Okay, so there are times when this job gets difficult, and this is one of those times. Writing stories and then putting them out into the world for people to either love to pieces or gnash between their teeth is not easy. As a reviewer though, I feel like it's my responsibility to give an honest opinion. I always try to do that. That being said, I'm sure that Mrs. Cooper is a really nice person, but this book just wasn't very good at all.
SONGS OF THE EARTH is Elspeth Cooper's debut novel and the first in The Wild Hunt trilogy, recently picked up by Tor. Wandering around the internet, I've seen this book compared to the works of David Eddings, Terry Brooks, and Gail Martin, as well as to THE NAME OF THE WIND and even THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA in terms of impact and goodness. For me though, it felt like old-school David Eddings with a Harry Potter-esque story line but all taken down about twelve notches.
The story revolves mostly around one main character, but toward the end really flies off the handle with the number of characters that get screen time. There was no justification for this plethora of people however, and so I'll focus on the three that played the most prominent roles.
Young Gair has been a knight-in-training for several years, hiding his song-based magical powers from his superiors, but has just been found out and sentenced to death for his abilities. Alderan is a mysterious old guy that swoops in and saves the day for Gair, freeing him from his doom and hauling him off to a group of islands where magic users train in secret. Masen is a Gate Keeper and protector of sorts, living up in the mountains where the veil between his world and the next is located.
At the beginning of the book, Masen finds out that the veil is failing and that soon the next world will flood through and destroy them all. He spends the entire book (months and months) traveling by boat, and foot, and sometimes mule, to the islands of the magic users. Meanwhile, after his narrow escape from the Knights of the church, Gair lounges around at the island's mage school, doing not much of anything that advances what little obvious plot there is. It felt just like a Harry Potter book at times--only without any classes, and without any friends, and without any mention of He-who-must-not-be-named. There was a castle though, and Gair is an orphan that's fulfilling prophecy. So my analogy works.
World-building is minimal. Fore-shadowing is nearly non-existent--sketchy and vague at the best of times. The two ideas that did pull through were that Gair's magical powers are threatening to literally tear him apart and the bad guys are threatening to break through the veil and kill them all. The ending nearly drove me insane though. Sudden bouts of undirected inspiration with regard to magical control and bad guys that just walk away from what they want are not ways to win points in my book.
This novel as a whole felt like it had been pulled out of a time capsule from the 80's. The writing style, the concepts, the characters and streamlined story. Nearly everything was there. Well, everything but one thing, and that was a relative degree of chastity. About halfway through the book, a large number of fairly explicit masturbation and sex scenes popped up (for nearly every character in the book), and I have to admit as to being completely dumbfounded to find content like that in a story that was otherwise a shining example of the highly moralistic fantasy of yesteryear.
This book was painful to read. Clichéd, aimless, slow, and lacking any real merit. It's nothing even close to the “fantasy debut of the year” that it has been touted to be. We're elitists here. We tell it like it is. Don't go near this one. Odds are you'll regret it.
Recommended Age: 18+ for sexual content
Language: Very mild
Violence: Very little
Sex: Strong and detailed scenes
Elspeth Cooper's Website
If you know me then you know I absolutely hate short stories. If you don’t know me: Hello, nice to meet you, I hate short stories. I hate all short fiction really, novellas and poems and such. I took a fiction writing course and it was all about writing short fiction. I hated that too. But! If there was ever an anthology I was ever going to enjoy it had to be ARMORED, edited by John Joseph Adams and published by Baen. A whole collection of stories solely based around my favorite science fiction concept - power armor. With a foreword by Orson Scott Card and an unbeatable roster of authors from Dan Abnett to Brandon Sanderson to Tobias Buckell, ARMORED could be the military SF Promised Land. So how did it fare? Read on.
The anthology opens up with a foreword by Orson Scott Card that really sets the stage for the stories to come. This is followed by an introduction by John Joseph Adams that also amps readers up and gets the gears going. Rather than review each of the stories (there are 23 in all) I will just dip into the highlights, and man are those highlights difficult to choose from. This anthology is just that good.
"The Johnson Maneuver" by Ian Douglas starts the book with a bang. Douglas knows his Marine Corps history and aptly develops the image of future soldiers in a satisfying fashion. The power armor featured is cool (and this is just ceremonial armor!) and the aliens are really interesting. The most important part of the story as the opening act of a whole collection about power armor is the reminder that it is never about the armor, it's about the man inside.
"Jungle Walkers" by David Klecha and Tobias S. Buckell is a near future tale that pits an unarmored weapons platoon in South America against some very heavy metal. I think what I liked most about this story was that the heroes aren't the guys wielding the devastating weapons of the future. The story also goes a little into the politics of the conflict which are at once familiar and yet different.
"Death Reported of Last Surviving Veteran of Great War" by Dan Abnett is a great example of why I love Dan Abnett and hate short fiction. The story is told in a very vague, testimonial style that teases the imagination. I would love to learn more about the protagonist and the world he inhabits but I realize the lack of detail and brief length hold the most punch and successfully encapsulate the nature of short-story telling.
"Find Heaven and Hell in the Smallest Things" by Simon R. Green is very cool and creepy. Green shows us a world that hates and desperately wants to kill any intruders. The world itself is hostile to human life and the very flora strives to eradicate the unwelcome. A great distinction of this story is that the power armor is actually a prison to the occupant, a life saving death sentence.
"The Last Days of the Kelly Gang" by David D. Levine is probably one of my favorite stories of the collection. This story features some rough riding Australian desperadoes and a suit of steampunk power armor. This is a very unique story that just oozes awesome and I'm not even that big of a steampunk fan.
"Field Test" by Michael A. Stackpole is another of my favorites. The story actually takes place during the revolution in Libya. The armor of this story is cool while being believable. The action is great and, again, believable. I can totally imagine a mech like the one in the story, running around performing black ops missions in destabilized countries.
"Heuristic Algorithm and Reasoning Response Engine" by Ethan Skarstedt and Brandon Sanderson is perhaps the story I am most iffy about. On one hand there are some extremely cool concepts to be found in the story, from the mechs to the self replicating machines. Then on the other hand the dialogue is offensively artificial and more than a little Anime-style melodramatic. Oh and the mech's artificial intelligence, HARRE, is probably the most annoying AI that I have ever encountered. I'm pretty love/hate about this story as well.
"The Green" by Lauren Beukes is probably my absolute favorite story of the collection. I had heard of Beukes before but never read her fiction. This story has just won me over. It is ironic because the story features no action, a shallow but ever present desire of my reading habits. Instead Beukes displays some superb world building capabilities, creating an environment that is even more haunting and subtle than Simon R. Green's short.
All in all, ARMORED is a fantastic anthology. I loved most all of the stories, and 23 stories by some of the best authors in science fiction and fantasy for paperback price is just a steal. If you're like me, and just the words "power armor" get your blood pumping then go grab a copy and let the metal fly.
Recommended Age: 14+
Language: Some but never offensively blatant
Violence: Tons, but none of it is excessively gory
Sex: Implied once or twice, nothing extensive
This collection is well worth your money. Here is your link to pick it up:
When I heard that Paolo Bacigalupi was going to follow up his award-winning debut novel, THE WINDUP GIRL, with a smaller YA book, I was a little disappointed. I loved THE WINDUP GIRL. It was rich and intense. It was complicated and diverse. It was gritty and cruel and I thought it was great. How on earth could Bacigalupi...wow this review is going to be hard to write if I keep having to write his last name. Let’s go with Paolo from now on shall we? Anyway, how was Paolo going to match those strengths in a YA novel? Turns out I needn’t have worried.
SHIPBREAKER is a thoroughly enjoyable novel that feels like it came straight out of the same world as THE WINDUP GIRL. The only differences were in perspective. Where THE WINDUP GIRL is focused on several characters in a larger setting, this story is more intimate following one viewpoint character.
The character, Nailer, was for me the highlight of the novel.
Let me tell you a bit about the book. Nailer is a small teen living out amongst a group of wrecked ships. He is part of a scavenging crew that goes into the ships and extracts valuable resources (Nailer’s job is extracting copper wiring). Nailer is afraid of becoming too large. Once he gets too big he won’t be able to fit in the small ducts of the ship anymore. If he becomes useless on his crew he has to find other work, or starve. On top of it all he is increasingly afraid of his abusive, alcoholic father. Basically it’s not a pretty world to live in.
OK, I just checked the product description for SHIPBREAKER on Amazon to see if I was going to give anything away about the book that wasn’t easily up for grabs. I’m not. Good.
So the story kicks in to full gear when Nailer comes across the wreck of a wealthy ship that has crashed on shore. He can either strip the boat for valuables, or he can rescue the young rich girl barely alive inside.
The book would be really rather depressing (and it’s no bright ray of sunshine to begin with) if Nailer left the girl to die and got rich off of the salvage. The end. It’s pretty obvious he’s going to try and save the girl. But here’s where SHIPBREAKER was really good. That decision. At the point in the story where Nailer is making that choice he is fighting in his head about what to do. His life is hard. Getting rich off of scavenge would be a good choice, an easy choice. His friend is even arguing it for him. And yet something in his past makes him choose something else. And it all seems totally believable. The actions and motivations were real and tough. It happens several more times over the course of the book, and through each choice you start to see how they are shaping Nailer and turning him more into the character he grows to be by the end. It was those choices and consequences that really helped this book shine. It didn’t feel like the choices were made because that’s what the story needed, but it was what the characters really decided to do. It felt believable.
To make a long story short (too late I think), I liked it. The book was a fun quick read, with characters and situations that stuck with me past when I put it down. The setting was interesting and new. In fact the world building seemed to keep going where THE WINDUP GIRL left off. Paolo’s vision of the future isn’t one I would look forward to living in, but it is a very well thought out place, and I enjoyed getting to see a bit more of it. If you liked THE WINDUP GIRL, this one should be right up your alley.
Age Recommendation: 14+. There are some swears and it’s a tough gritty world out there.
Language: Yeah a bit. Not a TON but enough that I realized it was there a bit.
Violence: The world is a gritty place. There are some deaths and some violent scenes.
Sex: Mentioned a few times. Never shown or given much emphasis.
Growing up I watched this horror movie called Frailty with my mom. The movie had no cheap scares or gore but every night for of the following week I had nightmares that eventually led to me sleeping with a light on for years to come. Ever since then it seems as though horror flicks just can't phase me. Directors are too focused on the gore-factor to see what is really important. The psychological thrills. INFECTED by Scott Sigler promised to be a mind bender, a truly terrifying read. Promises aside, it doesn't quite deliver.
Perry Dawsey has been infected with an alien virus from space. A virus that turns its hosts into paranoid, violent psychopaths. After a childhood of physical abuse at the hands of his father, Perry is already more than halfway to becoming a paranoid, violent psychopath on his own. CIA agent Dew Philips and Center for Disease Control epidemiologist Margaret are in a race against time to unravel the mystery of the "triangles" and stop them before they can spread. Can Perry ignore the homicidal whispers in his head? Will Dew and Margaret be able to piece together the puzzles and save the world?
So it sounds like what we got here is Invasion of the Body Snatchers mixed with The Crazies, and really for all intents and purposes that's about right. The story is told from the perspective of the three protagonists, though it follows "Scary" Perry Dawsey for the majority of the romp. Smart move on Sigler's part. Perry is the only character with any personality or depth. He's a hard man that has lived a hard life but he really can be a sympathetic character, especially given what he went through during his childhood. Watching Perry's descent into madness is intense and fraught with peril because readers do care about his plight. And, despite his condition, Perry decides to fight back against the creatures residing in his own body and I find that pretty commendable.
Dew and Margaret are nowhere near as entertaining to read about but lucky for us their chapters are short and sparse. The only emotion Dew ever seems to show is indignation and Margaret is only ever scared or horny. Dew does not act like you would expect a seasoned CIA agent to act, not that the CIA should even be in charge of this type of investigation. The CIA wasn't built for that sort of business and it shows. Margaret doesn't act like you would expect a knowledgeable, educated doctor of the CDC to act either.
The investigation, which I have to admit I was most excited for, is actually the smallest part of the story. The majority of the story is spent watching as Perry's sanity is stripped away, layer by layer. I imagine this is where the "horror" angle is supposed to come from. There is a huge amount of self mutilation, this book is definitely not for the squeamish. The alien creatures are cool, Sigler appears to have a grasp of virology and biology. As unbelievable as Dew and Margaret are, I had no trouble suspending my disbelief on behalf of the aliens. I would consider INFECTED to be creepy rather than horrifying but I do realize that this sort of thing is subjective and it might give some people a good thrill.
The ending is rushed, a problem I've been having with most of my reading lately. After hundreds of pages of watching Perry struggle against his own body in a very personal conflict, the climax is far too rushed and impersonal. This short-cut finish is obviously setting up for the sequel (obvious because the sequel is out already) but I still hate to be short changed.
I like a lot of Sigler's ideas and I find his writing to be tight. The short chapters make for quick, uninterrupted reading and the tension is dense throughout the story. INFECTED takes a few pages out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but does everything better so that is an improvement. The problem is that I just don't find INFECTED scary. Gory and disturbing for sure but it lacks that element that would make it a proper horror/thriller.
Recommended Age: 18+
Language: Pretty heavy on the cursing.
Violence: Lots of violence, lots of very disturbing self mutilation.
Sex: No sex but there is a very degrading nudity scene.
Here's your link should you want to check out the novel for yourself:
THE INHERITANCE & OTHER STORIES by Robin Hobb and her other pen name Megan Lindholm, is a compilation of old and new short works, several of which are set in previous worlds she's built. Whether new to or experienced with Hobb/Lindholm novels (I'm particularly in love with her two Farseer Trilogies), this collection of short stories is worth reading on their own merit. She doesn't fear to tread those difficult subjects that make us squirm or create people we can't help to love...or hate.
"A Touch of Lavender" begins the collection. It's a world where aliens come to Earth. Since it's told from the PoV of Billy, a child, some of the details are a little hazy; but what it lacks in general information, it makes up for in a focused account of his own experience. The majority of the story takes place in his run-down apartment in Seattle, with a neglectful mother who brings home a new guy every other month. Then one day, an alien comes to live with them and Billy's life is turned upside-down. Nominated for a Hugo, this is easily the most provocative story of the collection, and very thought-provoking.
"The Silver Lady and the Fortyish Man" is a quirky tale about a woman who feels stuck in her boring life, but one night while working at the local department store an unusual man comes to buy a scarf. And there sets off a series of their meetings, where first impressions mean nothing, and even the most unassuming people can have exciting lives filled with magic.
"Cut" is a disturbing story from the PoV of a grandmother whose teenage granddaughter lives in an age when laws protect her from parental intervention--even from making a life-altering decision she is too young to understand the significance of.
"The Fifth Squashed Cat" is about Sheila and Cheryl who are on the road to a new job in a new state. Along the way they pick up a hitchhiker who claims that a bone from every fifth squashed cat is "lucky." When they reach the fifth cat, he makes them pull over, and he throws the cat into a pot to boil. Cheryl is fascinated, but Sheila is grossed out and unbelieving. Lindholm says this story is a protest of her pet peeve in fantasy tales that the main character discovers that he or she is the chosen one--and the result is amusing.
"Strays" is about schoolgirl Mandy, who has moved to a rougher part of town with her newly divorced mother. There she meets Lonnie, truant child of a druggie and queen of the strays--stay cats, that is. This is a strangely compelling story, which forecasts a tragic ending, but becomes much more.
"Finis" is told from the PoV of Josh, the handyman in a neighborhood where mostly widows live. He's been doing projects for Mrs. Reid, who appears to be in her early twenties, and makes strange requests like a moat with running water and spigot on the wrong side, and a iron fence with silver running around the top. She says it's for vampires. He thinks she's crazy, but it's her house and her money. Until her brother-in-law arrives to make sure she doesn't get out--only he's in his seventies.
"Drum Machine" is a the weakest of the collection, but still interesting as a story about governmental strictures on conceiving children. The PoV character is a Social Interface that helps applicants decide on one of the government-regulated embryos. An applicant comes in with a special request for free conception, only he knows her as the troubled girlfriend of his old bandmate Cliff. She wants to create a baby with Cliff using the banked sperm he gave to her before his death. Chesterson has mixed feelings about this, and we learn the why.
"Homecoming" is the longest of the collection, but it's engrossing. Set in the Raid Wilds of the Liveship Trader books, it's told in the form of journal entries, and I like how it works. PoV character Lady Carillion, the wife of a disgraced lord of Jamaillia City, and their family is sent as part of a group to colonize the Raid Wilds. Carillion changes from the spoiled wife of wealth to living in squalid conditions in a hostile environment--and rises above it despite deprivation and sacrifice.
"The Inheritance" is another Liveship Trader setting, but this time it's about about Cerise, who inherits a necklace and a ring (empty of its gem) at the death of her grandmother...and nothing else. Orphaned and penniless, she learns of the true inheritance from her grandmother, and sets out to Bingtown to earn her living, and eventually the true inheritance due to her. Despite the infodumps in places, it's a fascinating story about love and betrayal.
The last story "Cat's Meat" hasn't been previously published, but unlike the other two Hobb stories that take place in the same setting, is less about the setting than the situation that Rosemary finds herself in. And it's about the cat, who's pretty cool, and yet also scary. Rosemary has been abandoned by her philandering former boyfriend Pell, who left her pregnant and penniless three years ago. Her son Gilliam's great-grandfather willed the babe a small cottage and land, where Rosemary and son have been eking out a living--until Pell returns to take back what's his. Rosemary must decide whether to run away or fight back; but she's not alone (yep, it's the cat).
Robin Hobb is a master storyteller, even if she claims she's not one for telling shorter fiction. None of these stories ended like I expected. She creates character with depth, and fashions situations that grip her readers.
Recommended Age: 14+ for the more mature themes
Language: Very little
Violence: Ranging from a child's violent death to scuffles, although none are particularly gruesome
Sex: Several references and innuendo
Find this book here:
THE INHERITANCE & OTHER STORIES
James Lovegrove writes exactly the sort of books the reviewers here at Elitist Book Reviews love to read. Gods, monsters, aliens, power armor, and more. Having just recently topped 100,000 in sales of his Pantheon series and with a new book just hitting the shelves...well, it was the perfect time for an interview. James was kind enough to oblige, here is what he had to say.
Elitist Book Reviews: Hello there, James. Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to make an appearance on our infamous blog. EBR tradition dictates that we give the authors we interview a chance to brag. So have at it! What makes you and your novels so great?
James Lovegrove: You mean aside from intrinsic awesomeness? Indisputable brilliance? Unerring originality? Spectacularly handsome physical appearance? Nope, can’t think of anything.
EBR: You’ve been writing for a little more than twenty years now. When is it that you knew you wanted to be an author?
JL: I’ve read loads of interviews in which an author refers to a particular Damascus moment when, as a child, he or she realized that books are actually written by people, and this revelation set him or her on the road to writerdom. All I have to say to that is, “Duh!” It never occurred to me that books weren’t written by people. Where else were they supposed to come from? Magic Pixie Land? But I think, even armed with this insight, I always knew I was going to write fiction for a living, almost from the day I realized I could read and enjoyed reading. I wanted to be lots of other things when I grew up--mostly a multimillionaire rock star surrounded by countless of shaggable groupies--but deep down the literary calling was there, nagging and gnawing at the back of my mind, telling me that this and only this was what I was made for: writing. It is, I’m fond of saying, the thing I do least badly, and therefore it is what I now do.
EBR: Can you give us a little insight into the process of getting published? Any useful tips for writers looking for a publishing deal of their own?
JL: I was lucky, in that my first novel (The Hope) was accepted by the first publisher I sent it to. I never had to go through the soul-sapping but character-building process of rejection slips and getting oneself noticed. That isn’t to say that I haven’t struggled and worked hard. I spent years honing my craft and getting on in the publishing biz, but I didn’t have that initial knockback which--given my personality type--might well have deterred me from ever trying again. I would say the best way to get published is to write your damn book, make sure it’s the best damn book you could have written, and then get yourself an agent and make sure he or she is the butt-kickingest agent you could have and is doing the very best he or she can on your behalf. Oh, and submit a “clean” manuscript, well laid out, paginated, the works, with the least possible number of typos and punctuation errors. A busy agent or commissioning editor will always look favorably on a tidy manuscript, as it’s indicative of a tidy mind. Messy manuscripts end up in the bin, unread. It’s a fact.
EBR: With the Pantheon series you seem to have carved out your own sub-genre some are dubbing "godpunk". What inspired the Pantheon series and the very idea of this sort of urban-mythology?
JL: Very little inspired the first Pantheon novel, THE AGE OF RA, other than an invitation from Solaris Books to pitch an alternate history idea to them. Of the three ideas I submitted, the one I (and they) liked the most was the one that involved a world where the Ancient Egyptian gods had taken charge, carving the continents up into their own individual power blocs. I didn’t know much about the Egyptian pantheon at the time other than that these were gods who all had animal heads, were more than a little mad, and slept with their siblings. This seemed to me very fertile territory. Welding a military-SF plot onto that scenario was the next step. I didn’t have to think about it very hard. It just seemed a natural, logical extension. And hey presto, alakazam, I had the first book in what has turned out to be a pretty cool series.
EBR: Having recently published an exclusive to digital eNovella, "Age of Anansi", how do you feel about the impact of eBooks as an author and a reader?
JL: I don’t have an e-reader and probably never will. I like books made of paper and card and ink and glue. I like the proper, physical object. I like to be able to bend a book back, chuck it around, peruse it in the bath, do what I want with it, safe in the knowledge that I’m not in danger of breaking a costly piece of kit which I will then have to replace and restock. Also, every book on my shelves (and there are many thousands of them) has meaning for me. I can remember more or less how old I was when I bought it, where I bought it, what buying it meant to me… I don’t want a piece of software, I want a thing.
Having said all which, I’ve got nothing against e-readers at all. I appreciate that they’re great for busy people, for people going on holiday, for people who like tech, and I appreciate, too, that they’re becoming the lifeblood of the publishing industry, the new paradigm. May they live long and prosper. Just not in the Lovegrove household.
EBR: Solaris is responsible for publishing your supernatural thriller, REDLAW. What is it that separates your vampires from, say, TWILIGHT?
JL: If I was going to be flippant, I would say the difference between me and Stephenie Meyer is that I can write. But that’s not at all fair. She has done what she has done, reimagining vampires (and indeed werewolves) as kind of idealized boyfriends, and firing the romantic dreams of millions of teenaged girls and selling a kajillion books. More power to her elbow. But I like my vamps old-school. I like them creepy and predatory, recognizably human but still alien and nasty and “other”. That way, when I depict them as an oppressed minority in the novel, as I do, I can play on people’s sense of prejudice and then whip the carpet out from under the reader’s feet when I reveal that the vampires are actually sympathetic and that it’s humans who are the real monsters. REDLAW is a thriller but it’s also satire, a reversal of the norm, and I’m continuing that theme with its sequel, REDLAW: RED EYE, which I have just completed.
EBR: How much research do you typically do for one of your Pantheon novels? You seem to have an extensive knowledge of ancient mythology, how do you decide what to use and what to cut out?
JL: I like to read at least two or three books devoted to the particular mythology I’m shamelessly exploiting--ahem, I mean lovingly exploring. I was well versed in only one pantheon, the Greek, before I started this series. I knew a little about the Norse gods, mostly from old Lee/Kirby Thor comics, but otherwise learning about each pantheon is a voyage of discovery, and a very pleasant one at that. Basically I’m reading stories, not dry facts, and that for me isn’t research at all, it’s fun. The difficulty comes later, as I rework those stories into a new context, make the pre-existing mythical characters fit the novel’s scheme, and attempt to craft a story that will reflect the themes and tone of the pantheon concerned. I say difficulty, but it’s actually a hell of a lot of fun.
In fact, I’ve just realized: my job involves pissing around all day making stuff up and reading other people’s made-up stuff. Is that even a job? In theory, when it comes to writing each book I would like to include everything I’ve read about the relevant pantheon, not least because I hate even a minute of research time going to waste. In the event, though, it’s a case of filleting out the really juicy material, the bits too good to leave out, and using whatever best illustrates both the nature of the pantheon itself and the subtext of the novel.
EBR: As an author who do you consider your influence?
JL: Just about anything I read is an influence, for good or for ill. If a word in a book I happen to be reading at the time seems to me just the right word I’m looking for in my own novel, I’ll use it. Sometimes that goes for a whole phrase. My writing influences are a number of authors but mostly Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Stan Lee, Alan Moore, Kurt Vonnegut, Alan Furst, Colin Wilson and Alfred Bester. But anything in the environment around me has a bearing on what I’m working on--news reports, interesting things people might say to me, random thoughts that occur at odd hours of the night, my home, my family, my cat… Everything feeds into the mulch from which ideas grow. It’s a continual, ongoing process.
EBR: You’re in a bookstore, in the SF&F section, and a customer mistakes you for an employee. He/She asks you to recommend a novel. You can’t recommend your own novels (because OBVIOUSLY the customer has read them all). What book/series do you recommend?
JL: I’d steer this person towards the works of Alan Moore (assuming there’s a graphic novel section nearby) and suggest he or she try Promethea, which is one of the Sage of Northampton’s unsung triumphs. But should this bookstore be one of those lousy ones that doesn’t sell comics collections, I would waggle Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man and/or The Stars My Destination under this individual’s nose and say, “This is cyberpunk long before William Gibson dusted off his manual typewriter. This is space opera and future extrapolation and adventure SF and bebop jazz all rolled into one. This is mainlined imagination at its purest and most inventive and explorative, and please stop staring at me like I’m a madman, I’m really quite normal, honest…”
EBR: What do we have to do to have cameos in your next book where we die violent deaths?
JL: Well, a large bribe would never hurt. That or pissing me off royally. In REDLAW: RED EYE there’s one secondary character who is named after a concert ticket promoter who ripped me off for quite a large sum of money last year, and has hidden behind this country’s bankruptcy laws in order to get away with not repaying me and his other creditors. This crook’s namesake has all sorts of hideous indignities committed upon his person in the book, and I took exquisite delight in inflicting each and every one. Personally, I wouldn’t want a character with my own name to meet a hideous end. Peter F. Hamilton abused a character called Lovegrove in one of his books, and thought it amusing, but I did not. Perhaps I’m worried that there’s some kind of sympathetic voodoo magic involved, but I wouldn’t want to harm the fictional proxy of anyone on whom I didn’t wish harm in the real world.
EBR: Can you tell us what you have planned for writing in the near future? Any more Pantheon novels or super secret projects?
JL: There’s at least two more Pantheon novels in the offing, but the only one I can say with any certainty is going to happen is AGE OF VOODOO, because I’m just about to start work on that. There’ll mostly likely be another couple of Age Of… e-novellas too, since the first, "Age Of Anansi", seems to be selling well. But the super secret project which I pitched for earlier this year and which has just been given the go-ahead, is a couple of Sherlock Holmes novels for Titan Books. I’ve been dying to write a Holmes story ever since I was a kid, so this is the proverbial dream come true. They’re going to be steampunkish takes on the standard Holmes adventure, fast-paced and action-y but with plenty of deduction and detection as well.
EBR: Thank you so much for finding the time to answer some of our questions. Do you have any final words for readers?
JL: What are you doing looking at this when you could be reading my latest?
A special thanks to James for dropping by the blog. It's always awesome to hear behind-the-scenes stuff that makes an author "tick". If this interview doesn't make you want to read his work, you are dead inside.
AGE OF RA
AGE OF ZEUS
AGE OF ODIN
AGE OF ANANSI
AGE OF AZTEC
Continuing in the tradition of James Lovegrove's exceptional Pantheon series comes the e-novella AGE OF ANANSI. This is a story that breaks away from the Military SF nature of the previous novels, though it does remain true to the thematic roots.
Dion Yeboah is a successful criminal defendant, a man with the keen ability to bend the law in his client's favor but never break it. One day, however, the trickster god Anansi pays Dion a visit and offers him a deal he cannot refuse. At Anansi's behest, Dion travels across the Atlantic to participate in a multi-pantheon trickster god free for all in the United States. The competition is stiff and if Dion wants to keep his head he will have to rely on his precision honed wits to overcome the likes of Loki, Set, and even the infamous Coyote.
AGE OF ANANSI is not fast paced, action-saturated thriller like its predecessors. If anything AGE OF ANANSI is a morality tale that really accentuates the brand of modern day mythology Lovegrove has been crafting with his Pantheon series. The driving force behind the story is the interactions of meddling gods and the humans caught up in their schemes, and it seems that none can scheme better than a trickster god.
Novellas can be a bit of a double-edged sword. On one hand Lovegrove was able to tell a riskier story that he may not have been able to write otherwise. On the other hand I feel as though the concept is so good that it deserved a full length novel. Dion as a character is established well enough that he makes a suitable protagonist but the greatest facet of the Pantheon series, the relationship between the gods, is underplayed. The tangled web of plot and deception could have really thrived with such a distinctive congregation of gods from separate religions.
Wanting extra of a good thing doesn't necessarily make it a bad thing, so I'm loathe to hold it against AGE OF ANANSI that I desire more. AGE OF ANANSI isn't the best of the Pantheon series but it does further the sequence for the better. Lovegrove's tales of modern mythology are truly one of a kind, and like AGE OF AZTEC, the ending of this story packs a sizable punch.
Recommended Age: 14+
Language: A few words, but much lighter than normal.
Violence: What little violence there is occurs off screen.
Sex: Hinted at but not described.
Here are your links to the full series:
AGE OF RA
AGE OF ZEUS
AGE OF ODIN
AGE OF ANANSI
AGE OF AZTEC
Let me be clear about something right away. HELLHOUND ON MY TRAIL, by D.J. Butler, is not the next Great American Novel. It is the first in a series of novella-length works (Rock Band Fights Evil) that appeal to those of us who need a bit more Pulp Fiction in our reading.
HELLHOUND follows Mike Archuleta as he takes one last gig as a stand-in bassist for a band out in the middle of nowhere. Why is this his last gig? Because he plans suck-starting his gun after the set. Mike is a complete alcoholic, a pretty good bassist...and he is haunted by the ghost of his dead brother, Chuy. Naturally, whenever someone uses the phrase "one last [insert job here]" you know right away that things will go wrong.
I don't usually review self-published stuff. Why, you ask? Because it usually sucks. Bad. However, I owed the author a favor. I promised him nothing, but I told him I would at least give HELLHOUND a read. If it was good, I would review it. If it was bad...well...things would go poorly.
I am relieved. HELLHOUND is good, pulpy fun. I read HELLHOUND in one sitting, and very nearly decided to read part 2, SNAKE HANDLIN' MAN, in that same sitting.
Do you know why I liked this small story so much? (Or why I seem to be asking so many questions in this review?) I liked this story because 1) for the most part it doesn't feel self-published, and 2) it doesn't pretend to be anything more than a pulp fiction romp. In fact, HELLHOUND relishes the chance to take nothing seriously. As a reader, this is one of the best ways to experience a real sense of escapism.
This first novella is ridiculously fast paced. Butler hops from one action sequence to the next effortlessly and breathlessly. We are introduced to the other members of the band that Mike Archulta temps with, and then BAM! Monsters, angels, Heaven and Hell. Really, there is a huge amount of potential here. The tone is carried almost effortlessly, and it is immediately apparent that Butler is writing this with absolute glee. Though wildly different in content, the tone of the novel (silliness, pacing, etc) really reminds me of Ben Aaronovitch's MIDNIGHT RIOT (or RIVERS OF LONDON for you UK readers).
It isn't perfect. There is a definite style that Butler is going for here, and by the end of the story small pieces of it had worn thin for me. Essentially it amounts to Butler trying to convey a very comic book feel without the use of illustrations. The descriptions of sounds, in my opinion, is a bit over-done. I can see this bothering some people way more than me, or not at all. Personal preference. My other pet-peeve has to do with the Spanish. I lived in Mexico. I've heard all sorts of swearing. About half the time it was spot on--usually when it was the dead brother, Chuy, talking--but the other half it felt like I was just reading American sayings directly translated into Spanish. Lastly, the version I read had some editorial stuff that could have been fixed...but hey, it's digital. Butler can go back and fix that whenever.
Here is what I will say about D.J. Butler and the beginning of this serial. Butler is on the verge of making it. Honestly, he probably already should have made it. He's already better than a lot of the published stuff I see out there--again, this is a rarity since most self-published stuff just plain sucks. If the follow-up stories are as entertaining as HELLHOUND, then I would absolutely love to see a place like Ace/Roc pick this up and chuck it into an omnibus. I'd totally buy it.
The best part is that HELLHOUND is insanely cheap. It's a buck on Amazon. That's a steal by any definition. Just over 100 pages of pulpy fun for only $1. Seriously, go buy it. Now. Then buy the rest.
Recommended Age: 15+
Language: Very little, and most of it is in Spanish.
Violence: Nothing really gruesome. Lots of exploding flies (you'll have to read the story)
Sex: The is one character, Twitch, that causes all sorts of confusion for Mike. That's all I will say. Nothing even close to graphic though.
Seriously. Let's get this guy some recognition and maybe help speed his acceptance into the mainstream. Here are your links to his on-going serial:
HELLHOUND ON MY TRAIL
SNAKE HANDLIN' MAN
DEVIL SENT THE RAIN
History, steam-punk, and the Wild Wild West. What's not to love, right? I tell you, Lou Anders and Mike Resnick absolutely had an awesome brain-child of an idea when they decided to run with this one. There's so much possibility with this mixup. So much real estate at your fingertips. And yet the first book was a bit iffy. Being fun and fast but not necessarily the awesome read I had hoped it would be.
THE DOCTOR AND THE KID is the second of those "Weird West" tales by Resnick and continues the story of Doc Holliday and his life in a Wild West twisted by the power of steam and electricity. The three main characters from the first story, THE BUNTLINE SPECIAL—Doc, Ned Buntline, and Thomas Edison—have all moved to Leadville, Colorado where they hope to escape the after-effects of the OK Corral. Doc wants to set up shop as a dentist and drift into retirement/consumption-driven-death, and Ned and Tom follow him to have a quiet place to continue their research.
There honestly wasn't a whole lot to this story. Doc is still an ever-drunk gambler, moving from one bar to the next in the hopes of draining a few bottles, or a few pockets, before crawling into bed soon after the sun comes up. Then he gets taken to the cleaners and either has to make some dough fast or die in a dusty back alley instead of a well-catered hospital. As he's a gunslinger, he decides to rustle up the cash by taking out some criminals, and the one with the biggest reward on his head is Billy the Kid.
The story gets really repetitive really fast, with Doc visiting bar after bar. Problems are solved not by him, but by his dynamic duo (Ned and Tom) that otherwise don't play any kind of role in the story. They are able to come up with a few interesting/funny solutions to the Doc's problems, but there's nowhere near enough to make up for the book's general lack of excitement. Again, like BUNTLINE, this was a fast read with loads of dialogue and single-minded characterization. The minimal overall description didn't help out either. The Wild West just wasn't in it. It was more about being drunk all the time, and letting down your friends, and the overall lack of consequences after gambling away your future if you're just good enough at what you do. Kind of depressing, really. It wasn't bad, although it was definitely a step down from the first in the series.
On the back-end of having read a handful of Resnick's books and short stories, I'm seeing some fairly distinct patterns that just aren't jiving with my tastes: a general lack of immersion, reliance upon quirky humor to carry the story, and anti-climactic climaxes. Fans of his stuff will probably like this book, but it seems to me that the more I read of his work, the more I decide that I'm just not one of those people.
Recommended Age: 16+
Language: Infrequent but strong
Violence: Some gun-fighting
Sex: Robot/hybrid whores, mild references, a picture mid-book
Here are your links should you want to give this series a shot:
THE BUNTLINE SPECIAL
THE DOCTOR AND THE KID
When David's father is killed before his eyes, he believes his world is ending. Unfortunately, not only is David's personal world ending, it's also ending for everyone else: the Roil is coming.
Margaret is the only child of famous inventors. The Roil has laid siege to their city for thirty years, and it's through their inventiveness that the city survives. But their big experiment goes horribly wrong.
Cadell finds David alone on the street and saves him from a fate similar to his father's. Cadell is an Old Man, born thousands of years before, cursed with sanity and an unquenchable hunger. He may be the only person able--and willing--to save the remaining cities of Shale from the Roil.
Medicine Paul is a victim of his own political scheming, and in order to survive must make a deal with the enemy.
ROIL by Trent Jamieson at first blush seems like your standard end-of-the-world fantasy novel. Instead we get dark fantasy with steampunk and zombie apocalypse flavor; he does his best to break those cliches and create something fresh in a fantasy-horror mash up. For the most part he succeeds...and in other ways falls disappointingly short.
Jamieson gets points for inventiveness. He sets up a world in turmoil, where city-states dot the landscape. Despite decades of knowing about the Roil, their own political infighting results in a people woefully unprepared for the Roil's sudden aggression. Cities fall. People die. They seem incapable of saving themselves. Add to this a varied cast of experience, naivete, and suffering, and we get an interesting world that's exciting and creative.
ROIL is narrated in limited third person, with occasional scenes in omniscient; this writing indecision will tell you right there that the author still has some things to learn about his craft (despite other published works). We have the four main characters, but Jamieson includes other scattered viewpoints, such as a random creature or bug or the soon to be deceased--sometimes switching around within the same scene. This lack of consistency affects clarity throughout and I found these side viewpoints (among which I include the confusing chapter headers) to be irrelevant to the story itself, if somewhat flavorful to the setting. At the least they are distracting. At the worst pointless filler that affect pace and reader patience when time could have been better spent on detailing a world and its history without the info dumps.
It didn't help either that it took almost the entire book to feel a connection with the characters. Don't get me wrong, they are well-drawn, but they're difficult to like. David is addicted to Carnival and lives in a stupor; the mysterious Cadell drags him along for reasons that makes no sense as the boy is a burden. Margaret must escape the fall of Tate, but can't grieve so goes through the motions of moving on--but with a chip on her shoulder. Medicine Paul...even by the end I'm not really clear on the purpose of his story line.
ROIL moves full-tilt. I like a quick-paced story, but ROIL often suffers from too-quick transitions between main characters; this makes scenes short and difficult to settle into a character's situation or personality and affects flow detrimentally. It also means that the setting and characters lack the establishing details necessary for readers to visualize the world itself. The world was interesting, and Jamieson would spend time on some lovely descriptions, but at other times gloss over important information. Again a lack of consistency.
Ultimately ROIL suffers from movie to book syndrome--only without the movie. It would probably translate well on a movie screen, but without a consistent narrative of clues that include setting, description, and viewpoint, this is a book of ideas without what it needs for a successful delivery. By the abrupt ending I had grown frustrated because I didn't get what I needed to love the characters and care about their plight.
Recommended Age: This book will appeal to teenage boys 14+; parents should be aware that a main character is addicted to recreational drugs, but not without consequences
Language: Maybe a dozen instances in the entire book
Violence: Death and blood throughout, but not excessively gruesome
Sex: Barely referenced
I purchased the Kindle edition ($2.99, down from the $7. I bought it several months ago). I'm not sure about the print edition, but the Kindle version had more than its fair share of formatting and editing errors.
Well it took me far longer than it should have, but I have now finished THIEF'S COVENANT by Ari Marmell. THIEF'S COVENANT is a short (and satisfyingly) breezy read, but finishing up final projects for school has really cut into my reading time. I am pleased to say that I have been having relatively good luck with my reading endeavors lately, and the debut of Widdershins does not disappoint. In a YA market saturated with dystopian settings it's nice to read one set in a fantasy setting.
Meet Adrienne Satti, also known as Widdershins. Street urchin, turned aristocrat, turned thief, Widdershins has led a rough life. Orphaned at a young age, Widdershins has known both poverty and high class. Having returned to the shady alleys from whence she came, Widdershins has established herself as a daring thief but will her street smarts be enough to save her from the dark conspiracy brewing in the depths of Davillon?
First I must commend Ari on his choice of setting. The city of Davillon and Galice as a whole (though the story never strays past the city limits) is familiar enough not to shock any fantasy fans, yet diverse enough not to just be the same old song and dance. Yes the setting still has a European vibe but rather than Medieval England, Galice is closer to an early - gunpowder age France. It's funny what a difference French names can make for setting the scenery. Then of course Ari throws in the Pact, an alliance of one hundred and some gods that ensures peace and stability. THIEF'S COVENANT takes a much different approach with the existence of "gods" than most fantasy and I have to say it is quite intriguing.
The aristocrats of Davillon worship separate gods, dictated by their affiliation. Even the law enforcers and thieves pay reverence to distinctive entities. The actual "powers" of the gods seem to be a lot more tame than the high magic and sorcery you will find in most fantasy. The gods of THIEF'S COVENANT are better equipped for granting small miracles and luck, than stupendous feats of supernatural force. I like that these gods have such a subtle influence, I only wish that more details were provided on the Pact and the various gods that it consists of. Of course this is the first Widdershins Adventure so there is plenty of room for exploration in later entries.
And this of course brings us to Widdershins. Too often I find myself unable to relate to the protagonists of YA fiction. Even in a lot of the YA fiction I like, I have trouble relating to the main character. And then of course even when I can relate, it doesn't necessarily mean I like them. It's difficult to cheer for a character you are unable to bond with. Widdershins is perhaps one of the most likable characters I have come across in quite some time. Like is probably an understatement. Widdershins is fun. She is a devilish rogue with rapier sharp sarcasm and no shortage of sheer daring. She is vulnerable too, in exactly the way you would expect from a girl orphaned as young as she. She makes some very foolhardy mistakes and though her confidence can be one of her greatest weapons it is also one of her deepest flaws. Widdershins does undergo some very traumatic events but you won't find any teen angst here, even at her most susceptible.
Another great aspect of Widdershins is Olgun, the pagan god that resides in her head. Being not one of the Pact, Olgun survival depends on Widdershins just as her survival depends on him. The relationship between the two is unique, communication is more than just conversation. As lovable as the dynamic duo is, I did feel as though the supporting cast was rather underdeveloped. I will have to see more of Renard and Robin and the rest before I will be able to care about them even a quarter as much as I do Widdershins, but with such a strong lead I find this pretty forgivable for the debut novel.
The writing of THIEF'S COVENANT is filled with beautiful descriptions but it is the wry wit that ultimately won me over. There is a good deal of humor to be found here, though I wouldn't go so far as to call it comedy. Very droll, very tongue in cheek, Ari delivers punchlines with excellent timing and all without sacrificing the tone of the novel. Dialogue is especially clever, and exchanges between Widdershins and Olgun are even occasionally laugh out loud funny.
With a dark, conspiracy-laden plot, a lovable protagonist, and copious amounts of smirk-inducing intellect, THIEF'S COVENANT is a wonderful start to a new YA series that can be read and enjoyed by teens and adults alike.
Recommended Age: 14+
Language: There are a few offensive words but not many.
Violence: There is violence but nothing worse than you'll find in The Hunger Games.
Pick it up! It's worth the read!