Hard Magic

There are very few authors whose body of work makes us cackle with boyish glee. Chris Wooding is one. Jonathan Maberry another. Recently Sarah Pinborough has joined those ranks. For those of you keeping score, when Larry Correia writes something new we drop everything. You can then find us camped out with a flashlight in the living room under a tent made of sheets and blankets. Never mind we own our own homes.

We are just going to come out and say it: Larry Correia’s HARD MAGIC, book 1 of the Grimnoir Chronicles, is completely fun and awesome. Everyone knows how much we like his Monster Hunter series. We like this one more. Much more. Everything about HARD MAGIC is positively saturated with style…

…well, and explosions of course.

HARD MAGIC takes place during an alternate USA of the 20’s and 30’s (mostly 30's). Magic has been reintroduced into the world which has obviously changed it dramatically. There is some detective story stuff here and some magic. But apart from those automatic “win buttons” the main thing that Larry’s novel has going for it is its epic foundation. This is Epic Alternate Historical Urban Fantasy...with superheroes…kinda. Yeah. Tell us that doesn’t sound completely fun and awesome if executed right. And yes, Larry does it right.

You may be tempted to dismiss Larry as a pure action author. The style (and ‘splosions) over substance type. The explosions and violence are there, and they are GLORIOUS! But we’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again. Larry’s work is deceptive. No doubt we read his work for the gun-play (one of the best out there) and the B-movie feeling it all invokes. But if we are honest with ourselves—and you readers of course—we would have to admit we read Larry’s work for the characters. HARD MAGIC, in our opinion, has the best character work of all Larry’s novels so far.

To understand the characters, we should probably talk a bit about the main magic system of the novel. Rare individuals have the ability to perform a certain type of magic. Some can alter their own personal gravity. Some can teleport. Some use animals in a borderline possession way. Others can perform miraculous healing feats while their opposites can cause plagues. In the back of the novel you’ll find a list and description of them all. They sound a bit like superheroes, and there's nothing wrong with it. You readers of MISTBORN will feel very comfortable picking up the magic of this created world.

One of the main characters of the novel is Jake Sullivan. He is one of those individuals that can alter his personal gravity—a Heavy. He’s been in wars (we get some awesome history here), he’s been a P.I., and he’s been in prison. Now he’s on loan to the Feds. Simply put, Sullivan is terrific. He is very reminiscent of the Owen Pitt character from the Monster Hunter universe (some would say a tad too similar), but has enough differences to make him his own character. For starters, Sullivan is more intelligent. The sequences in the novel that show the research Sullivan is doing on magic are fantastic and are VERY character building.

While there are a ton of characters in the novel—none of with we can point at with dislike—the other main character we want to mention is Faye—a Traveler (aka teleporter). We want to mention this character specifically because Larry does such a great job of keeping her, well, female-ish. So many male authors have such a hard time writing female PoVs (just as female authors have trouble writing male PoVs). Faye goes through some traumatic events early in the novel, and there is a need to balance this “lost youth” and innocence with the incredible power he grows into as the novel progresses…not to mention all from a female’s PoV. Tough stuff, yet Larry pulls it off. We don’t mean to snub the female characters from his other novels, but Faye is not only the best female character Larry has put on paper, but she is one of his best overall characters, period.

We couldn’t wrap us this review without mentioning the world-building. It may seem hardly worth mentioning since this takes place in a familiar-ish 1930s USA, but Larry did an amazing job here. Information is never just dumped on you during the course of the story. Rather than killing the pacing, Larry puts all the historical changes and details in the chapter bumps. The chapter bumps (or leads, if you will) in HARD MAGIC are easily on the same level as those in Brandon Sanderson’s novels. We’ve mentioned before that we think Sanderson’s chapter leads are some of best in the business (if not THE best). Larry’s are THAT good. As you read through the novel, the attention to detail is noticeable. You can tell that a ton of research was done, and then effectively spun into the text.

When all is said and done, Larry Correia’s HARD MAGIC is one of them most entertaining novels we have read. What’s more is that it has all the qualities that make us love Epic Fantasy, only in a Raymond Chandler-esque, noir setting. No one type of reader will enjoy this novel more than another. This is one of the few novels that will capture every reader’s imagination and leave them—like us—begging for more.

Recommended Age: 16 and up.
Language: Yep. It can be strong, but never feels thrown in for shock-value.
Violence: It’s a Larry Correia novel, of course there is violence. The gun-play is perfect, and the set-piece action sequences are completely over-the-top and awesome.
Sex: Nope.

On a side note, we aren't too fond of the cover. We pictured something more along the lines of either of the Simon R Green Urban Fantasy series. But hey, whatever. We bought this book for the content, not the cover.

The Unremembered

The hardest part of being a book reviewer is putting together a negative review of a book when you don't want to. This happens for a variety of reasons, but mainly has to do with the author himself (or herself as the case may be). If we hate the author, or absolutely hate a novel, writing a scathing review is simple and enjoyable--therapeutic even. But with a novel like THE UNREMEMBERED, well, we almost didn't even write this up. But then we realized the potential disservice we would be doing you, the readers, and the author, Peter Orullian, by leaving this unreviewed.

We are going to tackle this review a little differently from the other negative reviews we have written. Hopefully it comes across as constructive rather than destructive. Peter is generally regarded as a good guy by people we know. As you readers may be aware, we are alpha readers for several big-name authors. They send us an early draft of the completed novel, and we read it over and give detailed feedback on what we liked and/or had problems with. We are going to do the same sort of thing here for Peter Orullian--albeit in a spoiler-free way so you readers can still make your own decision at the end. That's right folks, we are going to be the "nice guys" today. Don't get used it.

Let's start off with the good from Peter's debut novel. The cover art is absolutely beautiful. It in itself will sell the novel to a good number of people. The map inside is perhaps the single best map we have ever seen in a fantasy novel--and we've seen some great ones. Our good buddy Isaac Stewart--you know him as the artist from the maps in the MISTBORN series and THE WAY OF KINGS--told us once that the person who did this map deserves a Hugo. We agree.

We aren't going to lie to you, that was about it for us. This book was a huge disappointment. Where does this disappointment originate? Well, from the beginning. From the story itself.

THE UNREMEMBERED starts off with a boy from a small town. He is fantastic with a bow. He has stars in his eyes about life outside the town. When out hunting one day, a mysterious and evil creature chases him, threatening his life. Upon returning to his village, he finds that two foreign strangers have come. They soon tell our main character and one of his friends that they need to leave their village because the evil bad guys are coming for them. Have you heard this before? We have. We've seen this story from Terry Brooks, and more specifically from Robert Jordan. At first we thought it just a coincidence arising from the "coming of age" type story we were reading. But as the novel progressed, we soon were predicting each plot point specifically as it came...based on the plot and progression of THE EYE OF THE WORLD.

THE UNREMEMBERED isn't just loosely similar to THE EYE OF THE WORLD. It follows it near exact. Think of every major plot point from the first Wheel of Time novel, from beginning to end, and you can find a parallel in Orullian's novel. Suppose we were in a writing group with Peter. The first thing we would have pointed out is this blatant similarity. Perhaps it is the industry's desire to have another Wheel of Time, but isn't this taking it a bit too far?

The characters follow the same template that Jordan's do. We could point at character and say, "Oh, this is Mat. That is Rand." One of the characters is Moiraine, only as a dude. The other is Lan, but a chick. Simply reversing the gender of roles is not enough to make it new. Now there are fans of this novel out there who are starting to foam at the mouth a bit. Doubtless they will want to point out that not every character has a WoT counterpart. True enough. But over half do, and most of the main players.

One of the mistakes it seems all first-time fantasy authors make is the whole "invented word syndrome." We've been trying our hand at writing, and we've each been guilty of this. Too many made-up terms for normal words doesn't add any freshness. They don't add uniqueness. All they do is pull a reader out of the moment as they spend a few moments trying to figure out what the word actually means. Words and names littered with apostrophes used to be super vogue. No so much anymore. Even the authors out there with the highest learning curves are careful about what they make up. Don't make it harder for the reader than it needs to be.

One of the storytelling techniques that bothers us the most is when information is completely withheld. "I'll tell you when you're ready." "This is not the time to discuss that." "I'm a mysterious bastard, and will berate you for not knowing what I refuse to tell you." These types of responses happen every single chapter. We could only shake out heads in dismay as the Moiraine/Allanon hybrid character would tell the other characters that there wasn't time to explain anything...as they rode slowly for days at a time...or as they sit around a campfire talking about history for hours at a time. To us, this isn't fair to the readers, nor is it good storytelling.

Like most first-time authors, transitions are extremely rough. There is a side story being told, for example, that when introduced has no time-anchor on it. It comes at a confusing time that immediately cripples the momentum of the scene it interrupts (can't get more specific than that due to heavy spoilers--it's pretty early on). We literally read that section a half-dozen times trying to figure out just what the heck was going on, and when it was happening. Part of this has to do with Orullian describing things that don't need it, while ignoring what needs clarification. These are the types of things that, as alpha readers, we point out. Even the most derivative story can be enjoyable if it is smooth and accessible.

We are ultimately left feeling the Orullian played it incredibly safe with THE UNREMEMBERED. Though it has some interesting theology mixed in, it still feels like EYE OF THE WORLD rewritten. The characters act in unbelievable, yet utterly predictable ways. This novel needed a few more heavy drafts in our opinion.

We've said a lot of negative stuff here. We just didn't like it at all. Hate? No. We didn't hate it. THE UNREMEMBERED feels half-done. It feels like a novel still in its draft form. It feels like a copy. The good news is that Orullian still has time to make it right. It's our opinion that you can't play it safe as a writer anymore. Writers have to take risks. Orullian isn't a bad writer, he's an inexperienced one. A lot of these issues can get worked out through simple experience. But the story? Sorry man, this needs a radical shift. There are readers out there that will like this novel due to its absolute similarity to that Jordan/Tolkien/Brooks story we've all read dozens of times from dozens of authors. But that isn't good enough for us. It isn't good enough for the thousands upon thousands of discerning readers out there.

We doubt Peter Orullian will read this review. That's fine. Regardless, we want him to know that we really WANT him to get better. Twist the crap out of this clichéd story with its clichéd characters. Stop playing so safe and predictable.

Again, writing a negative review like this is never easy. We could have sugar-coated it, or completely swept our opinions of this under the rug. No insults here, just our honest thoughts. You decide if you want to read this novel or not.

Recommended Age:
16 and up.
Language: Nope.
Violence: Mixed bag here. Sometimes it's well done, other times it is completely terrible--transitions and clarity are important in action scenes.
Sex: Rape is talked about pretty frankly.

Hawkmoon: The Runestaff

And alas, we come to the end of the tale. We've run the gamut, the bell has tolled, and the last of Hawkmoon's adventures have passed by our eyes. The pages have flown so fast.

THE RUNESTAFF is the fourth and final book of the Hawkmoon series by Michael Moorcock that Tor has been giving an upgrade and reprint to over the last year or so. These books hearken us back to the old days of classic fantasy fiction when the heroes were gallant gentlemen and their foes nefarious men of wickedness. Honor and virtue always triumphed over evil, and it was seeing how it would all play out this time around that always drew the readers in droves.

Dorian Hawkmoon and Huilliam D'Averc, friends and bretheren, have won the day and Hawkmoon has gained the Sword of the Dawn which allows him to summon a legion of supernatural warriors to his side when he has need of them. And though Hawkmoon wants only to return to Castle Brass and his lovely wife, the Runestaff has other plans for him--plans that will lead to one final fight with the wicked Baron Meliadus.

Reading this one was an interesting experience, as this part of the tale doesn't really stand by itself very well. When taken into context with the other books in the series, however, and when viewed in light of the fact that each of them was similarly short, the capstone of the tale here stands just fine. So if you're going to read this one, read the others beforehand. If not, I'm afraid that you'll probably be sorely disappointed.

As a single book, it has a surprising lack of characterization. What little we get has Hawkmoon pining for his wife and whining about being manipulated by a supernatural item of power. As the climax of the series though, there is little need for more characterization, as it has already come in the preceding books. The story is pretty straight-forward, moves along at a fair clip, and still has that great sense of adventure written into its folds as so many stories of this era have.

This is a classic. High-level reading, heroic quests, magical items collected that will help the hero save the day, and of course, the eventual conquest of evil. (And no, that's not a spoiler. You already knew it was going to happen.) In all honesty, I don't know that a new story like this would make it in today's publishing world. This one though, is something that's there to remind us of where we've come from. Of what we were. It's a way to remember the days when heroes were valiant and brave and strong.

As fantasy nuts, these stories are our history. Our roots.

And we are its legacy.

So even if you don't go out and buy this book, take a look at your local library and see if they have a copy of the set. Odds are pretty good that you'll be able to find something, as they've been getting print-time since the late 60's. Just good, old-fashioned fun, and something we should all be a part of.

Recommended age: 14 plus
Language: A few mild epithets
Violence: Mild, some people die--a surprising number, actually
Sex: None

Moorcock's Official Website

Blue and Gold

Subterranean Press is our favorite small publisher here at EBR. They never disappoint when it comes to providing us with great books. Awesome covers, solid construction, and stories from amazing authors. It says something about both a publisher and an author when a 100-page novella can be sold for $25 and not a word of complaint be raised by its purchasers. This book is one of those.

"Blue and Gold", the most recent offering from KJ Parker, is the story of an alchemist, Saloninus, who starts off by telling an inn keeper that he has murdered his wife. Then, he tells us about his humble heritage and the fact that he lies occasionally. This piece of information, of course, plays a central role in the story, and becomes the skein from which the tale is woven.

We find out that Saloninus has been conscripted by the prince of Paraprosdocia and long-time friend of his, Phocas, to find a way to turn base metal into gold. This, being the undeniably single holy grail of all alchemical work, is impossible, and Saloninus tells us such. But should we believe him? Along the way, he has also taken it upon himself to discover the elixir of eternal youth. Another simple task to say the least. As simple, as say, you trying to guess at what color the elixir might be. Or is it so simple?

Like many other of Parker’s works, character and story thrive at the core of the tale, while dark humor and darker intent abound. This one is quick and intriguing, and when the layers of falsehood finally unfold, we come to the conclusion with truth and satisfaction. One of the things I must mention also is Parker’s uncanny ability here to make everything feel important and part of the tale. Back story doesn’t feel like back story. Information doesn’t feel a step apart from plot progression. They’re all just pieces of the greater whole. Very well-done. Novice writers could do considerably worse than trying to mimic Parker’s integration, in this case.

Overall, the story was pretty good. Not my favorite of Parker’s (if you haven’t read "Purple and Black", also published by Subterranean Press, then get to it, it’s brilliant), but this is still a good offering to be sure. On par with the rest of her stuff. Again, fans of Parker, and all that jazz. You know that I'm one of them.

Recommended age: 16 plus
Language: A handful of strong references
Violence: Several deaths, low-detail or off-stage
Sex: None

KJ Parker’s Wiki and “Official Website”

A Matter Of Blood

What was the last book you read that completely blew you away? It shouldn't be too hard to remember, especially given the astounding levels of mediocrity present in most genres. Being book reviewers--and this may shock you--we read a TON of books. Horror novels fall apart in the end. Thrillers can almost always be predicted. Dan Brown is, well, Dan Brown. Fantasy gets bogged down in the cliché. SF makes you feel like you need an advanced physics degree. Every genre has its downfalls. We read so much that for a novel to really stand out, it has to be special.

Have we piqued your curiosity yet?

A MATTER OF BLOOD, by Sarah Pinborough, is special. A lot of horror and mystery with some paranormal and SF thrown in--it pushes all our buttons in all the right ways. The novel takes place in a near-future London...only this London isn't the vacationers dream as we know it. Corruption on all levels has very nearly brought the city to its knees, and it is in the midst of a mini-apocalypse of sorts...only no one seems to notice or really care. Our main PoV is Detective Inspector Cass Jones. He is investigating a high-profile, public shooting of two boys when he is assigned an additional case dealing with a serial killer. Things are "calm" at this point in the novel, and soon go completely off-the-scale crazy.

The very first thing that jumps out in A MATTER OF BLOOD is Cass Jones. He has serious issues. Guilt. Attitude. Drug addiction. Family problems. He doesn't try to be witty. His life sucks too much to even attempt it. But he is also extremely good at his job. His skill helps the reader initially overcome the "dirt-bag" vibe he exudes early in the novel. Don't worry, by the end of the novel you'll love Cass in spite of his problems...or perhaps because of them. We wouldn't even really call Cass an antihero. Though that is all the rage, Cass Jones never wears that particular hat. The attraction to this particular Inspector is that he comes across as a seriously flawed, yet hard working guy. That "human" aspect is the key.

Pinborough's description in this novel is awesome. From describing the dingy streets of London, to the macabre crime-scenes, to the way the whole police business now works is all top-notch. Hazy flashbacks come at the perfect time. It all sets the ambiance and the mood just right. There is a palpable Raymond Chandler, noir/hardboiled feel to it all. That alone should be enough to get you salivating.

The pacing in A MATTER OF BLOOD is fantastic. Right when you start to worry that things are slowing down too much, Pinborough twists the story a little more through whatever means she feels necessary. She doesn't ever seem to be afraid to genre-mix, and she never pulls punches. Ever.

Perhaps the best descriptor we can give is that A MATTER OF BLOOD is everything we hoped R. Scott Bakker's thrillers would be. Where his thrillers have ultimately fallen completely flat in our opinion, Pinborough's novel succeeds and excels in every way.

Now like we said, the endings of 90% of all Horror novels unravel and completely ruin the rest of the novel. Not so in this case. The ending to A MATTER OF BLOOD made it better. It was completely perfect, awesome and shocking. When everything starts coming together, and the Cass puts the pieces together, it is SOOOOOO GOOD. We couldn't turn the pages quick enough. While a bit of it was kinda predictable, it was the sinister and horrific tiny twists that made it frakking awesome.

Sarah Pinborough's A MATTER OF BLOOD is horrific and gripping. It immediately vaults into our top novels not just in the Horror genre, but in any genre. It perfectly encapsulates all the great qualities of Crime Fiction, Horror and Urban Fantasy with a little SF thrown in for kicks. EVERYONE should read this novel.

Currently A MATTER OF BLOOD is only available in the UK, though Sarah hinted at a US release through Tor later this year. We don't care if you import it now or wait for the US release. We've already bought the UK edition, and we'll buy copies of the US version too. Yeah, for us it was THAT GOOD. Her second novel has just been released in the UK, and we will probably put our lives completely on hold to read it.

Recommended Age: 18+
Language: Gritty Crime/Horror. Tons of swearing, but it never actually feels overused somehow.
Violence: Our good buddy James Barclay (we owe you one, James) pointed us in Sarah's direction with the promise of awesomely described violence. He's never led us astray before, and he didn't this time. Crazy, crazy stuff.
Sex: Talked about very, very openly and often, but never actually shown in explicit detail.

Down the Road

DOWN THE ROAD is one more entry into Zombie-genre novels that we wound up reading, even after we swore off of them. Gallery Books has been good to us, and for the most part we like what they give us, so we couldn't deny this little guy a read. This is Bowie Ibarra's debut (and only, so far) novel.

It's pretty obvious right from the start that this book isn't reinventing the wheel, and that Ibarra is an extreme amateur at writing. Transitions are rushed, descriptions (except for the gore...holy crap) were minimal, and character development was only nominal. All of this can be somewhat expected though when you see the page count total at just over 200, and then see that the print is very large. This book took a whole 40 minutes to read. Seriously.

It is our highly-respected, ultimately-important opinion that if you are going to write a "zombie-flick" book in a market this saturated, you have to at least make an effort to do something different. DOWN THE ROAD is exactly what you would expect from a zombie book, with every twist and turn telegraphed pages and pages before it comes. Especially if you have even watched just one movie. To the author's credit he actually wrote the book some years ago through a publisher that didn't care to have him revise or edit the book. What this means is that we have an M. Night Shyamalan situation. Little-to-no outside opinion or oversight can be a bad thing. DOWN THE ROAD is basically every zombie movie you have seen, put on paper. It's like Ibarra didn't even try to be original, and instead just focused on being as gruesome as possible.

Everything you would expect from a zombie story is here. We have the fascist government trying to contain the outbreak and even the clichéd guy who gets bitten and for some reason doesn't tell anyone. It was kind of annoying reading a story we have all read or seen about 100 times before. Even in a novel this short we found that our patience wearing extremely thin.

The books succeeds in its aim, but sadly the aim wasn't very high. If the book were any longer we probably would have gotten bored and put it down. Though to be honest, we kinda wished the book actually was shorter in places. There were a few very explicit sex scenes that really didn't need to be there. They were strictly shock-value, gratuitous and fantastical. After reading the "Director's Commentary" at the end of the novel, we have to wonder if--no offense to him--Ibarra wasn't just putting some of his own fantasies down on paper. It was kind of creepy.

That's a lot of negative stuff about the book. Why did it warrant Mediocre instead of Hate? Well...we didn't hate it. Duh! OK for real, there were some things Ibarra did completely right.

While there was tons of zombie-centered gore and action, at its heart DOWN THE ROAD is a decent character study of a man losing his grip on humanity. Ibarra was brilliant in how he focused the narrative on something extremely simple. It is basically the main character's attempt to get home. He has to traverse a normally very easy, very enjoyable trip "down the road" to his hometown. On the way he encounters all sorts of horror and it certainly takes its toll on him. The rest of the characters don't have enough to evolve at all, but each reaction to the zompocalypse is unique and gives a feeling of depth to the rest of the cast.

The narrative does have a large hiccup early on in the book. George (Why does every zombie book HAVE to have a character named George!? C'mon people...the homage to Romero is getting old) decides to totally murder two people. This type of degeneracy should have come after some experiences that led him to it. Instead it comes out of nowhere and immediately makes us dislike the main character. Even with this hiccup, something pretty cool happened as we read the book. The more degenerate he became, the more we hated the guy. Then oddly we rooted for him even more and hoped he would succeed and redeem himself.

Aside from that early misstep George's experiences and reactions were interesting enough and pretty well executed...though unoriginal. Another great thing was that Ibarra didn't feel the need to evolve his zombies, or give them some gimmick/flavor-of-the-month (probably because it was originally written a while ago), in order for them to be interesting. We all love 28 Days Later, but we all kind-of/sort-of wish, inside, that the zombies were a bit more classical. DOWN THE ROAD features the absolutely relentless, shambling, slow-yet-terrifying, zombies that started the genre. The zombie scenes are intense, and not just for the graphically described gore and violence. Ibarra gives these meat-eaters a real sense of malevolence that many Horror books lack from even the most horrific creatures.

We are going to use our cop-out summary for this book, yet again. If you are a Zomb-fan, you'll probably love it. If you aren't a Zomb-fan, and looking for something in the Horror genre, it will probably be better to look elsewhere.

Recommended Age: 18+. Adults only.
Language: Ridiculous amounts of every curse word. Overused.
Violence: Lots and lots and described in disgusting gruesome detail. Zomb-fans will not be disappointed. Most people will wonder why so much description was on this and so little on setting.
Sex: Multiple extremely explicit scenes. They are so graphic and unnecessary that this scores huge marks against the book for us.

Troubled Waters

Zoe is a coru woman, which means she has an affinity to water and blood, and the traits associated with it. But Zoe is different: water comes when she calls.

Zoe's father was the king's closest adviser, but ten years ago was exiled from court, and took his young daughter with him to live in a small village. At the opening of TROUBLED WATERS, Zoe finds herself an orphan; the day after the funeral, the king's adviser, Darien Serlast, comes to collect her to become the king's fifth wife.

With nothing left to tie her to the village, Zoe goes with Darien to the city to marry the king. At least, that's what Darien tells Zoe. It turns out he knows a lot more than he lets on. As a result, Zoe doesn't trust him, and at the first opportunity, she escapes into the city and the obscurity of the river flats, where the city's poor gather to sleep.

TROUBLED WATERS is an undemanding story to read, with flowing prose, subtle foreshadowing, and steady pacing--and not a whole lot going wrong for our heroine. Certainly her father died, but I kept waiting for a tragic turn in the story. Anything. There was a brief episode where her money is stolen, but she retrieves it on the very same page. This is a la-de-da skipping through town, living in the safe (?!?) homeless tent town on the river flats, easily finding a hap-hap-happy cobbler and his wife to hire her as a shopkeeper, all of the food is delicious, everyone is all so well meaning, the clothes are lovely, and then she discovers she's the heir of a wealthy and powerful noble house.

What does all this equal? Not much tension. So what's to keep a reader turning pages? In this case, the world building. Oh...and, um, if you're inclined for it, a sweet love story.

The first hundred pages consists of leisurely forward movement, it's almost exclusively world building. We learn a lot about the city, but the main focus is the magic of the element/spirit traits of the people (water, wood, fire, earth, air). These classifications shape society, behavior, and their understanding of each other. This is what kept me reading more than the characters, especially Zoe who sometimes felt like she was just going through the motions of the story. Her actions are inconsistent, she makes foolish decisions (usually without consequences), and is thrown into a position of power but provided no guidance--all things which happen to be useful to advancing the story, but makes Zoe difficult to like and the plot often unbelievable.

There are a few other characters, most of them friends or relatives of Zoe, who help her out and provide support and encouragement. She eventually interacts with the queens, princesses, king, and other important people of the city, but all of these are shallow caricatures, if entertaining. The most well-drawn person in the book is her love interest, Darien Serlast. He is a hunti (wood/bone) man, and as a result is determined and unyielding. As the king's right-hand man, he has power and responsibility in his own right. Zoe's very nature frustrates him...and intrigues him.

As the head of her noble house, or 'prime', Zoe comes into her powers and discovers the extent of what of a coru prime really can do. As the story progresses, she learns some disturbing truths about her father and the king, and as a result becomes embroiled in court intrigue. She comes to rely on Darien, and he on her. You can pretty much guess the results.

TROUBLED WATERS is a sweet book, with nice characters, and a happy ending. Sure there are some contrivances, but it's not the kind of book you can let yourself get stuck on the unbelievable parts. This is a good one for those who like to avoid the rough and dark stuff out there.

Recommended Age: 14+ for reading level and comprehension more than content. This is a YA novel shelved in the adult section.
Language: None
Violence: None
Sex: Kissing and some talk about affairs


As you know, we try to keep our eyes on the UK Fantasy market. It's how we discovered guys like Chris Wooding, James Barclay and George Mann. One of the novels we watched for months was Col Buchanan's FARLANDER. We can't even tell you how many times we nearly imported this one. Then Tor picked it up here in the US and saved us the import expense.

In FARLANDER we are introduced to a world filled with conflict on the brink of all-out war and devastation. The majority of the novel follows Ash--a member of the monk and samurai-like Roshun--and his apprentice Nico. Nico is your typical street-urchin with "potential", and a majority of the novel revolves around his training in the Roshun society. Kirkus is the whining heir to the antagonistic and religiously zealous (and corrupt) Mann Empire, and we do see him on several occasions as a PoV as well. Another minor PoV is Bahn, and army officer.

The whole plot of this novel revolves around the Roshun practice of Vendetta. Individuals can pay to be put under the society's protection. Should any harm intentionally befall them, the Roshun will send out a member of the order to assassinate the murderer. Once you slog through the mandatory training scenes that accompany any coming-of-age story, the rest of the novel is about performing a near impossible Vendetta.

The whole problem with this novel is the inconsistency of it. For every moment of awesomeness, there is a portion that takes considerable willpower not to skip over. For every good piece of character development, there is an unforeshadowed poor one (Bahn is the worst offender here). Mostly this all adds up to Buchanan being a new author. Almost every new author makes these kind of mistakes (indeed, should we ever get published, we will likely make similar mistakes ourselves).

For example:
1) Buchanan obviously like certain aspects and naming conventions of his world. The problem is that he like to show them to you in small repetitive bursts, and then ignore them completely for the rest of the novel.
2) He doesn't describe what he needs to, and over-describes the mundane. This is readily apparent with animals and locations.
3) The twist of the novel is highly dependent on the readers caring about the characters. We just aren't given enough time to actually care, and some of the characters act in stupid or one-dimensional ways (all Kirkus does is whine, and then there is a huge inconsistent part which makes no sense towards the end of the novel). It undermines the whole ending.
4) Speaking of the ending. It is never a good thing when we finish a novel and then wonder, "So...what was the point? Nothing much actually happens."

While this novel is such a mixed bag, it still comes across as interesting with the future novels having a ton of potential. Our main concern with the forthcoming sequel is that it will reboot the series to a degree, and we'll have to see this whole coming-of-age thing all over again. But that said, there is a lot to root for here. The action is great. The cities and religions are well realized. He has a nice setup with one foot in the new, and the other in the familiar.

FARLANDER falls right on the edge of "Mediocre" and "Like" for us. We'll definitely be reading the sequel, but we expect some serious improvement, and hope that the first novel actually has much higher importance than the impression we were left with.

Recommended Age: 16 and up.
Language: Some, and it can be strong.
Violence: Oh yes, and mostly it is well done.
Sex: The Mann Empire has some pretty disturbing practices, and there are several open discussions about sex.

The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack

Anyone else just LOVE the movie Mary Poppins? Yes, the one put out by Disney. Of all the movies I watched as a child, this is one of the few that I really remember enjoying every time I watched it. As I read this novel, my mind ran back to those days: I kept seeing that view over London when Dick Van Dyke took the group across the rooftops, I kept tapping my foot to Step in Time, and at random moments I would begin to whistle Feed the Birds. The atmosphere of this book was just...ah, well, I get ahead of myself.

THE STRANGE AFFAIR OF SPRING HEELED JACK, from all accounts, is Mark Hodder’s debut novel, the first of the Burton and Swinburne series, and quite the offering to genre fiction as such. Alternate historical fiction with a load of twists, this story takes us on a vigorous romp through Victorian England like nothing I’ve ever before read. Steampunk at a glance with coal-driven bicycles and helicopter/easy-chair mishmashes, but there are also mega-lithic horses, greyhound post runners, message-delivering parakeets with a penchant to adlib insults, and werewolves as well. The world Hodder has developed here is everything we expect from the foggy, gritty streets of London, but filled with oh so much more for the taking as part of the bargain. At times, some of this stuff almost had the flavor of Mieville. Almost.

Sir Richard Francis Burton is a cornucopia of a man--a known explorer, scholar, and swordsman--but recently his reputation has been brought into question by a former friend and accomplice, John Speke. But then, alas, the decrier shoots himself, and Burton is devastated. This is the tipping point for Burton. From there it isn’t long before the focus of our tale comes into play, Spring Heeled Jack, to tell him that John Speke has shot himself three years too early (time travel!) By the way, if you didn’t catch how utterly awesome Jack looks, go take a minute and drool over Pyr’s cover, because it seriously deserves your attention.

Finished? Good.

Unfortunately, the first several chapters were very tough to get through. Several mid-scene jumps through various character’s heads made things difficult to follow, and there was little to no characterization, information dumps galore, and a multitude of flashbacks. In short, it was fairly painful. After fifty or so pages though, Jack shows up and things finally get moving. Burton quickly garners a job from the crown, and the story turns toward the crux of the movement: the mystery of Jack.

Hodder’s prose here is excellent. Great descriptions, his pacing methodical and quick, as I started to mention above the atmosphere is just great, and the few characters that the story revolves around become well-developed as we spend time with them. Happily, the mystery of the lightning-ridden purveyor of violence is slowly meted out as Burton follows one clue to the next, bringing him ever closer to the truth. I loved this portion of the book. Every chance I had to get into its pages, I took with relish. The interaction between the various political thought-groups was grand, the introductions of science’s new products were comic and thought-provoking, and even the star-crossed love story caught my interest.

Then part two came along, and I was left in a fog of disappointment.

The book is split into three parts. The first focuses on Burton, and introduces his pal Swinburne in small measure, focusing mostly on the main story. The second part is entitled: Being the true history of Spring Heeled Jack. As I read this, I remember thinking, “But I don’t want the ‘true history of Spring Heeled Jack’. Can't I just have Burton's story ?” This section is exactly what it says it is: a history of Spring Heeled Jack--where he came from, why he was there, and his motivations behind everything he's done. In this, we see in detail everything he’s been through, and thus replay once more a large portion of the scenes from Part 1, only this time from Jack’s perspective. I found that reading this part of the book completely took the steam out of everything (no pun intended...okay, maybe just a small one). The mystery was gone, and I now knew everything. For a while, I was hoping that I would be able to just encourage you readers to skip Part 2 and come back afterward to read it, had you the desire, (kind of like an appendix of the non-fleshy variety, though every bit as optional), but that didn’t end up working out because without part 2, Part 3 wouldn't make any sense. Grumble, grumble.

In the end, everything about the story came together. The holes were filled in. The tale was complete, and for the most part I was a satisfied reader and considered that I had liked the book. More than anything though, I wish that it had continued in the vein within which it spent two-thirds of its pages. It's too bad that this was not to be the case, and I have to cry "disappointing execution". I’ll most definitely be reading his next book though. This is, after all, his debut, and he can only get better from here.

Just don’t take the easy route next time, Mr. Hodder. Please. Give us more stuff like Part 1. More story. Less appendix. Story is what we love. Character is what we crave. We believe in you. Now go write some more.

Recommended age: 16 plus, for violence and themes
Language: A decent amount, though infrequent
Violence: One fairly gruesome scene, general description of wolf-ravaged carnage, some sword fights
Sex: Addresses the concept of sexual assault upon a minor

Closest thing I could find to a Mark Hodder Website

The Midnight Mayor

Matthew Swift has already died once and isn't interested in doing so again. Unfortunately he has the knack of finding himself in the right place at the wrong time, and now London's Aldermen (the magical kind) believe Swift killed the Midnight Mayor. Kinda ironic considering he didn't even believe the guy existed in the first place...

To avoid punishment for a crime he didn't commit, Swift searches for the mayor's killer, but realizes there's more to this story than the death of one man: it involves the survival of London itself.

THE MIDNIGHT MAYOR continues where A MADNESS OF ANGELS leaves off, but don't think you have to read MADNESS to enjoy MIDNIGHT. Certainly Kate Griffin doesn't dawdle, and explains back story along the way, but it doesn't clutter the narrative, instead adding interest and insight. MIDNIGHT is a joyride through London's streets about the magic that makes the city and its inhabitants tick.

In MADNESS Swift became one with the blue electric angels--the magic of the phone lines made real from the words and desires that travel via the current. As a result, in MIDNIGHT Swift's PoV uses 'we' or 'I' because it's them merged together narrating the story; this threw me off at first and I worried it would be all gimmicky, but it really works and it's awesome. It's only the beginning, however, of Swift's progression as the lone sorcerer left in London, to a man burdened with a responsibility he didn't ask for. Swift's sense of humor keeps the story from being too serious, and his creative solutions to his problems are entertaining to read. He's fun to root for because even though he's not perfect, he's willing to fight for the innocent who can't protect themselves from mysterious things that go bump in the night--which also happens to be the responsibility of the mysterious Midnight Mayor.... There's a strange and varied assortment of secondary characters; particularly interesting is Oda, a kind of religious crusader against the evils of magic, who Swift finds as an unlikely ally against a bigger threat.

The story starts off with Swift in peril from a mysterious enemy, sucking you in right from the start, and carries you along clear up until the tidy resolution. There are some leaps in logic as Swift tries to solve the problems surrounding the mayor's death, but Swift/Griffin's storytelling is engaging enough that I didn't let myself get hung up on those details. I don't want to tell you too much more about the plot because I don't want to ruin it for you, but the connections throughout the novel keep you guessing.

The magic of London is created from ideas, words, meaning, symbols: "In the old days, a wizard would call on silver moonlight to guide them through a monster's lair. These days, we summon sodium light and a neon glow, and the monster's lair tends to have a trendy postcode and pay council tax." This adds to the taste and feel of London as Swift makes his way through the town and problem he has to solve. It made the magic real to me, like that's how it would really work in London.

Perhaps the best part of the book is Griffin's prose. This book is an ode to London, the descriptions saturated with the magic of history, life, and place--the very things that give power to sorcerers like Swift. It can get tedious when you want to get on with the story, and slows down the pace some. The dialogue is snappy and engaging, despite the occasional monologue by random characters. Of course, not all readers will like the narrator's voice, and it took some getting used to; those who prefer more straightforward storytelling may find themselves frutrated.

Kate Griffin may be Urban Fantasy's best kept secret. If you enjoy Butcher's Dresden files or Gaiman's NEVERWHERE, then this is the series for you. The next book, THE NEON COURT, just came out and I can't wait.

Recommended Age: 14+ for violence
Language: Occasional, some characters more than others
Violence: Yes, with some gruesome details
Sex: Referenced, but otherwise minimal

The Dragon's Path

For some unknown, benevolent reason, we fantasy readers have fallen into the good graces of the genre gods. Why is that? you ask. I simply don't know. Truly. But isn't it obvious? We're smack in the middle of a veritable geyser that has brought, or will bring to our greedy little eyes and hands titles from those authors that we most love: WAY OF KINGS, THE HEROES, WISE MAN'S FEAR, THE WHITE-LUCK WARRIOR, BLUE REMEMBERED EARTH, THE CRIPPLED GOD. And who can forget the recent announcement for A DANCE WITH DRAGONS (maybe it will actually happen this time)? Enough big-name books to keep any good fantasy reader satisfied for most of a year, entire. And yet, despite the excitement, despite the fervor, despite the sheer giddiness of it all, there was no other book that I anticipated more than this one. It wasn’t even close (sorry KJ Parker, even this one trumped you).

THE DRAGON'S PATH is the first in The Dagger and the Coin Quintet, a new series of books by Daniel Abraham that should prove to be a staggeringly good ride. After reading his amazing Long Price Quartet, I couldn't wait to get my hands on this one. (Did you notice the number of books there? Four in the first series. Five in this one. Trust me, as a reader of fantasy fiction you should already respect this guy for not writing trilogies and/or single-series libraries. Not to mention the fact that the books in this series are scheduled for release at one per year…)

The story itself revolves around four main characters:

Captain Marcus Wester--A man of wide repute, who has dined with kings, commanded soldiers to victory, and won against overwhelming odds, and is now only looking to fill his retinue of guards to make good on a promise of protection for a caravan of trading goods. In doing so, he quickly meets and is affected by--

Cithrin bel Sarcour--Almost seventeen, a ward of the Medean bank in Vanai, every bit the sheltered girl, and suddenly thrust into responsibility and necessary deceit, on behalf of the bank, with the arrival of what has the sense of being a rote gentlemen’s war. Within the advancing army rides--

Sir Geder Palliako--Lover of speculative essay and target of mockery for most of the other soldiers, he’d rather be translating another good book than marching to war, but there’s nothing to be done about it now. It won’t be long though until he’s made a surprising name for himself, earning the immediate notice and extreme gratitude of--

Baron Dawson Kalliam--Friend of King Simeon and self-styled protector of justice in the realm. He wants nothing but to see the kingdom thrive, but struggles against others of his station to steer the direction of the king’s choices to what he believes they should be. He wants nothing more than to do the right thing. And yet, despite all he does, he may have no say in the matter at all.

When I say the story revolves itself around these people, I mean that in every way. Possibly the single-most powerful piece of Abraham’s story-telling is his ability to relay both the impact of his characters upon the world and corresponding impact of it upon them as well. He makes the epic story feel personal, and the intimate one, earth-shattering.

Something that most will notice upon reading any of Abraham's books, besides his clear and effective prose, is the efficiency with which he writes. This is every bit the case here. There are no pages of descriptive setting, no boring treatises on mythology or history, nor any overly-long explanations as to “why things are the way they are”. We get what we need. We get an engaging story, set in a world as complex and detailed as it is interesting, and we get it through the eyes, and ears, and fingers of the characters. We feel the story. We experience it. Thus, we don’t know everything right at the beginning. There’s no massive learning curve of magic or politics, making the story very accessible. We learn as the characters act, interact, and develop. We see the world at it unfolds in the character’s lives. In this, readers will find that the story moves fluidly and constantly toward its end. And thankfully, we can’t always see to that end. Making for surprises aplenty.

The feel of this book is much more consistent with typical genre fantasy, and is thus significantly different than those of the Long Price. Although, I did find it interesting that this book was very much like the first of the Long Price in nature, in that it told a cohesive story about several characters, gave us a good introduction to the world at hand, and provided an ending that brought satisfactory closure to the story arcs presented. Main threads tied off; larger, very interesting threads, begun.

And can you say anticipation? Whoa. The ending literally had me giggling with it.

The single piece of advice that I would give all readers of this book would be to take your time. The more opportunity you give this book, the more you will love it. I read it twice in preparation for writing this review, and I can honestly say that I liked it more the second time through. First time, I inhaled it. The second, I simply enjoyed.

This is absolutely a fantasy series that no fantasy-lover should miss. If you love story (like us), if you love character (like us), if you love everything that a fantasy story should be (…duh, like us), BUY THIS BOOK! Seriously, people. This train is well worth the price of the ticket. And trust me, you don’t want to miss it.

Recommended age: 16 plus
Language: Very little, though about PG-13 level
Violence: Lotta fighting, no gore, with large-scale slaughter and intimate execution, both
Sex: Infrequent discussion, one brief post-entanglement summary

Daniel Abraham’s Website

Bonuses: Who doesn't love a bonus? Paperback has a chapter from The King's Blood, book two of the series, at the end. And if you get the e-Book, there's a complimentary copy of Leviathan Wakes, Abraham's new co-authored space opera, attached. Happy reading.

The King of Plagues

In case there was any ambiguity before, we want to set the record straight regarding Jonathan Maberry. He is freaking awesome. On every freaking level. Maberry's THE KING OF PLAGUES was just released, giving us our much needed Joe Ledger fix.

In this latest novel, Joe Ledger is drawn back into the world of horror and terrorism when the Royal London Hospital is leveled by bombs without any warning. As the death toll rises, Ledger realizes he can't watch from the sidelines--regardless of his life being left in shambles following the climatic events of THE DRAGON FACTORY. Ledger faces off against old enemies and new as a secret group weaponizes the Ten Plagues of Egypt.

It's easy to point at Maberry's ability to write action as the best part of his work. It IS fantastic. While unashamedly being over-the-top at times (not a bad thing--we love it in this series), the action scenes in THE KING OF PLAGUES are always crisp, brutal and easily pictured. No, as well as Maberry does action, he does character better.

We absolutely love the characters in the Joe Ledger series, and their progression in THE KING OF PLAGUES is top-notch. One thing that Maberry always manages to do is have his characters behave in realistic ways. Joe Ledger for example has faced terrorists, zombies, Nazi-clones, genetic monsters and now plagues. Many other authors would say, "Oh, well, my character is freaking awesome. Nothing phases him." Not Maberry. His characters are continually hammered emotionally and psychologically. The horrors they face actually affect the characters. Remember, one of the characters is the shrink for the DMS (more on him later). What this does is create a very real sense of danger for the characters Maberry is writing. He has no qualms about killing main characters (we're still feeling one in particular), but Maberry also seems keenly aware that killing a character isn't the worst thing you can do. No, scaring them psychologically can be FAR worse. If only more authors could find this delicate balance...

The great thing is that Maberry does a perfect job of showing just how damaged Joe Ledger really is. With every new person he meets, Joe can't quite hide all of his emotional scarring. Joe tries to cover his issues with jokes and sarcasm--always perfectly timed and written--but it becomes more and more apparent that Joe barely keeping his head above water.

There are a few things we should point out that took away slightly from the overall experience. None of them are huge issues, but in a book this good the little things have a way of standing out. First is the passage of time. For the readers, it has been a few years reading these novels. For Joe, it has been several months. It becomes difficult for the reader to remember that all of this is happening all in a really short amount of time. It magnifies the stress Joe has been under, but because of the time between novels the reader won't necessarily get that full impact. The solution? Heck if we know. Just keep the time-line in mind, we guess.

One of the other issues has to do with the PoVs. The Joe Ledger PoV is in first person while the others are in 3rd Limited. Nothing wrong with this. Our small problem is that it seems like Joe is featured less than what he deserves. It was Joe Ledger that made us instantly love PATIENT ZERO. Like THE DRAGON FACTORY before it, THE KING OF PLAGUES focuses a bit too much on the secondary characters. This is more of a subjective thing, but we like Joe Ledger a lot, and want to see more of his exploits. We want him right at the center of the action.

Almost in direct opposition to the previous issue, we felt Rudy was under used. He is a great character, and in desperate need of some more PoV time. Again, a very minor problem we had.

Yeah, that's it. We didn't have any other problems, and those small issues we had are so ridiculously minor. The novel was THAT good. We get big, stupid grins on our faces every time we even think of this series.

THE KING OF PLAGUES is a freaking thrill-ride of a novel. The pace is fast and furious. the action gripping. The terror and horror described and executed perfectly. The humor spot-on. Is it any wonder that Jonathan Maberry is on of our absolute favorite authors?

If you haven't started this series, you are missing out on one of the most fun series in print.

Recommended Age: 17 and up.
Language: All sorts, and really strong.
Violence: Weaponized Ten Biblical Plagues. Assassins. Cults. Joe Ledger. Yeah, there is a TON of awesome violence. There aren't many who do it better than Maberry.
Sex: It's talked about, and there are a few scenes that Maberry cuts away from before getting at all graphic.

Interview with Steven Erikson

Do you faithful readers want to know the absolute best part of this whole book review blog thing? Author interviews. Just being able to get a few minutes of an author's time to ask him or her those questions burning in our minds. It's completely fantastic. What makes it even better is when we get to interview one of our absolute favorite authors, and he is completely open and honest in his answers. Steven Erikson falls in this category for us. The guy completely blew us away with his writing, and then outdid himself with his humble answers to our questions.

***The Interview***

Elitist Book Reviews: Steven, thank you so much for chatting with us for a few minutes. We want to start off by giving you a few moments to brag a bit. What do you think makes your series so great?

Steven Erikson: If I was to brag about this series I would have missed the whole point of my own series, which would be a bad thing. For me writing is an exercise in humility. It always astonishes me when I prowl the hate-box (funny how the internet was meant to be a love-box, only to have it increasingly sway in the opposite direction … well, not funny. Disturbing) and read from fans of the genre comments on my coming across as arrogant, either in interviews or in my fiction. For my own sanity I can only assume that by subverting the tropes of the genre in my fantasy fiction, I am somehow perceived as attacking the lovers of the genre, which I am emphatically not doing. I grew up reading and loving the same stuff they’re now reading: but as a writer I wanted to twist it a little, do something different, and avoid the lazy route of reiterating what other writers have already done. This has landed me in the occasional shit-storm, where fans in their tribes feel it necessary to put down other writers in order to build up their favorite writers. Uhm, it’s not a competition, mates, and when I’m being judgmental, it’s self-directed. As writers we each participate to make up the whole genre, and it’s a big, flexible genre. For myself, I do hope that fans of my work read and enjoy as much fantasy fiction as is out there, and to forever remain open to new voices; and, most importantly, to not feel threatened by new takes on the genre. You lose nothing by being open-minded and you lose everything when you shut the door, bolt the lock, and hide from every challenge.

Your question alarms me in that you assume that I feel my series is great. That’s for readers to decide, not me. I did the best I could, with what talents I possess. It’s done, it’s out there. Maybe it’ll swim, maybe it’ll sink.

EBR: THE CRIPPLED GOD is out—and it is fantastic. It’s been a long and epic ride. What kind of emotions are you feeling with the conclusion to this ten-book portion of the story?

Erikson: Exhausted, emptied out, relieved. In The Crippled God I was writing towards scenes I had imagined in my head for nearly a decade. The pressure was immense; in fact, this whole series has been written with that pressure. It was a huge series, written out of heart-break, and for me it was a long, drawn-out search for hope. When it was done, I felt numb. Didn’t write a word for six weeks – my longest drought ever as a professional writer.

When I am asked for advice by beginning writers, I always say ‘finish what you start,’ and it turns out that advice was as applicable to me as to them. I finished what I started and that is a good feeling indeed. In fact, it’s the real reward to all this, because it means that you can walk away, head held high – and I recommend it to everyone, in all endeavors you may undertake.

EBR: What was the most difficult part of writing this series? What was the most enjoyable part?

Erikson: I suppose the most difficult part of writing this series was sticking to my guns, from start to finish. I’ve taken a lot of hits, book after book; and while there has been appreciation from fans it’s often the case that the vitriol cuts through to leave a bitter taste, while the praise washes off. In the end, comments from others, both positive and negative, only reach in so far. The core of desire remains inviolate, but it’s taken a beating at times. The most enjoyable part follows on from this, in that I didn’t waver, or give up, or lose interest, and now that it is done I can look back and, barring a frenzy of book-burning worldwide, the series is out there, done, and will remain for as long as readers enjoy it.

EBR: What is the area of your writing that has improved the most?

Erikson: I don’t know, to be honest. I’m not afraid of complexity, I suppose, though in the beginning I wasn’t about to let my fear stop me, so youthful stubbornness and brazen determination has given way to bemused faith in the process. I guess I learned to trust myself.

That said, writing is not about opinions, not about answers, not about solutions. It’s just a way of searching, and people either come along with you in that search, or they don’t. Used to be I tried to write as inclusively as I could, but really, it never worked for me. I long ago gave up on the notion of universal adoration, and for all my supposed brilliance, I’d still fail Grade Eight math. Now, before that gets quoted out of context (as if I can stop that), no, I don’t suppose I am brilliant. If I have virtues pertaining to all this, they are all double-edged. Patience with stubbornness; ambition with crushing doubt … the usual crap, mostly. In the end, we’re all mirrors to each other. Call me names at your peril.

EBR: Your novels are large. Door-stop sized even. How is it that you have been able to keep such a firm and consistent release schedule in a day where huge delays have seemingly become the norm?

Erikson: As you might glean from my answers to the questions thus far, what kept me going was desperation. I needed to get this damned thing done, if only to discover what the world was like once the series was behind me. There’s a poem in The Crippled God, to open the epilogue, that pretty much sums it up, as it addresses both my core belief and my core uncertainties. It was written in that closing moment of exhaustion, both physical and spiritual, when the only voice left is an honest one.

EBR: Your co-creator, Cam, has improved in his craft dramatically from book to book. What makes him such a good compliment to your own style and your own writing?

Erikson: From the very beginning, in creating this world via roleplaying, it was always an even exchange. I made up characters who interacted with his storylines, and he did the same with his characters acting in my storylines, so everything in the Malazan world has both of us in it. It’s the same when we get together in person: no matter how much time we’ve spent apart, living our own lives, we immediately fall back into that comfort of friendship and shared vision.

It just sort of happened that we ended up meeting on an archaeology dig, spent a few summers working together in the wilds of Northern Ontario (living in the town of Neil Young fame, helpless and hopeless indeed), and became lifelong friends in the years that followed.

You’ve all had this in your lives, I’m sure. The friend who, no matter the distance in miles or years, can just step in time with you the moment you reunite. That said, we’ve been through a lot of stuff together, me and Cam; in many ways, we still write to an audience of one, that one being each other. We’re in conversation, via our novels. It was always a conceit that anybody else would be interested in that conversation. Luckily, a few people were, and are.

EBR: Is there anything you wish you could have done differently since becoming a published author?

Erikson: These kinds of questions are almost impossible to answer. I wish I could have become a full-time writer about ten years before I did: I worked a lot of jobs, some of them soul-destroying; and we spent years being dirt poor (it didn’t help that I grew up poor as well) … but if that had happened, would I be the same writer? Would I have written the same stuff? Who knows. I’m just thankful for what I have.

EBR: The Malazan Book of the Fallen has come to a close, but you have other Malazan tales in the works. What should the masses look forward to in the coming years?

Erikson: I have signed for two more trilogies. The first one (which I’ve already begun) takes us back into the distant past in the Malazan universe. Once that’s done, I will be picking up the tale of Karsa Orlong in the second trilogy. If I can, I will write some other stuff as well, including more novellas and non-Malazan tales.

EBR: Again Steven, we are so thrilled that you were able to chat with us for a bit. Any parting words for our readers, and can we expect to see you at any conventions in the near future?

Erikson: I enjoy conventions and have a few I regularly attend, though I am always open to new ones, depending on my schedule.

Parting words to your readers? Be well, be kind, unwind…



Hypothetical situation for you. You live in the US, and one day you get a phone call from a doctor that tells you your father has just suffered two major heart attacks, possibly received some brain damage as a result, and that he has consequently sunk into a deep coma. Naturally you rush to his bedside, forget about your life entirely, and fret over every blink and shift until finally, several weeks later, he wakes up. When he does, he starts rambling about how he's traveled forty years into the future to a little village in South America where he made enemies with some bad ghosties, and that he needs to get back there to figure things out. Then he leaps out of the bed, grabs the lamp, and proceeds to smash it into the wall, stating that one of the ghosties has come to get him. Again, naturally, the doctors at the hospital throw him in the psych ward.

What do you do?

A) Let the docs take care of him because that's what they're there for;

B) Break him out of the place because naturally he's telling you the truth;

or C) Write a note, slit your wrists, and hope someone finds you fast enough that you'll end up in the same loony bin as him.

If you answered A, you might be able to consider yourself normal.

If you answered B, you will completely understand this novel.

On the other hand, if you answered C...well, I'm not going to go there, but you probably need to talk to someone. Preferably, a professional.

ESPERANZA is the first book in a projected trilogy called The Hungry Ghosts that deals with...well...hungry ghosts. Kind of. This is MacGregor's first book for Tor, but by no means her first book. She's been writing mysteries, thrillers, and astrology books since the early 80's and has about thirty all told to her name.

The story, what there is, revolves around three main characters: Tess, an FBI agent from 2008; Ian, a college professor from 1968; and Dominica, a brujo, or hungry ghost leader that resides in the town of Esperanza. Page time is split between the three. Tess and Ian are trying to figure out what’s going on, why they ended up in Esperanza together, and after some craziness, how to get back to each other and the city in the same time. Yes, this is a time travel story too. Sort of. Dominica just wants them both dead. Plain and simple.

From all accounts, this is purported to be a supernatural thriller, though I can’t say that I exactly know why, for there were few thrills to be found. Supernatural, yes--it’s about ghosts--but the decided lack of tension or suspense made it difficult to ever really get into the book. There’s a whole lot of information, most of which seems to flow quite freely between the several characters without anything actually being said about it. People just kinda know it. Or feel it. Or sense it. You know? [[nudge, nudge]]

The characters are fairly lackluster; development arcs, non-existent. Prose is good, but that’s to be expected with how many books MacGregor has written. There’s also definitely a lot that happens in the book. There’s some good progression from one scene to the next. The two human characters learn things and then move on, trying to figure it all out as the brujos come after them time and time again.

The biggest problem, as evidenced by my intro, is that characters that are supposedly living in this world (our world, the real world and not some variant of it) react and act in ways that are incredibly inconsistent with reality and just happen to coincide greatly with moving the plot along its path. The example I used was quite possibly the most grievous of these infractions, but as these instances cropped up again and again I lost the ability to suspend my disbelief and ultimately lost interest altogether. So when the whiz-bang finish came with flamethrowers, and snipers, and grenades, and people dying left and right, I was just flowing right over those words to get to the final ending. I’d had enough of the brujos.

I’ve been told by people I trust to not expect too much from books labeled as “thrillers”. This book is a perfect example to me of why that statement might be true.

My favorite line of the book though, cannot be missed: "He saw a tiny opening, dived, struck the ground, rolled, leaped up, and raced away from them." I mean, seriously, who does this? Well...okay. Captain Kirk. You win.

Recommended age: 16 plus
Language: Some. Fairly frequent.
Violence: A few people “bleed out” in disturbing ways, and there’s the war scene at the end. So, yeah, it's there.
Sex: A couple scenes that pass by pretty quickly.

Trish MacGregor's Website