Quote of the Day

People will say business is business, nothing personal. A great lie. Everything is personal.

- IAN MCDONALD, Luna: Moon Rising (Canada, USA, Europe)

Looks like it's going to be another good read!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on the digital edition of Fritz Leiber's The Adventures of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser omnibus for only 1.99$ here. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

The Hugo and Nebula Award–winning series of swords and sorcery, featuring two unorthodox heroes, from a Grand Master of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Many decades before George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, Grand Master Fritz Leiber ruled the sword-and-sorcery universe. These three short story collections chronicle the unconventional adventures of Leiber’s endearing antiheroes: barbarian Fafhrd and former wizard’s apprentice, the Gray Mouser.

Swords and Deviltry: Fafhrd, a handsome barbarian of the Steppes, is seduced by a beautiful prostitute and her equally intoxicating city, while the Gray Mouser, a slum rat wizard-in-training, is tempted by the dark arts. The two men meet on a night of multiple thieveries and an enduring partnership is born.

Swords Against Death: Rogue swordsmen and devoted companions Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser pursue ill-gotten fortunes within the confines of Lankhmar. They cross paths with two wizards, Sheelba of the Eyeless Face and Ningauble of the Seven Eyes, and a most violent clash ensues. Eventually, following further adventures, the two antiheroes end up as indentured swordsman servants to their former foes.

Swords in the Mist: A cloud of concentrated hatred and lean times in Lankhmar compels Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser to temporarily depart the most corrupt metropolis in all of Nehwon as they seek adventure in the realm of the Sea-King—and on a different world entirely.

This must-read collection of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser short stories features multiple Hugo and Nebula Award–nominated tales, and includes the acclaimed novella Ill Met in Lankhmar.

You can also download Kameron Hurley's excellent God's War for only 4.62$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Nyx had already been to hell. One prayer more or less wouldn't make any difference...

On a ravaged, contaminated world, a centuries-old holy war rages, fought by a bloody mix of mercenaries, magicians, and conscripted soldiers. Though the origins of the war are shady and complex, there's one thing everybody agrees on--

There's not a chance in hell of ending it.

Nyx is a former government assassin who makes a living cutting off heads for cash. But when a dubious deal between her government and an alien gene pirate goes bad, Nyx's ugly past makes her the top pick for a covert recovery. The head they want her to bring home could end the war--but at what price?

The world is about to find out.

Nest of the Monarch

You may recall that I really enjoyed Kay Kenyon's alternate history fantasy novels, At the Table of Wolves and Serpent in the Heather. And while the first installment was an introduction to what appeared to be a vaster and more ambitious tale, the second volume was even better. Building on the events and storylines from its predecessor, the author raised the bar higher and elevated this series to another level. So when I realized that Nest of the Monarch was about to be published and I had yet to receive a review copy, I was quick to contact Kenyon so the situation could be rectified.

And having now read the third installment, it feels as though Kenyon's Dark Talents series just might be the genre's best-kept secret of recent years. And to think that at first I was concerned that it would be too similar to Ian Tregillis' excellent Milkweed Triptych trilogy, which to this day remains one of the very best speculative fiction series of the new millennium. The premise might bear resemblance to that of Tregillis, yet the plot is completely different. What both series do have in common, however, is the fact that they are decidedly underappreciated and almost criminally unread by the masses. Do yourself a favor and check out both series if you haven't already. You'll thank me!

Here's the blurb:

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

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

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

In my reviews of the first two installments, I opined that the worldbuilding was very interesting and opened up countless possibilities. No one knows how the bloom came about, but it is widely believed that the deaths and the suffering engendered by the first World War generated the birth of the Talents, those supernatural abilities in ordinary men and women, especially in the countries which dealt with the Great War. The action occurs a few months following the events of Serpent in the Heather. Needless to say, 1936 has been a busy and crazy year for Kim Tavistock. The Nazis have risen to power and Germany is rearming, preparing for the great conflict to come. The British, with their heads still up their asses for the most part, now seem willing to at least face the fact that war appears to be coming again. And although they have begun their own program and are making good progress, they remain far behind the Germans in terms of training people with Talents for warfare. Reading the first two volumes, it felt as though there was so much room for growth concerning the Talents and I was looking forward to see what Kenyon had in store for her readers in that regard. What we saw in At the Table of Wolves barely scratched the surface and the potential for more was enormous.

And although we do learn more about Talents in general in both Serpent in the Heather and Nest of the Monarch, the sad truth remains that the British know very little compared to their German counterparts. Once more, I often felt that Kenyon plays her cards way too close to her chest. We keep discovering things at the same pace as the POV characters, so learning such secrets by small increments is understandable. But as I mentioned before, I fear it could be detrimental to the series in the long run. The addition of Dries Verhoeven's Talent to the mix in the second installment was great. And so were Irina Dimitrievna Annakova and Hannah Linz's Talents in this book. Again, we just need to see more Talents unveiled to add more layers to what is becoming a more complex tale with each new novel. I understand that it's still early on in this lead up to World War II and that this series isn't exactly the second coming of The X-Men, but I feel that more powerful Talents need to come to the forefront and have more of an impact on the plot.

Kim Tavistock is an ordinary woman with a peculiar Talent who managed to save her country not once but twice. Having played a large role in thwarting the Germans' plan to conquer Great Britain, Kim went through training in the arts of espionage. Nevertheless, even with two successful missions under her belt, she remains a somewhat raw recruit. Her conscience is seldom at ease with what she is required to do and what she's becoming. A do-gooder with her heart always in the right place, Kim will have trouble dealing with what she witnesses in Nazi-dominated Germany. Her actions will put her at odds with the British intelligence service and the Foreign Office, which will force her to follow her intuition and go down a path that might get her dismissed. If she survives. For the more she uncovers about the Monarch program, the more she realizes just how dangerous and downright foolhardy her plan appears to be. In addition to Kim's point of view, Nest of the Monarch also features the perspective of Irina Dimitrievna Annakova, a Russian noblewoman who fled the Bolsheviks and who wants her son to take his rightful place as tsar with the help of the Nazis and who has the most potent Talent ever unveiled thus far, as well as that of Hannah Linz, a reckless young woman part of a secret Jewish resistance cell who is willing to sacrifice her life to avenge that of her father and other loved ones. Julian's POV returns occasionally to give us an idea of how Kim's actions are perceived by her superiors back in London. Once again, the supporting cast is made up of a number of engaging men and women, chief among them Rachel Flynn and Evgeny Borisov.

The pace was perfect, making Nest of the Monarch a page-turner that you go through rapidly. The tension keeps building up, moving the plot through lots of twists and turns toward another thrilling endgame that delivers on all fronts. I'm quite curious to find out what Kay Kenyon has in store for these characters now that we have reached 1937 and the beginning of WWII is looming closer.

My only complaint regarding the first two installments was their episodic format. I felt that Kay Kenyon would have to raise the bar even higher and not just throw Kim into danger in the hope that her Talent would force someone to reveal secrets while she pretended to be a journalist working on a new story. Given the quality of both At the Table of Wolves and Serpent in the Heather, the potential for bigger and better things was definitely there and expectations would understandably be higher in the future. Well, I should have known that the author woulld rise to the occasion. And if Kim's first Continental mission for SIS is any indication, it bodes well for whatever comes next for the Dark Talents series.

I have a feeling that these first three volumes were meant to lay the groundwork and set the stage for more ambitious and rewarding storylines to come. It's too early to tell if the Dark Talents will be as good as The Entire and the Rose turned out to be. But one thing's for sure. These novels deserve to be more widely read.

I definitely commend this series to your attention. If you're looking for something different, look no further and give the Dark Talents a shot!

The final verdict: 8/10

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

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on the digital edition of Nicholas Eames' Bloody Rose for only 2.99$ here. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

A band of fabled mercenaries, led by the infamous Bloody Rose, tour a wild fantasy landscape, battling monsters in arenas in front of thousands of adoring fans, but a secret and dangerous gig ushers them to the frozen north, and the band is never one to waste a shot at glory . . . even if it means almost certain death.

Live fast, die young.

Tam Hashford is tired of working at her local pub, slinging drinks for world-famous mercenaries and listening to the bards sing of adventure and glory in the world beyond her sleepy hometown.

When the biggest mercenary band of all, led by the infamous Bloody Rose, rolls into town, Tam jumps at the chance to sign on as their bard. It’s adventure she wants – and adventure she gets as the crew embark on a quest that will end in one of two ways: glory or death.

It’s time to take a walk on the wyld side.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Peter Newman's The Vagrant for only 0.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

The Vagrant is his name. He has no other.

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

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

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

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

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

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

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Dan Simmons' Hugo award-winning classic, Hyperion, for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

On the world called Hyperion, beyond the law of the Hegemony of Man, there waits the creature called the Shrike. There are those who worship it. There are those who fear it. And there are those who have vowed to destroy it. In the Valley of the Time Tombs, where huge, brooding structures move backward through time, the Shrike waits for them all. On the eve of Armageddon, with the entire galaxy at war, seven pilgrims set forth on a final voyage to Hyperion seeking the answers to the unsolved riddles of their lives. Each carries a desperate hope--and a terrible secret. And one may hold the fate of humanity in his hands.

You can also download Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

God is dead. Meet the kids.

When Fat Charlie's dad named something, it stuck. Like calling Fat Charlie "Fat Charlie." Even now, twenty years later, Charlie Nancy can't shake that name, one of the many embarrassing "gifts" his father bestowed -- before he dropped dead on a karaoke stage and ruined Fat Charlie's life.

Mr. Nancy left Fat Charlie things. Things like the tall, good-looking stranger who appears on Charlie's doorstep, who appears to be the brother he never knew. A brother as different from Charlie as night is from day, a brother who's going to show Charlie how to lighten up and have a little fun ... just like Dear Old Dad. And all of a sudden, life starts getting very interesting for Fat Charlie.

Because, you see, Charlie's dad wasn't just any dad. He was Anansi, a trickster god, the spider-god. Anansi is the spirit of rebellion, able to overturn the social order, create wealth out of thin air, and baffle the devil. Some said he could cheat even Death himself.

Returning to the territory he so brilliantly explored in his masterful New York Times bestseller, American Gods, the incomparable Neil Gaiman offers up a work of dazzling ingenuity, a kaleidoscopic journey deep into myth that is at once startling, terrifying, exhilarating, and fiercely funny -- a true wonder of a novel that confirms Stephen King's glowing assessment of the author as "a treasure-house of story, and we are lucky to have him."

Win an Advance Reading Copy of Anthony Ryan's THE WOLF'S CALL

I'm giving away my Advance Reading Copy of Anthony Ryan's The Wolf's Call to one lucky winner! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

Anthony Ryan’s debut novel Blood Song—the first book of the Raven’s Shadow series—took the fantasy world by storm. Now, he returns to the world of this acclaimed series with The Wolf’s Call, which begins a thrilling new story of razor-sharp action and epic adventure.

Peace never lasts.

Vaelin Al Sorna is a living legend, his name known across the Realm. It was his leadership that overthrew empires, his blade that won hard-fought battles – and his sacrifice that defeated an evil more terrifying than anything the world had ever seen. He won titles aplenty, only to cast aside his earned glory for a quiet life in the Realm’s northern reaches.

Yet whispers have come from across the sea – rumours of an army called the Steel Horde, led by a man who believes himself a god. Vaelin has no wish to fight another war, but when he learns that Sherin, the woman he lost long ago, has fallen into the Horde’s grasp, he resolves to confront this powerful new threat.

To this end, Vaelin travels to the realms of the Merchant Kings, a land ruled by honor and intrigue. There, as the drums of war thunder across kingdoms riven by conflict, Vaelin learns a terrible truth: that there are some battles that even he may not be strong enough to win.

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

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

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

Good luck to all the participants!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Tad Williams' excellent Otherland: City of Golden Shadow for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:


Surrounded by secrecy, it is home to the wildest dreams and darkest nightmares. Incredible amounts of money have been lavished on it. The best minds of two generations have labored to build it. And somehow, bit by bit, it is claiming the Earth’s most valuable resource–its children.

You can also get your hands on the digital edition of Scott Hawkins' The Library at Mount Char for only 2.99$ here. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

A missing God.
A library with the secrets to the universe.
A woman too busy to notice her heart slipping away.

Carolyn's not so different from the other people around her. She likes guacamole and cigarettes and steak. She knows how to use a phone. Clothes are a bit tricky, but everyone says nice things about her outfit with the Christmas sweater over the gold bicycle shorts.

After all, she was a normal American herself once.

That was a long time ago, of course. Before her parents died. Before she and the others were taken in by the man they called Father.

In the years since then, Carolyn hasn't had a chance to get out much. Instead, she and her adopted siblings have been raised according to Father's ancient customs. They've studied the books in his Library and learned some of the secrets of his power. And sometimes, they've wondered if their cruel tutor might secretly be God.

Now, Father is missing—perhaps even dead—and the Library that holds his secrets stands unguarded. And with it, control over all of creation.

As Carolyn gathers the tools she needs for the battle to come, fierce competitors for this prize align against her, all of them with powers that far exceed her own.

But Carolyn has accounted for this.

And Carolyn has a plan.

The only trouble is that in the war to make a new God, she's forgotten to protect the things that make her human.

Populated by an unforgettable cast of characters and propelled by a plot that will shock you again and again, The Library at Mount Char is at once horrifying and hilarious, mind-blowingly alien and heartbreakingly human, sweepingly visionary and nail-bitingly thrilling—and signals the arrival of a major new voice in fantasy.

You can also download C. J. Cherryh's Foreigner for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

The groundbreaking novel that launched Cherryh's eponymous space opera series of first contact and its consequences...

It had been nearly five centuries since the starship Phoenix, lost in space and desperately searching for the nearest G5 star, had encountered the planet of the atevi. On this alien world, law was kept by the use of registered assassination, alliances were defined by individual loyalties not geographical borders, and war became inevitable once humans and one faction of atevi established a working relationship. It was a war that humans had no chance of winning on this planet so many light-years from home.

Now, nearly two hundred years after that conflict, humanity has traded its advanced technology for peace and an island refuge that no atevi will ever visit. Then the sole human the treaty allows into atevi society is marked for an assassin's bullet. THe work of an isolated lunatic? The interests of a particular faction? Or the consequence of one human's fondness for a species which has fourteen words for betrayal and not a single word for love?

You can also get your hands on the digital edition of Hannu Rajaniemi's Invisible Planets: Collected Fiction for only 3.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Mindblowingly inventive and beautifully written short stories from the most exciting new name in SF.

Hannu Rajaniemi exploded onto the SF scene in 2010 with the publication of his first novel The Quantum Thief. Acclaimed by fellow authors such as Charles Stross, Adam Roberts and Alastair Reynolds and brilliantly reviewed everywhere from Interzone to the Times and the Guardian he swiftly established a reputation as an author who could combine extraordinary cutting edge science with beautiful prose and deliver it all with wit, warmth and a delight in the fun of storytelling.

It is exactly these qualities that are showcased in this his first collection of short stories. Drawn from antholgies, magazines and online publications and brought together in book form for the first time in this collection here is a collection of seventeen short stories that range from the lyrical to the bizarre, from the elegaic to the impish. It is a collection that shows one of the great new imaginations in SF having immense fun.

Finally, you can download Richard Kadrey's The Wrong Dead Guy for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

In this fast paced sequel to The Everything Box—the second entry in New York Times bestselling author Richard Kadrey’s comedic supernatural series—chaos ensues when Coop and the team at DOPS steal a not-quite-dead and very lovesick ancient Egyptian mummy wielding some terrifying magic.

Coop, a master thief sort of gone legit, saved the world from an ancient doomsday device—heroism that earned him a gig working for the Department of Peculiar Science, a fearsome top secret government agency that polices the odd and strange. Now Woolrich, Coop’s boss at the DOPS, has Coop breaking into a traveling antiquities show to steal a sarcophagus containing the mummy of a powerful Egyptian wizard named Harkhuf. With the help of his pals Morty, Giselle, and a professor that’s half-cat, half-robotic octopus, Coop pulls off the heist without a hitch.

It’s not Coop’s fault that when DOPS opened the sarcophagus they didn’t find the mummy they were expecting. Well, it was the right mummy, but it wasn’t exactly dead—and now it’s escaped, using a type of magic the organization hasn’t encountered before. Being a boss, Woolrich blames his underling for the screw up and wants Coop to find the missing Harkhuf and make it right, pronto.

Digging into Harkhuf’s history, Coop thinks the mummy is hunting for an ancient magical manuscript that will help him bring his old lover back to life.

Which wouldn’t be so bad if she wasn’t a warrior sorceress hell-bent on conquering the world with her undead armies.

Coop would very much like to run from the oncoming chaos. It’s one thing to steal a mummy, but another to have to deal with head-hunting bureaucrats, down-on-their luck fortune tellers, undead mailroom clerks, and a rather unimpressed elephant. Unfortunately, there’s nowhere to run. If he wants the madness to stop, he’s going to have to suck it up and play hero one more time. But if Coop manages to save the world AGAIN, he’s definitely going to want a lot of answers. And a raise.

Quote of the Day

Wars never ended because one side was defeated. They ended because the enemies were reconciled. Anything else was just a postponement of the next round of violence.

- JAMES S. A. COREY, Tiamat's Wrath (Canada, USA, Europe)

Looks like this will be the speculative fiction novel of the year. . . =)

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Katherine Addison's The Goblin Emperor for only 1.99$ here. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

The youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an "accident," he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir.

Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment.

Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favor with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the specter of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor. All the while, he is alone, and trying to find even a single friend . . . and hoping for the possibility of romance, yet also vigilant against the unseen enemies that threaten him, lest he lose his throne–or his life.

Katherine Addison's The Goblin Emperor is an exciting fantasy novel, set against the pageantry and color of a fascinating, unique world, is a memorable debut for a great new talent.

Naamah's Kiss

Although I was late for this party, you probably know by now that I totally fell in love with Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel books. After knocking it out of the park with the previous two trilogies, Naamah's Kiss and its two sequels had extremely big shoes to fill. Which is more than a little unfair as far as expectations go, what with the great tapestry of complex storylines that has been woven over the course of six unforgettable volumes. Naturally, it raised the bar sky-high and created lofty expectations that could not possibly be met by whatever came next. Another difficulty is the fact that the world and its characters have moved on. With this new tale occurring a few generations in the future, to a certain extent the author was forced to start from scratch.

And though it shows signs of greatness akin to those that made its predecessors such wonderful reads, Naamah's Kiss turned out to be Carey's weakest Kushiel-related work to date. Indeed, the novel is a two-part story. The first portion, the one focusing on Moirin's upbringing and her sojourn to Terre d'Ange when she comes of age is as compelling as anything the author ever wrote. I was hooked from the first page and captivated by the plot, devouring chapter after chapter, impatient to find out what happened next. The second part, the one focusing on Moirin's sea voyage to Ch'in and her quest to save the throne, felt decidedly discordant and inconsistent. Hence, following a terrific start, the first installment in the Naamah series suddenly loses steam and suffers from a rushed ending that fails to live up to the potential shown by the book early on.

Here's the blurb:

Once there were great magicians born to the Maghuin Dhonn, the folk of the Brown Bear, the oldest tribe in Alba. But generations ago, the greatest of them all broke a sacred oath sworn in the name of all his people. Now only small gifts remain to them. Through her lineage, Moirin possesses such gifts—the ability to summon the twilight and conceal herself, and the skill to coax plants to grow.

Moirin has a secret, too. From childhood onward, she senses the presence of unfamiliar gods in her life—the bright lady and the man with a seedling cupped in his palm. Raised in the wilderness by her reclusive mother, Moirin learns only when she comes of age how illustrious, if mixed, her heritage is. The great-granddaughter of Alais the Wise, child of the Maghuin Donn and a cousin of the Cruarch of Alba, Moirin learns her father was a D'Angeline priest dedicated to serving Naamah, goddess of desire.

After Moirin undergoes the rites of adulthood, she finds divine acceptance... on the condition that she fulfill an unknown destiny that lies somewhere beyond the ocean. Or perhaps oceans. Beyond Terre d'Ange, where she finds her father, in the far reaches of distant Ch'in, Moirin's skills will be a true gift when facing the vengeful plans of an ambitious mage, a noble warrior-princess desperate to save her father's throne, and the spirit of a celestial dragon.

I've said many times that Jacqueline Carey's worldbuilding has always been amazing. Eschewing the traditional European medieval environment, Carey's creation is Renaissance era analog and it is set in an alternate version of Western Europe. And with the discovery of the New World and its exploration, this opens the door for countless possibilities. In the past, with each new book she took us on fabulous journeys that enabled readers to discover more about her universe and she never disappointed in doing so. Richly detailed and imagined in terms of cultures, religions, and politics, like all its predecessors Naamah's Kiss is another textured and sophisticated novel. Especially in the first part, as a young Moirin grows up and experiences the magic of the Maghuin Dhonn and little by little discovers her mysterious heritage. A little less so in the second portion, however, as Carey's portrayal of her alternate China would have benefited from more depth. Contrary to what is habitually the author's wont, there was no complicated web of murder and political intrigue woven through the plotlines. At her best, Carey's politicking can rival that of such masters as George R. R. Martin and Katherine Kurtz and I was a bit disappointed that things were more straightforward in this one.

Throughout the second series, I sort of missed the first person narrative of Phèdre nó Delaunay. As a deeply flawed character, her strengths and weaknesses made her genuine and her perspective, that of an older woman relating the tale of her past, misled readers on several occasions by playing with their expectations. I particularly enjoyed how Phèdre's strenghts often became her weaknesses and vice versa. But Imriel was deeply flawed himself and his point of view, though it took some getting used to, ultimately worked nearly as well as that of his foster mother. Oddly enough, Moirin's perspective didn't take any time to get used to. To a certain extent, Moirin's education and her introduction at the court of Terre d'Ange mirrors that of Phèdre in Kushiel's Dart. Having spent her childhood in isolation in the wilderness, there is an innocence and vulnerability to Moirin, but also a definite strength that Phèdre did not possess as a young woman. Her point of view is also very refreshing, especially her distinctly critical view of D'Angeline society and how frivolous it can be.

Jacqueline Carey always had a knack for creating engaging and memorable secondary characters, and once again she came up with a great cast for Naamah's Kiss. Early on, it's her protective mother Fainche and Cillian, Moirin's first love. In Terre d'Ange, it's Raphael and Queen Jehanne. And then, it's brash Bao, wise Master Lo Feng, and cursed Snow Tiger. Her relationships with these men and women will help shape the person Moirin will become. They will also have important repercussions in what is to come in the next two volumes.

As always, the author writes with an elegance that reminds me of Guy Gavriel Kay at his best. Her lyrical prose is something special and I have a feeling that it could well be the very best in the genre today. As I mentioned before, even the darkest and more shocking scenes are written with a distinctive literary grace that makes them even more powerful than they would be in the hands of a less gifted author. Once again in Naamah's Kiss, her gripping prose creates an imagery filled with wonder and beauty that never fails to fascinate. Even if the Ch'in portion of the book is not quite up to par with what came before. Like Robin Hobb, Carey also possesses a subtle human touch which imbues certain scenes with even more emotional impact. And other than Hobb, no one makes her characters suffer as much over the course of a book/series. And it looks as though Moirin's life will get a lot worse before it gets better.

Given the fact that this is another Kushiel installment, there is plenty of sex featured in Naamah's Kiss. But unlike the first two trilogies, in which sexual relationships were more about dominance and/or submission, as a scion of Naamah young Moirin offers herself for the sheer joy of the act. Her sexual nature and desire to please land Moirin into a number of contradictory and detrimental relationships that will put her into weird and occasionally dangerous situations. But these, as much as the other challenges she will face, will shape her and help her grow into the woman she is meant to become. In any event, if you've made it to this third series, I doubt that sex will put you off at this point.

As far as the rhythm is concerned, the pace is never an issue until the Ch'in voyage and the subsequent quest to save the warrior-princess and her kingdom. As a first installment meant to introduce the protagonists and their plights and lay the groundwork for what is to come, Naamah's Kiss is by no means a fast-paced affair. Jacqueline Carey sure knows how to come up with plot twists that suck you in and won't let go and I was enthralled from the get-go. The Terre d'Ange portion more or less parallels Phèdre's own story and is quite interesting. To be honest, even though the sea voyage more or less brought the tale to a standstill for a while, up until they reached Ch'in I was thoroughly engrossed by this book. Why the quest that followed, its resolution, and its aftermath were rushed in such a way, I have no idea. But it did rob Naamah's Kiss of the sort of engame and ending I felt it deserved.

And even though the novel did not turn out to be as good as its predecessors, Naamah's Kiss is yet another sophisticated and convoluted read full of wonder and sensuality, one written on an epic scale and with an elegance seldom seen in this subgenre. And as I mentioned in my review of Kushiel's Mercy, weakest installment or not, this one is still better than most fantasy offerings on the market today. And fans agree that the next volume is a return to form for Carey and perhaps one of the best books in the sequence, so I'm definitely looking forward to reading Naamah's Curse.

The final verdict: 7.75/10

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

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on the digital edition of George R. R. Martin's Tuf Voyaging for 1.99$ here. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

Long before A Game of Thrones became an international phenomenon, #1 New York Times bestselling author George R. R. Martin had taken his loyal readers across the cosmos. Now back in print after almost ten years, Tuf Voyaging is the story of quirky and endearing Haviland Tuf, an unlikely hero just trying to do right by the galaxy, one planet at a time.

Haviland Tuf is an honest space-trader who likes cats. So how is it that, in competition with the worst villains the universe has to offer, he’s become the proud owner of a seedship, the last remnant of Earth’s legendary Ecological Engineering Corps? Never mind; just be thankful that the most powerful weapon in human space is in good hands—hands which now have the godlike ability to control the genetic material of thousands of outlandish creatures.

Armed with this unique equipment, Tuf is set to tackle the problems that human settlers have created in colonizing far-flung worlds: hosts of hostile monsters, a population hooked on procreation, a dictator who unleashes plagues to get his own way . . . and in every case, the only thing that stands between the colonists and disaster is Tuf’s ingenuity—and his reputation as a man of integrity in a universe of rogues.

You can also download Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Dart, which could well be the very best fantasy debut ever, for only 1.99$ here! Considering that it's the opening chapter of one of my favorite fantasy series, this one comes with the highest possible recommendation!

Here's the blurb:

The land of Terre d'Ange is a place of unsurpassing beauty and grace. It is said that angels found the land and saw it was good...and the ensuing race that rose from the seed of angels and men live by one simple rule: Love as thou wilt.

Phèdre nó Delaunay is a young woman who was born with a scarlet mote in her left eye. Sold into indentured servitude as a child, her bond is purchased by Anafiel Delaunay, a nobleman with very a special mission...and the first one to recognize who and what she is: one pricked by Kushiel's Dart, chosen to forever experience pain and pleasure as one.

Phèdre is trained equally in the courtly arts and the talents of the bedchamber, but, above all, the ability to observe, remember, and analyze. Almost as talented a spy as she is courtesan, Phèdre stumbles upon a plot that threatens the very foundations of her homeland. Treachery sets her on her path; love and honor goad her further. And in the doing, it will take her to the edge of despair...and beyond. Hateful friend, loving enemy, beloved assassin; they can all wear the same glittering mask in this world, and Phèdre will get but one chance to save all that she holds dear.

Set in a world of cunning poets, deadly courtiers, heroic traitors, and a truly Machiavellian villainess, this is a novel of grandeur, luxuriance, sacrifice, betrayal, and deeply laid conspiracies. Not since Dune has there been an epic on the scale of Kushiel's Dart-a massive tale about the violent death of an old age, and the birth of a new.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Marie Brennan's A Natural History of Dragons for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Marie Brennan begins a thrilling new fantasy series in A Natural History of Dragons, combining adventure with the inquisitive spirit of the Victorian Age.

You, dear reader, continue at your own risk. It is not for the faint of heart—no more so than the study of dragons itself. But such study offers rewards beyond compare: to stand in a dragon's presence, even for the briefest of moments—even at the risk of one's life—is a delight that, once experienced, can never be forgotten. . .

All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, know Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world's preeminent dragon naturalist. She is the remarkable woman who brought the study of dragons out of the misty shadows of myth and misunderstanding into the clear light of modern science. But before she became the illustrious figure we know today, there was a bookish young woman whose passion for learning, natural history, and, yes, dragons defied the stifling conventions of her day.

Here at last, in her own words, is the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, her prospects, and her fragile flesh and bone to satisfy her scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love and happiness despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the perilous mountains of Vystrana, where she made the first of many historic discoveries that would change the world forever.

You can also get your hands on the digital edition of Kim Stanley Robinson's Green Earth for only 4.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

The landmark trilogy of cutting-edge science, international politics, and the real-life ramifications of climate change—updated and abridged into a single novel.

More than a decade ago, bestselling author Kim Stanley Robinson began a groundbreaking series of near-future eco-thrillers—Forty Signs of Rain, Fifty Degrees Below, and Sixty Days and Counting—that grew increasingly urgent and vital as global warming continued unchecked. Now, condensed into one volume and updated with the latest research, this sweeping trilogy gains new life as Green Earth, a chillingly realistic novel that plunges readers into great floods, a modern Ice Age, and the political fight for all our lives.

The Arctic ice pack averaged thirty feet thick in midwinter when it was first measured in the 1950s. By the end of the century it was down to fifteen. One August the ice broke. The next year the breakup started in July. The third year it began in May. That was last year.

It’s a muggy summer in Washington, D.C., as Senate environmental staffer Charlie Quibler and his scientist wife, Anna, work to call attention to the growing crisis of global warming. But as they fight to align the extraordinary march of modern technology with the awesome forces of nature, fate puts an unusual twist on their efforts—one that will pit science against politics in the heart of the coming storm.

Quote of the Day

The universe was always stranger than you expected. Sometimes it was full of wonders. Sometimes full of horrors.

- JAMES S. A. COREY, Tiamat's Wrath (Canada, USA, Europe)

Been waiting for a long time for this book!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

Amazon Prime members have free access to Mark Lawrence's soon-to-be-released One Word Kill. But ordinary folks can pre-order it for only 4.99$ (6.67$ in Canada and £3.99 in the UK) through the following links: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

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

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

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

Challenge accepted.

You can read my review of Lawrence's latest here.

The Kingdom of Copper

A lot has been said about S.A. Chakraborty's The City of Brass, especially within YA circles. The publisher has been marketing that book and its sequel, The Kingdom of Copper, as adult fantasy works. Unfortunately, for better or worse everything, and I mean everything, is very YA. Much of the noise had to do with the fact that a female Muslim author was writing an Islamic fantasy story set in a Middle Eastern universe and featuring a supposedly strong female lead character. Or so it was said. After reading the first installment, I begged to differ. And it's even worse now that I'm done with the second volume.

Like many a reader, I had high hopes for The City of Brass. Especially given the push it was receiving from Harper Voyager. Yet in the end, the novel suffered from too many shortcomings to be a truly enjoyable read. It never quite delivered the goods and turned out to be just an extremely long and occasionally boring introduction. Still, I was intrigued enough to want to give the sequel a shot. Sadly, The Kingdom of Copper fell short in basically all departments and was a major disappointment.

Here's the blurb:

S. A. Chakraborty continues the sweeping adventure begun in The City of Brass—"the best adult fantasy I’ve read since The Name of the Wind" (#1 New York Times bestselling author Sabaa Tahir)—conjuring a world where djinn summon flames with the snap of a finger and waters run deep with old magic; where blood can be dangerous as any spell, and a clever con artist from Cairo will alter the fate of a kingdom.

Nahri’s life changed forever the moment she accidentally summoned Dara, a formidable, mysterious djinn, during one of her schemes. Whisked from her home in Cairo, she was thrust into the dazzling royal court of Daevabad—and quickly discovered she would need all her grifter instincts to survive there.

Now, with Daevabad entrenched in the dark aftermath of a devastating battle, Nahri must forge a new path for herself. But even as she embraces her heritage and the power it holds, she knows she’s been trapped in a gilded cage, watched by a king who rules from the throne that once belonged to her family—and one misstep will doom her tribe.

Meanwhile, Ali has been exiled for daring to defy his father. Hunted by assassins, adrift on the unforgiving copper sands of his ancestral land, he is forced to rely on the frightening abilities the marid—the unpredictable water spirits—have gifted him. But in doing so, he threatens to unearth a terrible secret his family has long kept buried.

And as a new century approaches and the djinn gather within Daevabad's towering brass walls for celebrations, a threat brews unseen in the desolate north. It’s a force that would bring a storm of fire straight to the city’s gates . . . and one that seeks the aid of a warrior trapped between worlds, torn between a violent duty he can never escape and a peace he fears he will never deserve.

Once again, the worldbuilding was my favorite facet of this novel. Some readers keep raving about how dense and complex it is, but in my humble opinion this is a gross exaggeration. I know I said I enjoyed the worldbuilding and I truly did. And yet, compared to Steven Erikson, R. Scott Bakker, or even Bradley P. Beaulieu's worlds, Chakraborty's Middle Eastern setting doesn't echo with the sort of depth those other writers managed to achieve in their respective series. Nevertheless, the author gave life to her environment and the imagery continues to be arresting. She has an eye for detail and it shows in her depiction of the various locales visited throughout the book. If only she was as talented for characterization, plot construction and execution, as well as rhythm. Alas. . .

My main gripe with these books remains that the Islamic aspect of the tale felt totally unnecessary. As I mentioned in my review of The City of Brass, elements of the faith are used as mere window dressing and play very little role in the actual plot. As was the case with Saladin Ahmed's debut, I know that it's unfair to expect Muslim authors to imbue their creations with aspects of their faith in a way that non-Muslim writers simply cannot fathom. Still, perusing other online reviews, there were a lot of Muslim readers who felt the same way. Understandably, they are wondering what's the point of finally having an Islamic fantasy series published and not feel represented? When all is said and done, S.A. Chakraborty's Middle Eastern setting is no different than any other created by Western SFF authors of other religious backgrounds. Personally, I kept expecting more. Something more profound, something that would have taught me things about Islam, something that would have imbued this tale with a special something not found in other fantasy works out there. Unfortunately, it was not to be and once more it did kill this book to a certain extent for me.

The characterization suffered from the same shortcomings that sunk The City of Brass and remains decidedly weak. Even though I was expecting a young adult fantasy novel this time, I was underwhelmed. Regardless of the fact that she is a few years older and hopefully a little wiser, I found Nahri to be quite dumb for the most part. Extremely stubborn, she continues to be an accident waiting to happen. Which makes it difficult to root for her. As was the case in the first installment, every time you believe there has been some character growth on her part, something happens to make her revert to an impulsive dumbass adolescent girl. Alizayd, the supposed religious nutjob with a good heart, was a dead end for the better part of the first volume, but he slowly grew into a more interesting protagonist. I was expecting him to truly come into his own in this sequel, but it was not to be. Dara was by far the most intriguing character in The City of Brass and discovering more about his fascinating back story was quite a treat. He plays a much lesser role in The Kingdom of Copper, which definitely takes something away from the overall reading experience. The juvenile love triangle was poorly executed and gave The City of Brass a decidedly corny feeling. And though it's not as prevalent in this second volume, the same can be said in this one. Other than Manizheh, no one comprising the supporting cast proved to be particularly interesting. Hence, once again, the characterization was nothing to write home about.

Not surprisingly, like its predecessor The Kingdom of Copper is riddled with pacing issues. This lack of rhythm is mostly due to the fact that the better part of the novel focuses more on extraneous storylines instead of more important plot elements. There is so much padding that it felt as though a good third of the wordcount could have been excised and the readers wouldn't have missed much. And unlike The City of Brass, in which Chakraborty suddenly shifted gears near the end and delivered an exciting ending, everything in this novel moves at a snail's pace. Moreover, the endgame and the ending itself fail to elevate this book to another level. You're left wondering why you read hundreds of pages about the renovation of an old hospital and you're wondering why so little actually took place in this 640-page work of fantasy.

Given how lackluster and disappointing this book turned out to be, I'm probably ready to check out of this series. Chakraborty appears to be unable to elevate her game and the Daevabad trilogy is nothing more than Middle Eastern-flavored YA fare. True, the author occasionally shows moments of greatness. Problem is, you need to sift through so much crap to get to them that I'm not sure I'm willing to go through yet another door-stopper of a novel for such small gains overall. Time will tell if I'll give the next one a shot. . .

Bloated, slow-moving, overlong, and juvenile. That's The Kingdom of Copper in a nutshell.

The final verdict: 4.5/10

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

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download N. K. Jemisin's The Inheritance trilogy omnibus for only 2.99$ here. There is a price match in Canada. That's nearly 1500 pages for only 3$!

Here's the blurb:

After her mother's mysterious death, a young woman is summoned to the floating city of Sky in order to claim a royal inheritance she never knew existed in this award-winning fantasy trilogy from the NYT bestselling author of The Fifth Season.

Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky. There, to her shock, Yeine is named an heiress to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle.

The Inheritance Trilogy omnibus includes the novels: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdoms, The Kingdom of Gods, and a brand new novella set in the same world: The Awakened Kingdom.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Joe Hill's 20th Century Ghosts for only 2.99$ here. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

From the New York Times bestselling author of NOS4A2 and Horns comes this award-winning collection of short fiction.

Imogene is young, beautiful . . . and dead, waiting in the Rosebud Theater one afternoon in 1945. . . .

Francis was human once, but now he's an eight-foot-tall locust, and everyone in Calliphora will tremble when they hear him sing. . . .

John is locked in a basement stained with the blood of half a dozen murdered children, and an antique telephone, long since disconnected, rings at night with calls from the dead. . . .

Nolan knows but can never tell what really happened in the summer of '77, when his idiot savant younger brother built a vast cardboard fort with secret doors leading into other worlds. . . .

The past isn't dead. It isn't even past. . . .

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker trailer

Hope this is the last one. . .

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

In hardcover:

James S. A. Corey's Tiamat's Wrath debuts at number 6. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Michael J. Sullivan's The Crown Tower for only 2.99$ here. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

Two men who hate each other. One impossible mission. A legend in the making.

Hadrian Blackwater, a warrior with nothing to fight for is paired with Royce Melborn, a thieving assassin with nothing to lose. Together they must steal a treasure that no one can reach. The Crown Tower is the impregnable remains of the grandest fortress ever built and home to the realm's most prized possessions. But it isn't gold or jewels that the old wizard is after, and if he can keep them from killing each other they become a legendary team.

This is the first book in the new series, The Riyria Chronicles, from best-selling author Michael J. Sullivan. It takes place twelve years before the events of The Riyria Revelations and no prior knowledge of those books is required. You can read in either chronological order or order of publication, although the author suggests reading in publication order.

Quote of the Day

The beauty of religious mania is that it has the power to explain everything. Once God (or Satan) is accepted as the first cause of everything which happens in the mortal world, nothing is left to chance . . . or change. Once such incantatory phrases as "we see now through a glass darkly" and "mysterious are the ways He chooses His wonders to perform" are mastered, logic can be happily tossed out the window. Religious mania is one of the few infallible ways of responding to the world's vagaries, because it totally eliminates pure accident. To the true religious maniac, it's all on purpose.


There is really nothing so comforting to the beaten of spirit or the broken of skull than a good strong dose of "Thy will be done."

- STEPHEN KING, The Stand (Canada, USA, Europe)

More than halfway through and hot damn it's good! =)

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on the digital edition of Jeff VanderMeer's Veniss Underground for only 1.99$ here. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

In his debut novel, literary alchemist Jeff VanderMeer takes us on an unforgettable journey, a triumph of the imagination that reveals the magical and mysterious city of Veniss through three intertwined voices.

First, Nicholas, a would-be Living Artist, seeks to escape his demons in the shadowy underground—but in doing so makes a deal with the devil himself. In her fevered search for him, his twin sister, Nicola, spins her own unusual and hypnotic tale as she discovers the hidden secrets of the city. And finally, haunted by Nicola’s sudden, mysterious disappearance and gripped by despair, Shadrach, Nicola’s lover, embarks on a mythic journey to the nightmarish levels deep beneath the surface of the city to bring his love back to light. There he will find wonders beyond imagining…and horrors greater than the heart can bear.

By turns beautiful, horrifying, delicate, and powerful, Veniss Underground explores the limits of love, memory, and obsession in a landscape that defies the boundaries of the imagination.

This special edition includes the short stories “The Sea, Mendeho, and Moonlight”; “Detectives and Cadavers”; and “A Heart for Lucretia” and the novella Balzac’s War, offering a complete tour of the fantastic world of Veniss.

A Brightness Long Ago

I've said it before and I'll undoubtedly say it again. Every two or three years, Canadian speculative fiction author Guy Gavriel Kay releases a new novel that never fails to amaze me. For some unfathomable reason, though the man is definitely one of the very best fantasists of his generation, if not the best, I can't help but feel that he remains, at least outside of Canada (where he is a bestselling author), one of the genre's best-kept secrets. With unforgettable titles such as Tigana, The Lions of al-Rassan, Under Heaven, River of Stars, Sailing to Sarantium, and Lord of Emperors, Kay has set the bar rather high throughout his career. And I'm happy to confirm that A Brightness Long Ago is another memorable read that remains with you long after you've reached its end.

Like the majority of his books, Kay's latest is another captivating blend of history and fantasy. Having read the Sarantine Mosaic and Children of Earth and Sky is not a prerequisite for enjoying A Brightness Long Ago to the fullest. It is a stand-alone tale which takes place between the duology and the novel. Still, there are a few nuances that might resonate a little more strongly with readers familiar with the aforementioned works. In any event, you should read all of Kay's books if you haven't already!

Here's the blurb:

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

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

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

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

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

Long-time Kay fans will be pleased to learn that the tale occurs about 900 years following the events chronicled in the Sarantine Mosaic books, just before the fall of Sarantium. Once again, the worldbuilding was inspired by the Renaissance era, during the heydays of the republic of Venice. Richly detailed as only a Kay work can be, A Brightness Long Ago enthralls you from the get-go. I'm not sure how he does it with every new novel, but Guy Gavriel Kay once again came up with an incredibly evocative narrative and an arresting imagery. It's likely due to the extensive amount of research that the author puts into every project. Once more, I feel that Kay captured the moods and nuances of his chosen setting to perfection.

I've said it a thousand times, but Kay's talent and imagination allow him to create a living and breathing environment that draws you in and refuses to let go. I don't know how he manages to do it, but Kay's worldbuilding is almost always a subtle thing. The setting never takes precedence over the story and he never relies on info-dumps and other such contrivances. Still, somehow, seemingly effortlessly, as the tale progresses Kay ends up with an elegantly crafted setting that never fails to dazzle the eye. Few authors can immerse readers in such a vivid manner, and Kay's eye for historical details and traditions imbues A Brightness Long Ago with a realism that is seldom seen in works of speculative fiction. Having said that, his latest is not a sprawling novel such as Kay's epic works like The Lions of al-Rassan, Under Heaven and River of Stars. Indeed, A Brightness Long Ago is not as vast in scope and is more reminiscent of Ysabel and Children of Earth and Sky. It's a shorter book, true, but one that nevertheless packs a powerful emotional punch.

Guy Gavriel Kay has always possessed a deft human touch and his past novels are filled with memorable characters. And once more, it's the superb characterization which makes this book impossible to put down. As is usually his wont, the author came up with a group of disparate men and women, whose paths will cross unexpectedly and whose fates will be spun into a vast tapestry of love and tragedy. Each of them is going through important changes in their lives. Back when Children of Earth and Sky was about to be published, Kay told me that as much as anything, he wanted that novel to be about non-powerful (not same as ordinary) people on borderlands in a time of war, trying to shape their lives (very differently) in difficult times. They intersect, some of them, with power, but that isn't the heart of the story. It was also important for Kay to balance the five of them, not let one character take over the book. Add to that his usual desire to also balance awareness of history and themes against characters, narrative drive, etc, and you ended up with a complex and satisfying plot on your hands. For the most part, the same can be said about A Brightness Long Ago. The difference is that the protagonists are "less important" people in the greater scheme of things who get caught in the periphery of influential men and women whose actions will cause world-shaking ripples that will change the world as they know it. Young Guidanio Cerra is at the heart of the tale. But his meetings with first the beautiful and mysterious Adria Ripoli, and then with Folco Cino and Teobaldo Monticola, rival mercenary commanders with powerful armies, will set him on an unexpected course. Jelena, a young healer who treats a wounded nameless stranger will also unwittingly be drawn into events that will change her life. Of course, all of these protagonists are well-defined and three-dimensional. Other than the High Patriarch of Jad, that is, especially early on. He comes into his own later on in the novel, but at first it felt as though he was more of a cardboard cutout kind of character.

It takes a while for the various storylines to come together. And yet, in typical Kay fashion all these threads do come together beautifully at some point and the author closes the show with style and aplomb. I loved how the decisions of minor players can nonetheless have grave consequences that will shake the world and echo down the centuries. Returning to the universe of The Lions of al-Rassan, the Sarantine Mosaic series, and Children of Earth and Sky was in itself quite a treat. I once asked Kay if he would ever consider giving us a book on the fall of Sarantium one day. It was nice to witness its collapse and the repercussions it would engender around the rest of the world. But I'm still hoping for a full novel/series focusing on the downfall and capture of Sarantium at some point.

Though the pace can be slow-moving at times, it is never dull. From start to finish, with Kay's lyrical prose the narrative is a joy to read. I don't know how he does it, but it often feels as though Kay can convey more in a single sentence than most of his peers can in a full paragraph or a full page. With A Brightness Long Ago, Kay demonstrates yet again that he is a master storyteller in complete control of his craft. This is definitely one of the speculative fiction titles to read this year.

The final verdict: 8/10

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