How about something new and different for our review here at EBR? We read and review novels pretty much constantly, but we have yet to discuss any short fiction. The thing to be wary of when reading short fiction, in our opinions, is that you can't treat it like a novel. Where novels have several fully developed ideas that all contribute to the plot, setting, and characters, short stories and novellas typically only have one or two fully developed (sometimes) ideas. If you go into a collection of short fiction with the right mind-set, you will find that it can be a refreshing change from the novels that you have been reading.
All of this brings us to the collection of novellas METATROPOLIS, edited by John Scalzi. Included in this collection are five stories about the world's (mostly, however, in the USA) future cities in a post-apocalyptic setting where all the eco-crazies and capitalism-haters were right. Each story was written by a different author: Elizabeth Bear, Tobias Buckell, Jay Lake, Karl Schroeder, and John Scalzi (who, as we mentioned before also acted as the project editor). METATROPOLIS is different from most collections of short fiction. In most anthologies or collections, we get a handful of stories that all include one common theme (vampires, zombies, robots, etc.), but are otherwise unrelated. METATROPOLIS came together through the collaborative communication of the five previously mentioned authors. They brainstormed together. They read each others work during the process so they could give feedback and figure out how to connect the five stories. To us, this sounds like an ideal creative situation.
As individual stories, each of these novellas could be considered average. However, by putting them together, the old saying is completely true where the finished product is far greater than the sum of its parts. Each story brings something new to the table while building on the ideas introduced in the prior story. We get deeper ideas like one man's attempt to overthrow and entire society (Jay Lake's "In the Forests of the Night"), and a look at the evolution of networking and gaming theory (Karl Schroeder's "To Hie form Far Celenia"). The other stories give us pieces of how societies and their components evolved in the created future of METATROPOLIS. Want to know about the way people are placed for work, and a cities ability to deal its responsibility to the dying (literally) suburbs? John Scalzi has you covered in "Utere Nihil Non Extra Quiritationem Suis." How about ecological protests, and the future of micro-transactions? Tobias Buckell's "Stochasti-City" gives you the details. Lastly, an economy built on reputation alone? Elizabeth Bear tackles this subject (as well as the aftermath of the events from Buckell's novella) in "The Red in the Sky is Our Blood."
As you can see, it is an impressive list of ideas and themes that blend together extremely well. We have to assume that good editing and project managing by Scalzi helped the effort, but we also imagine that five incredible authors working together from step one through completion had serious beneficial impact on METATROPOLIS.
We will be the first to admit that we prefer novels as opposed to short fiction. We like seeing a big, developed story. However, METATROPOLIS won us over. The writing was fabulous in each story, as well as extremely accessible. There were moments where the casual reader might feel some of the stories were preachy, and we have one thing to say to those readers: Stop thinking so hard. Read the stories for the enjoyment of them. Not everything has to be profound and earth-shattering. For us, the cool factor of METAROPOLIS is in the execution of the fantastic ideas.
What do we want now? How about direct sequels to the novellas? We can't think of it having been done before, and these five authors would be the perfect people to pull it off. How bout it Scalzi? Get the gang together again!
The one thing that is tough about this collection is that it isn't widely available. We paid $30 for our copies from the amazing Subterranean Press, but they are currently sold out. Amazon says they have some copies available, but we don't really trust the listing (we've been burned before...). At one point, Scalzi mentioned to us in an email that he would have an announcement on the future availability of METATROPOLIS shortly. Hopefully (for you) this means a paperback release (or a hardback re-print at the very least) is coming soon.
Regardless, however you can get it, do it now.
Recommended Age: 15 and up. Some deeper material at times that may go over the head of some younger people.
Language: Some, but nothing excessive.
Violence: Not really. This is more about the evolution of ideas and society. Violence wasn't really needed to get the points across.
Sex: Some light innuendo.
OK. We want to see more projects like this in the near-future, so the best way we can think of to accomplish this is for all our faithful readers to bug the authors of METATROPOLIS until they give in. Drop by their sites, and beg them for more collaborative imagineering.
John Scalzi -- http://whatever.scalzi.com/
Jay Lake -- http://www.jlake.com/
Tobias Buckell -- http://www.tobiasbuckell.com/
Elizabeth Bear -- http://www.elizabethbear.com/
Karl Schroeder -- http://www.kschroeder.com/
Also, go bug Subterranean Press to get more collections like this. They are a terrific provider of limited edition novels and collections. We've been customers of their online establishment for a year now, and have immensely impressed by them.
So. DEXTER BY DESIGN. The fourth novel by Jeff Lindsay that follows the exploits of Deviously Deadly Dexter (if you followed our advice earlier and read the first novel, DARKLY DREAMING DEXTER, you know why we use the alliteration...and it should be fairly obvious anyway). To be quite honest, we are getting tired of the novels, and are turning more towards the Showtime Series for our Dexter fix.
DEXTER BY DESIGN is not a bad novel. Some may (mistakenly) consider it a worthy addition to the Dexter series, and an improvement over 2007's DEXTER IN THE DARK. We understand those opinions, and prior to reading the latest Dexter novel, we too had hoped the fourth novel would get us back on-track after a decidedly...odd?...third novel. What do we mean by an odd third novel? Well, for whatever reason (With no foreshadowing we might add. Naughty Mr. Lindsay. If Dexter were an author, he would kill you for such an oversight.) Lindsay decided the third novel should be all paranormal horror. So, in the DEXTER BY DESIGN, we figured Lindsay would go further with that line of thought to make that story-line less jarring.
Well. Apparently not. And he decided to mention the events of the prior novel exactly once.
There is only one thing worse than taking your series in a completely un-foreshadowed direction, and that is going back to the way it was before without even an informative comment. The situation is like the terrible ending of the novel SPHERE by Michael Crichton. (Let's all hold hands and say it NEVER happened! Wee! Horrible. Just horrible.) Now remember, we originally stated we thought this would be the way to go. However, after reading this fourth Dexter novel, we changed our mind. Simply put, going back to the status quo made DEXTER BY DESIGN...boring. It became...predictable. Those, dear readers, are two words the Dexter novels should never be associated with. Dreadfully Dull Dexter.
Let's start at the beginning. Dexter and Rita are married and on their honeymoon in Paris--hooray for them. They go to the Louvre and make comments on how the "Mona Lisa" is overrated. (As an aside, Steve happened to feel the same way when he visited the "Mona Lisa" at the Louvre. You know what the "Mona Lisa" is mysteriously smiling about? The fact that she duped everyone into thinking the tiny painting was worth looking at. Take that!) The newly-married couple then go to an "exhibit" of one of those "artists" that hack into themselves and call it art. It was pure shock-value writing used to set up the displays of death that would be there to greet Dexter when he returned to Miami--but there is no connection between the "art" in Paris and the displays in Miami other than "Hey, the bodies are gonna be like THIS!" We found it heavy-handed, coincidental, and tasteless.
And then we get to the formula. Dexter goes home to Miami. Dexter sees a body at a crime-scene. It intrigues him. His sister, predictably, runs around screaming like a foul-mouthed banshee while accomplishing exactly nothing. Rita bursts into tears every four chapters or so. With five pages left, like usual, Lindsay wraps everything up as quickly and as rushed as possible. The end.
Seriously, the formula has grown stale, but we didn't realize it until reading this novel. But you know what really bothered us? The lack of character development. This is where the TV show has pulled ahead of the novels. In the show, the characters have been growing and learning over the course of three and a half seasons. The novels? No change. Deborah is the same as she was from sentence number one in the first novel. Same with Rita. The other side characters? They may as well be cardboard cut-outs. Dexter can only carry the novels by himself for so long. There comes a point where the other characters need to exert some influence on Dexter and the flow of the novels. After all, isn't a PoV character also a product of the side-characters? This is what the Showtime series realized after their first season, and it's why it has been enjoyable and fresh from episode to episode.
The whole reason the Dexter novels were, to us, successful is because they were so different. With Lindsay following an easily discernible formula, that differentiating factor has been neutralized. We want Lindsay to get these novels back on track...really, we do. He (Lindsay) needs to do something different without resorting to stupidity-inducing shock value. Do we think he will come up with something original to freshen up the series? No, because he poorly executed his plan in book 3 and panicked by going back to the standard formula in book 4. In DEXTER BY DESIGN, Lindsay took some of the filler plot-lines from the TV show and used them as "new stuff" in the book. We figure he will soon continue this trend and have the fifth book follow the Second Season of the TV show where Dexter is covering his tracks from an FBI agent. At this point, Dexter feels like a paycheck generator. It makes us quite sad.
As much as it pains us to recommend (Steve is crying in the corner as we type this. Big, sad tears.), you should quit reading Dexter novels until we determine Lindsay is actually committed to writing the fantastic novels he is (or was) capable of.
DEXTER BY DESIGN is nothing more than a terribly mediocre entry into the series, and into the genre.
Recommended Age: Should you decide to ignore our advice and read this novel, 18 and up.
Language: Lots and lots.
Violence: There is a lot here, and a lot of it is disturbing in a shock-value sense. Very disappointing.
Sex: Nope. Some is alluded to with language and actions, but no descriptive scenes.
We have a special treat in addition to our Monday review today. It is our honor to have Gail Carriger, the author of the newly released SOULLESS, answer a few questions for us to lead into our review.
We first met Gail at WorldCon 2008, where she properly chastised Nick for not wearing a suit while speaking to agents and editors about his book. She soon realized just how awesome Nick was (Right Gail?)and the two quickly became friends.
Gail's sense of humor is a treat for all, so when SOULLESS was released we new that we HAD to have her as an interview guest for the review. We know you will love her as much as we do. So without further introduction, here is the interview.
In continuing our habit of asking authors to throw humility to the wayside, we would like to invite you to cast off the shackles of humility and tell us why you're fantastic.
Um. Oh kaaay... I don't take myself too seriously, I can speak in public, I'm a real live archaeologist, I know a lot about tea, and I can cook a mean breakfast.
Was being an author always a goal for you?
You betcha. Along with sleeping in Pompeii, owning a motorcycle, traveling to Egypt, and eating guinea pig. Four out of five ain't bad.
What were you trying to accomplish with SOULLESS, other than to cause worldwide, laughter-induced, soiling of pants of course, and now that it has been released do you feel like it succeeded in that respect?
I wanted to cheer people up and give them a good fun read. No real agenda. I also really wanted to be at least one person's favorite book, maybe even favorite author. Most of the time I feel like I succeeded, it may be too soon to tell. There is, perhaps, a secret hidden agenda incorporating little things like acceptance, tolerance, friendship, and communal effort, but that is kind of like the apple hiding under all the caramel and nuts.
Getting published is an incredibly daunting task. What specific challenges did you face getting SOULLESS published?
Ooo, good question. I was in the enviable position of first having to choose between two agents, and then having to choose between two houses. Outside of giving up on my PhD these were the two hardest decisions of my life. Then there was the whole hurry up and wait aspect of publishing closely followed by, oh no, it must be turned around in three days. But, believe me, I do know I could have _much_ worse problems.
Did you ever find yourself writing a bit of dialog and reading it back to yourself thinking "Wow. That's just TOO over the top..."?
Wait, have you read my book? Uh. No. That said, I did get the reign-in from my editor on a certain bit of dialogue in the second book. I neatly avoided the issue through judicious application of laudanum. (To my character, mind you, not my editor.)
We had a hard time nailing down a genre for SOULLESS and think comedic fantasy is the closest. How would you describe the Parasol Protectorate?
I like "urbane fantasy with a comedic twist." But the series really is a mix of various genres and I explore a few new directions in the following books. So long as they let me, I'm going to not just play in the sandbox but see how many sandboxes I can combine together.
What sparked the idea for the Parasol Protectorate?
I knew I wanted to write something with an urban fantasy feel but which challenged all the tropes of that genre: so I went with a light-hearted tone, steampunk elements, and a historical setting. Basically, I wrote the book that had everything I liked to read all in one place. I never thought it would sell, because I figured something with so many different elements wasn't marketable. Luckily, Orbit didn't agree with me.
What character are you most similar to and did you ever, in writing, find your own personality leaking through into your writing of that character?
I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I might incriminate myself. Actually, bits of my personality come out in three of my characters, one of whom doesn't appear until the second book. I'll leave my readers to guess which three.
How much fun did you have writing the naughty bits of SOULLESS?
None at all. I embarrassed myself horribly. I still get embarrassed reading them over. It's all so, well, intimate. I feel like I'm intruding on my characters' privacy.
What, other than being published, is your favorite experience with The Parasol Protectorate so far?
The first email I got from a librarian saying she loved the book. I know, I'm a sap.
Be honest. How often do you wear your Victorian and Steampunk clothes around the house, just for yourself?
Dahling, who says I wear _anything_ around the house when I'm by myself? Honestly though, I only wear full on Victorian costumes for appropriate events. I wear steampunk jewelry and little touches of steampunk garb most of the time when I'm going out or teaching (jodhpurs, brass deconstructed necklaces, vests, old-fashioned style blouses, button boots).
Do you name each of your parasols?
Nope. I name my machines, but not my clothing or accessories, duh. The car is Chanterelle, the bike is Carmen, the computer is Pippin, and the iPod is Gherkin.
Before getting published you were part of the SF&F literary community for a while. What changes have you noticed in these broad genres, and are these good or bad changes?
Everything is shifting. I need hardly say, the publishing industry is struggling to cope with both digital media and social media. Something's going to give soon and it sure as heck isn't either of those medias. The subject matter is changing too. Everything is turning YA. Teens have always read sci-fi, we just didn't tailor it to them before Harry Potter conquered all. Steampunk's struggling to be born. Hard core sci-fi is dieing. Urban fantasy is the sub-genre no one wants to acknowledge is there to stay, but it is. And I don't mean to be the first one to wade in, but I'd bet good money on epic fantasy shrinking into something more snack-sized and less falooting. As to forms? Hardback will become a luxury good. In fact, it already has. Are these good or bad? For most authors and wanna-be authors, by in large, bad.
Fill in the blank's here: If you like ______, you should read SOULLESS because _______. Be as serious or witty as you like...or just seriously witty.
Tea, there's so much tea in this book I had to change one instance to cordial instead because it was becoming a main character.
Do you have any teasers for us about your next book, CHANGELESS?
Three little words: Werewolves in kilts.
How far do you see yourself taking this series?
I have a three book contract. Bad boy, you know I can't say any more than that.
Nick wants to be a monster in your next book. What does he have to do make it happen?
Change his name to something more ridiculous? If he plays his cards right I could make him a mad scientist. Of course, I must say at this juncture, any resemblance between any character in my book and anyone living or dead is purely coincidental.
Gail, as always it's fantastic to chat with you. Do you have any parting words for our readers?
Beware the brass octopus.
Thanks Gail, love your face.
You're welcome, dahling, love your attitude.
Now! On to our review of SOULLESS. Let it be said, that since we met Gail, we have been anticipating the release of this book. We have been excited to see what she had to offer and how she would pull it off.
Honestly we were totally pleased with our experience reading the book. It is just pure and simple fun. It is a book that pokes fun at itself and it's subject matter liberally, and has a jolly good time doing it. (Ah crap. Gail has us talking like that now...) This is one of the most refreshing and downright entertaining novels we have read in a long time. Even though all of you, our readers, know its not OUR kind of book.
Gail takes the supernatural tropes we are used to and gives them all an interesting and unique spin, that is both familiar and approachable and yet different enough that we wanted to learn more about them. Actually, that's a good spot to take a step back and do what we should have already done (For shame EBR. For shame....), and intro the book.
The plot centers around a half-italian, food-loving, spinster, half-italian named Alexia and her encounters of the fanged and furry kind. That is to say, Vampires and Werewolves. Done to death you say? Well Ms. Tarabotti (Alexia) would like a word with you. And when she has something to say, you better brace yourself. Not only is she an outspoken, lively woman, but she has no soul. (We will refrain from making any sexist jokes here.) This titular ability gives Alexia quite an edge when dealing with the supernatural. She negates it. Sucks to be a Vampire. (Get it? Sucks to be a....yeah.) Its a hairy situation to be a Werewolf around Alexia... OK. We will stop.
What does Ms. Carriger do right? She is spot on with her comedic timing. She knows how to write humorous dialog, that's for sure. The banter between her characters is like the Victorian equivalent of Gilmore Girls (Crap again. Just revealed a bit too much...) It is snappy, quick, and laugh-out-loud (Don't you dare say LOL) funny. In fact it is the dialog that completes this book and makes it so much fun. Yes the plot, pacing, and writing are all good (which are grounds enough to buy the book) but the dialog is the diamond on the ring. After reading this book you will find yourself talking in an English (or Scottish) accent with all your friends, and wishing you were half as funny as the characters Gail has created.
The characters are certainly distinctive. Gail does an excellent job of giving each of them voice and personality in her writing. Its a treat to watch them interact. The interaction between Lord Maccon and Alexia is fun to read. It is obvious from the get go, that there is chemistry, sparks, and perhaps furballs between them. However we did think that the progression of their relationship, and how it unfolded, was kind of a let down. Hey. We are suckers for a bit of girly romance, just like the next guy. The other characters are all fun to get to know as well. Lord Akeldama is a fun, unique, albeit somewhat irritating, at times, character, and really stands out in the book.
Carriger describes the setting well so we get a real feel for her Victorian Semi-Steampunk environment. Though sometimes the description of dialog becomes a little much. Words like "particularly" in describing something crop up very frequently. In fact that leads to what is, probably, our biggest complaint about SOULLESS.
The repetition of certain elements. Yes, we get it. It is a comedic tool, used to create a laugh and it really works. Calling back previous jokes etc. However it does start to wear on us. For those who have read Robert Jordan's books, and are irritated by Nynaeve constantly pulling her braid, prepare yourself for something similar here. We are told multiple times how embarrassing Alexia's spinster status, and racial heritage are. It starts to lose its fluff and fun after a while.
Our only other concern was the decision making process of some of the characters. Since we at EBR assidiously avoid spoilers, we will leave you guessing, but some of the things the characters do, at bizarre times, gave us pause.
We felt like we were reading, primarily, a romance with a urban fantasy, steampunk, supernatural twist to it. We were hoping for a much heavier steampunk setting, but were given a paranormal romance. Keeping that in mind, we would like to remind our readers that we have been searching for more "Books for Chicks" and books by female authors. While this book certainly meets both qualities, we are going to put in Books We Like. Because we do. We don't need your permission. As Nick would say, 'You're not the boss of my body, I do what I want."
Seriously though, do yourself a favor and pick this book up. We aren't just saying that because Gail is a friend. We really, thoroughly enjoyed the book and were impressed by what Gail had to offer as an author. This is a book to read anywhere, in any setting or mood. A valuable addition to your library.
We are looking forward to Gail's second book in this series, CHANGELESS. Also, remember to have something handy to eat while reading SOULLESS. You will get hungry.
Recommended Age: 16 and up
Violence:Well there is a bit, and none of it is a big deal.
Language: Nothing we can remember.
Sex:A few naughty scenes, but nothing too graphic.
This is it, what you've all been waiting for. What Steve and I think are the best books of Fantasy right now. The books that once you've trained yourself for them, that you should not go without reading. Well, maybe you haven't been waiting for it because if you're half as smart as we, reluctantly, give you credit for, than you have probably already guessed the books, or at least the authors.
So why did we wait so long? Well, let's face it; most people will feel like the 301 level of fantasy a pretty steep hill if they aren't prepared. There is a reason we want you to read the 101 and 201 levels first (and yes even the 102 and 202). Those books give you the building-blocks of what fantasy is. If you're already a fantasy reader, then these lessons can be taken and used as checklists of must-reads, because our tastes is just THAT good. If haven't been a fantasy reader, (because you must be by now if you have made it to 301) and you've followed our guidelines, you may be prepared for these novels.
The learning curve jumps significantly here, don't freak out. Though we picked different novels, we are, in reality, pretty unanimous on all our choices here. That should tell you something. Great minds and all that...
One thing to note here: these books are a lot more mature in terms of content. Most of them have more language than the previous books we recommended, more sexual content, and perhaps more violence. Refer to our reviews of these novels for the specifics. Don't feel bad if the content is too much for you; that's why there are a ton of 200-level novels. Read these novels, feel them out, and decide if they are too much for you.
However, this is where the best fiction in the SF&F genre lies, and if you let yourself get sucked into the world-building and characters, you might just find yourself (like we were) in awe of the stories told in these novels.
Fantasy has changed over the past decade. In the 90's we were swamped with either Jordanesque fantasy or with the last vestiges of Tolkienesque fantasy. There really was no variety, and I think that hurt the genre. Martin was really ahead of his time when he wrote A GAME OF THRONES, and I think he really set the tone for what fantasy has become. He decided that fantasy readers were intelligent. I know, crazy huh?
Rather than treat readers like they are a dumb subspecies of the human race (read: Goodkind), authors began writing fantasy novels that made people think. The learning curves got steeper and steeper. When I think of fantasy 301, I think of the fantasy novels that make all others simple, and somewhat dull, by comparison. In my picks, the characters are a lovely shade of gray, the plots aren't clear-cut, the villains truly brutal (until you see their PoV, and then you can't help but love them as well), and the worlds amazingly imaginative and deep.
For my picks, I decided to go with authors who have been around for a bit. You could say they are all established, and they paved the way for the newer authors that Nick gets into below (in some cases, the authors I chose literally helped get some of Nick's picks published). These are the authors that make me excited to sit down and read. They are the authors that make me stare anxiously at the clock while I'm at work because I can't wait to read the next chapter.
Gardens of the Moon -- Steven Erikson
A Game of Thrones -- George R.R. Martin
Perdido Street Station -- China Miéville
Night of Knives -- Ian C. Esslemont
(Yes, I'm kinda cheating here. This is part of the same series as Gardens of the Moon, but written by a different author. It's a shared-world project that Erikson and Esslemont have going on. You have to understand, the Malazan series, for me, is the best work in print. Period.)
Instead of going into detail about each book, like I have done in the previous University entries, I am going to keep this short and sweet. I have reviewed books by every one of these authors and have said what needs to be said about them and their work individually. As a whole, this group of authors comprises what I feel is the literary equivalent of the rat pack (or brat pack if you prefer). When a reader thinks about the fantasy genre, these are the names that should pop into their head immediately behind Tolkien and Jordan. Others may disagree with me, but I do have my reasons.
One, they are the current face of fantasy. Therefore they are the authors who are the driving force determining where the genre will go (like Grandpa T and Jordan did before them). Two, they know their craft. For being so newly published they show incredible depth in their characters and their plotting. Finally, though there are still many fans of the high sorcery and adventure fantasy that many of us grew up with, I believe that an astonishing and growing number of us readers are looking for something harder and grittier, while not explicit or gratuitous, but with a feeling of immediacy in the writing (Picky right?). We are looking for critical thinking and philosophy in our entertainment. We want books with all of these things, without giving up what fantasy is. These authors deliver exactly that.
They are fantasy books in every way shape and form, but they are also books that beg the reader to ask questions while never missing a beat to thrill us, the readers.
The Blade Itself -- Joe Abercrombie
The Darkness That Comes Before -- R. Scott Bakker
The Lies of Locke Lamora -- Scott Lynch
The Stormcaller -- Tom Lloyd
(Yes I used multiple covers for these books. Get off my back. They are all just way too cool not to show off.)
We were approached by Sara Easterly to do this interview at the same time as she asked us to do participate in Margaret Weis' blog tour. Needless to say, when R.A. Salvatore, much like Weis, comes-a-knocking for a tour, there is only one answer you can give. Of course! And when they say we can give away 5 free copies of Salvatore's latest novel, THE GHOST KING? Sounds like a deal for YOU! All you have to do is post a comment. So, without further ado, here you go:
EBR: We want thank you for stopping by our blog on this tour of sorts. Right out of the box, we want you to brag a little. We aren’t exactly humble around here at Elitist Book Reviews, and we see no reason for you to feel like you have to be humble either. Don’t pull any punches and don't be shy; tell us why you are so great.
RAS: Because the amazing people at Elitist Book Reviews want to interview me. They’ve actually taken the time to direct questions to me! Doesn’t that say it all? Seriously, though, you’ve asked the wrong guy this question. It’s not that I’m modest to a fault or anything “aw shucks” like that. It’s just that I honestly keep looking over my shoulder, expecting the devil to come and collect his end of the bargain.
I don’t know what works and what doesn’t work, what to write and what not to write, on a logical, rational level any more than the next guy on the street. But I do think that I instinctively know the difference between Writing 101 (“The road to Hell is paved with adverbs!” “Show, don’t tell!” “Don’t change POV!” – in other words, all the typically cliché criticisms you can see on any message board or review site) and Writing 102. Writing 102 is simply understanding and believing that the English language is a set of tools, not rules. For example, take any college writing class and you’ll be told that you shouldn’t use adverbs to characterize dialogue, that the words spoken by the character should convey the way they’re being said without the helper adverb (sarcastically, slyly, dryly, sardonically, etc.), and also that good dialogue needs no attribution. I argue that those “rules” missed the internet revolution. My readers, mostly younger folks, do a large part of their interpersonal communication on message boards and instant messaging and Facebook and such. Message boards without emoticons (adverbs) become flame wars, and all dialogue in such places is attributed. So while younger readers are far more sophisticated in some areas, such as multi-tasking and handling ten conversations at a time, and in extrapolating much more information from bare-bones sentences, they are usually less sophisticated in the areas that come from face-to-face communication. Sarcasm involves tonal changes and facial expressions; if you hear that and see that enough face to face, you will be more able to inject that properly into the dialogue in a book. If you’re unsophisticated in that manner of interpersonal communication, however, the sarcasm flies right by without note. Class over.
Well, wait a minute, not completely. The other thing that I have going for me is that writing a book gives me the same feelings that most people get when reading a book. My own books constantly surprise me, and I find myself typing faster just to find out what the hell is going to happen. And when I’m writing battle scenes, I don’t consciously shorten sentences, and don’t go back through the scene with a shotgun, blowing out all incarnations of the passive verb “to be.” No, I just get into the action, watching it in my head, my own pulse quickening as the characters go through the dance. And somehow – I have no idea how! – it works. In the end, I’m really lucky in that the way I tell a story seems to resonate with enough people to, well, get me interviews on blogs like Elitist Book Reviews. The style doesn’t work for everyone, but that’s okay, and that’s why there are so many varied and successful storytellers in the world.
EBR: Some people (us included) would say that you are one of the stones in the foundation of Heroic Fantasy. Where do you see this brand of fantasy going over the next decade? How do you figure to be a part of it? What do you think fantasy readers, today, are looking for in their books?
RAS: I’m going to put these two questions together. Heroic fantasy, adventure fantasy, sword and sorcery – whatever you want to call it – has some common threads and themes that hold true. Sometimes they’re not considered “cool,” oftentimes they’re considered cliché, but to me it’s not about that. What I’m talking about here is the morality offered in the fantasy genre, the idea that good will overcome evil. Cool or not, cliché or not, that’s a fundamental hope that sits in the hearts of most people. We want to believe in it – I do believe in it.
So whatever new races become the norm for fantasy (we’ve watched that happen with dark elves over the last twenty years), the idea that characters who do the wrong thing will be punished and characters who do the right thing will be rewarded is going to be reflected in heroic fantasy today and tomorrow. In other words, the trapping might change, but some basic truths will remain. The hero of tomorrow’s books would fit into the heroic fantasy books of today.
Where will I fit in? Well, I’m past 50 now, but have no intention of fading away. Slowing down, maybe, but not fading away. I’m having too much fun with this, and learning so much about myself through my writing, that the road continues before me. I hope.
EBR: What book, that you wrote, did you learn the most from and what did you learn?
RAS: My favorite book is Mortalis, the bridge book between the two trilogies in my seven-book DemonWars series. I wrote that book while watching my best friend, my brother Gary, fading away from cancer. That book was my salvation, my catharsis. In its pages, through the character of Brother Francis, I came to terms with Gary’s looming death, and to a large extent, with my own inevitable end.
The funny thing is, I never expected Francis to play a major role in the book at all. Up to that point, he had been the fill-in monk in the DemonWars series, the sort of major domo who was always in the scene when I needed an extra monk, but didn’t want to create even more characters in an already huge cast. It wasn’t until I had finished Francis’s part in Mortalis that I even came to realize that I had told such a complete story of a flawed but ultimately heroic man. He taught me how to live, and how to die.
EBR: The Ghost King was released on October 6th, more than 20 years since The Crystal Shard was published back in 1988. What keeps you coming back to tell stories about Drizzt the Dark Elf and can we expect to see a separate original creation on the horizon?
RAS: The easy answer is that the readers want more Drizzt. No matter what I write, no matter whether I think it’s as good or better than dark elf, my audience is for Drizzt, most of all. For a while, many years ago, this truth bothered me a bit. Certainly from a business perspective, things would have been more lucrative if I could just take my entire Drizzt readership with me wherever I chose to go, but that simply wasn’t the reality. I was watching one of those “Behind the Music” shows on VH1, the story of John Fogarty, when I heard him talking about how he wouldn’t play Credence Clearwater Revival songs for a long time after he left the band. But then one day he realized that it wasn’t about him. It was about the people who came to see him, and they wanted to hear those songs. So he started playing them again. He’s right. I feel the same way. So I came to terms with my ridiculous little gripe, and came to appreciate how lucky I was to have hit such a chord in so many people with Drizzt. I came to say, and believe, that I would write Drizzt for a long as people wanted to read Drizzt and as long as I was still having fun with him, I’m still having a blast. That doesn’t mean I will be exclusively writing Drizzt, by any means, however. I love DemonWars, and I’ve got some more creations in me.
EBR: Once again, we want to thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. Any last comments you want to leave with us and our readers?
RAS: I go back to CS Lewis in reminding everyone that no one can determine the relationship between a reader and a book, except the reader of the book. The internet is a great place to discuss and argue about this book or that book, but find what you love, not what you’re supposed to love.
Oh, and stop gaming every now and then and read a book!
The Important People(TM) who made this interview possible:
Wizards of the Coast: http://wizards.com/
R.A. Salvatore: http://www.rasalvatore.com/
Sara Easterly: http://www.saraeasterly.com/
The exclusive, seven-part interview series with R.A. Salvatore continues throughout the week. Be sure to check out these other stops on the blog tour:
Sci-Fi Fan Letter
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Fantasy Book Critic
A CAVERN OF BLACK ICE, by J.V. Jones, was published back in 2005, and is the first in the Sword of Shadows series. The most recent entry to the series was A SWORD FROM RED ICE in 2008 and we are expecting the fourth book soon. When we tell people that J.V. Jones is one of our favorite authors, the most common response is, "Who?" So, instead of reviewing the latest book, we thought we would do this first book as an introduction to a series that doesn't get the recognition it deserves. And it deserves a ton.
Before Steve explodes from holding it in (it's not what you think...), we need to say that we absolutely hate the covers for this series. All three of the books have ridiculously terrible covers, and we attribute part of the series' obscurity to that fact. Books are judged by their covers all the time, and these covers scream "DON'T BUY US!!! WE ARE GENERIC AND TERRIBLE!!"
This is an Epic Fantasy with a healthy dose of the dark and gritty feel that is sweeping the genre. The story starts with Raif Sevrance's clan being the victim of a horrible betrayal and he is the only rational one that sees the real culprit, which of course leads him into trouble. Ash March is kept prisoner by her 'foster father' in a big, cold, icy tower, that is basically the architectural equivalent of a white van with no windows, for reasons that are as malevolent as they are unknown (Yes that makes sense).
Right off the bat, the thing we love most about these books is the description. Jones description is something to be marveled and enjoyed. We have never read a book where the setting is so realized and tangible. The book takes place in an extremely cold region and there were times that we literally shivered ("I was in the pool!" Please tell us you know this reference...) reading it because J.V. Jones wrote the scene so well we could picture ourselves there. This is a sign of a fantastic writer. She (yes, Jones is female) does, however, have a tendency to introduce new elements in excessive detail at times, which contributes to one of the things we didn't like about the book, listed below.
Perhaps one of the best parts of the series is this pervading sense of mystery that sticks with us as readers. Jones presents the story to us very slowly, introducing her world to the minute details, interspersed with action, while really only giving us hints of the big plot. This is a dangerous way to go, because without plot we don't have a reason to read the book, but she handles it deftly and leaves us wondering, in a good way, what is going on. That's not to say that readers of this book will be completely lost, as there is foreshadowing aplenty. In fact, at the end of the book something happens that we knew had to happen, but had been dreading (You know the kind of dread we are talking about here. Like when watching a horror movie, there is that dark house that you don't want the character to go into...but you do.) happened. And Jones didn't pull her punches at all. In fact, Jones doesn't ever pull punches. She gives readers the harsh reality, regardless of how we might be screaming at the pages, "NOOO! Don't do it!" Yeah. It happened. Nick's neighbors were a little worried. Don't worry, it only cost him a day or two in jail...
The characterization in this book is stellar. The major, and even minor players in this tale all are believable, do believable things, and act in ways that coincide with their personalities, beliefs, and motivations. (Something we loved after reading a couple books that lacked this lately.) The thing we didn't like was that Raif, being a main character, of course couldn't be unmagical (we can make up words if we want), and had to be given some magical quality to improve his fighting and archery skills--look, not every main character in a book HAS to be magically amazing. Sometimes the guy who doesn't have the magic is the most important. This was pretty disappointing but Jones uses it to decent effect, so we can forgive her...we guess....
The pacing can be pretty rough, especially in the beginning. Both of us, in reading this, hit the 150 to 200 page mark wondering if the book was ever going to pick up. Whether it did, or we just became acclimated to Jones' pacing is up for debate. Regardless, things move slowly. More slowly, even, than the norm for fantasy sagas.
People often ask us why we don't review more female authors. The simple fact is that most female authors write for a female audience. Neither of us are female (except Nick on weekends...). When we first began reading Jones, we thought she was male (probably the reason for the J.V. rather than an obvious feminine name). When we realized J.V. was of the feminine persuasion, we unanimously declared, "Holy crud, Jones may be the best female fantasy author in print..." So, QUIT HARPING ON US!!! We like female authors just fine!
Dark, epic fantasy without the gratuitous shock value swearing and sex. This is what you get with Jones' series. This should automatically make her a priority on your "Books to Read and Enjoy or Nick and Steve Will Kill Me" list. Grab the novels now!
A CAVERN OF BLACK ICE - Book 1
A FORTRESS OF GREY ICE - Book 2
A SWORD FROM RED ICE - Book 3
Recommended Age: We'll go with 15 or 16 and up. Pacing could be boring to younger folks, and some of the emotional themes might not be understood.
Language:Nope. Proof, like with Erikson, that fantasy doesn't need insane amounts of language to be gritty.
Violence: Yep and it is satisfyingly visceral and immediate.
Sex: A rape scene, handled with extreme tact (with actual realistic consequences--not just here for shock value), and a few other mentions of sex.
Go give our fav. female some respect.
Here at Elitist Books Reviews, we are always on the lookout for that next series that will get us (and in turn, you) excited. What makes a series exciting for us? Well, if you've been paying attention to our reviews, you know that we feel the first book in a new series is extremely important. It starts with the cover of the book. Is it awesome? Does it make you want to pick up a copy of the novel just to read what it is about? Then, with the actual book itself, do we as readers feel interested in the new world we are presented? Do we get a sense of newness and wonder at the world, magic, characters, and story? Does the story leave a ton of room to grow and expound on the ideas introduced in book 1?
You see, we ask for a lot. (You better give it to us when we ask too. Or so help us, we might...uh...be mean.)
So, does John Brown's SERVANT OF A DARK GOD meet these criteria? Does it fall flat? Or is it somewhere in the middle? Before we tell you (See what we did? We led you on like the results portion of a bad reality show. So sneaky of us!), John told us what he was going for when he wrote this novel.
"With any story I write, I want to give the reader a great experience. In this one I hope to plunge the reader into a cool and dangerous world and then take them on a journey that would leave them thrilled. I love monsters, magic, and mayhem. I love interesting characters, poignancy, and a bit of humor for leavening. I hope my readers experience all that."
Just to prove to you that we don't draw the suspense out forev--oh wait, did we mention this is John's first novel? Not only do we have high expectations of novels in general, but first novels by authors are very make-it-or-break-it for us, and for most readers. You only get one chance... (insert Eminem song lyrics here. If you know what we mean, then we are proud of you. Kinda.)
Where were we?
In SERVANT OF A DARK GOD, people's days of life can be harvested, bought, or stolen. In the history leading up to the events in this story, humans were nothing more than cattle who were branded, ranched, and then slaughtered for their remaining days of life. Suffice it to say, there is a dark and fearful tone to this novel. And we like it. As John mentioned, he wants his created world to feel dangerous to the reader. He succeeded. Easily.
One thing we want to make clear is that the beginning of the novel may feel a tad slow, and you may start to get worried that it is going to fall into the "young man leaves to go on a heroic quest" cliche. However, our buddy John Brown avoids the early cliche by giving us important plot twists early on. There is NO EPIC QUEST in this epic fantasy. Everything is nicely focused and localized. If this break in the formula isn't enough of a reason to read the novel, you haven't been paying attention to the fantasy genre. In addition, while reading you will be asking yourself, "which lie is actually the truth." Nothing is clear-cut, or black-and-white. As for the slowness factor? There is enough "new stuff" to keep you interested--though we do recommend you read the glossary in the back of the novel before beginning.
Our main character, Talen, is entertaining to read. He borders on being whiny at times, but it is easy to overlook due to his actual progression through the novel. He takes the "coming of age" archetype and makes it a tad more violence-ready. And to be fair, his concerns throughout the novel are legitimate. After all, the baddies in the story want to do some pretty nasty things to him and his family. The supporting characters are all interesting as well, and they lend a measure of believability to the story. We consider it a measure of John's writing ability that we were able to feel attached to his characters with limited "screen-time." In fact, there were some truly heartbreaking moments with these characters that only worked because of the attachment we felt. Well done, Mr. Brown. In addition, he succeeded in bringing out some mild humor to offset the grim tone that was prevalent through the novel.
We did have a few nitpicks. After all, no book is perfect, and John wants to know where the short-comings are just as much as his readers do. There were a few times that we had a hard time placing people's ages in the novel. Also, as we mentioned, the slow beginning can be a deterrent to impatient readers. Lastly, this book is obviously setup for the remaining two novels in a trilogy. While this can be a huge problem for impatient readers, this last point in our opinion, leads to another positive for the novel.
In the world created by Brown, and in this first novel, we were left feeling as though we had barely scratched the surface. There are so many unique elements here that have us excited to read the second book. In addition, there is a subtle undercurrent of the western ranch-style setting here that just makes everything here feel...right. No, we aren't giving you specifics. Seriously, in the case of this book, specifics would ruin your initial impression. Trust us, you will love it. It is Epic Fantasy that is focused in a single geographical location, and like we mentioned earlier, it is ridiculously refreshing.
So what does all this rambling mumbo-jumbo mean? We're glad you asked!
In SERVANT OF A DARK GOD, John Brown has created a dark and detailed world that has us salivating (literally) for more. This is a fantastic example of how to make a splash with a first novel in the fantasy genre. In all seriousness, everything came together for this novel. From the visually stunning Raymond Swanland cover, to the the terrifically grim tone and entertaining characters. We loved it. If you are a fan of the works of Brandon Sanderson and David Farland, you should immediately buy this novel, and submerse yourself in the stolen life, twisted lies, and focused epicness (yeah, we just made that word up) of SERVANT OF A DARK GOD.
SERVANT OF A DARK GOD is officially released tomorrow. You better have some money set aside.
Recommended Age: 15 and up. There is a bit of a learning curve here.
Violence: Yes, but non of it is over-the-top. We fully expect book 2 to go nuts in the violence department, and we look forward to it.
Sex: Some light innuendo, nothing more.
Go take a peek at John's website. You can read the first bit of his novel, and tell him how awesome SERVANT OF A DARK GOD is. Do it now.
And just because he is becoming our favorite artist, go check out the art gallery at Raymond Swanland's website. This guy is seriously one of the most talented artists in the game.
Remember when we said we found a few new series? This is another one of them. And it came with our friend, Tom Lloyd's recommendation. We know right? How could we NOT start this series up?!
THE DEVIL YOU KNOW, by Mike Carey, is an Urban Fantasy that you will mostly likely find shelved in the horror section of your local bookstore. It is about an exorcist, Felix Castor, who is looking to get out of the game, but predictably takes one last job. That job is a haunting of a museum in London. Obviously, things go to hell in a hand-basket. Quite literally actually. Demon's and all that.
We understand that this isn't a new formula. Felix is pretty downtrodden, and he's poor, and he can be a tad snarky at times. (Not quite as snarky as Nick though.) Sound familiar? We're pretty sure we see Simon R. Green and Jim Butcher jumping up and down waving their arms in the back of the class, despite us telling Butcher to go stand in the corner repeatedly. Yeah. The formula won't be a big surprise.
Luckily for you (and us), the writing and the tone were what set this novel apart. Carey's novel is decidedly grimmer with less comedic content. You know what? This is a good thing. The PoV is an EXORCIST for heaven's sake (Hehe, that wasn't even intentional! Dang we are good!). This novel just FEELS different than the typical Urban Fantasy you see today. And boys and girls, it feels good.
It a sense, it feels like Carey took the Harry Dresden character from Butcher's novels and hardened the edges a bit. Felix Castor is a borderline alcoholic. He's more violent. He cracks jokes less often. He's made a ton more irreparable mistakes (some explained in detail, with others left for the sequels). And those mistakes have had serious consequences. The character is darker. We love it.
Now that isn't to say there aren't problems. Carey's transitions can be pretty poor. Sometimes we would start a new chapter, and be completely unsure what was going on for several pages. More than once we were checking to see if pages had been ripped out of our copies of the novel. Seriously, come on man. It happened enough times to be a nuisance. And a lot of these odd transitions were seemingly random scenes who's only purpose was to give the PoV a "brilliant idea" later on. If the museum exorcism was his last job, then why does Castor take other jobs at the same time (well, apart from the heavy-handed foreshadowing they give)? Also, there is a lot of standing around. You'd think with a demon chasing you (The demon was well done. A mark better than the Butcher incarnation of the same type of demon), there'd be more...well, chasing.
Problems aside, there is a lot going right in this novel, and the sequels have made it onto our lengthy list of books that have us excited to read. There is a much more serious tone in this novel, and of course the question left for the readers at the end, "Where to the recipients of exorcism go?" THE DEVIL YOU KNOW is quite a fun and easy read, and you should definitely go pick up the paperback of it.
Recommended Age: 17 and up. Lots of prostitution references and showings, not to mention the idea of exorcism isn't for the young. Also, see the info below as well.
Language: Yessir. Some of the characters are particularly foul-mouthed.
Violence: Yeah, especially at the end. Some may consider it disturbing.
Sex: Our PoV is in a strip club for half the novel. And he is chased by a succubus. Who catches him. Yeah, there is some sex in this novel.
Go by Mike Carey's website and give it a browse. He is a major player in the comic book arena, and his books seem to be pretty awesome.
It was in 2008 that Carol Berg's FLESH AND SPIRIT was published, so it has had some shelf time, like a few other books we have reviewed. We have received quite a large number of emails requesting a review of this book (and it's sequel BREATH AND BONE), and since we do aim to please, here it is.
Anyone who has read Carol Berg before, knows that she is pretty dang good at what she does, and has written some great books. So we picked up this first half of the series without much hesitation, and cracked it open.
From the beginning, we learn our protagonist isn't much a hero, in fact he is kind of an antagonistic jerkface that has Numero Uno as his main concern. Oh also, he is a drug-addicted magic-user, and of course comes from a long line of important people. He is also prophesied to die "in water and blood and ice". Yeah, Valen (the main character) has some cool stuff going on.
Not only does Valen have enough conflict to keep him interesting, but the plot manages to capture our attention quite well. We love political strife in the novels we read, almost more than anything, (yes, even including Steve's penchant for violence in books) and Carol delivers it here. Around Valen, there is a civil war going on between three men who believe they are the best heir to the dead king.
There is a lot of "yay!" in this book from what he have mentioned above, however the book fails in one huge aspect. It starts promising, with Valen being robbed by his buddy and left, wounded, to endure the withdrawals of his addiction before he dies. He, by the grace only a fantasy author (or Dan Brown of course...ugh...) could muster, manages to live thanks to a group of monks at a monastery.
So much of the content of this book is centered on the ensuing interactions Valen has with the monks. The members of the monastery and Valen both have their own secrets and they are slowly revealed...very slowly...
This is where both Berg's strong point and the book's weak point come into play. The writing is incredible. Honestly her writing is vivid, descriptive, and evocative, but without being excessively verbose or obtuse. (See what we did there?) She has real grasp on the both the subtle surgical, and the overt broadsword powers of the English language and how to use it in writing. We rarely get this impressed with a writer in this category, because we feel a certain mastery is requisite to write. Berg exceeded our expectations. She manages to make the most boring content...seem OK.
Now the weak point. The pacing is ungodly. Horrific. Detestable. Hair-Raising. We could go on. Other than the opening scene, absolutely nothing happens for the first 200-250 pages. The novel is only 488 pages. Now, when we say nothing...of course we don't really mean nothing. There are subtle hints and snippets of information about something bigger going on, news about the civil war, Valen's contention with his new lifestyle as a monk. This first (more than) half of the book is the excruciating minutiae of monastic life. The only reason we could summon the willpower to turn each page was because of Berg's writing.
In answer to the question we know you're asking. Yes. The pacing does pick up and literally throws it's readers into a very dismal and dark adventure. It quickly gets very interesting. But in all honesty, it happens too late, and is ultimately too little. With the ending, very little is resolved and we realized we read a 488 page exposition on what the second book would be. This was at once both very shocking and very irritating. There is a lot (nearly everything) left open, mysteries unsolved (cue that creepy music that scared us all as kids when our grandparents would watch that show...gah!), and action imminent.
Final say? If you are going to brave this first book, make absolutely sure you read the second book so you can at least have some closure. For aspiring writers this is a perfect book in every way. It shows both to do, and what not to do. For your average sit-down-for-a-few readers, this is not the way to go. We read both books, cover to cover, and didn't quite feel cheated, but we didn't get what we wanted or were hoping for. Also, Steve despised the cover art. Yes, he judges.
Recommended Age: 17 and up. It gets a bit dark, but mainly the age is we doubt anyone younger will be capable of slogging through.
Language: Nothing terribly offensive. Standard fantasy-fare.
Violence: A bit here and there. Remember how nothing happens for most of the book?
Sex: Not that we can remember.
So, you thought we were done with the University of Fantasy? For shame. We just needed to give all of you readers time to catch up with all the great novels we'd already suggested to you.
Coming up with lists for Fantasy 202 was actually a challenge for us. Novels just didn't come readily to mind. What ended up helping us was when we were discussing people's aversion to Horror. You see, people have this mental block when it comes to Horror. They all tend to think that Horror is all blood and gore, or that it is all crappy campy like Scream (Did you know they have another Scream movie in the works? So absurd...). The reality is that that good Horror should be able to scare you with no violence. It should be able to scare you with ideas and suspense. Also, what people need to realize is that Horror is just another face of Fantasy. Urban Fantasy? Could be called Urban Horror. Dark Fantasy? Some of it could be called Horror Fantasy. You get the drift. Horror has made a huge impact on the fantasy genre. So, our lists will have some good classic Horror mixed in with some other fun stuff! Enjoy!
Way of the Wolf:
Nick got me to read these novels when we first met, and I'm glad I listened to him. Urban Fantasy in a future where an alien race (part of which are vampire-ish creatures) have taken over the world. Everything is a mix of civil war, world war, and modern eras. EE Knight has created an amazing main character in this series, and gives us an near-perfect lesson in how a character should progress over the course of a series.
The Color of Magic:
Not many people get humor right in the fantasy genre. Oh sure, there may be some funny lines in a novel here and there, but not a full novel dedicated to humor, parody, and satire. I have a huge level of respect for Terry Pratchett (I know!! A person with the name Terry who isn't terribad!!). He manages to not only write with extreme skill, but he can make a reader laugh with seemingly little effort. THE COLOR OF MAGIC is widely considered to be the least of his novels, but it was my introduction to Discworld. Some of you readers emailed and asked us why we didn't include it in Fantasy 102. To really understand what makes Pratchett so great, you need to have read a bit in the genre (and even outside the genre). Sure you will laugh a little without this background knowledge, but with it, you will be awed by the genius of Pratchett's work.
Brian Lumley got his start writing stories in Lovecraft's classic Cthulhu Mythos (see Nick's picks below). My theory is that Lumley took Cthulhu, made it mini, and put it in people as a parasite that turns them into a vampire. How awesome is THAT! NECROSCOPE follows the horrors faced by Harry Keogh, a guy with ESP who can talk with the dead. The vampires in this novel (and series) are true monsters. There is no redemption for them. They won't sparkle at you or play baseball with you. They will destroy you body and soul...if you're lucky. If you want a true example of the monster that is Vampire, Necroscope is the place to start.
Interview With The Vampire:
Moody, dark, and evocative, INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE is, for many, the penultimate vampire tale, surpassing even Dracula or Nosferatu. The mechanism for telling this story is what I love most about it. Yes there are vampires who prey on humans, spread their curse, etc., and all of that is fantastic but what really draws me to it is how human the vampires are depicted. Anne Rice does this through a first-person confession of one of the vampires. For anyone who hasn't read this series, it should be a must-add to your reading list. (You thought I was going to say something about one of the two authors-who-shall-not-be-named, didn't you?)
The premise is at once bizarre, ambitious, and surreal. Old Gods that migrated to America, with their worshippers, are preparing for Gaiman's equivalent of Ragnarok. This book will etch itself into your memory forever. The book is not without drawbacks, however it very quickly draws you in to the experiences of it's main character, Shadow and his God-in-disguise companion Wednesday (Odin). The book also resonates quite quickly with non-fantasy readers, as it is Gaiman's thoughts and reflections of the American identity. Ever thought a person's dead wife couldn't make for an interesting character? This book proves you wrong.
The Best of H. P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre:
Whew...what a title. While it would have been nice to pick out one of the stories included and give it my thumbs up, since all of them really are unique and distinct, I couldn't do it. Lovecraft's power lies, not only his his artistry and ability to create horrific, extremely moody situations, but the myriad of possibilities he created. Lovecraft is the master of horror, and someone to whom nearly all horror writers can trace some inspiration to.