Margaret Weis Interview

There are certain authors that hold a special place in our hearts. Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman are two of them. So, when Wizards of the Coast came calling and asked if we would like to interview Margaret Weis as part of her blog tour, we jumped at the opportunity. Without any further delay, we are excited to give you our brief interview with Margaret.

Margaret, thank you for taking the time to stop by our not-so-humble blog for an interview. Now, we want you to throw caution and humility to the wind. Here at Elitist Book Reviews we don’t hesitate to pat ourselves on the back, and we want you to do the same (your back, not ours). So tell us, why are you and your co-author, Tracy Hickman, so awesome?

LOL! What can I say? We love our work!

Speaking of Hickman, the two of you have published a ridiculous number of novels together. What do you find the benefits of co-authoring to be, do you enjoy writing alone or as a co-author more, and after all this time working together is it always smooth sailing or are there disagreements?

There are benefits to writing both singly and with a co-author. If I write by myself, I have to come up with solutions to the problems I always create for myself. (Writing myself into a corner.) When I'm writing with Tracy, I can call him and dump the problem in his lap. (Tasslehoff's going to die unless you find a way to save him!) The biggest disagreement we had was that I maintained that Laurana would never give up being the Golden General to run off to save Tanis. Tracy, being a romantic, maintains that love conquers all.

Dragons of the Hourglass Mage was released back in August, a full 25 years after Dragons of Autumn Twilight. We literally owe our introduction into fantasy to you and Tracy (a simple ‘thank you’ just doesn’t seem to do our feelings justice, but, seriously, thank you!), as do many readers. How do you keep those loyal readers satisfied while appealing to this newer generation of readers?

The internet has been a big help to us, especially the community of fans on the DL Nexus message boards. We really try to listen to our fans and, while we may not do everything they would like us to do, we take their concerns and ideas seriously.

Along the same lines as the last question, what do you think it means to be a fantasy reader today and how has it changed from when you started writing fantasy?

Back in the day, the majority of readers of DL were men. So many women used to come up to us to tell us that they started reading DL because their boyfriends/husbands urged them to read the books. Now we see many more women and girls reading DL and fantasy in general.

Do you feel like the genre as a whole is evolving, and if so, how do you feel about it?

I must admit that I don't read fantasy!

Again, Margaret, thank you for dropping by to show us how great you are. You’ve made our year. Seriously. Any parting words for us and our readers?

Thank you for traveling Krynn all these years with us!




We wished we could have asked more questions, but we were thrilled to have Margaret take time out of her busy schedule to talk with us! We understand Margaret will be online throughout the day, so you may just be able to coax some comments out of her if you ask nicely!

And if that doesn’t work, we have free copies of DRAGONS OF THE HOURGLASS MAGE to give away. Here are a few ways to get your copy. We have chosen, at random, certain comment milestones for prize winners. So come and chat with us and Margaret, and who knows, your comment might be one of the lucky winners. To hook you up, we have also reserved a couple copies to give away for people that make Margaret laugh (or us for that matter), or ask something great, or make an insightful comment. As always we will judge what deserves the last couple prize books, but no need to worry. If you didn't trust us our enlightened judgement, you wouldn't be coming to our site.

Seriously folks, we know that a lot of you owe your fantasy readership to Weis and Hickman like we do. Remember, go give them your support. Here are a few links of pure greatness:

Margaret Weis' Site
http://www.margaretweis.com/wp/

Tracy Hickman's Site
http://www.trhickman.com/

Wizards of the Coast
http://www.wizards.com/

Sara Easterly (she set us up with the interview...of course we are going to mention her!)
http://www.saraeasterly.com/

And lastly, we have a Dragonlance Novels Guide if any of you crazy readers need one...lets face it, Dragonlance has a ton of books. If you want it, email us and we'll send you a copy!

The Electric Church

In our continued quest to bring you new authors and new series we have come across a number of candidates. You have a lot to look forward to. We, however, decided to start with this book, simply because it really has the coolest cover. (Hey...turns out even WE judge a book by it's cover.)

THE ELECTRIC CHURCH, by Jeff Somers, is a loose SF/Cyberpunk novel set in a post-apocalyptic near-future USA (and London). In this particular world, a new religion, The Electric Church, guarantees Salvation and Eternal Life...

...with a catch.

The followers of the church are all called Monks, and their method of conversion is (assuming you don't go willingly) murdering you, and implanting your brain in a robotic avatar. It is a cool concept in an otherwise action oriented novel. Our main character is Avery Cates, is a Gunner (aka. assassin and murderer). Our dear Gunner, Avery Cates, is hired to whack (we were requested in the recent contest to use this word) the leader of The Electric Church.

It's hard to go into too much detail on this novel without going into spoilerville, because really, the plot is pretty thin. This is a SF equivalent to your hack-n-slash fantasy novel. Lot's of guns blazing, lots of staring at people menacingly, but not a ton of content. However, THE ELECTRIC CHURCH is just the first book in a series, and there were enough small ideas that could be built on (hopefully) to make the next two novels better. Popcorn SF right here, folks. In all honesty, we could overlook the thinness of the plot just because it's nice to have an SF novel that doesn't take itself so seriously. You know what we are talking about.

The one huge complaint we have? Language. Look, we aren't put off by swearing in a novel. But when you start questioning if you will read just ONE sentence without the F-word being dropped in it, it has gone overboard. We get it, Somers. You want to be gritty. But you know what? Language doesn't make a novel dark and gritty. The tone does. The events do. Adding this much language makes us lose sight of the small plot. It is very distracting. With a tad more effort, and a more creative use of the English language, this book could have been amazing.

So, the positives? An extremely cool cover, a very solid (though not fleshed out enough) world and idea, and it is a really quick read (once again, this is nice for SF these days). The negatives? Avery Cates is pretty flat (Anti-heroes are great when they start questioning everything as opposed to just killing anything that moves. Hello? Character motivation is calling!), the swearing, and a fairly simple plot. After all is said and done, a lot of the more mature crowd will like this novel. We like a lot of what Somers did, and will read the next novels, but we were bothered by the bare-bones feeling the characters gave us. In all, this novel rides the line of "Books we Like" and "Books that are Mediocre."

Recommended Age: 18 and up due to the language alone.
Language: WAY to much.
Violence: Yeah, but it really isn't as crazy as we thought it would be considering the main character is a violent killer.
Sex: Oddly no. With the inordinate amount of swearing in this book, obviously included for shock-value, we had started to expect a number of graphic, shock-value sex scenes.

The Grave Thief

Every now and then, we get a little hesitant to pick up and read a novel. We know, this is a dangerous admission on our part--believe it or not we are human sometimes (the rest of the time we are Review Gods, remember?). You see, when we find a series of novels that we like, each subsequent novel in that series becomes more exciting and terrifying to pick up. Why? Because we are afraid of being let down (read: Jim Butcher).

You, faithful readers, may recall our review of Tom Lloyd's THE TWILIGHT HERALD a few weeks back (go here to read it). We loved it, and said you all should go out and worship Mr. Lloyd. We recently received a lovely care-package from Pyr SF&F that contained Lloyd's THE GRAVE THIEF. Yeah, Nick squealed and passed out like a teenage girl at a Beatles concert. Seriously. We were quite nervous to start this novel. What if it wasn't as good as the first two? What if we hated it? What if he (Tom Lloyd) decided to throw his aspirations to be an author out the window? We've been talking with Lloyd since our last review of one of his books, and in a recent email, he told us what he hoped to accomplish with THE GRAVE THIEF:

"The middle novel of a series is a tough one to approach - you know there's going to be a lot left open and a lot has been dictated by events of the previous two. Hopefully I've dealt with that by surprising the reader at points. Along the way there might be the odd comment on fanaticism, ethics in politics and war, duty, loyalty, and fear - but mainly it's angry daemons an' stuff."

See, even Tom was worried a bit! So, how was the novel? Did Tom Lloyd deliver? If we could only use two words to describe it, what would we say?

Pretty dang cool. (Well...math was never our strong suit. We can't be good at EVERYTHING...just MOST everything.)

Luckily, we get more than two (or three...) words to tell you what makes this novel so brilliant.

THE GRAVE THIEF builds itself around the results of the ending in the second book, THE TWILIGHT HERALD, which was explosive to say the least. It's hard to keep that excitement, so we will admit--and assume that Tom would agree--that there is a bit of a adrenaline drain at the onset of this third installment. However, with the great cast of characters, an expansive, original and interesting world, and the rising feel and threat of conflict...well, let's just say that adrenaline drain didn't last long. At all.

The events in the second book leave the characters feeling somewhat overwhelmed, beleaguered, haunted, and downright stressed out and the third book capitalizes on that.

And...wait for it...the novel takes a turn for the ominous and dark! Yay!

While THE GRAVE THIEF is the middle child of Tom's series, he certainly went to efforts to make sure it wasn't easily dismissed. The characters are all given a significant and enjoyable amount of 'screen-time'. None of them felt like they were hogging the spotlight, which meant we never felt like we wanted to skip a few pages (you know you've done this in novels before). This was a hard feat to accomplish, especially in light of the darkening moods and attitudes of some of the characters. And this is exactly where the third book shines. It is evocative in it's mood and emotion. Something that helped us through the slower moments. It impresses us tremendously that Tom was able to take something that could have ruined this novel, and make it one of the strongest aspects instead.

The book is engaging and heavily thematic, but there is seriously a lot going on here, both in overt and subtle ways. There are so many new threads and plot-lines that are added and fleshed out here that we just about felt overwhelmed. Just about, but not quite. THE GRAVE THIEF kept us right on the edge. Tom's writing paints a beautiful picture, and uses those threads to make us want more and more. And yes, it is obvious that there is more to come. A lot more.

The focus in this book are the topics of politics, religious fanaticism, and the resulting conflict from those things. We like this sort of stuff, but it did slow the book down quite a bit compared to the earlier two. There are some real world issues that are reflected here in Tom's writing, but it dodges the pitfalls of writing with an agenda. Something a lot of authors could learn from (Was that subtle enough? Did you get who we were pointing the finger at?).

Now with all that said with regards to the slower parts and the focus of the novel, we can move on to the action. The action is, as we have come to expect from this series, nothing short of incredible. We loved every minute of it, and we even reread some of the scenes a second and third time for the sheer pleasure of it. Not to be outdone by the extremely fun conclusion to THE TWILIGHT HERALD, Tom reaches new heights in this books finale. It isn't as grand or epic as the the previous book's ending but it will drop your jaw. The last chapter alone is worth the cover price of the novel. Luckily for us, and you all, the entire book is worth it too.

So the answer to the burning question that you all certainly have is: Yes, this is epic fantasy done extremely well, and Tom Lloyd had assured that he is an author with staying power. THE GRAVE THIEF is different, darker, and slower, yet retains the stuff we love about this series and is a worthy addition to that series and we can't wait for THE RAGGED MAN, the next installment.

In case you didn't get the hint, go buy THE GRAVE THIEF right now! It was released this week!

Recommended Age: 16 and up. Yeah, we upped the age by a year due mostly to the darker tone. However, if you read the first two, your age shouldn't prevent you from picking up the third one.
Language: Nothing too bad or foul really. Like with Erikson, this impresses us.
Violence: Like we said, though not on the same epic magnitude as the prior novel, the action and violence here is insane. By insane we mean there is lots, and it is incredibly well...executed (*snicker* See what we did there?)
Sex: You know, we don't don't actually remember any. Once again, Tom proves that you can have a dark, epic fantasy without resorting to shock-value.

Go email Tom at http://www.tomlloyd.co.uk/contact.html and tell him how much you love him. Because we know you do. Also keep an eye out in the next little while. We have a series of interviews planned, in which Tom has agreed to feature in. (Can you guess how excited we are? WEEEEEE!!)

Ghost Ocean

GHOST OCEAN, by S.M Peters, is an Urban Fantasy that,to put it simply, rocked our socks off. S.M. Peters is the author of the awesome WHITECHAPEL GODS which you may remember Nick recommended in the 102 class of the University of Fantasy here (If you paid attention and were a good student, that is). We already knew he was a very creative and imaginative author, and were not surprised in the least with the way GHOST OCEAN held our attention.

Te Evangeline, the main character of the book, is more than she seems (it's all we can do not to make a Transformers reference here...oh wait, did that count anyway?), and so is the city she lives in. The city of St. Ives is home to a multitude of supernatural creatures and an eclectic crew of very unique individuals that keep them in check. The story is, at once, about the mysterious pasts of these team members and the present exploits of a creature that had been imprisoned and is now broken free.

We loved how unique each of the team members was. Their talents, history, quirks, and vices were extremely entertaining to read about. Not a single one of the characters in this book felt like someone we had ever come across in our reading crusades. They were incredibly fleshed out, especially for a single volume book that weighed in at the fairly low page count. What? You want a few examples? FINE. Babu is the chain smoking paranormal investigator. Lester is a real vampire with a more modern set of eccentricities than traditional vampires (Don't worry, he is still a blood sucker. Stephanie Meyer, pay attention. This is how you do a modern vampire). Angrel is an albino Tarot card expert. And that's not even all of them. Yeah. We enjoyed every page of getting to know these characters. You know what really impressed us? Even the characters that had already been killed before the book started had more depth and interest than some authors can manage for their characters in an entire series.

On a topic related to the characters, are the supernatural entities that are encountered. Each of them has a personality that is very well defined and interesting. Not to mention how terribly deadly each of them are. Woohoo! Finally an author that brings us some inventiveness in his creation of monsters! Did we mention they were deadly? Like tear off your limbs, drain your soul, kill you dead, or worse? We did? Oh. Well, the power of reinforcement and all that...

The writing in the book is an improvement over his efforts in WHITECHAPEL GODS, which was nothing to scoff at in the first place. We can tell he is building his ability and perfecting his craft. Not to mention he is brave enough to dip his toes in multiple genres. So far he has written a Steampunk masterpiece, and now an exciting and thrilling Urban Fantasy. He has the capability to bridge genres without missing a beat. His efforts have hit the nail on the head both times and we look forward to seeing what he provides us with next. Fans of China Mieville (PERDIDO STREET STATION) and Neil Gaiman (AMERICAN GODS), but looking for something a little less dark or graphic, will find a perfect match with S.M. Peters.

We would heartily recommend this book to readers of all types, both those who read fantasy and who don't. It is an exhilarating thriller/mystery at it's heart and kept us turning the pages, unwilling to put it down.


Recommended Age: 16 and up. There is enough graphic detail of violence, and swearing that any younger of a recommendation wouldn't be responsible.
Language: There is a bit of cursing here, but it isn't distracting in the least bit.
Violence: There isn't a LOT of it, but what is there is pretty strong and graphic.
Sex: A few acts are spoken of, but nothing is really shown.


So yeah, S.M. Peters. You know, it seems like nobody has heard of this guy. Considering the talent this guy packs into his novels, you would think he would have his name plastered all over the place. You should all go help him out by purchasing both his novels (they are both easily worth the cover price of the Mass Market paperback they are printed in), and you should seriously get all your friends to read Peters' stuff too.

We don't see a personal website for him out there. If you see one, let us know so we can update this review to include it. S.M Peters deserves attention, and as much linkage as possible.

Contest Results

Here are the contest results and we, to put it simply, had a blast reading all of your submissions. There were a handful of potential winners that we debated back and forth in deciding who would be declared the winner. So without further ado we give you:

Meg! You are the grand prize winner and will be receiving the ARC of I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER. For the rest of you, here is her submission.

1. If Steve could be a classic horror monster, what would he be?
c) a were-unicorn. What is more horrifying than that? (and Nick, I'm sorry but if you can possibly qualify as a "classic" horror monster then a were-unicorn can too.)

2. Steve's favorite food is:
e) Me. I'm very tasty.

3. Nick Prefers:
e) Let’s not get picky now…all of the above! (But this sadly forgot to mention calico and every other hue imaginable:)

4. Steve has a cameo in a book as a:
a) Corpse. (I don't really know but its by far the most interesting...)

5. How many kids does Nick have?
f) He’s aware of a “few” potentials, but the DNA results are still pending… Bwahahahahaha! Jk. that would be sad.

6. If Nick was an RPG character, what would his skills and traits be? skills: growing damned delicious facial hair. Traits: a natural swagger that makes him impossible to catch and will invariably set you two levels back if you try to mimic it.

7. Nick looks like a Arabian God.

8. Nick is a sexy beast.

9. Nick's idea of Hell is a world without good books, and women. In that order.

10. Nick's superpower is smoldering persuasion.

11. Steve is really good at torturing suspense.

12. If Steve was a pro-wrestler what would his name be? OBLITERATOR

13. Steve is bloody convincing as a toothfairy but does reasonably well as a goopy
black demon. (Remember, analogies are your friend.)

14. Steve's favorite past time is giggling, its rather fetching too. Downright adorable I'd say.

15. Steve's best quality is the glistening dome that is the case to his brilliant brain.

16. When playing against Nick, Steve will never win a game of duck-duck goose. Nick is dodgy.

17. The thing Nick hates more than anything else is cancerous food. maybe.

Essay Questions(100 words or less):
1. Why is Elitist Books Reviews the best review site around? (If you say it isn’t, you automatically fail the test, and we will send ninja-zombies after you.)

Although I could take your flimsy ninja-zombiezzz any day of the week, in rather skimpy leather outfits i might add, I'll agree that elitist books reviews is indeed the best review site around. That is, its most likely the only review site I have ever sought out intentionally and that alone says much for its dazzling quality. Another reason is because I know I can trust the taste of said reviewers. Screw the 100 words or less, I'm not counting that. It's probably only fifty anyhow. That's reason enough. If you're not satisfied I'll bring you a special brownie or something but don't push it.

2. Why should we give you a free Advance Reader Copy (ARC) of Dan Wells’ novel, I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER instead of your competition?

BECAUSE I AM DYING TO KNOW HOW IT EFFING ENDS!!!!!! GAWD. JUST DRIP VIRUS INFECTED BLOODY PUSS INTO MY EYE AND THE TORTURE WILL STILL NOT BE AS CRUSHING AS HAVING TO WAIT ANY LONGER.

3. Extra Credit: Write an intro to a SF/F or Horror novel, with Slamel and Bookstore Guy as the main characters (Hey. Its our website, and we set the rules here. And yes, those must be the names used.). 200 words or less here folks. Make it short and sweet. Make it short and bitter. We don't care, as long as it is short and it makes us laugh.

-Slamel hated his guts more that the cat that had pissed on a strategically placed spot just outside his apartment. Bookstore Guy unfailingly sat snug in Slamel's spot for the fifth time in two weeks. The bastard had seen him sitting in that oh so glowingly lit plush chair too. They were both regulars at the bookstore cafe so the deliberateness of this usurper was unquestionable. Slamel was fed up. He approached the loathed Bookstore Guy and sternly cleared his throat. That was when he noticed that Bookstore Guy was staring in confused horror at something behind him. Slamel whirled around and saw...nothing. Bookstore guy laughed at Slamels pissed-off expression and said, "You see, I'm the scariest thing here anyhow." Then he calmly slid his eyes back into his brain and down into his mouth where he grinned and waggled his tongue between the eye balls being jauntingly juggled back and forth. Slamel gently slumped forward in a dignified faint. Bookstore Guy caught him deftly and moved toward the exit muttering something about panty-waists.

A few fun facts and statistics:

For whatever reason a high number of you chose to make us kill each other in the extra credit section. You know, we are actually friends. We hardly ever have violent tendencies towards each other…except on weekends…and some weekdays (like 5 of them). Here is the final score based on kills of the other reviewer:

Slamel -- 38.5 (the .5 refers to one where Bookstore Guy was dead, but it wasn’t entirely clear if Slamel was the cause of said condition)
Bookstore Guy -- 7.3 (he's a little bummed at these results, but in one submission he did turn into a monster and make Slamel faint...that's the .3)
Tie -- 2 (don’t ask…)

Nick has the reputation of a womanizer, and no one has a clue what "were" monster Steve wants to be (though the guesses were mostly hilarious).

We are more important to most of you than your family and friends. Thank you.

The threat of ninja-zombie assassins is quite potent. (Except for Meg who has demonstrated her zombie genocidal skills.)



Some of our favorite answers from all of your submissions:

Q1:
C) A were-rabbit with sharp pointy teeth *insert two-fingered fang gesture here*
C) A were-munchkin. Seriously, can you think of anything scarier? I sure can't.
C) A were-unicorn. What is more horrifying than that? (I'm sorry but if "Nick" can possibly qualify as a "classic" horror monster then a were-unicorn can too.)
C) A were-zombie
Note: Nick had to convince Steve that he couldn't give the ARC to this entry based exclusively on the were-zombie answer
C) A WereMustang. Get it? Classic? Har har har. Besides, who doesn't want to turn into a sexy car once every lunar cycle. Vroom vroom, baby."
(Vroom vroom is right Madison.)

Q2:
E) You...well, I am Mexican, and everyone knows we have the best food. It's only logical that we taste just as good.
F) Nick's brains...Steve is a zombie after all.
E) Steve's favorite food is obviously (E) me, because I'm 100% guaranteed to be more delicious than your average extranational. French excluded, if you are in the mood for cheese.

Q3:
F) Stephanie Meyer...wait...
F) Anyone whose first name isn't Terry...
E) Let's not get picky now... all of the above! (and preferably at the same time)

Q4:
Steve has a cameo in a book as the corpse of a hot dog vendor whose cartoonist girlfriend enlists the help of a hard-nosed journalist to track down the stay-at-home mom who murdered Steve for his immense fortune. Those were good hot dogs, mate.

Q5:
B) 1 - Nick, I know this may not be the best way to give you the news, but I have something I need to tell you...

Q6:
He would be an amnesiac with really spiky blond hair, and emo attitude without actually saying anything, an ability to carry an 8-foot-long sword with toothpick arms and...oh wait, Nick's traits? I thought you said Cloud from FF7...

Well that depends entirely on what you mean by RPG. Rocket-Propelled-Grenade? Blowing things up with his head. Randomly-Prescient-Gnu? Eating your socks before your wife finds them bunched up in the kitchen sink. Recycled-Poppy-Glue? Making you hallucinate about broken glass, twisted soda cans, and an old lady with soggy dentures trying to kiss you.

Q7:
Nick looks like a human being, despite the experiments.
The love child of Stevie Nicks and Thomas Jefferson.
A slightly less handsome (and distinctly more middle-eastern) version of Steve.

Q8:
Nick is a Rock Band beast (How did you know!?)

Q9:
Nick's idea of Hell is getting some tongue from Terry Goodkind
Nick's idea of Hell is a world without good books, and women. In that order.

Q10:
Doll painting.
(They're action figures!!!!)
Licking hot girls and getting away with it

Q11:
Holding tea-parties with the dolls Nick painted... (see above)
Ignoring Nick while he uses his superpower (see above again)
Making single women feel uncomfortable.

Q12:
The Book Burner
The Goatee
Steven Erikson

Q13:
Steve is as fancy as a high-class hooker with a nasty blow habit
Steve is (almost) as pretty as Nick
Steve is as limber as a Chinese finger puzzle

Q14:
Steve's favorite past-time is giggling, it's rather fetching too. Downright adorable I'd say.
Trying to figure out what the **** those fast-talking Gilmore Girls are actually saying.

Q15:
Steve's best quality is his humility.
Steve's best quality is his arrogance (hmm).
Steve's best quality is his back hair.

Q16
Friends: The Trivia Game.
Twilight Imperium...PDS pewpewpew!
(Steve is pretty sure Nick fed this answer to the person who submitted it)

Q17
That time when he left a copy of Twilight and Wizard's First Rule sitting on top of each other and they had a baby. He hates that baby. Oh how he hates it.

Essay 1:
Although I could take your flimsy ninja-zombiezzz any day of the week, in rather skimpy leather outfits I might add...
Note: The full answer to this question, submitted by our winner, was quite a bit longer, but we couldn't manage to get past the leather-outfit part without getting distracted.

Essay 2:
You should give me an ARC because if you don’t I will post on tha intaweb that you are two lonely but lovely vampires in search of a date.

Well, mostly because I need it so I can use the excuses therein as a cover for my actual serial-killing. I swear, I’ll be you guys’ personal Dexter if you give it to me. If you don’t, I’ll simply add you two and the person you gave it to to my list

Essay 3:
Slamel paused just a second before he slammed the clip into his .50 Desert Eagle and blew his ex-girlfriend’s nose through the back of her head. He felt a slight pang as her skull imploded but what could he have done? He always thought that they might get back together one day but he now realized that that was just wishful thinking.
That’s what happens when you turn into a zombie, he thought a little wistfully.
“Was that last one Karen?” yelled Bookstore Guy from across the room where he was boarding up the windows.
“Probably,” Slamel shouted back. “Hard to tell.”
“Hard to tell? I’d recognize that nose anywhere.”
“Screw you. You finished with those windows yet?”
Bookstore Guy paused as he drove home the few remaining nails and then turned, flourishing his hammer.
“Yep.”
“Good. That’ll slow ‘em down, but it won’t stop ‘em for long. We need to get to that boat.”
“You hold them off here for a sec, I’ll just run upstairs and grab the C4. If we don’t run in to too many groups, we should be able to make it by-” Bookstore Guy’s voice cut off in a strangled gasp as a mottled gray fist shattered one of the boards and latched on to his shoulder, yellowed nails sinking deep into the muscles of his arm.
“Slamel!” Bookstore Guy screamed as he was inexorably dragged backwards. “Get it off me!”
Slamel raised his gun, paused and pumped two rounds into Bookstore Guy’s chest. He turned and ran out the door, but not before he saw the shocked look in Bookstore Guy’s eyes.
Oh well, Slamel thought as he made his way towards the boat. That’s what happens when you turn into a zombie.

Dark Time

Let us just start, right from the get go, by saying that DARK TIME: Mortal Path by Dakota Banks is NOT written for guys like us. In fact we would go so far as to say its not written for guys at all. So we feel an obligation for some leeway in the way we review it. Don't worry, we will still do it in style, as you have come to expect from us.

DARK TIME is an entry into the current trend of Urban Fantasy with a touch of eroticism and a strong female lead. It follows closely in the footsteps of the likes of Laurell K. Hamilton and Faith Hunter. Is this a bad thing? Well our feelings our mixed on that score. It doesn't stray from that tried and true formula very much, if at all, which is somewhat disappointing. However, that means that what content there is works (for the most part, as we will demonstrate later).

First of all, what did Banks do right?

Well our first thought is both a right and a wrong. She didn't take any risks here. But that's because what she did has already been established as a good story. Our protagonist, Maliha, is a former professional killer that hit her targets at the behest of a Sumerian demon/god, and wanted out of the life. In order to avoid eternal torment she must atone for the loss of life she created by saving lives for each that she took. Sound kind of familiar? It should. However, we like this plot device so we put this in the win column.

As mentioned above she used a more obscure set of cultural myths (Sumerian) which we applaud heartily. We are pretty tired of seeing Norse, Greek, Roman, blah blah blah myths used as a basis. It was incredibly refreshing to find a new set of names to get involved in. We don't know what these demons and gods are capable of and it is awesome to experience it. We wished she had explored the mythologies behind the Sumerian demons and gods involved much more. That was incredibly fascinating to us. We love that kind of stuff (In fact, Nick will sit and research a random cultures mythologies in depth, just to pass the time). We are sure that more will come in the later books of the series, so we can understand the skimping now. Our appetites are sufficiently whetted for more of the mythology.

There is plenty of action, whether it be fighting, sex (or the tension of it at least), and not to mention more high tech gadgets than a Bond movie.

That's a good enough spot to go the next section. The...less than stellar.

As far as that previously mentioned action goes, while there is plenty of it, it can be extremely ridiculous. Our favorite part (Nick literally laughed out loud and shook his head) is when our protagonist has a sharpened plastic throwing star flung at her. What does Maliha do? Well of course she throws her own metal throwing knife at the throwing star speeding towards her. Ok, she has some superhuman abilities that have been defined. We can believe this part so far even if it is kind of silly. But what happens next... Well... When the weapons meet in midair, the metal knife doesn't break the plastic star, it deflects it. OK Banks, we are still with you...if barely. It doesn't, however, send the star flying in a random direction. Instead it is sent straight back into the original attacker's throat. Oh, along with Maliha's knife. Seriously? This was stupid. How did this slip past revisions and editing? We also lost count of how many handsprings and cart wheels the main character does. Even Steve's wife, the gymnast, snickered a little when it was mentioned to her.

The other down side of all that action is that there is really very little plot since the book is pretty short. This brings us to our next big problem with the book. As we said before, the plot is centered around Maliha paying off her debt of killing people while she was the slave of a Demon. She does this by saving lives. Deal. We are with you Banks. Its not very original but, again tried and true is still fun. However, Maliha kills more people in this book than she saves. So...how does this paying of her debt work again? We don't know. Sounds to us like she is just digging her way further into Hell.

OK, technically the protagonist does an act that saves millions of lives in this book, but that somehow doesn't pay of her debt. We have a hard time believing, based on the examples shown of her assassinations while a slave, that she could have killed millions of people. So why isn't her debt paid off after this huge life saving act? We don't know.

As for the task of settling this debt, Maliha sure takes a relaxed stance towards it. She thinks about it, and the stress involved from time to time, but she takes time to lay on a beach and stare a speedo clad man's junk? She takes time to write lusty murder mysteries? She goes on dates? What the eff? C'mon lady, you have 300 years of killing to make up for! You don't have time for that silliness. Do you hear that banging sound? Yeah, that's us banging our heads against the wall in frustration.

At the end of the day, the book delivers, totally, on it's promise, which is a seductive, sensual action experience. Its the book equivalent of Charlie's Angels, but without the annoying Drew Barrymore.

Was this book what we were looking for? Not really, but it was fun enough to be worth the time spent reading it. If you're looking for a superficial, popcorn novel to entertain you for an evening this book fits the bill. Bottom line? There are a huge number of females that will love this novel (with certain members of the male population filing it under their "guilty pleasure reading"), and really, and in that sense, this book succeeds tremendously since females are the obvious target-audience.

Recommended Age: 16 and up.
Language: There is some cursing, but its not distracting.
Violence: Well yes, quite of a bit of actually. Thank you for asking.

Sex: A few acts, though with as much focus on the sensual aspects of the book as there is the scenes are remarkably vague. The talking and thinking about it permeates the book though.

The Company

K.J. Parker's THE COMPANY has a paperback release here shortly. We figured after reading the Engineer Trilogy that we should give her (K.J. Parker) another chance. Bottom line here: we really wanted to like this novel, but at the end of the day, we were left unsatisfied.

Let's be clear here, we didn't hate THE COMPANY, but we sure didn't love it either. This novel follows the story of A Company, a small group of soldiers who were considered the most fearsome during a past war. THE COMPANY is partially about their attempts to reintegrate into society after the war, and partially about their attempts to colonize an island they...procured.

The good? OK, we suppose we can start there. The set-up of the novel is well done. The flash-backs between the current time-period and their days in the war is well done. It has a slight LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA feel to it (Hurray!). The big, problematic-type logic flaw that was present in the Engineer's Trilogy is absent, and it made the novel a tad more enjoyable.


The premise is extremely worthy as well. We love the idea of people who were your lifeline, your stability, and the people who were closest to you becoming your obstacles. Lots of drama and conflict there. Or potential for it rather.

However. (Yeah, it's a bummer, but someone has to tell you the problems...)

The subtitle on the novel says "The War is Never Over." We wish that was really the case. What it should have been was "This Book Isn't About War." Yes, we are aware that Parker probably meant to be all symbolic here. Whatever. Had this novel focused on the actual war (this novel is billed as military fantasy, after all), and less on the poor administration of a colony, it would have been much more interesting. Really, we aren't violence starved maniacs (well, Steve is) and we can appreciate a book that doesn't have it. However, our expectations with this novel weren't met. Not by a long shot. Or rather no shot at all. Remember...the lack of violence?

Also, Parker has clarity issues in her writing. Where Scott Lynch was able to seamlessly transition between past and present, Parker is unable to do so quite so perfectly. In addition, the jumps between the PoVs aren't as clean as in her Engineer novels. In other words, the story was a little better, but the writing a little worse than the Engineer Trilogy.

We also had trouble with many of the characters in a lot of ways. In this type of book especially, the characters need to be engaging, vivid, and interesting. Sadly, most of them were pretty flat and didn't progress a lot. Earth to Parker! When you kill a character make it awesome! Character death was handled in a very 'meh' sort of manner in this book. Give it impact on the emotions of other characters! We know, a novel concept (no pun intended)! This was poorly done here.

As you can see, we were left unsatisfied. Look, all we want is a good story, with good characters. This just wasn't quite up to that challenge. It promised a lot, but delivered on very little of it.

In all, we've decided THE COMPANY--and consequently Parker--is middle of the road. Some people are certain to love it, while others will consider it nothing but mediocre. We are in the latter camp. If you did like her other works, you will, without a doubt, like this novel, and you should purchase it. If you were "meh" about her work, this won't change your mind in the slightest.


Recommended Age: 16 and up. Lots of administrative type stuff here that will go over a younger person's head.
Language: There were professional soldiers, so yes, there is language. It is prominent, but not excessive.
Violence: Very little. Kind of a bummer. These guys are supposed to be crazy awesome, yet all they do is stand around and live off reputation. Rather lame.
Sex: Nope.


Note: You may have noticed this review lacked our normal humor. Why, you ask? The sheer mediocrity of the novel literally (Yes literally. Like a vampire who has been on a diet for months) sucked the humor out of of. We each cried a little.

Interview with Dan Wells

Elitist Book Reviews: We here at Elitist Book Reviews don't hesitate to tell people how awesome we are, because its the truth, and we want you to do the same. So tell us, why are you so awesome, Dan?

Dan Wells: I'm awesome because I once wrote a Choose Your Own Adventure book specifically designed to be unwinnable. I'm awesome because I've eaten brains. I'm awesome because I am not a cylon (as far as you know). But most of all, I'm awesome because Elitist Book Reviews loves my book.



EBR: Without giving too much away, can you give us a little background on the I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER trilogy?

DW: I wrote the first book because one night when I was explaining the MacDonald Triad to Brandon Sanderson he said, "that would make a cool book." It took me a year to figure out the best way to write it, but he was totally right. I submitted it to a number of editors, and Moshe Feder from Tor not only loved it but wanted a trilogy, which I had not planned for. That night I rewrote the ending a bit and brainstormed two sequels; three years later, the trilogy is finished and follows that brainstormed outline remarkably closely. In short: John spends the first book letting his dark side free, and a dark side is not an easy thing to lock away again.



EBR: What sets your book apart from the other Horror novels on shelves today?

DW: That's a hard question to answer, because modern horror covers such a wide range of styles and backgrounds. In some ways the plot of my book is closer to common fantasy tropes than to horror: young boy finds his world threatened by a dark power, and learns that he must use his inner gifts to rise up and become the hero. Of course, the dark power is a supernatural serial killer, and the "inner gifts" are sociopathy and a comprehensive knowledge of how to stalk and kill an unsuspecting victim. So I guess what I'm saying is: the structure of fantasy with the elements of horror, in a story that most readers describe as a character drama. Wow; that makes it sound really weird.



EBR: Was it difficult to write a book based on the behavior of serial killers without glorifying it?

DW: Writing without glorifying was not especially difficult, because the context of the story shows that the main character a) does everything he can to stop a killer, and b) suffers horrendously for his many serial killer-like traits. Promoting the book, on the other hand, has been very difficult to do without glorification. American culture is fascinated by serial killers--they're our hometown boogie men--and that's a big part of the draw of the book, but I've had to step very carefully to avoid things like "who's your favorite serial killer?"



EBR: What, if any, influences do you draw from in your writing?

DW: I didn't read a lot of horror until after I started writing it, but in retrospect I see a lot of horror themes in the stuff I did read: classic authors like Victor Hugo, Joseph Conrad, and Fyodor Dostoevsky. The Hunchback of Notre Dame is pure horror, beginning to end. I find that I'm attracted to hopelessness in fiction, for some reason; Russian literature, for example, is an incredible blend of determination, humor, and despair. I'd like to think that some of that comes through in my books.



EBR: What courses or trends do you see the genres of speculative fiction taking from here?

DW: Every new generation grows up more steeped in speculative fiction than the last, and I think we're not far off from the day when speculative fiction not only joins but takes over the mainstream. Do you want something more immediate than that? The same principles apply: the same formulas that made paranormal romance big ("it's like a romance novel, but with vampires!") will spread very strongly and very visibly into other areas of high-readership fiction, such as thriller and mysteries. The courtroom novel, the detective novel, the spy novel, etc. will all have their Twilight, thanks to the foundational work already done by people like Jim Butcher and Jonathan Maberry. In the realm of fantasy the pendulum is going to continue to swing toward heroic over epic, but overall I definitely think we're in a golden age of fantasy, and years from now people are going to look back at this period as the time when fantasy really took off.



EBR: Thank you for your time and indulging our curiosity. Any parting words for our readers?

DW: I like your shirt. It really sets off your eyes.

EBR Contest: The First

We at EBR are definitely fans of free stuff, and we figured that surely some of our readers must be fans of free stuff as well. So we wanted to offer you all the chance to get some. (Free stuff that is. Nick is too busy for anything else right now.)

What free stuff? Well. Glad you asked. The grand prize winner will receive an ARC (advance reader copy) of Dan Wells' novel, I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER. Remember, we reviewed and LOVED this book. It is one of the best novels we have read in a LONG time. It even has the US cover on it, so its different from all the rest available right now. Not to mention you will get to read the book half a year before all your friends (well, assuming you are in the US of course...).


The runners up will each receive a I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER button. You know, so that you can reassure all your friends and colleagues that you are, in fact, not a serial killer. (We hope.)

The rules and regulations are simple. 1) Fill out this little questionnaire about...wait for it...none other than your EBR staff. 2) There are right answers to the questions of course, but the best way to score points is to make us laugh. 3) The contest will be open until Sunday 9/20/09. Then we will score them and post the winners on Monday. 4) Email them to us. Please. 5) We don't care where you are from, but obviously, this contest benefits the folks in the US the most. That said, we'll ship it wherever (can't promise how long it will take to get there). 6) Don't be shy. The more entries, the more likely we are to do further contests really quick here (yeah, that was some foreshadowing).

We look forward to your contest entries. Also, don't forget to go take a read of our interview of Dan Wells. Get a glimpse into the mind of the beast so you can know how awesome the grand prize is.




1. If Steve could be a classic horror monster, what would he be?
a) A fake sparkly vampire
b) A real vampire (with really big teeth)
c) A were______ (fill in the blank with your choice--yes, it matters)
d) A zombie
e) Nick

2. Steve's favorite food is:
a) Chinese
b) Italian
c) Mexican
d) Thai
e) You

3. Nick Prefers:
a) Blondes
b) Brunettes
c) Red-heads
d) Dyed
e) Let’s not get picky now…all of the above!

4. Steve has a cameo in a book as a:
a) Corpse
b) Hot Dog Vendor
c) Cartoonist
d) Journalist
e) Stay-at-home Mom

5. How many kids does Nick have?
a) What’s a kid?
b) 1
c) 2
d) 3
e) They read Goodkind, so none anymore…
f) He’s aware of a “few” potentials, but the DNA results are still pending…

6. If Nick was an RPG character, what would his skills and traits be?
7. Nick looks like a _____.
8. Nick is a _____ beast.
9. Nick's idea of Hell is _____.
10. Nick's superpower is _____.
11. Steve is really good at _____.
12. If Steve was a pro-wrestler what would his name be?
13. Steve is _____ as a _____. (Remember, analogies are your friend.)
14. Steve's favorite past time is _____.
15. Steve's best quality is _____.
16. When playing against Nick, Steve will never win a game of _____.
17. The thing Nick hates more than anything else is _____.

Essay Questions(100 words or less):
1. Why is Elitist Books Reviews the best review site around? (If you say it isn’t, you automatically fail the test, and we will send ninja-zombies after you.)
2. Why should we give you a free Advance Reader Copy (ARC) of Dan Wells’ novel, I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER instead of your competition?
3. Extra Credit: Write an intro to a SF/F or Horror novel, with Slamel and Bookstore Guy as the main characters (Hey. Its our website, and we set the rules here. And yes, those must be the names used.). 200 words or less here folks. Make it short and sweet. Make it short and bitter. We don't care, as long as it is short and it makes us laugh.

Patient Zero

There is a topic in novels that has become sacred to us here at Elitist Book Reviews. If you screw it up, we will hate you forever. If you do it well, we may send you cookies...or at the very least worship you. The topic?

Zombies, baby. Zombies.

The easiest way for us to describe PATIENT ZERO by Jonathan Maberry is to say that it is Rainbow Six: Zombies. Cut out the technical mumbo-jumbo that Tom Clancy felt he needed to put in RAINBOW SIX, add more zombie action, and you get PATIENT ZERO. Zombie novels don't get much better than this. Take a half-hour break right now, and go to your bookstore and pick up this novel. And get a bag or two of popcorn while you are at it.

Joe Ledger, the main character of PATIENT ZERO, is completely full of awesome. How so, you inquire? He is the equal parts Ash, MacGyver, and Bruce Lee...though we picture him looking like a young Ash (Bruce Campbell), regardless of the book description. Why not? We are elite, so we can do what we want! Anyways, back to Joe. He is recruited to be part of an anti-terrorism (heavy on the terror...remember, zombies) group sanctioned by the President of the USA. It is an All-Star Team of scientists and military specialists whose only purpose is to take care of the scary by any means necessary.

This novel is 28 DAYS LATER with military squads blowing up, shooting, stabbing, and snapping the necks of mobs of zombies. Uh huh. Awesome. Maberry adds convincing science (to us, though lets face it, we aren't science gurus here. Book review Gods, yes. Scientists, no.) that shows how terrorists have built a virus that turns people into zombies, or "walkers" as they call them. The thing with zombie novels/stories, is that you can't take them too seriously. The characters and relationships here are built to fulfill roles that may feel cliche to the average reader. Guess what? It's a zombie novel! Zombie novels have a free pass to use cliches (we say so, so therefore it is fact)! There is a sarcastic brand of humor throughout the novel (which fits perfectly) to go along with the insane, over-the-top, awesome violence. Yes, this book drips testosterone...and some zombie brains. You know what makes this book even better? The villains aren't idiots. In fact, some of them are considered the most brilliant people on the planet. And they are zealots, which makes them even more dangerous while simultaneously giving them a weakness that the heroes can realistically overcome.

We are very happy with PATIENT ZERO. Thrilled, more like it. Giddy, if we are being revealing about ourselves. It has been a while since we have had so much fun reading a novel (Steve couldn't stop giggling his enjoyment). There is SO MUCH action here--refreshingly with characters who are actually affected by the horrors they are facing (an astounding concept, no?)--that you really have no choice but to love it. Oh, and did we mention that the writing style lends perfectly to this novel?

Jonathan Maberry, we salute you, and we hope for more Joe Ledger soon.

Recommended Age: 17 and up.
Language: Uh, yeah. Did you read our three-word summary up top? Rainbow Six: Zombies. Of course there is language. And lots of "hooah."
Violence: Oh yes, and it seems to be non-stop. The pace of this novel is 1,000 mph. All. The. Time.
Sex: Yes, but very little. Focus people, this novel is about blowing up zombies. Weeeeeee!

Jonathan Maberry has made it onto our very short-list of favorite horror authors. This means you should be reading him. This means you should be visiting his website. Go thank him for writing one of the funnest novels of the year.

http://jonathanmaberry.com/


Steve's Note: I love zombies. They can be cheesy or scary; it doesn't matter to me. I just love them. My good friend, Dan Wells--who's terrific book we reviewed a while back here--often has discussions with me about zombies, and how we could make them more fun to read. He once mentioned to me that his agent, Sara Crowe, also represented Jonathan Maberry and his new zombie novel PATIENT ZERO. I respect Dan's work a lot, so therefore I respect Sara Crowe's taste in clients a lot. I decided to check it out. After reading so many terrible novels lately, PATIENT ZERO was a welcome relief, the most fun I have had reading in ages, and one of my favorite novels of the year. In my opinion, all people should be required to love zombies. With this being said, all people should be required to read Maberry's PATIENT ZERO.

Fantasy 201

Your elite instructors here at the University of Fantasy are back and offering a new course. Like the 101 section we both, separately, came up with our suggestions for the class reading assignments. As you will see Steve and I ended with very differing approaches, again both viable, to the 201 section. While Steve's choices are, mainly, the threads of the larger tapestry in the broad fantasy genre, mine are the best examples I could find for three of the big sub-genres in fantasy. One of the main things to keep in mind while reading over our picks is that the 201 and 202 level fantasy is generally as far as the typical reader will go. Why? Well, because our 300 level picks tend to be either very high-minded and/or very mature. Read these novels, and then decide if you trust us enough (which you should) to read the higher picks we will be recommending shortly.

Steve's Picks:
Mistborn: The Final Empire:
Written by my good friend, Brandon Sanderson, MISTBORN is a story about a small group's efforts to overthrow a ruler who has been in power for 1,000 years. It is the first novel in a trilogy, and carries with it one of the most unique magic systems out of any fantasy novel. It is my favorite work of Brandon's to date, and I pushed this novel with all my book selling strength when I was managing a bookstore. The age didn't matter. If the person liked fantasy, they got this book as a recommendation. The reason it is in the 201 category? It is a more intelligent novel than the 101 variety, and it is truly appreciated after you have read the basics and understand why MISTBORN is so different.

Runelords:
Yet another unique magic system. RUNELORDS is the first in an epic fantasy series by David Farland. Once again, having a basic understanding of the fantasy genre will help you appreciate this novel (and series) much more. Dave Farland is another author I have met and talked with, and he is one of the nicer authors you will meet. His novels are great for teens and above, and I highly recommend you give them a shot.



Dawnthief:
In Heroic Fantasy, there are certain authors one thinks of. You have your classic David Gemmell, your ultra simple (yet foundational...yes I made up that word) R.A. Salvatore, and your dark and complex Joe Abercrombie. Where both Gemmell and Salvatore are your 100-level Heroic Fantasy, and Abercrombie is your 300-level, James Barclay's DAWNTHIEF nicely bridges the that 200-level gap. I was seriously impressed with Barclay's first novel (which we reviewed here), and it will make a great addition to your collection of novels. Out of all the novels mentioned here by either Nick or myself, this one has the most mature content.

Nick's Picks:
The Black Company:
Some of the best Military fantasy you will read. It is gritty and visceral and is a perfect entry into that sort of darker fantasy that I enjoy so much. It is hard for me to come up with a better description for this series than Steven Erikson did, "Reading his stuff was like reading Vietnam War fiction on peyote." The books are fast reads, descriptive and interesting.




The Eye of the World:
I feel just as obligated to put this series here in the 201, as I did to put The Hobbit, and for much of the same reasons. I am not the raving WoT fanboy I used to be, after having been exposed to authors like Bakker, Lynch, Abercrombie, Rothfuss, Lloyd, Martin, etc., but like I said for The Hobbit, I stand in absolute respect and awe for what Robert Jordan has done for the genre. If Tolkien is the grandpa of fantasy, Jordan is the fun uncle you are always excited to go visit. He changed the face of Fantasy and shattered the barrier that Tolkien's wedge cracked. Anyone reading Fantasy needs to read Jordan. I admit a certain amount of hesitancy to include a 14 (planned, with Brandon Sanderson finishing the last three) book series, with plenty of slow parts, for the 201 section, instead of the 202, or 301 (uh oh. Was that some foreshadowing? Dun-dun-Dun!) but in order to appreciate the diversity of Fantasy, I think readers should see what the sub-genre Epic Fantasy really means.

The Name of the Wind:
If The Black Company is the epitome of Military Fantasy, The Eye of the World the epitome of Epic Fantasy, then The Name of the Wind is the epitome of Traditional Fantasy. Many of the stories in fantasy include some sort of coming-of-age tale, and Patrick Rothfuss refined that recipe to make something astonishingly entertaining. It's more thoroughly researched--to a perfectionist standard--and therefore a more intelligent read than some of the other options. The other reason this book is included here is that is way newer than my other selections. Glen Cook and the late Robert Jordan's series are 20 years, give or take, old. Rothfuss brings a touch of the younger, fresher fantasy to my 201 selections.

Un Lun Dun

First, we want to thank Kaylynn ZoBell for letting us borrow her copy of this novel. She is full of awesome, and hopefully, will be published soon so we can do advance reviews of her work (no pressure there, Kaylynn).

Secondly, it's been a long time since we have been this conflicted over a novel.

UN LUN DUN, by the excellent China Miéville, is a Alice in Wonderland-style tale about two girls living in London who are mysteriously transported to Un Lun Dun (UnLondon...get it?). One of the girls, Zanna, is the Prophesied One who is supposed to save Un Lun Dun from a disaster. The other girl, Deeba, is the Prophesied Sidekick (seriously, it's mentioned in the glossary of a talking book they encounter).

UN LUN DUN is a YA novel that feels...UnYA (our cleverness with words is only exceeded by our eliteness). The two girls feel like they belong in a Middle-Grade book, the story feels YA, yet the writing has a tendency to flirt with the normal adult-level fiction. This is China Miéville, and normally this means we get the truly dark and bizarre. With UN LUN DUN, it felt like Miéville was really trying to not be so dark and twisted, but perhaps he tried too hard. The reason Miéville is so awesome is specifically for his imaginative ability to create the disturbing. There really is none of that here, and we were a bit put off. However, UN LUN DUN does have its moments. Most of the imaginative aspects are built around word-play, and they all work surprisingly well. Unbrellas (yes, that is an "n" not an "m," and they are alive), Black Windows (window frames with spider legs), Parakeets (they have a feather shaped like a key), ninja trash bins (complete with lids and nunchucks), and a dozen uses of the word "smog." Those are just an incredible small sampling of the crazy inhabitants of Un Lun Dun. To help out your imagination, the book it littered with interior illustrations. They are awesome, and we wish more novels had them (not to mention Miéville did them himself).

The best part about UN LUN DUN is when you realize who the real hero is (and how fitting it is), and how the main characters go about their heroic quest. Miéville does a fantastic job in breaking the rules here (We know, vague. No spoilers, remember?).

Are you confused as to whether we liked or disliked the novel? For a while we were too. However, the more we thought on it--like most of Miéville's novels--the more we found ourselves charmed by it. It was so bizarre, and so different, that we can't help but appreciate it. Miéville mentions that he got a lot of advice from Neil Gaiman. We can tell, and while UN LUN DUN isn't as strong and Gaiman's work (this novel will most ofter be compared to his novel, NEVERWHERE), it is still worth borrowing or the price of a cheap paperback (what we mean is, don't pay more than $10 for it). Though, we've got to say, the hardback is stunning in appearance. One of the most beautiful, unique covers we've seen in a while.

Recommended Age: 14 and up. It's hard to say here because the novel is all over the place.
Language: Perhaps one word. Nothing to worry about here.
Violence: Not really, which is odd for Miéville. Just a lot of...strange.
Sex: No. Once again, odd for Miéville. You shouldn't be reading this book for that kind of content anyway. Move along.

The Dragon Keeper

What happened?

Robin Hobb is held by many as a fantastic author of the fantasy genre. Her first three trilogies are constantly given high marks in most circles, and are easily recommended to newer readers of the genre. We recommend starting with ASSASSIN'S APPRENTICE, it's a great read. However, her fourth trilogy--The Soldier Son Trilogy--was met with much poorer reviews (and rightfully so). So, when we saw that Hobb had released another novel in the UK, we got our expectations up hoping she would return to form.

Disappointment just doesn't seem to cover how we felt.

THE DRAGON KEEPER marks a return to the Liveship universe Hobb created, and the result is terrible. In fact, it is quite possibly the worst novel we have read all year (and remember, we just read Goodkind). There is no climax. At all. The repetitive book is really, really repetitive (See what we did there? Yeah, it was that bad at times). Do you, dear readers, want to know what bothers us more than anything? Predictability. We hate reading a conversation that spans twenty pages, and have the culmination be obvious from the very first sentence we read. Now imagine this happening ten or fifteen times over the course of a novel. What? You can forgive that? (You detect the sarcasm here right?) OK, well how about every character being a predictable cliche? You know, the outcast girl whose mom is embarrassed by her, but whose father loves her even though (and because) she is physically "different." Oh yeah, and she finds herself drawn to crippled dragons. Surprised? We were--that is, we were surprised Hobb would stoop to such a terrible character cliche. Not enough? How about the apparent "homely" woman who marries for convenience...and then is still shocked that her husband doesn't value her. Don't worry, she meets a coarse, sailor-type man who is instantly infatuated with her. Shockingly, she becomes infatuated with him as well. Will they? Won't they? Nick is fanning himself in anticipation. Once again, sarcasm...it's the only way we made it through the novel. See what we do for you? Remember, Sainthood.

There came a moment when Steve was reading that he thought, "This is horrid. What's next? A random scene of homosexuality?" Guess what? The next chapter included a random scene of homosexuality. Is this a bad thing in itself? Not necessarily. If there was a motive for it, or if it had been used to explain certain characters more fully, then we could see it being OK to include. However in this case it felt like it was thrown in for shock-value, and for the express purpose of creating some sort of false stir in an otherwise coma-inducing novel.

What's that? You want to know about the pacing? OK, there is one pace in THE DRAGON KEEPER. Snail's-pace slow. There is no action. None. There is no real political intrigue. There is no real character development--they are the same from page one until the end. In an effort to understand why Hobb would write something so terrible, we scoured the internets and found that this is just the first half of a novel. It was so long, it was decided to cut it in half. Reviewers all over are cutting her slack for this, and giving her amazing reviews. Why! Why would they do that!?! If the novel is terrible, it is terrible. It doesn't matter if it is really only the first half of a bigger novel. All that means is the first half of the novel was absolutely pointless...just skip to the section of the novel worth writing and publish that. Don't waste our time and money by publishing an incomplete novel. A poor industry standard is being set here. Hobb tried to follow Patrick Rothfuss' example from NAME OF THE WIND, and she failed on an epic scale.

One last thing (yeah, and we could keep going). Chapter leads can be very entertaining. They can be used to cause misdirection, give additional info/history, or they can even further the plot of the novel. The leads in THE DRAGON KEEPER were beyond idiotic. They lent NOTHING to the novel. In all honesty, they were the worst leads were have EVER read, and they should never have been allowed to be published. They had no humor, plotting, historic, world-building, or story purpose. Completely. Pointless.

Don't read this novel. Ever. It doesn't matter if you are a Hobb enthusiast. The book is awful. It's bad enough that we read it. Our worry now is that the next book we read will incorrectly seem amazing when compared to this one. Be glad this book isn't available in the US for several months yet.

If we weren't so elite, this book could have caused us to give up fantasy forever.

Recommended Age: If you read this, you will literally die of boredom regardless of your age.
Language: A few words. We are surprised Hobb didn't resort to more just to get more shock-value to keep people reading.
Violence...make that Excitement: None. Not even a hint.
Sex: Two scenes that weren't needed. If you are going to include this in your novel, give it some semblance of importance.

Fantasy 102

Ready for a little continued education? After making our individual picks for Fantasy 101, we realized there were quite a few novels and sub-genres that we weren't been able to include. Steampunk, Urban Fantasy, YA Fantasy, etc. There are tons of novels that can help ease a person into fantasy without getting so...epic. Here are some quick definition links for you:

Steam Punk
Urban Fantasy

So, in an effort to introduce you all to a wider variety of Fantasy, here are six more picks.

Steve's Picks:

The Book of Three: (Middle-Grade/Young Adult)
When I was young, in the 2nd Grade, I was hungry for books to read. Looking back, I believe that was when I decided that there was more to life than recess. I looked up at my parents' bookshelves and say a neat row of well-worn books by Lloyd Alexander. My mom handed down the first of them to me--THE BOOK OF THREE--and told me to read them...I expect it was a bit of an experiment to see what I would do. I read the novel, and the ones that followed, and thus began my love of the fantasy genre. It is only now that I realize what made Alexander's novels so entertaining. The hero's tale mixed with the coming-of-age story made my childhood imagination wander. Now I look back at the not-so-subtle way Alexander poked fun at his own characters, and their own dilemmas. Any age of person can pick these novels up and get a taste of Fantasy, yet they are shelved in the Children's Section of your local bookstore. Pick them up for yourselves, and for your children. Who knows, maybe one day your 2nd Grader will point up to them and ask you if they can read them.

Mortal Engines: (Steampunk)
Philip Reeve's novel, MORTAL ENGINES, is the most basic Steampunk novel I know of. Cities, in this alternate version of our own world, are all mobile. They act as predators, with larger cities being driven (literally) by the populace to chase down and consume other, smaller cities. The recommended age for these novels is grade 7 to 10, but I think they serve as a fantastic introduction into the sub-genre for any age. Part of what makes this novel (and its sequels) so entertaining, is that for a YA novel it isn't afraid to be darker in tone. There are themes of tragedy, betrayal, and revenge, all the while mixing in a little romance into a unique and enjoyable setting. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of MORTAL ENGINES.

Something From the Nightside: (Urban Fantasy)
This Urban Fantasy novel by Simon R. Green is really on the line of Fantasy 102 and Fantasy 202. SOMETHING FROM THE NIGHTSIDE is about a private detective named John Taylor who uses his unique...gift...to find things in the Nightside. The Nightside is a sick magical city hidden within the city of London. There it is always 3:00am--the part of the night where it's always darkest before the dawn, and the dawn never comes. The novels in this series are all short, but the imaginative world created inside those pages is incredible, and enjoyable. This book has some language, violence, and some blatant innuendo. It's the most mature of any of the 100-series books I am recommending (hence why I almost put it in 202). However, I think Green's Nightside Series is a great place to get your feet wet in the Urban Fantasy sub-genre. Enjoy it!

Nick's Picks:

Storm Front: (Urban Fantasy)
If you read our review of Butcher's latest (and if you haven't you have some explaining to do) then you know I have become somewhat disillusioned with the series. However, that doesn't detract from the quality of his earlier work. Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files is the very pinnacle of Urban Fantasy. I mean there is a wizard battling all manner of supernatural threats in a city setting. Nearly all of the Dresden Files are page turners which, for me, is the number one requisite for a recommendation here, aside from the genre that is. For an introduction to a style of writing or storytelling, the book has to grab your attention and never let go. Jim does that incredibly well. There are a good couple dozen books that I considered adding here, however none of them define this sub-genre quite like Butcher does. Plus, from the launchpad of The Dresden Files there are dozens of roads to be taken to other sub-genres such as the apocalyptic tales like E.E. Knight's Vampire Earth or Faith Hunter's Rogue Mage Novels to Laura K. Hamilton's Vampire Hunter series.

The Somnambulist: (Victorian)
Jonathan Barnes serves up one well-plotted, awesome story here. Like my other selections so far it is the paragon of it's sub-genre, the Victorian thriller-fantasy. It is a bit creepy, a bit comic, a bit exotic, and all excellent. Once again my standards for recommendation in the University of Fantasy require ease of entry and reading. Despite being a harder recommendation on that basis that my previous two, it still meets them and is a great entry point to the more mysterious, fantastic thriller style. This kind of macabre adventure is going to be remembered based on it's first line alone, at least, and it is: "Be warned. This book has no literary merit whatsoever. It is a lurid piece of nonsense, convoluted, implausible, peopled by unconvincing characters, written in drearily pedestrian prose, frequently ridiculous and willfully bizarre. Needless to say, I doubt you'll believe a word of it." If that doesn't make you want to read it, I have no hope for you.

Whitechapel Gods: (Steampunk)
S.M. Peters is an outstanding author, as evidenced by this book. It is a very foreign and very unique take on the steampunk genre. I include it here because it is so bizarre in many ways that it serves as a great example of what is possible in steampunk, while not so esoteric as China Miéville's exotic slipstream. The plotting is very well done and the steam technology presented is extremely interesting, not to mention the machines that aren't powered. All in all, right now, this is one of my favorite steampunk novels as well as the first candidate I considered for this recommendation. New readers to the sub-genre, may not be caught by the steampunk fishhook, but they will at least be impressed with Peter's writing. Read this, and learn what steampunk has to offer you.