb:

A treasure trove of tales from a master storyteller—the first to feature works written under both her pseudonyms, Robin Hobb and Megan Lindholm . . .

The Inheritance

Before she became an acclaimed New York Times bestselling author, Robin Hobb received resounding critical praise for work written under the name Megan Lindholm. Though they spring from the same imagination, Hobb and Lindholm are separate, diverse identities, each with her own unique style and perspective.

The Inheritance celebrates the boundless vision of Hobb and Lindholm, bringing together for the first time classic and new short works from both names. The collection is comprised of three generous offerings from Robin Hobb, including the title story, which makes its U.S. debut here, and a brand-new tale, "Cat's Meat." Megan Lindholm contributes her Hugo and Nebula Award finalist "A Touch of Lavender" and Nebula finalist "Silver Lady and the Fortyish Man," as well as several classic and new gems.

Each piece is prefaced by a brief yet informative author's note, offering insight into each story's genesis. Fascinating, compelling, and wonderfully entertaining, The Inheritance reveals the full spectrum of skill and talent of one of the world's finest fantasy writers

Each short fiction piece is prefaced by an author's note which offers insight into the creation of each work. At times, I found those introductions to be nearly as interesting as the stories themselves. It's always fascinating to discover how these tales came to be.

This collection starts with an unmistakable bang with Hugo and Nebula finalist "A Touch of Lavender." The Skoags are intriguing aliens, and the premise of the story made me think about the movie District 9, only a hundred times better. I loved the way music and interracial love were explored as underlying themes.

The Nebula finalist "Silver Lady and the Fortyish Man" was written for her husband's fortieth birthday. For years, the author and her husband have had an agreement. He would never read her fiction, for he knows her too well. Yet this one was the exception, and what a great and personal present it must have been.

"Cut" is a short but memorable piece on female sexuality and the extent to which society should be allowed to interfere into our personal choices. This one definitely stays with you long after you read it. . .

"The Fifth Squashed Cat" is an entertaining tale of friendship and the price one must pay for the use of magic. The funniest piece of the collection.

"Strays" is a moving piece about two young girls -- one living in relative luxury and the other in poverty -- and their unlikely friendship.

"Finis" is the author's answer to the market's clichéd vampire stories.

"Drum Machine" is a weird but engrossing tale of music and procreation.

Writing as Robin Hobb, the collection begins with "Homecoming," a piece that was originally published in Robert Silverberg's Legends II and which chronicles the first exploration of the Rain Wilds.

"The Inheritance" is the story of a young woman who inherits a talking pendant made of wizarwood. The magical artifact reveals the truth about her family and helps her regain a measure of respect.

"Cat's Meat" feature a poor single mother who must deal with the return of the man who humiliated and betrayed her. Marmalade the cat could well be Hobb's most ruthless protagonist to date!

Given the quality of the stories comprising The Inheritance and Other Stories, here's to hoping that Hobb/Lindholm will release more works of short fiction in the future. Though she is better known for her long form works, the deft human touch that imbues her novels is always present in every short story, giving each of them another dimension.

Highly recommended.

The final verdict: 8/10

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

Exclusive extract from C. S. Friedman's LEGACY OF KINGS

Thanks to the author's generosity, here's an exclusive excerpt from C. S. Friedman's excellent Legacy of Kings. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

It's the sequel to both Feast of Souls (Canada, USA,Europe) and Wings of Wrath (Canada, USA, Europe). If you haven't read them yet, I suggest that you put both novels near the top of your "books to read" pile.

Here's the blurb:

What will future minstrels sing of the days leading up to the final battle?

They will sing of the Souleaters with their stained-glass wings, who feasted upon the life-essence of mankind and brought down the First Age of Kings. And of the army of martyrs that gathered to fight them, led by the world's last surviving witches. By fire and faith they herded the great beasts into an arctic prison, where the incessant cold and long winter's darkness would rob them of strength, and hopefully of life. And the gods themselves struck the earth with great Spears, it was said, erecting a barrier born of their Wrath which would hold any surviving Souleaters prisoner until the end of time. For forty generations the Wrath held strong, so that the Second Age of Kings could thrive. But it was not truly a divine creation, merely a construct of witches, and when it finally faltered the Souleaters began their invasion.

They will sing of the Magisters, undying sorcerers who wielded a power that seemed without limit, and of how they were bound by their Law to the fates of mortal men. But no minstrel will sing of the secret that lay at the heart of that dark brotherhood, for no mortal man who learned the truth would be allowed to live. The Magisters fueled their sorcery with the life-essence of human consorts, offering up the death of innocents to assure their own immortality. Perhaps that practice was what corrupted their spirits, so that they became innately hostile to their own kind. . .or perhaps there was another cause. Colivar alone seemed to know the truth, but even his most ancient and determined rival Ramirus had not yet been able to pry that information out of him.

They will sing of Kamala, a red-headed child destined for poverty and abuse in the slums of Gansang, who defied the fates and became the first female to learn the art of true sorcery. But her accidental murder of Magister Raven broke the brotherhood's most sacred Law, and even her reclusive mentor Ethanus dared not give her shelter any longer. Forced to masquerade as a witch, she traveled the world in search of some knowledge or artifact that she might barter for her safety, so that she could bear the title of Magister openly and claim her proper place in the brotherhood of sorcerers.

They will sing of Danton Aurelius, who ruled the High Kingdom with an iron fist until the traitor Kostas brought him down. They will craft lamentations for the two young princes who died alongside their father, even as they celebrate the courage of Queen Gwynofar in avenging her husband's death. Alas, it was not to be the end of her trials. For when prophecy summoned her to Alkali to search for the Throne of Tears, an ancient artifact that would awaken the lyr bloodline to its full mystical potential, the gods demanded her unborn child in sacrifice, and later her beloved half-brother, Rhys.

They will sing of the Witch-Queen Siderea Aminestas, mistress of Magisters and consort to kings, whom the sorcerers abandoned when her usefulness ended. And of the Souleater who saved her life, at the cost of her human soul. Vengeance burned bright in her heart the day she fled Sankara on the back of her jewel-winged consort, seeking a land where she could plant the seeds of a new and terrible empire.

They will sing of Salvator, third son of Danton Aurelius, who set aside the vows of a Penitent monk to inherit his father's throne, rejecting the power and the protection of the Magisters in the name of his faith. Songs will be crafted to tell how he was tested by demons, doubt, and the Witch-Queen herself, even while the leaders of his Church argued over how he might best be manipulated to serve their political interests.

And last of all they will sing of the confrontation that was still to come, in which fate of the Second Age of Kings -- and all of mankind -- would be decided. And those who hear their songs will wonder whether a prince-turned-monk-turned-king could really save the world, when the god that he worshiped might have been the one who called for its destruction in the first place


The battlefield was silent.

Bodies lay strewn across the blood-soaked ground, corpses of enemies intertwined like lovers. Thousands upon thousands of men who had once been the pride of their nations—strong and loyal soldiers—were now reduced to carrion. With death they had lost all dignity, all purpose. It no longer mattered who they had fought for, or how deeply they had believed in their causes. The ravens that were gathering over the battlefield cared nothing for such human niceties.

Silently, Colivar walked among the corpses. The battle had not brought him as much pleasure as it should have. The heady intoxication he had once experienced when he caused men to turn against their brothers, back when the sport was still new to him, was now dulled by familiarity. All these men had died at his call or at the call of some other Magister. Oh, they'd thought they were dying to serve their kings—giving up their lives for a cause that was worthy of sacrifice—but the sorcerers knew better. By now the leaders who had ordered this conflict were dead, along with all their counselors. Perhaps their heirs as well. It might not even have been Colivar's opponent who had killed them all. Human conflict on this scale drew Magisters like flies. What greater exercise of power was there, than to cast an entire nation into chaos? Few could resist such temptation.

While Colivar's blood still became heated at the thought of such a contest —that perverse spark within him would probably never die—his human soul, a distant and wounded thing, remained cold. The kind of events that had once moved him to ecstasy no longer had that power. Did that mean that the ancient wounds were healing at last? Was it a sign that his humanity, rent to pieces by madness so many years ago, was slowly pulling itself back together? Or were the final fragments of his battered soul simply expiring from sheer exhaustion, starved to death by this cold, callous existence? If so, what would he become when they were finally gone? Uncomfortable questions, to be sure.

"This has to end." The voice came from behind him, shattering his reverie. "You know that."

The sudden awareness of another man so close to him triggered Colivar's most primitive territorial instincts. Whipping about, he called forth enough soulfire to defend himself from any manner of assault—or to launch an attack himself—and held it at the ready while he took stock of his visitor. That the man was a Magister himself was immediately apparent, from his bearing if not his dress. Hatred keened inside Colivar's brain, primitive impulses surging through his veins with undeniable force. Drive the invader away! Tear him to pieces if he will not flee! If Colivar had been a weaker Magister, he might have lost the connection to his human self entirely at that moment and launched himself at the intruder like an animal. The sensation of what it was like to tear open an enemy's neck with razor-sharp teeth was not so distant in his past that he had forgotten it. Even as he struggled to fight back the tide of bestial instinct, part of him longed to surrender to it. But finally, with effort, he recovered enough self-control to shape human words again. "Why are you here?" he demanded. His voice sounded strange in his ears, hoarse and halting. He did not talk much to anyone these days. "What do you want?"

"To speak with you," the stranger said calmly. If he felt the same territorial passions coursing through his veins he showed no sign of it. "Nothing more."

Magisters rarely socialized with one another. Once they were no longer students, but had fully established their independent identities, the territorial instinct in them became too strong to allow for it. Each sorcerer went his own way in life, and if the paths of two should happen to cross, thousands of morati might die as they competed for supremacy. Whole kingdoms had been swallowed up by such rivalries, knights and princes waging war for causes they believed to be their own, when in fact their hearts were manifesting the territorial rage of the sorcerers who controlled them. Not that it mattered what morati believed. Even if such men knew the truth, they could not have resisted.

But . . . a strange Magister was here now, in his domain, and Colivar had managed to resist the immediate impulse to destroy him. Perhaps the recent battle had drained his inner beast of strength, at least enough to make civilized discourse possible. It was an interesting concept. Perhaps worth exploring further.

He absorbed the power that he had conjured back into himself. No doubt the stranger knew how quickly he could summon it again if need be. "Speak," he said hoarsely.

The stranger was a tall man, solidly built, with fine wrinkles about his eyes and a hint of gray at his temples. Which might mean that he had undergone First Transition while in his 30s or 40s and ceased to age physically at that point. Or it might mean that he had been a gangly youth, or even an elderly cripple, who was now using his power to provide himself with more attractive flesh. There was no way to know. Using one's power to find out a Magister's true appearance—or true age, or true anything—was considered a mortal offense.

"You heard my words." The man's voice was quiet but compelling, in the manner of one who knows he does not need volume to make his point. "This has to end." A sharp, sweeping gesture encompassed the battlefield, as well as Colivar and the whole world beyond him. “All this.”

"You mean . . . the war?"

"I mean what we bring to it. Our excesses. Our internecine violence. The price that the morati world pays for our boundless self-indulgence."

The corner of Colivar's mouth twitched. "So we should be more . . . considerate?"

"No. Simply more practical."

"For the sake of the morati?"

The stranger's eyes narrowed. "Once there were once great kingdoms scattered across the earth. What is there now? Chaos. Barbarism. Barely a memory of great things and no energy left to restore them. Is that the world we wish to live in?"

"We were not the ones who caused the First Kingdoms to fall," Colivar pointed out.

"No. But we keep them from being rebuilt." The stranger's eyes were and clear and bright, the pale blue color of arctic ice. It awakened shadows of memories in Colivar that he would rather forget. "Do you not wish to see the great towers rise up once more? To live in the kind of world that the First Kings once enjoyed? We, who feed upon death, will never create such things ourselves. We are too obsessed with destruction, too blinded by our instinctive hatred for one another. And in our madness we are dragging the morati down with us. Soon there will be nothing left in them that is capable of greatness. And that will be a loss for us all."

How arrogant this man was, Colivar thought, to lecture another Magister as if he were a schoolchild! In another time and place he might have been infuriated by such behavior. It might even have caused him forget his self-control and end this interview in bloodshed, as the beast inside cried out for him to do. But there were other emotions stirring inside him now, strange and disturbing emotions, that spoke to his more human side. And so he denied the beast sovereignty. For now.

The stranger was right about the future of civilization, of course. No Magister knew that better than Colivar. He alone understood the full measure of what mankind had lost. He yearned for that ancient world in a way none of the others could possibly comprehend. He also understood enough of the Magisters' true nature to know that mankind would never reach those heights of greatness again. The Souleaters had simply destroyed too much. And now the Magisters were here. Mankind might recover from the first plague, but the second was far more dangerous.

"We are predators," he said harshly. "Not caretakers."

"And what good will that distinction do us when the world is swallowed up by chaos? For that is where it’s headed right now, you know that. It may bleed but slowly from the wounds we have dealt it thus far, but it bleeds nonetheless. We must stanch the wound while healing is still possible. Else our very world will slip through our fingers, and not all the sorcery in existence will be able to restore it."

"You care about the morati," Colivar challenged. Not because he believed the stranger really did, but to stir up his inner beast and put him off his guard. Accusing any Magister of human compassion was a powerful insult. He was curious to see how this one would respond.

But the stranger did not flinch. "And you were once willing to die for them, Colivar. Or so the legends suggest. Is that true? Did the welfare of the common man once mean that much to you?"

Memories -- —true memories! -- —came welling up from the darkness where he had buried them long ago. They had been rent to pieces by the madness and suffocated by years of neglect, but even in their damaged and disjointed state they still had the power to shake him to the depths of his soul.

He looked away from the stranger, not wanting to meet his eyes, and gazed out over the battlefield. Ravens had come down to earth and begun to pick at the flesh of the fallen. Some of the solders were not quite dead yet, but they were too wounded to fight the birds off. Colivar was closer kin to those ravens, he knew, than to the morati. He accepted that. The beast that was within him would have it no other way. Once, long ago, he had tried to deny it, to pretend that he was still human. But the beast was a part of his soul now, wedded to him by his own willing submission, and was not so easily banished.

If you understood the true source of our power, he thought, you would not question me thus.

"There may once have been a morati named Colivar, who cared about this world." He kept his voice carefully neutral, so that this stranger would not guess at the maelstrom of emotion that his words had inspired. "Perhaps he would even have been willing to offer up his life for it. But that man is dead now." He turned back to the intruder. "We are what we are. Not all the sorcery in the world can change that."

"No," the visitor agreed. It was maddeningly to Colivar how calm he was. Was this man's inner beast weaker than his own, or was it just better disciplined? He had always wondered what the others of his kind experienced. Were their internal battles less fierce than his, because they were farther removed from the source? Or did they just hide them better? "Sorcery cannot change it."

"What, then?"

"Something more powerful than sorcery. Something that the morati, ironically enough, understand the value of . . . though we have forgotten it." He let Colivar consider that for a moment, then said, very quietly, "Law."

Colivar drew in a sharp breath. "You mean . . . what? Rules of engagement?"

"No. Those are for wartime. This must be something more basic. More primal. Something to help us curb our darker instincts when they arise, so that open warfare will no longer be necessary. Or at least . . ." A dry smile flickered across his lips. "Not quite so often."

"We are not morati," he said harshly.

"No . . . but that does not mean we cannot learn from their accomplishments. Rule of law is what separates the morati from the beasts. Perhaps it can do the same for us."

But a Magister's beast is part of his soul, Colivar thought darkly. Divide the two, and you destroy both halves. This stranger did not understand that, of course. None of the other Magisters did. And he was not about to explain it to them. "How do you propose to enforce these laws?" he demanded. Trying to focus upon the stranger’s words, rather than the memories they conjured. "What manner of authority do you think that Magisters will accept?”

"Common accord would be required."

For a moment Colivar was speechless. Finally he managed, "An agreement by . . . all of us?"

The stranger bowed his head.

Even the morati could not manage such unanimity.”

“We are greater than the morati, are we not?”

Colivar shook his head in amazement. "There are some who would call you mad for even suggesting such a thing."

"Whereas I prefer to think of myself as practical."

We are incapable even of talking face-to-face with our own kind without bestial instincts taking control of us. What kind of law do you envision for us? How do you propose to punish transgressors?

But those words died on his lips, unvoiced. Because the suggestion, mad as it was, struck a chord deep within him. A human chord. And for a moment—just a moment—the beast within him was quiet, and he could think with unexpected clarity.

"This was your idea?" he managed at last.

The stranger shook his head. "Not mine alone. But few are capable of spreading the word as effectively as I, so I volunteered. The task requires . . ." A faint smile quirked his lips. ". . . unusual self-control."

What if all the others join together in this project, Colivar thought suddenly, and I alone cannot? He was suddenly acutely aware of the chasm that separated him from all the others of his kind. If this stranger knew the truth about him, would he have come here with the same offer? Would he even want Colivar to be part of this project?

"It will take a very long time," he challenged.

"Perhaps. But time is the one thing we have in abundance, is it not?"

"And the ultimate goal is . . . what? To bring us all together in one great assembly, so that we can collaborate on a set of rules?" He laughed harshly. "We would tear each other to pieces before the first word was set on paper."

Ah." A smile flickered across the stranger's face; it was a cold and humorless expression. "But you see, that is the difference between you and me. I believe that Magisters can rise above their bloodier instincts, if they are convinced of the need to do so. Maybe someday, if we are determined enough, it may even be possible for a number of us to come together like civilized men and discuss matters of common interest without our darker instincts interfering. That would be a thing to marvel at, wouldn't it?"

"You really believe that establishing a set of rules can all make this possible?"

The stranger said solemnly, "It is not the law itself that will have power, Colivar. It is what we must become in order to establish it."

Ravens cawed in the distance. Somewhere amidst the bodies, unseen, a dying man groaned. Colivar shut his eyes and focused upon the sounds, trying to sort out the storm of emotions in his soul. He felt as if he were at a crossroads, peering into the darkness, trying to make out any hint of the terrain up ahead, to choose his way. But both paths were shrouded in fog, their features indiscernible. One must step forward in blind faith or not go forward at all.

All the assumptions he had made about his power—about his very soul!—were being challenged by this man. But what if his assumptions had been wrong? What if the other sorcerers, born in a simpler time, had a clearer understanding of what their true potential was? What if they could really change things?

And what if he, unique among Magisters, could not share in that change? It was a chilling thought that made the more sensitive parts of his anatomy want to draw up into his body out of pure dread.

But if they could succeed in this mad plan . . . just imagine the potential of it! Not only for their society in general —if the ranks of Magisters could be called that —but for his own inner struggle as well.

I could be human again, he thought with wonder. It was a dream he'd been forced to abandon long ago. Now he was being challenged to take it up again. The concept was almost too much to process.

A raven cawed in the distance. He shook his head, trying to clear it.

"What is it you want of me?" he said at last.

Though the stranger had been impassive thus far, it was clear from the way his expression eased now that he had been far from certain about where the conversation was heading. Or who would come out of it alive, should it devolve into a less civilized discourse. "Simply your agreement that the task is worth attempting. That when the time comes to enter the next stage, you will consider playing an active role. How much will be possible, of course, no man can predict. But we mean to do our best, and your support would mean much to us."

Colivar raised an eyebrow. "Do not attempt to flatter me," he said darkly. "That is a morati trick."

The stranger shrugged. "Your word has much weight among our kind. That is not flattery, simply the truth."

"Because I am more deadly than most?"

"Because you have more knowledge than most." The sapphire eyes glittered. "Even though you hold that knowledge close to your breast."

Colivar drew in a deep breath. What lay within his breast was the soul of a beast, coiled, waiting. Did other Magisters perceive themselves in the same way, as if every moment they were caught in a tug-of-war between their human halves and some dark, animalistic master? Or did they believe that all their violent, territorial urges were simply human emotions gone bad? There was no way to ask; Magisters did not discuss such things with one another.

He had always perceived their ignorance as a weakness. But perhaps it might open doors for them, where his own knowledge of the past had closed them.

"Very well." Colivar nodded stiffly. "When the time comes that all the Magisters have agreed to this course—when they come together to determine what manner of law they will establish—then I will come to that place, also." A faint smile flickered across his lips. "And I will try my best not to kill them all."

The stranger bowed respectfully. "That is all we can ask."

And he turned away to leave. It was, in its own way, as powerful a statement of intent as a Magister could possibly offer. He had no way to know that Colivar would not strike him down from behind as soon as his back was turned. Yet he willingly took that chance. Was it optimism that motivated him, or foolishness? Or both?

"Wait," Colivar said.

The stranger turned back to him.

"You know my name, but you have not given me yours." He raised an eyebrow. "Is that the way you wish to begin this cooperative effort?"

The cold blue eyes regarded him. There was power in a name, even one that was used in public circles. And there was much more power in receiving a name directly from its owner. Few Magisters would make such a gesture.

Prove how much you care about this project, Colivar thought. Prove how far you are willing to go to bring it to fruition.

"Ramirus," the stranger said. "I am called Ramirus."

Ravens cawed in the distance as he once more turned to leave. This time Colivar did not stop him.