Contol Point: Shadow Ops

Huh. Have this ever happened to you? You finish a book, and after you turned that last page you thought, "Huh. Not sure what I think about that."

Believe it or not, this doesn't happen to me very often. Usually I know right away if I love, like, or hate a book. I know if a book is mediocre once I read the final page. I know if it has cemented itself on my "Best of the Year" list. With Myke Cole's debut novel, CONTROL POINT: SHADOW OPS...I just don't know. Hopefully I come to a decision by the end of the review, otherwise this will get awkward.

SHADOW OPS puts the reader in the shoes of Oscar Britton. He's a military man in a world right in the thick of things going crazy. People are developing powers, and most of the time they have no idea how to control those powers. Things go quickly out of control, and those individuals often do terrible things. This is put on display in the opening scene, where a couple of teens with new powers are taking out all of their confused aggression on their High School.

It's a riveting scene. The confusion of feeling the main character has feels absolutely perfect. It sets up a style of writing that I was ready and willing devour. Britton then, obviously, develops powers of his own and becomes the hunted...for a few pages. Most of the story takes place with Britton working as a military contractor and learning how to use his power.

The world itself is well done. The reactions of the government aren't surprising in the least. His reactions as a government contractor are on par with what I see in that business every day. It's realistic. The magical world/realm/area (The Source) is pretty slick. It's a war-zone, and it feels like it was written by a guy who has experienced this sort of thing.

Sounds great right? I totally agree. But then I started having issues with things.

The main character, Britton. Teenage girls flip-flop less than his character, including the teenage girl in his unit. I understand that a soldier can feel conflicted. I've seen that with many of the soldiers I know personally. But being conflicted and having doubts doesn't necessarily mean that you are bi-polar with your reactions to EVERYTHING. The lack of consistency in Britton was one of the things that bothered me most about this book. To me, this wasn't a nit-pick. This was a major issue. He would do stupid, stupid things that weren't in character unless he had multiple personalities.

Many of the side characters would do the same thing. One minute I'm nodding my head thinking, "Right on, Myke. Your characters are learning and progressing. Awesome." Then the next minute the "magic reset button" has been pushed, and they are back to square one.

My biggest issue was with the ending. A betrayal is totally not foreshadowed. Oh sure, I can see where the author was trying to be all, "Hey there is more to this person than meets the eye." But that wasn't foreshadowing the betrayal. It was almost comical when the traitor is revealed. I kept imagining a Saturday morning cartoon villain rubbing his hands together while saying, "Mwahahahahahha! You never saw it coming! Mwahahaha!" It bugged me. And I can't help but think there was some ability-cheating at the end too. And in the end, the villains just seemed...impotent.

Now, I feel a little bad about all the negative. It super, super bothered me. So, you probably wonder why I kept reading. Other than the fact that I am a professional, and I always read a novel from start to finish, yeah, there were some things that were just excellent.

Again, the world is awesome. The introduction of powers is awesome. The government trying to regulate their use was perfect. The powers themselves are awesome and fairly familiar. The goblins are great. The real kicker for me was the action. It was fabulous. Chaotic. Violent. There were little "missions" that Britton's team goes on that are fantastic.

This is a debut novel that feels like a debut novel. There are major issues, but there are enough good things that kept me interested. I think some more feedback could make Cole's next novel pretty good. The real question is, do I think Myke Cole can fix the problems? Yeah, I think so. I think taking a very close look at character motivations and making sure they are consistent would have automatically fixed a lot of my problems with book 1. He's also surrounded by a good group of authors who can/should be able to help him avoid this mistakes in the next volume.

So, last question: will I read the sequel?

Without a doubt. No hesitation. I'll buy it happily (or beg Ace for the ARC). There is a huge amount of potential here. The more I think about CONTROL POINT: SHADOW OPS, and as I write this review, the more firmly the book lands at my line of "Mediocre" and "Like", falling on the "Like" side of that line.

If you are a fan of Military Thrillers, Urban Fantasy and Larry Correia-like novels, you will likely enjoy Myke Cole's debut.

Recommended Age: 16+
Language: It's full of swearing military people in high-stress situations. Yup, lots of swearing
Violence: Tons, and well described
Sex: Nope

Want to give it a shot? Here's your link:


Note: Go to Cole's website:
That background art is EXACTLY what makes me like the theme and feel of the novel. Pure, freaking awesome.

Elitist Classics: Swan Song

Believe it or not, a lot of thought goes into our selection of Elitist Classics.  Our selection of Classics goes beyond our personal likes and dislikes. The funny thing is how, many times, each member of the EBR crew will say, "This is totally a Classic!"...and none of the others have read it. And by others I usually mean me. Especially in the realms of Science Fiction.  The reason? Heck if I know. I think I tend to focus on new releases, and there's nothing wrong with that.

I was looking over our previous posts, and I realized how little we had in terms of Elitist Classics in the Horror genre. This was my opportunity to broaden my reading a bit, and, you know, do something useful for the site!

I'm not ashamed--not even the tiniest bit--to admit that I've been on a Robert McCammon kick lately. McCammon is an incredible writer, and an even better person. I'm sure you all had the chance to get a peek of that yourselves with his interview that I conducted here a bit ago. The man is a legend.

McCammon wrote his apocalypse story with SWAN SONG. This story is huge in size and scope, and is truly epic. It is Epic Horror. Yeah. I said it.

The story begins with the US on the brink of WWIII, and a standoff between us and Russia. The tension is palpable, and it manages to refrain from feeling dated even though this novel was originally published over 20 years ago. Nuclear war happens, and the world is left dead and ruined. We get the PoVs of Swan, Josh, Sister and Roland as they make their way across the toxic nation, pursued by a power of pure evil.

The moment I realized how much I was digging this book was when I kept thinking, "Geez, I'd love to see that scene commissioned to be painted by a pro." There is just so much beautiful and terrible imagery in SWAN SONG, that I couldn't help nod my head in appreciation. There are tear-jerking moments, and ones that make you want to cheer.

Where other large apocalyptic novels lose steam and focus, I never once felt that SWAN SONG didn't have a direction. In fact, it was the ever present feeling that everything was heading towards a massive confrontation that made this huge novel pass by like I was reading a book half it's length.

If you want good, classic horror, look no further than McCammon. Give SWAN SONG a shot. I think you'll be pleasantly pleased.

Recommended Age: 17+
Language: Tons
Violence: Holy crap. Tons. Lots of death and destruction. Its a HORROR novel
Sex: Yup

Get it here:



I love reading short fiction by my favorite novelists. There is a nice sense of focus in these works, and they serve as a refreshing change of pace and scope while usually maintaining the integrity of that author's writing ability. See, I really like Brandon Sanderson's work. But sometimes I just don't want to read a 1000 page Stormlight Archive novel.

LEGION is a novella by Brandon Sanderson, published by the fantastic Subterranean Press. This novella follows Stephen Leeds--or Mr Legion as he is sometimes called--a man with a unique condition. Leeds has multiple personalities, but this just isn't a normal case of a man who hallucinates. His hallucinations live with him in his massive mansion. Each of these aspects help Leeds by offering their own specialized skill sets, and Leeds uses these skills as a consultant of sorts.

You see, Leeds is a genius, and those aspects help him channel it.

Well, this assumes you believe Leeds at all. He says he isn't crazy. But really, should we trust him?

This is part of the fun of a story like this one. A majority of the story left me wondering if this wasn't all some elaborate fantasy. Right off the bat, we are introduced to various aspects of Leeds' personality. The gun-crazy Navy SEAL, J.C.; Ivy, the shrink; Tobias the...well, guy who seems full of every history and political science fact ever; and even a guy who thinks he is a dethroned King. All in all, this is a terrific intro into a story. The hook is set right from the very beginning. Every time a new character was introduced, I wondered if this was the moment we find out this is all in his Leeds' head.

The story follows Leeds as he is asked to consult on a case about a missing man with a missing camera. But not just any ordinary camera. This one can take pictures of the past. George Washington shaving. Famous landmarks before film existed. The potential for a device like this is staggering. I'm not going to get much more into it, since that would ruin the fun of the story for you.

Brandon's wit is a bit more under control here, in my opinion. This prevents the pacing from halting and keeps the reader immersed in the story. We get some very Science Fiction concepts, and some huge hints that this novella was just a test piece for something much, much bigger. I desperately want to read more of this character. This felt like a delicious appetizer that hints at an amazing main course.

In LEGION, we get the epic feeling that Brandon Sanderson is known for, but in a condensed and focused format.

If you are a fan of Sanderson's work, purchasing this is a no-brainer. It's worth every penny.

Note to Brandon: If there is one thing that bothers me about this, it is the gun terminology. Please talk to our mutual buddy, Mr. Correia to get this all fixed. It would have made the story even better. Neither the main PoV or his hallucinations would have made the mistakes that they were making in the story. Especially since Leeds is a freaking genius.

Recommended Age: 14+ Language: Barely any, and extremely mild Violence: Some, but none of it is described in wonderful, gory detail Sex: Nope Get it here:


Kitty's Greatest Hits

Carrie Vaughn's first love was the short story, having published more than 50 in various Science Fiction and Fantasy publications over the years. Today she's best known for her Kitty Norville series, but KITTY'S GREATEST HITS represents Vaughn's considerable talents with shorter fiction. This is a compilation of mostly previously published works, and a few new pieces.

The majority of the stories are Urban Fantasy, but three, "A Princess of Spain," "The Book of Daniel," and  "Conquistador de la Noche" all feel like historical fiction. "Princess" asks the question about Catharine of Aragon's marriage to the crown prince of England--the one who was sickly and died to pass the throne to his brother Henry--and his real cause of death. "Daniel" is an entertaining retelling of the traditional biblical story. If you're familiar with Rick from the Kitty Norville series, then "Conquistador" gives us a history of this mysterious vampire.

The rest of the shorts all take place in the Kitty Norville universe, but only four of them with Kitty as the PoV. "Il est Né" takes place on a lonely Christmas Eve while Kitty is at a diner and comes across a lone wolf who's been recently turned. As usual Kitty takes it upon herself to help out those in need, at no little danger to herself. "Kitty and the Mosh Pit of the Damned" is a fluffy piece, almost feeling like it was written just for the flair of using the title. Still, it's entertaining in its own Kitty way. "Kitty's Zombie New Year" has much the same flavor, with Vaughn adding her own narrative to the current zombie fervor. "Winnowing the Herd" is a brief and amusing viewpoint of Kitty, taking place before KITTY AND THE MIDNIGHT HOUR.

Non-Kitty stories include "Wild Ride," T.J.'s origin story, where Vaughn addresses metaphors regarding lycanthropy as disease and HIV and lycanthropy as identity. Then there are the erotic "The Temptation of Robin Green" and "Life is the Teacher" where human-paranormal romance burns pretty hot...but don't necessarily end well. "You're on the Air" feels like an amusing anecdote that being a vampire doesn't mean you completely escape the vagaries of the human existence.

The stories here that interested me most, however, are the ones about the fascinating Cormac, Kitty's hunter friend from the series. Since the series is from Kitty's PoV it is a rare treat to see things from another character's viewpoint. It includes the origin story "Looking After Family" where Cormac comes to live with his aunt and uncle, and cousin Ben (yes, that Ben). "God's Creatures" where we follow Cormac on a job with a twisty ending. But the pièce de résistance is "Long Time Waiting" where we finally learn about what happened to Cormac while he was in jail and where Amelia comes from.

All the shorts are told with Vaughn's straightforward storytelling, and despite their brevity she draws her characters with charm and individuality. This compilation will particularly interest Kitty Norville fans, but newcomers will still enjoy the stories and characters.

Recommended Age: 14+ (except for the two stories with sexual content, which would be 17+)
Language: A couple handfuls of the harsher stuff
Violence: Werewolves, vampires, and hunters means death and blood and gore, but it isn't gruesome
Sex: "The Temptation of Robin Green" and "Life is the Teacher" both have detailed scenes; the others have a mild reference or two

Get it here:

The Crimson Pact, Volume 3

I have an awesome boss.  Well, all of us are pretty cool here at EBR, but Mr. Steve is a class act.  He's smart, he's debonaire, he's...what's that? Why all the sycophantic flattery?  It doesn't even sound like I'm talking to you? Dang. Well, here's the thing.  You might have noticed the title of this book review already, and maybe even more than that you might remember the fact that Mr. Steve was going to have another short story in this anthology. Yeah. Well, his story rocked,, I better just get into it.

THE CRIMSON PACT, VOL. 3, edited by Paul Genesse, is the third anthology of short stories that are all based off of the ideas developed by the Crimson Pact mythos introduced in his own story from the first anthology.  Generally speaking, a horde of demons has broken through some kind of inter-dimensional portal and been scattered across the veritable multi-verse and a brotherhood of knights and volunteers, the Crimson Pact, pursues them out into the eternities through a plethora of fantasy, sci-fi, steampunk, horror, urban fantasy, and just about any other story genre that is possible (well, I don't know if I've seen a romance yet...).  In general, it's been a fairly fun ride so far, with a bit of everything thrown into the mix.

I had several favorites this time around.

"That Which We Fear" by Larry Correia and Steve Diamond: More Diego Santos and Lazarus Tombs. Nothing could have made me happier than to see this one as the first in the group. We get some great progression of the storyline surrounding not only Tombs and his missing kid but on Santos and his deadline on life as well. I loved this one. If anything, it was too short and might have felt a bit rushed, but it was just packed with goodness. This series totally deserves to be followed.

"The Ronin's Mark" by Donald Darling: This one totally surprised me and made me really excited to get into the anthology. The kicker? A connection to another story in the anthology, which is exactly what I asked for in my review of Volume 2. Ha! The fairly unsympathetic main character, whom I don't believe is ever named, is the demon-equivalent of a contract killer that fights with the inner struggle of becoming complacent in the human world while wading through combat and contracted operations that are just fun to read. The ending, I thought, was especially good.

"Monsters on the Trail" by Patrick Tomlinson: This is the third entry in Tomlinson's continuing story and was a definite step up from Volume 2. Izzy and her pet demon, Melicarius, play into the main plot a bit more this time, and help her de facto Aunt and boyfriend Jaws (both cops) find the killer of a priest, who turns out to guessed it. A demon. Really enjoyable.

"A Contract Between Thieves" by Stephanie Lorée: This was easily my second favorite of the anthology. Feni agrees to help Raf, a long-time acquaintance, complete a contract after a game of cards. The result is a romp through an alchemist's laboratory that neither of them will forget and one of them may not survive. Though it started a bit slow, there was a great sense of character and place and adventure in this one that was missing from so many of the other stories in the anthology. This story, placed near the end of the anthology, totally saved the day for me. Stephanie: You rock. I want more.

On the whole, I was less impressed with this volume than prior entries for two reasons. The first is that it's so much shorter than the others.  This happened, from what I understand, because the volume was getting too big from the sheer number of stories that had to be contained within it, and instead of making the thing just massive, Genesse decided to split volume three into two volumes.  He pulled a Martin, so to speak--keeping some stories (characters) in this volume and saving other stories (characters) for the next volume. The second reason was the shift of the stories toward, in my opinion, the unfortunate. There's always going to be a split in the stories that readers like in anthologies. Just the way it is. I just wish there had been more fun, more substance, and more interconnectivity. But I am being kind of picky.

I am totally looking forward to the fourth anthology, if for no other reasons than that I might be getting another Santos/Tombs story from the story-titans Correia and Diamond, and I am also expecting another Evil Library story from Sarah Kanning (woo-hoo!).

Recommended Age: 16+
Language: Not a lot, but pretty much the entire gamut
Violence: A decent variety of bloody and
Sex: A few references, but not too much detail

Want em? Get em:
Volume 1
Volume 2
Volume 3

Gone Girl

I don't often read outside of my comfort zone. I love Science Fiction and I love Fantasy and not much else holds my interest. Every once and a while though I'll take a risk and venture outside my safety bubble. GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn was recommended to me with infectious enthusiasm. It wasn't my usual cup of tea, but the premise was perplexing and so I decided to give it a shot. WOW, I am so glad I did not let this one pass me by.

On the morning of Amy Dunne's fifth wedding anniversary she goes missing. As the investigation gets rolling evidence leads the police and the public to suspect the obvious: it's always the husband. There is more to the story than Nick Dunne will let on but does that necessarily mean he is to blame for the disappearance of his wife?

It's always the husband. Right? Maybe not...GONE GIRL is the best sort of book. This is the sort of novel that will challenge your preconceived notions. This is the sort of novel that will absorb you fully and not let you go until you flip the final page. Even then you are bound to continue mulling it over in your head. This is the sort of book that dominates your conscious, whether you're at work or school or whatever it is you people do. I don't take time to reflect on books as I read them. I just don't have the luxury. With GONE GIRL I was pausing every fifty pages or so to contemplate what it was that I had read. And even then I finished it in a few sittings. I got this book on a Tuesday and had finished it by Thursday night. At 400 pages and given the concerns of daily life that is no small feat.

So what makes GONE GIRL such an addictive book? For starters it is incredibly well written. From start to finish, GONE GIRL is a nearly flawless psychological thriller. The book is told from two perspectives, Nick's and Amy's. Nick's POV picks up the day Amy goes missing and continues on with the investigation. Amy's POV is past-tense, told in the form of diary entries leading up to the disappearance. For the entirety of the novel Nick maintains his innocence, but he also confesses to a number of indiscretions. The entries from Amy's diary paint a very different picture of Nick, as well as a very different picture of Amy. Readers will experience the two falling in and out of love, the highs and lows of the marriage, from two perspectives that don't quite match up.

The characters of Nick and Amy are real people. At least that's how it feels. Flynn crafts remarkably authentic characters and utterly believable relationships. I developed genuine feelings for both leads, feelings that morphed and grew over the course of the novel. It's impossible not to care about these people. That doesn't mean they are necessarily likable. I've seen some complaints that they aren't "likable enough." Well yeah, that's true in a sense, because they are placed under a high intensity microscope. The deeper you look into someone the less you will find to like. But it goes both ways. The deeper you look into someone the more you can find to admire. I had anxiety over finishing the novel because I cared that much about these characters.

The ancillary characters are also well drawn. It takes no effort at all to picture these people and their motivations and their relationships. There is no shortage of suspects, even though all of the evidence seems to be pointing in one direction. It is enough to make you wonder how thoroughly the media influences perception. Everyone always assumes the husband is to blame but that's what we have been conditioned to believe.

GONE GIRL is a psychological thriller of the highest order. Hitchcock style. The suspense is almost unbearable. Horror movie directors need to take some freaking notes. This is how you do it. GONE GIRL is too involved for a movie but I would love to see it picked up and developed as a television mini-series. Even when I expected one twist I was still floored when my revelation came true. It's just that good. There is some very dark, very twisted stuff here but none of it is beyond the realm of belief. And that's what makes it so creepy. This could happen to you. It could happen to me. I really, really hope this doesn't happen to me. It just goes to show you, sometimes the most disturbing thing of all is not knowing someone half so well as you think.

Recommended Age: 17+
Language: Plenty.
Violence: Uh, wow I guess there really isn't any violence. But it is discussed.
Sex: No real sex here either, but there is discussion of sex.

GONE GIRL got the Amazon Book of the Month for June 2012. Everyone is reading it. Don't be the last loser to pick it up after everyone has already ruined the ending. Buy it here.

Range of Ghosts

After the Great Khan's death his heirs fought over his empire, wiping out entire armies. A grandson of the Khan, Temur is left for dead on the battlefield and miraculously survives to join the refugees fleeing the Steppes. But in order to avoid notice by an enemy that would kill him, he hides his identity.

Samarkar, former princess and now a widow, is close to completing her training to become a wizard. But despite great sacrifice, there's no guarantee that she will actually be able to wield magic at all.

The necromancer al-Sepehr is aiding Temur's cousin to re-conquer the Khaganate, and he will do anything to win, even raise the dead to fight the living.

RANGE OF GHOSTS is the first book in a new series by Elizabeth Bear called The Eternal Sky. The winner of the Campbell Award for best new writer in 2005, Bear has only improved her craft. RANGE OF GHOSTS is a tale rich with character, story, and setting, but never feels rushed despite its relative brevity of 300 pages. This book deserves more attention than it's getting.

Set in another Middle East (not unlike Earth's) during an era of khans, we are inundated with information from page one: political, historical, cultural. At first Bear throws more information at us than we know what to do with. But it's the very act of being dumped into this foreign land that sucks you in, the details of food, locale, and culture that the main characters take for granted. Things like how the sky changes in relation to the kingdom below it. How a steppe native would never drink mare's milk unfermented. How a prince of the Khanganate defers respectfully to a woman, but a prince of Rasa will use a woman for his own purposes. How a cult following of a long-banished sorcerer-prince uses blood magic.

But while the world of RANGE OF GHOSTS is unfamiliar to Western readers, Bear fills it with enough of the familiar to make the setting easier to digest. Here the characters are oft-used archetypes: the princess married off for political gain; the reluctant prince who loses his kingdom; warrior monks; wise and powerful wizards; and, yes, even cat people (usually this would be a cause for shuddering...fortunately Bear makes it work). There's even the map in the front of the book and the epic trope of characters traveling across various landscapes. In another book they would have been cliché, but here Bear breathes new life into old ideas with a setting that creates a different story. A story that is awesome.

Temur and Samarkar are the main PoVs; al-Sepehr provides a handful of villainous scenes so we know why and who is trying to kill Temur. While both are relatively young (Temur around 18, Samarkar in her late 20s I think), they've already experienced the darker side of life, but still have hope--it's easy to admire their tenacity. They're under no illusions that evil exists, but still look for the good in people. And while they fear for the future of their respective peoples, they're willing to risk their lives for those they love. Bear does her best to draw these archetypes with their own unique strengths and motives. It makes these two main heroes easy to identify with and like.

The plot is straightforward and tends toward the predictable. Fortunately the characters and setting move the story along. Once the various character plot lines converge, the story finally takes off--even though the book never does move particularly fast. But it's Bear's thoughtful writing and beautiful prose that pulls readers into her well-researched and delightfully imagined world more than anything.

The end isn't precisely a cliffhanger, but Bear doesn't leave you without a consolation wrap-up. At the very least she raises the stakes in exciting ways that left me thirsty for book two.

Clearly this book isn't for everyone. If you liked THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS this book is for you. If you prefer the violent anti-heroes of Abercrombie then probably not so much.

Recommended Age: 16+
Language: Little to none
Violence: Pain and blood, but not overly violent or gruesome
Sex: One brief scene with detail, otherwise referenced

Buy it here:

Robert McCammon Interview

I met Robert McCammon when he was in Salt Lake for World Horror. It was only the second time I'd ever geeked out over meeting an author (the first time was Steven Erikson). You see, McCammon has become one of my favorite authors. In the midst of my geeked-out mumbling, I managed to ask if he'd be willing to do an interview. To my surprise, he agreed. I don't get to say this very often about big-time authors, but I left my brief meeting with Robert McCammon more impressed than I was going into it. I think the best thing I can say is that he in genuine in every positive aspect possible.

EBR questions are in bold, McCammon's responses are in normal text.

***The Interview***

EBR: First, thank you for agreeing to an interview here at Elitist Book Reviews. Our tradition here is to start by giving the author a chance to introduce themselves, and maybe even brag a bit. Not that you need much of an intro…you’re Robert Freaking McCammon. So, tell our readers why they should be reading your work.

I guess because I consider myself a pretty good storyteller. I've been doing this a long time and I kinda sorta know what I'm doing by now. Is this bragging? Well...I do believe I know how to tell a good story and get the reader "involved". I am pleased when I get a review that states the reader was at first put off by the size of one of my books, and then he or she wishes the book had gone on longer because they enjoyed it so much.

THE PROVIDENCE RIDER is the fourth Matthew Corbett novel. What is it about this character and time-period that keep you coming back? Was there a light-bulb moment when you thought, “Geez, I need to write about this guy…”? No light-bulb moment, but maybe the flicker of a candle. I wanted to do something different from my horror works, and this came to mind. Actually it didn't start off to be a series. SPEAKS THE NIGHTBIRD was going to be a standalone novel, and then I started thinking about the character more and I guess that's when the candle flickered. I thought..."A series...hmmm, never done one of those before but this might be the time and place to do it."

Subterranean Press has given you new and old novels alike superb treatment. Why did you end up publishing through them rather than a different publishing house? Any prayers of the first two Corbett novels being done by them?

Long story, involving clashes of egos and much gnashing of teeth. I should let that story alone. Yeah, it'd be great if Sub Press could do the first two Matthew Corbett novels. We'll see. (Is that evading the question enough, or what?)

The ending of THE PROVIDENCE RIDER is fantastic, and opens so many doors for future stories. What’s next on your writing agenda with Matthew Corbett, potential spin-offs and non-historical Horror?

Next Matthew goes back to the Carolina colony to escort a young lady to a dance, but finds himself involved in a murder, a mob tracking the killers through the swamp, and something in the swamp tracking the mob...

How much research do you typically put into a novel?

Lots. Tons. My shelves groan with research books. Actually now I'm able to do a lot of the research through the Net, which is kind of interesting. If I had to rely solely on the library to do my research for each Matthew book, it would take years to write. If I could ever find all the information I would need.

On a more personal note, most authors go through rough patches. What’s the most difficult experience you’ve endured while an author, and how did you grow from it?

Oh my God. Where do I begin with this one? Rough patches? Ha. I can't talk about this one, because it's an ongoing thing. Been going on now for about six years. How did I grow from it? I'm still writing.

When people say “Horror”, it seems like there are some negative connotations to it. Why do you think that is, and why do you think that Horror is fantastic?

Well, "horror" can mean so many things, can't it? I can tell you that I have known "horror", and it is not anything that people think it is. I can't go into this anymore, but true horror is...not vampires, or werewolves or zombies or ghosts or freak-geeks with knives and chainsaws. That's all "fun" stuff. Real horror is quiet and moves slowly, like a python very slowly encircling you. Very slowly, very quietly...and then you are caught, and you are squeezed. I think "horror" is fantastic? I think the "fun" horror that we all know is cool and fun to write and everything...but...I know the real thing, and nothing I nor any other horror writer living or dead could devise is equal to it.

Is there a recent literary trend that just baffles you with its popularity?

Not baffled by the TWILIGHT series, because I understand how it relates to young women, but the writing is so flat...just lifeless. No, not baffled by any trend's popularity. Just glad people are reading, I suppose.

You’re in a bookstore, and a random customer asks what book(s) you recommend. You can’t pitch your own novel, because they’ve obviously read everything by you. What do you tell them to buy?

Anything by the late great Ray Bradbury. Also one of my favorite books, JONATHAN STRANGE & MR. NORRELL by Susanna Clarke. Love that book!

I’ve had my likeness maimed and murdered in quite a few novels now. It’s a point of pride. What do I need to bribe you with to be horribly killed in one of your novels?

A bottle of Johnny Walker Red should do it. I'm easy.

Again, Mr. McCammon, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. Any last words? I don’t mean that in an ominous way (unless is helps with the prior question).

Any last words? Not yet or for awhile, I hope. I intend to keep doing my best at my calling. I intend to create worlds and characters that speak to people I have never met, and will never meet, in places I will never go. I have tried and wanted to do my best, and always to keep challenging myself. I want to keep going forward. I want to speak and be heard, and I also want to listen and hear. I want to live in the moment, and know joy in my life, in my work, and in my relationships. I want to be known as a writer who can be trusted to tell the truth as he understands it to be. Certainly not everything I write will be "great" or maybe even "good", but I never want to stop learning how to write. I am faithful to my calling. That's all I can say.

The King of Thorns

Once I'd finally managed to get past my irrational dislike of anything with hype attached to it, I gave Mark Lawrence's THE PRINCE OF THORNS a read. You may remember from that review that I was completely and utterly blown away. It was just soooooo good. Then the sequel, THE KING OF THORNS showed up in my mail box.

I may, or may not have wept from the joy I felt. Then I may, or may not have babbled excitedly at my wife while thrusting the book in her face. She may or may not have wondered why she married me.


I fear the second book in any series. When the first book was absolutely stunning, and is on my list of favorite reads ever, I get downright petrified. I couldn't help it here; my expectations were so ridiculously high. Unfairly high. And then I read THE KING OF THORNS, and somehow Lawrence did the impossible.

He met my expectations.

Then he exceeded them with the ending.

There really isn't any way to easily describe THE KING OF THORNS. The opening chapters introduce an older Jorg. He is still the same violent, snarky individual I loved in the first book, but he also seems to be learning that all his actions have consequences. Let's be honest here, Jorg is not a good guy. Never has been, never will be. That's why he's awesome. He's just sick of being yanked around and being told how things are destined to play out. Screw that. Jorg makes his own fate.

The novel jumps back-and-forth between the events following the first book, and four years later where King Jorg's castle is under siege. Interspersed in all of this are the little tidbits introducing, and giving insight into, Jorg's companions. Additionally, we get pages from Katherine's journal. They key to this story, not unlike Scott Lynch's THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA, is in not telling the story sequentially. I read the entirety of THE KING OF THORNS knowing that some twist was coming, but the unpredictability of the story, and of Jorg himself, made that impossible. When the twist finally did come, I was left shaking my head in appreciation.

Much of my love for THE KING OF THORNS comes just from Lawrence's prose. The way he describes things, the way he transitions from segment to segment, his conversations...they are all so well executed. From that point, the tone of the novel is just fantastic. We actually get two distinct Jorgs. One, more world-weary, four years in the future (which is actually the novel's "present"), then the more blood-thirsty version we are used to from the first novel. That contrast is really what makes this book work, and what makes it distinct from the first novel. As I always say when reading a series, I like to see progression with characters.

Now, there are a few areas where THE KING OF THORNS, to me, isn't quite as good as THE PRINCE OF THORNS. Some of the things that happen (remember, no spoilers), just don't feel connected to the actual story. Many of Jorg's adventures feel more like a piece of short-fiction that was spliced into the novel. The effect is a somewhat more scattered feel to the narrative. It's not game-breaking, but there are times where the direction and momentum of the story get lost. I also feel that Katherine's role could have been a tad clearer in the end.

And that's all I got by way of nit-picks. Seriously.

THE KING OF THORNS builds upon the excellence started by its predecessor. Lawrence captures Jorg's voice perfectly, which makes reading the novel a pleasure. There is no sophomore slump here. There is no "middle-book syndrome". THE KING OF THORNS firmly cements, in this reviewer's opinion, Mark Lawrence as one of the top authors in the genre.

Recommended Age: 17+
Language: Yup.
Violence: Lots, though it doesn't seem as shock value as the first book. To me it shows that Lawrence is getting even better as a storyteller.
Sex: Talked about, but nothing graphic.

Seriously, buy this book. It's worth every penny. If you haven't read the first one and still read this review, 1) you confuse me, and 2) buy that book RIGHT NOW!!!


Elitist Classics: This Immortal

Conrad Nomikos is not what he first appears. On the outside he seems to be in his thirties, walks with a limp, one side of his face is disfigured, and he has a government job working with Earth's antiquities. Dig a little deeper and you learn that he's been working that job at least twenty years, he knows the most powerful and influential people on a first-name basis, and he talks about historical events in a more intimate way than most.

THIS IMMORTAL, by Roger Zelazny, is told from Conrad's PoV, and he's as interesting and complicated a character as one would expect from a man who's lived as long as he has. Published in 1965 it tied with Herbert's DUNE for the Hugo in 1966, and reminds us that we've been fascinated with the concept of immortality in our genre for quite some time.

After a devastating nuclear war, Earth must deal with human and animal mutations, and the "invasion" of the blue-skinned Vegan aliens, who see the planet as a tourist attraction. Conrad will protect his home using methods others won't always understand. Zelazny's story is fast-paced and fascinating, his characters quick-witted and layered (with lots of nimble dialogue). We're never really clear about how old Conrad is or all that he has done, but it's the mystery that makes him interesting, particularly considering his Greek origins--is this a result of Earth's nuclear tragedies or is it immortality relating to the gods?

THIS IMMORTAL may be harder to find in smaller libraries, but there's a current version in print, as well as used ones available online.

Recommended Age: 14+ more for comprehension than content
Language: Minor
Violence: Yes, although nothing gruesome or bloody
Sex: Vaguely referenced

Find this book here.


THIEFTAKER, by D.B. Jackson, is one of those books that leaves me with confused impressions. This novel has a lot going for it--Urban Fantasy in  a historical setting, a fun protagonist, a mystery, get the drift. There is some great potential here. But there are some things that are juuuust off.

The best way for me to describe my feelings to to go at it like I would when I read people's manuscripts for the purpose of feedback.

Let's start at the beginning.

THIEFTAKER starts with an initial chase scene and action sequence. It is a good introduction to the setting, the magic, and the main character.  Ethan Kaille is our protagonist, and he has a subdued Harry Dresden vibe about him. He's older, world-worn, and he's a thieftaker and conjurer. I liked the character right away. This is perhaps one of the biggest draws of the novel for me--the mix of Urban Fantasy in a historical setting.  That setting? Colonial US, 1765.

After that initial action sequence, things really slowed down. We get told detail after detail about people and places, oftentimes in a scattered narrative that, while certainly getting the points across, also serves to slow the story down to a crawl.  This is one of those things I can forgive to a degree, because it really felt like the author was just trying to get it all out of the way early. If Jackson was a brand new author I could cut him even more slack. But he isn't a new author. Jackson is actually David B. Coe. He's been around. It's a bit disappointing that all these details of the backstory and setting weren't shown instead of told.

Once we get through all of the telling, we get into the meat of the story. Ethan is offered a job that is too good to be true that involves magic and murder. As readers, this isn't exactly a new idea, but it remains entertaining nonetheless. This is when we are introduced to the side characters. None of them are in any danger of stealing the spotlight from the main character, and could have been fleshed out with a bit more consistency. Ethan's love interest, Kannice, is particularly wishy-washy. One of the main antagonists, Sephira Pryce, never really seems to be anything more that a cardboard cut-out with several scenes of nothing but posturing (especially at the end where her villainy is totally undermined). The clergymen are the best side characters, and hold their own well.

The majority of the book follows Ethan as he investigates a few murders. For the most part this is well done. The pacing evens out, and is interspersed with some good action. Details in the middle of the novel are shown instead of listed off, which also helps things. Again, there was a lot of Harry Dresden stylings here, which I personally really liked.

A few things that bugged me. First, I don't like it when an author blatantly hides things from the reader, and almost rubs the reader's nose in it. Take this quote: "Something occurred to him in that moment, but he kept it to himself. He would have time to satisfy his curiosity later in the day...". If you don't want to share with the class, don't even bring it up. It's like saying "I know a secret, but can't tell you about it." Why even bring it up?

Second, and minor, but when Ethan uses magic, he always spouts off the spell in another language (no big deal), then always translates it into English. Every. Single. Time. I hate to keep making comparisons to Jim Butcher, but they apply. We don't need a translation every time Dresden casts a spell. Why? Because we get it with context. It got to the point in THIEFTAKER where it felt like an annotation, and not even part of the story. What's more is that part way through the novel, Ethan can cast spells in his head without saying the words. It feels introduced after the fact, and I knew right away that it would play part in the finale--which it did. To me, it hurt the urgency and drama that this wasn't limited. It also introduces some almost plot holes and some logic flaws in the end.

The ending should have been amazing. Instead it felt...OK. Not terrible, but not awesome either. The identity of the actual villain and his motivations was actually really interesting, and I wish some more focus had been on that. But then the villain does some dumb things (he monologues--I'm not joking), and makes some very unintelligent choices from someone supposedly so evilly intelligent. The final action-ish scene is also very vague, and required my rereading of several parts to get an idea of what was actually happening. Some added clarity would have elevated this scene dramatically.

Yikes. Lots of negative there. The book isn't that bad. To me it rides the line of "Mediocre" and "Like", while falling in the group of the latter. The setting and ideas are enough to carry it, and the main character is likable. The main thing that seems off to me is the consistency of the overall voice of the novel. I fully expect this to be resolved in the second book of the series now that Jackson has a grip on everything.

Recommended Age: 16+
Language: Strong but infrequent
Violence: Never really all that bloody
Sex: Nope. A bit of innuendo, but that's all

Want to give it a try?  Here you go: