So I've been getting a lot of questions about the Hugo Award nominations this year. I've been thinking about it all since I was notified of the nomination, and I honestly still don't know how to feel. Mostly. Kinda.
Let's start with the basics. Here are Elitist Book Reviews, we are nominated for our second straight Hugo Award for Best Fanzine! This is completely awesome, and not something I ever thought possible. When I started EBR with a good friend, I just wanted to write reviews for novels. I wanted to recommend the books I loved to everyone. EBR was my outlet for that love of fiction in all forms.
So I want to thank everyone who nominated us. All of us here at EBR put in a tremendous amount of work to make sure this little review blog stays active. Each reviewer here has stepped up when things have gotten rough for the others. That's who we are. Again, thank you, each and every one of you who nominated Elitist Book Reviews. The nomination is something that gives us great pride in our work, yet also amazes us and humbles us.
So what's the competition like? What are our chances? Well, as to the first question, the competition is fabulous. Just look at this list:
The Book Smugglers
A Dribble of Ink
Seriously, just go look at their sites. They each do different things, and they are each terrific. The great thing is that these are some of the sites that I've enjoyed visiting over the past several years, and I love the...newness, I suppose?...of the Fanzine category. I love that there will be a completely new winner. I imagine that winner will be The Book Smugglers or Pornokitsch in some sort of crushing victory that will leave our jaws on the floor. That said, anyone in the category would be just fine by me. They are all top-rate people based on my limited experiences with them.
As for the rest of the nominations? I'd say they are certainly varied, and some come with a measure of drama. I hadn't heard of Vox Day before hand, and I'm not thrilled (to put it mildly) by some of his antics and views. However, I was pleased to see many of my nominations pass through. Here are some of my favorites:
Speculative Fiction 2012: The Best Online Reviews, Essays and Commentary, by Justin Landon & Jared Shurin (Jurassic London) in Best Related Work.
The Best Professional Artist category is just killer this year. Seriously, look it up. Good grief. It's stunning work.
The Butcher of Khardov by Dan Wells. I love Dan's writing. He's one of my favorite Horror authors. But his story for Privateer Press is something different. Much like how I though Brandon Sanderson's novella last year was the finest piece of fiction he'd produced, I kinda feel the same about this bit from Dan Wells. I haven't personally reviewed it because I'm under contract with the same company. Conflict of interests on a professional level, but I can still say it's freaking amazing.
Fan writer has some awesome people in it. Kameron Hurley is terrific (both in fiction and non, as this award is for the latter), and Mark Oshiro is awesome (had a panel with him in San Antonio, and he has tremendous insight and such a different viewpoint on life).
Both Long- and Short-Form Editors have several of my nominations on them.
The John W. Campbell Award has me very excited. While I'm sad Brian McClellan isn't on there, seeing both Max Gladstone (high-five, man!) and Wesley Chu on there made be want to fist-pump in the air.
If I didn't mention a person by name, it doesn't mean I hate that person or anything. Life tends to get a bit busy if you are the Finance Manager for a Department of Defense Contractor, so I admit to not knowing everything or everyone this year. This does, however, lead me into my next bit of commentary.
Do you want to know how I determine who I vote for? It's a super-involved process. Highly secret. Spies try to get it from me on a regular basis. Serious business, and all that. Here it is:
I read it all. I look at it all. Listen to it all. Whatever the case may be. Then, whichever thing I like the best gets my vote. There has been all sorts of controversy lately with voting and people's politics and who they know and who nominated them and blah blah blah.
I care about the work.
This isn't just about the Hugos, but in general, if your work bores me, I say I don't like it. If I had fun while reading it, or felt edified, or thought it was the best thing since a root beer float with cookies n' creme ice cream, then I say I like it. Doesn't really matter much to me whether I like you as a person or not. Or whether I agree with you or not. I can read and love China Miéville, Joe Lansdale, Larry Correia, Sarah Pinborough, Dan Wells, Steven Erikson, Mark Lawrence, Marie Brennan, Brandon Sanderson and Robert McCammon. I can also dislike anything those same people write that just doesn't do it for me. Why?
I care about the work.
Seriously, look though EBR's archive of reviews. Do I look like I give a crap about anything other than a good read? Look at the reviews by my amazing reviewers. Last I checked, they want to be entertained. Doesn't matter how authors and artists go about it. Have you seen me on panels at conventions? I'm mostly there trying not to sound like an idiot when I'm along side awesome folks like Joe Haldeman or Joshua Bilmes or L.E. Modesitt. I'm there to share my love of what I do.
So you know what? I'm gonna read the nominated works in all the categories. Then I'll decide for my own personal ballot. And I'll prolly post it here on EBR. Because why not?
Remember, EBR was made as an outlet for this ex-bookstore guy to channel his love for books. I brought on reviewers who held that same excitement. The excitement for the works these wonderful and varied artists produce.
So, excuse me while I go about geeking out about the nomination, and the terrific company EBR is in on the ballot.
I've got some books to read.
Tak does not lead a normal life. As a sort of Asian-American version of Man vs Wild he's spent his life adventuring all over the world. At the opening of THE BEAUTIFUL LAND we discover that life isn't going the way he planned. In the middle of a suicide attempt, Tak gets a fateful call that will give him a new purpose in life.
Samira suffers from PTSD due to her tours in Iraq. But she can remember a time when she was happy. Like before her mother died. Or her high school friendship with Tak. Then out of the blue she gets a frantic call from Tak who is convinced that if she doesn't get on a plane and meet him within fifteen hours that she will die.
And thus begins the strange journey Tak and Samira must take in order to stop a mad scientist, a greedy corporation, and the Machine that will rewrite the current reality with one that will give the scientist/corporation the power they crave. The Machine isn't a time machine, it's a portal to the alternate realities, and there are thousands of them. One of them is called "the beautiful land," a reality where the perfect land is the one you imagine, and the scientist who invented the Machine will do anything to live there, even if it means wiping out every living thing to do it.
THE BEAUTIFUL LAND is weird and compelling at the same time. Averill tells the story with creativity and energy from Tak and Samira's PoVs (sometimes jumping between their heads within paragraphs, but it works out ok despite the confusion) with a few side trips from secondary characters. However, Averill's portrayal of these two messed-up people who regret the choices they've made is often over-the-top. When authors try this hard it makes a reader step back because it feels like manipulation. It's not that I hated the characters, but I had a hard time liking them, even if their interaction with each other was believable.
Even though the characterization was a little rough, at least Averill knows how to move a story along. The pace moved fast from the get-go, and carries you clear to the end. It's set in the present-day, in a world where people like Tak and Samira get lost in the shuffle, but discover that even "normal" people can be the agents of change. The mad scientist angle is cliché, but that doesn't make Averill's take any less creepy and scary when Tak discovers the evil plan, and when we see the fallout from his decisions. I might have liked more trips to these alternate realities Tak got to visit--if only for the sake of seeing them--but in the end that's not what the story was about so it would have been a distraction.
My favorite part was Averill's engaging prose. He writes each scene with well-written imagery and a morbid sense of humor that sets the tone for the book. Tak's hilarious observations about his situation and the realities he visits are fun (and sometimes disturbing) to read. Some of you will love Tak's irreverent humor.
Steve has sent me enough dumb thrillers lately (i.e., VIRUS THIRTEEN and PANDEMONIUM) that I was wary about THE BEAUTIFUL LAND--I'm not one for reading thrillers on my own time, anyway. Fortunately Averill provided more than just a thriller or horror story, but also a wild ride.
Recommended Age: 16+
Language: Something almost every page
Sex: One implied scene
Find this book here:
THE BEAUTIFUL LAND
HALF A KING by Joe Abercrombie is one of the most hyped novels of the year. Check out some of the author blurbs and you'll see what I mean. Patrick Rothfuss, Rick Riordan, Robin Hobb, and Brent Weeks are among the fantasy heavyweights heaping praise on the novel. When Abercrombie first announced HALF A KING I was anxious. He's my second favorite author and my very reason for returning to the fantasy genre, but I couldn't see how well his brutal wit and grim perspective would translate to a YA novel. You'll no doubt notice that this review has been filed under "Books We Love," but it didn't start out that way.
HALF A KING is the story of Yarvi, the younger son of the king of Gettland. With only one good hand Yarvi has chosen to embrace the path of a minister rather than that of a warrior. The murder of his father (the king) and brother (the natural heir) sees Yarvi ascend to the throne. He is looked upon with contempt by his people for a perceived weakness, but he takes an oath to avenge his family regardless. Betrayed in his quest for vengeance Yarvi must use the greatest and only asset at his disposal (his mind) in order to defeat his enemies and reclaim what is rightfully his.
Because I read this on my Amazon Kindle I was able to track my progress through the novel in percentages. It was also in percentages that I noticed HALF A KING gradually improve. I will openly admit that I was underwhelmed by the first 20-25% of the novel. Yarvi had all the makings of a true Abercrombie hero. He was unconventional and bore a physical handicap and he had suffered as a result. Still, Yarvi had a vanilla flavor that matched the rest of the beginning of the book. The setting of HALF A KING, the Shattered Sea, is has the trappings of a "Viking saga" (as author Myke Cole points out in his blurb) but there's little to differentiate this world from any other generic Norse-inspired fiction, save for the religion. The beginning fifth of the novel is too YA for my liking, it's like HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON without dragons. It doesn't read like Abercrombie. It reminded me why I was reading books like THE BLADE ITSELF when other kids my age were still carrying around the latest Charlie Bone book. And yet...
"What can you think about a cause," muttered Jaud, "when all the decent folk stand on the other side?"
And yet it gets better. I continued reading because Abercrombie has never failed me before. The further I got into the novel the easier it became to forgive the bland opening. With each new conflict Yarvi encounters he became more and more compelling. It got to the point where I started thinking of him as Yarvi Sevenfingers or The Bloody-Seven (no small compliment given I consider Logen of The First Law Trilogy my all time favorite character). In Yarvi exists the literary-DNA of Abercrombie's former protagonists, and still he manages to stand on his own merits. He may not be a great warrior but he is a formidable thinker and the lessons he learnt from his mother (the queen and treasurer) and the king's minister (his mentor) frequently pop up over the course of the novel. Yarvi matures over the course of HALF A KING, growing from naive boy to wise man in a short amount of time. It is an extremely satisfying character arc, one of Abercrombie's best.
"What is the world coming to when an honest man cannot burn corpses with suspicion?" asked Nothing.
The other characters come to distinguish themselves as Abercrombie characters as well, especially Sumael, Shadikshirram, and the man they call Nothing. Sumael channels two of Abercrombie's extremely strong female characters, Ferro (The First Law Trilogy) and Shy South (RED COUNTRY). Shadikshirram brought to mind the fan favorite mercenary captain Nicomo Cosca (BEST SERVED COLD). And then Nothing...well I won't ruin that for anyone. Yarvi forms strong bonds throughout the book, assembling quite a band of misfits on his quest. The cast is colorful and tinged with the sadness that permeates Abercrombie's work and makes for such believable characters.
The plot is largely reactive throughout the novel but once the final third kicks HALF A KING is impossible to put down. Updating my companions as I read the novel I went from "not impressed" to "getting interested" to "not bad" to "hooked" and finally "bravo!" There are a series of twists and betrayals -- the first is predictable but the rest will shock you. The violence so common in Abercrombie novels is toned down. Combat takes a backseat to cunning and negotiation, though it is by no means absent. As always the case when he writes fighting, the edges are sharp and there are no winners...only survivors. Losses present new opportunities and victories are generally Pyrrhic. There are consequences for each and every action and it is this that Abercrombie expresses so well above all other genre writers. Even his YA novel has elements of Greek tragedy and moral ambiguity, understated though they may be in the midst of his other work. This and humor. The wit on display is as dark and sharp as ever, and this is what finally won my affection.
Starting out I was not a fan of HALF A KING. I saw my worst fears for the book realized but I stuck with it and my patience paid off. I wish that the book had been written twice the length as some scenes seem to end abruptly and I would have appreciated more world building. But HALF A KING isn't a novel about setting so much as it is about character, and character is something it has an abundance of. It is also perhaps the most film-friendly Abercrombie book to date. Given the current popularity of movie adaptations of YA books I can see this one getting the big screen treatment (and what a breath of fresh air that would be in the midst of all these yawn-inducing dystopias). I would hesitate to call HALF A KING a masterpiece (and it's still not my favorite Abercrombie novel) but I love it anyway. It starts out like a typical YA novel but transforms into something much greater. I can see this being a gateway drug for new readers. And who knows, HALF A KING is but the first in a trilogy and the end of the novel sees some interesting developments on the horizon.
Recommended Age: 14+
Language: Nothing worse than you get on prime time television.
Violence: The level of detail in the violence is on par with THE HUNGER GAMES though there is considerably less of it and the consequences are far greater.
Sex: There's some hand holding, that's about it.
Want HALF A KING? Order it here.
I've been waiting for this book for two years. You see, once you read a novel by Robert McCammon, you want the next one. Then the next. And the next. McCammon's writing has an intoxicating nature about it, and since the day I first read his work, I've wanted to read every single word he writes. Thankfully, Subterranean Press was kind enough to send me a review copy of McCammon's THE RIVER OF SOULS.
It's been two years since I read THE PROVIDENCE RIDER. Two years since I last read a Matthew Corbett story. But for Matthew Corbett, it's only been a few weeks since his time on that island. This is when THE RIVER OF SOULS picks up. Corbett is still trying to recover, and then he is asked to do something relatively simple: escort a young lady to a ball in Charles Town.
Seems simple, right? But if you've ever read a McCammon novel, then you know that things are going to go sideways for Corbett, and it will probably all happen quickly. In the case of THE RIVER OF SOULS, the trouble starts right away on page one.
This novel was an interesting one for me to read, and I admit to having reservations. Mostly, this is because the novel is fairly short at around 250 pages. I have to ask myself why I even bother having doubts about McCammon. Has he ever let me down? Nope. Never. And this novel was no different. It wasn't perfect, but it accomplishes what it needs to accomplish, and it is as long as it needs to be.
I look at this novel as setup. Amazing setup, but setup nonetheless. This is McCammon getting Corbett in place for the REALLY crazy situations. The story itself isn't anything complex; after the events escorting the young lady (no spoilers here!) were are thrown directly into a manhunt. No wasted breath. No needless time spent describing foliage. We go from one event to the next with hardly a heartbeat of rest. This is the pace the novel follows until the very end.
The thing I admire about McCammon, and what he does so well in this novel, is his unwillingness to compromise. I realize how that sounds, but it is true in regards to his writing. If the situation calls for something absolutely terrible and horrific to happen to Corbett, it happens. No easy routes are taken. No mercy is given to his characters in THE RIVER OF SOULS (or any of his novels for that matter). McCammon writes the novel without flinching. Make no mistake, Corbett gets whupped in this novel. More than once, and brutally. Why is this important, and why do I call attention to it? Because is shows how much McCammon cares about his characters, and how well he understands "character" in general.
Characters are only as interesting as their weaknesses, principles, and their desire to overcome those weaknesses with those principles. Matthew Corbett is the perfect example of this way of thinking and writing. Every time he is knocked down (literally or metaphorically), he gets back up and tries to do better. That's the kind of character I can root for. That's a real person.
Of course, it wouldn't be a McCammon novel without the Horror. He writes it so effortlessly (at least it seems that way from the outside looking in). It's not that McCammon wrote a Horror novel here, but that he was able to add a feeling of terror and horror to the situations the characters face. Without being too specific, we got mysterious monsters, a murder, a supposed curse, Indians, and quicksand. All that and more in 250 pages.
I can gush for pages about McCammon. He is very possibly my favorite author now. Instead of going on for twenty more pages, how about I just leave you with this:
THE RIVER OF SOULS is yet another incredible piece of literature from Robert McCammon. It is the most fun I've had reading in months, and simultaneously managed satisfy me and make me crave more fiction from McCammon even more. Matthew Corbett is one of his finest characters, and to read about his adventure in this novel was an absolute pleasure.
Recommended Age: 16+
Profanity: Some, and it can get pretty strong. But it's mostly tame for most of the novel.
Violence: Whew. McCammon's ability to go from calm to insane violent in the span of a paragraph never ceases to amaze and impress me. It gets crazy in this book.
Sex: Nope. None shown. Talked about a bit, but nothing explicit.
Just read these books. Historical Horror doesn't get any better than this. But for heaven's sake, start from the beginning:
SPEAKS THE NIGHTBIRD
THE QUEEN OF BEDLAM
THE PROVIDENCE RIDER
THE RIVER OF SOULS
THE EXECUTIONER'S HEART is the fourth Newbury and Hobbes novel, and it takes place several months after the crazy events of the prior novel, THE IMMORALITY ENGINE. Veronica Hobbes' sister has been rescued, and now Sir Maurice Newbury is desperately trying to figure out the key to her prophetic visions, and why the Queen of England is after her.
In a way, this novel is the start of a new series. It's a new start that, while certainly building on the prior "trilogy", sets off in a new direction. With the backdrop of Newbury trying to help Hobbes' sister, a new threat runs amok. A series of brutal murders where the victims chests are torn open and the hearts taken. Along with it comes a vision that Hobbes may be the next victim.
This is pretty standard George Mann. The pacing is relentless, as usual, but is seems even more so with the "time bomb" that Newbury's vision of Hobbes' death sets into motion. The killer--The Executioner--is a terrific character herself. The weaving of her story into that of the other series regulars makes for fun fiction.
Really, that's what I've come to enjoy the most about George Mann's novels: the fun. I love how his glee for the characters and the world shine through in his writing. Every chapter has breathless momentum to it. There is no wasted space. Of course, when I say "fun" I don't mean everything is rainbows and clockwork kittens. Mann doesn't hesitate to put his characters into danger. These characters have been emotionally and physically worn down. Everything bad that can happen to them has happened, or happens in this novel. But the fun resides in the spirit both Newbury and Hobbes show. Beaten but never defeated.
The majority of this novel revolves around The Executioner. In a way this is a transitional novel. I got the impression that it is a novel to get the pieces into place before the real fireworks start. And talk about a cliffhanger ended. Sheesh.
So here's the deal. If you liked these novels before, you will love this novel. If you didn't, this novel won't change your mind. If you are a new reader yet to begin the series...well...I suppose I've spoiled a bit of it for you huh? Well you shouldn't have read ahead!
I love this series. I have loved it ever since reading THE AFFINITY BRIDGE. THE EXECUTIONER'S HEART just adds to the fun. It gives me steampunk, adventure, weird science, the supernatural, and the fun I need when I want to escape the seriousness of everyday life.
Recommended Age: 14+
Profanity: On par with the prior novels. So hardly any, and nothing super bad.
Violence: The Executioner rips out people's hearts. Nuff said?
Get the series here:
THE AFFINITY BRIDGE
THE OSIRIS RITUAL
THE IMMORALITY ENGINE
THE EXECUTIONER'S HEART
In FIREBRAND (EBR review) we met the Sithe brothers Seth and Conal. They were exiled beyond the Veil to the world where full-mortals live, as part of a promise to their queen that they would find the bloodstone. By the time BLOODSTONE begins, four hundred years have passed, and Leonna, Conal's mother, is coming to the conclusion that they will never find what they're looking for, that it doesn't exist.
After FIREBRAND's exciting introduction to the series, BLOODSTONE had a lot to live up to. While not as good as the first book, this continuation of the story isn't afraid to take us where the hard decisions have led Seth and Conal on their quest to be free of Kate NicNiven's control.
The great thing so far about this series is its forward momentum and fascinating characters. In FIREBRAND it was Seth's PoV, but here the narration has broadened to Finn (Conal's niece) and Jed (mortal; Finn's friend and son to Seth's lover). At first I found it annoying because I like Seth's narration and it took the majority of the book to understand why the extra PoVs--and teenagers at that--were necessary for the storytelling. Still, Seth is the one whose PoV carries the story: how he views people, his sense of loyalty to his brother, and his often poor decision-making skills. And the strange thing is that even though I hate some of his choices, I still completely understand why he makes them. He is a fascinating person who wavers between bad-boy and sentimental loyalist. Finn and Jed's stories aren't as crucial as Seth's, but they're still interesting. Jed is a bit of a wild card since he's full mortal, and even though he's tied to important characters, ultimately he's powerless. His character arc is the biggest in the novel, but it was painful to watch him flail about in a situation he had no control over.
There's an unfortunate four-hundred year gap between books, which hinders a fleshed-out setting in favor of a fast-paced story, and as a result we don't learn more about the Sithe world, magic, and the Veil. Not that these tidbits aren't important to the story. The Veil makes the Sithe forgettable to mortals and this makes Finn's high school existence miserable. Adding to her teenage angst is the death of her father, a grieving mother who leaves her to be raised by secretive uncles (who are forbidden by their mother to tell her about the Sithe world), and her witch of a grandmother whose search for the bloodstone occupies her time (because if she doesn't focus her attention she'll want to kill herself to follow her dead husband).
However, the surprises in store do make up for what we miss in the world-building--Phillips takes the story in an unexpected direction. We start out in the mortal world, but most of the action takes place in the otherworld, where Conal teams up with his old comrades-in-arms, Kate NicNiven (the Sithe queen) continues to manipulate events to her advantage, and everything that can go wrong does go wrong. Seth, Finn, and Jed all come to discover that even when they try to make the right decisions, there's no guarantee the results will be what they expect. Phillips weaves these shadowy characters into a complicated and twisty story in a way that is thoroughly engulfing, leaving us with the question of: What will happen next? Because by the end you will want to know.
Recommended Age: 15+
Language: A couple handfuls
Violence: Fairly frequent; gory details sometimes glossed over
Find the first two books of the Rebel Angels here:
Noon Onyx is a waning magic user--the same magic used to control the demons who won Armageddon. Her magic is not what's extraordinary, it's that she's a woman with an ability that manifests only in men. In the series' first book, DARK LIGHT OF DAY, Noon had to come to grips with her ability and be trained so she wouldn't be a danger to herself and others.
As her schooling progresses, Noon has improved--even if her control still isn't what it should be. But even as a maegester-in-training there is a lot expected of her. First off is that despite a pacifist philosophy she must be willing to kill the demons who transgress the law. The other is to accept a student of waxing magic as her protector. But as someone who doesn't plan to seek out dangerous situations, she finds this exercise pointless. That is, until she's sent on her first assignment to the Swallows, a swamp region where the locals complain of disappearances and blame their own demon protector as the culprit.
FIERY EDGE OF STEEL is told from Noon's straightforward point-of-view narrative. She's been raised in a privileged household, but even that has its own problems considering the magical ability of her parents, and especially her father, the head of the Demon Council. Noon knows she'll never live up to her father's expectations and she's determined to be her own woman. But as a future maegester she's under the direct influence of the Demon Council. Even by the end of the book I wasn't really sure what I thought about her. She wasn't too whiny, annoying, or unrealistic, but she was still meh for me.
I liked the secondary characters much better. There's the mysterious Ari Carmine, her boyfriend and partner on their assignment to the Swallows. There's Rafe Sinclair, the laid-back waxing magic user who's assigned to guard her, but Noon can't seem to get him to cooperate like she wants him to. There's Ari's guardian waxing magic user Fara, who exclusively uses glamour to cover her true appearance. Even the ship's captain is fascinating. The mystery of these people is unraveled throughout the book, and I found their quirks more interesting than even the main character's.
The setting is what makes this book shine--it takes place after Armageddon, only it wasn't the host of Heaven who won, it was the demons. That doesn't necessarily mean that demons rule the world, but it does mean they live openly among humans; fortunately humans have been given the ability to seek justice on demons using their magic. Sometimes it was weird to have this half-medieval, half-modern setting, with jeans and t-shirts, espressos, swords, scripture, and magic spells. The concept is interesting and the way Archer displays for us the landscape, people, and magic all work together well.
However, despite a fun setting and interesting characters, it was the story itself that held back my giving an unhesitating endorsement. Which is too bad because all of the elements are there. Well, except maybe for the meh main character, but she's fine as a narrator so it didn't bug me too much. It's that I had a hard time knowing where this story was going. Like Homer's The Odyssey, FIERY seems to be mostly about the journey (not that I'd compare them as equivalent in literary terms)--Noon and Co. spend three-quarters of the book trying to get to the Swallows. Maybe I'm being too nitpicky, but I waded through an extended focus on the tedium of traveling and study, waiting for Noon and her entourage to arrive in the Swallows where the real crescendo of action should happen. As a result, the ending didn't have the building action it needed to give it real significance.
I continue to find myself--even a couple of weeks after finishing it--thinking about the magic and demons and angels. The plot? Not so much.
Recommended Age: 16+
Language: Not that I remember
Violence: Scattered fighting with demons, but without gory detail
Sex: An undetailed scene; otherwise implied or referenced
Find this series here:
DARK LIGHT OF DAY
FIERY EDGE OF STEEL