The Series Series: Quintessence by David Walton

Friday, August 22nd, 2014 | Posted by Sarah Avery

Quintessence David Walton-smallQuintessence is a story of the Age of Exploration, as it might have unfolded on a literally flat Earth where some of the wilder alchemists’ ideas were right. Here there be dragons. If you list all the cool stuff in this book, it looks like a sure bet for most fantasy readers: voyages at sea (doomed and desperate), houses of solid diamond, heresy, plucky young people changing the world, and monsters. Lots and lots of monsters.

In attitude, character, and pacing, however, the book feels more like science fiction in the tradition of John W. Campbell. I grew up reading that stuff — odds are that you did, too — so I found a great deal to enjoy in Quintessence. Just not quite the things I came to the book hoping to enjoy.

David Walton’s bestiary is worth the price of admission. The man knows how to fill a fanciful ecosystem, and if he had found some comic artist to collaborate with and had published a volume of the characters’ field notes, it would have been its own weird hit.

Perhaps if the creatures had been less gloriously inventive, the characters would have felt more vivid. As the book stands, the characterization falls far enough behind the worldbuilding for the characters to feel at times like types out of Commedia Dell’Arte. That is, if Commedia Dell’Arte had been invented by John W. Campbell.

We have our earnest scientist and our mad one. We have our plucky maiden and her plucky suitor, both brilliant engineers whose talents for tinkering had gone unnoticed back in England. We have a sort of Greek chorus of thinking men whom the earnest scientific hero forms into a discussion society for brainstorming and peer review. For villains, we have a smarmy politician and a religious fanatic, who care nothing for science.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Those Sweet Silver Blues: Garrett, PI

Monday, August 11th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Garrett_BluesLast year, John O’Neill wrote a post about the Garrett PI collections by Glen Cook. The talented Cook is best known for his excellent dark fantasy series about a mercenary group, The Black Company.

The Garrett books are light years away in tone and style from those of The Black Company. However, they are identical in regards to quality of writing. Garrett is the pre-eminent fantasy PI (private investigator).

Cook has written a series of books that appeals to fans of the hardboiled PI, notably practiced by Raymond Chandler, fans of the humorous fantasy world best typified by Terry Pratchett’s Discworld and to those who have read Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries. The fact that Cook has masterfully combined all three of these elements is admirable in the extreme.

Garrett is a former Marine who spent five inglorious years serving in the seemingly endless war between his nation of Karenta and Venagata. They battle over a region called The Cantard, home to most of the world’s silver mines. And silver is the resource that fuels sorcery. And since Karenta is ruled by the magic using Stormwardens, no cost in human capital is too great to rule The Cantard.

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The Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series: Deryni Rising by Katherine Kurtz

Thursday, August 7th, 2014 | Posted by westkeith

Deryni RisingDeryni Rising
Katherine Kurtz
August 1970
271 p., $0.95
Cover art by Bob Pepper

When Lin Carter started the Ballantine Adult Fantasy line, he began by reprinting works that were obscure and/or considered classic in the field at that time, but as he wrote in the introduction to Deryni Rising, he had hoped from the very beginning to be able to publish high quality new works as well. The first original fiction he published was Deryni Rising, the first novel by Katherine Kurtz.

I think he hit the ball out of the park when he selected this one.

The story takes place in a pseudo-Welsh land called Gwynedd,. The book opens with the murder of King Brion Haldane by the sorceress Charissa. Brion and his closest friend Alaric Morgan defeated and killed her father some years ago. Brion’s murder is part of her plan for revenge.

Brion has, or rather had, the ability to practice Deryni magic. The Deryni are a long-lived race with inherent magical abilities. A few generations ago, humans and Deryni lived together in peace until a group of Deryni rose to power and severely oppressed the humans in Gwynedd. They were overthrown by a Deryni priest named Camber, who discovered a way to impart the Deryni’s magical powers to ordinary humans. At first, Camber was considered a saint, but later the Church declared him a heretic. Now some humans tolerate the Deryni, while others seek to exterminate them. Most Deryni keep a low profile. Morgan is part Deryni and doesn’t hide that fact.

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Writing a Fantasy Series

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014 | Posted by Jon Sprunk

Shadows Son Jon Sprunk-smallThe fantasy genre loves series (especially trilogies.) As a fantasy reader, I love them, too.

However, my first published novel, Shadow’s Son, was originally written as a stand-alone. I suppose I had an idea that publishers would be more inclined to take a chance on a single book from an unknown writer, so I was shocked when my agent came back with a deal for a three-book series that would become the Shadow Saga. I’m not ashamed to admit I was also a wee bit terrified.

How in the seven hells was I going to write a trilogy? I had never written anything longer than a single book before.

And each of the sequels has a contractually-agreed deadline? AND they want outlines for books two and three right away? Gulp.

Despite my trepidations, the adventure of reaching out into unknown territory was also thrilling, so I dove in head-first. What was the big deal, right? Writing a series is probably just like writing three separate books, isn’t it?

Well, yes and no.

My personal philosophy is that every novel must contain a complete story. That means my books each have their own plot that begins and ends within those pages. However, with a series there is also a series arc in play, another plot (super plot?) that starts in the first book and continues to develop through each subsequent novel to the very end.

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The Series Series: Sword of the Bright Lady by M.C. Planck

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014 | Posted by Sarah Avery

sword-of-the-bright-lady-mc-planck-smallIf you liked Eric Flint’s 1634 books, if you liked The Chronicles of Narnia, if you liked… Well let’s just start with those two, because Sword of the Bright Lady deals in surprising juxtapositions of familiar tropes.

At times I wondered whether it dealt in anything deeper. I’ve concluded that it does. This is a fun book and it feels like it was fun to write. The author’s acknowledgments note that it took three months to write and ten years to revise. Am I churlish to wish the revision had gone one step further?

What works here works beautifully. Less than a day after I finished reading, I had to go back and prove to myself that the narration was in the third person, because I remembered Christopher’s adventures with first-person clarity, as if they had happened to me.

Christopher went out to walk his dogs one Arizona night and woke up in the snowy hinterlands of another world. His rescuers, an earthy old churchman and his orphaned servant girl, nurse him back to health, though they have no common language with him. When he’s well enough to pick up some of the household work, he tries practicing kata from his martial arts practice back home. Before he knows it, he’s challenged to a duel by a local nobleman, blessed by a language spell that allows him to understand exactly how much danger he’s in, and claimed by the local war god.

At first, Christopher insists that he’s an everyman, not famous back home nor expected to be famous by anyone who knew him there. But as he begins to see how he can help the people who have saved him, he accepts the identity the villagers thrust on him: “Crazy Pater Christopher, who never means what everyone else means.” He sets about industrializing his feudal neighbors — who all have lively personalities and complex lives — preparing them for the spring’s military campaign, because the war god Marcius has promised to return Christopher home to his beloved wife… um… what was her name again?

And that brings us to a sticking point I have to talk about. It’s not that M.C. Planck has done anything uncommonly wrong here, but rather that he’s fallen into a classic blunder that I see committed all over the place, but that nobody seems to talk about.

Let’s call it the Precious Ming Vase Problem.

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New Treasures: One Night in Sixes by Arianne ‘Tex’ Thompson

Monday, August 4th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

One Night in Sixes-smallWe get a lot of review copies every month here at the Chicago rooftop headquarters of the Black Gate global publishing empire. You know what else we get? Press releases, pre-release galleys, PDFs, free Kindle books, stuff like that. We could never leave the office, and still keep you decently posted on the newest fantasy every month.

But we don’t aim for decent. We aim to keep you completely informed on the very best in the genre. And that means putting feet on the street, talking to folks in the industry, and visiting to bookstores. Lots and lots of bookstores. Like yesterday, where I found a copy of a fascinating “rural fantasy” from new writer Arianne ‘Tex’ Thompson. I would never have discovered her first novel if I hadn’t been wandering the aisles at B&N, and believe me, it deserves your attention.

The border town called Sixes is quiet in the heat of the day. Still, Appaloosa Elim has heard the stories about what wakes at sunset: gunslingers and shapeshifters and ancient animal gods whose human faces never outlast the daylight.

And the daylight is running out. Elim’s so-called ‘partner’ — that lily-white lordling Sil Halfwick –- has disappeared inside the old adobe walls, hell-bent on making a name for himself among Sixes’ notorious black-market traders. Elim, whose worldly station is written in the bastard browns and whites of his cow-spotted face, doesn’t dare show up home without him.

If he ever wants to go home again, he’d better find his missing partner fast. But if he’s caught out after dark, Elim risks succumbing to the old and sinister truth in his own flesh – and discovering just how far he’ll go to survive the night.

One word of warning: One Night in Sixes is the kind of novel that has a 10-page glossary and 11-page “People and Place” reference in the back. If that scares you, go back to reading E. Nesbit and the Ranger’s Apprentice books. Lightweight.

One Night in Sixes was published on July 29, 2014 by Solaris Books. It is 439 pages (plus all those glossaries and stuff), priced at $7.99 in paperback and $6.99 for the digital edition. The moody and effective cover is by Tomasz Jedruszek.


The Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series: The Sorcerer’s Ship by Hannes Bok

Thursday, July 24th, 2014 | Posted by westkeith

The Sorcerer's Ship 001The Sorcerer’s Ship
Hannes Bok
Ballantine, 205 p., December 1969, $0.95
Cover Art by Ray Cruz

First, I’d like to apologize to John and everyone else who reads these posts for taking so long to get this one done. I was on the road quite a bit from the end of May up through the Fourth, but I thought I would be able to get this particular post done quickly. Then things started happening. Car repairs, then house repairs, and then more car repairs. (This has necessitated bank account repairs.) Then last night, one of the wires in my son’s braces snapped loose. If anything else happens, I’m going to snap.

I don’t mean to kvetch. As you can see, I’ve been a bit distracted and apologize for the delay. I’ve already started the next book I’ll read for this series.

Anyway, on to something a little different than what we’ve seen in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series up to this point. Rather than something deep and complex, with complicated writing (The Wood Beyond the World) or bizarre imagery (Lilith) or even not-so-subtle innuendo (The Silver Stallion), The Sorcerer’s Ship is almost a children’s story.

It’s not intended to be, but this is one that might hold a younger person’s interest. There’s certainly nothing in it that most parents would find objectionable for a child capable of reading a book of this length.

Hannes Bok is best remembered for his art, but as Lin Carter discusses in his introduction, Bok was also a more than capable writer. Carter chose this volume and The Golden Stair for inclusion in the BAF line. The Sorcerer’s Ship was originally published by John Campbell (not the world’s easiest sell by any means) in Unknown in December 1942. After Weird Tales, Unknown is arguably the greatest fantasy pulp in the history of the field.

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Future Treasures: Resurrection, by Mandy Hager

Saturday, July 19th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Resurrection Mandy Hager-smallThere’s no question that the hottest trend in fiction right now isn’t vampire romances, zombies, or even superheroes. It’s young adult dystopias. The trend didn’t begin with The Hunger Games, but for sure that’s the series that kicked it into high gear. Wander the young adult section of your local bookstores and you’ll see what I mean — you’ll find dozens of volumes advertising a grim future for our young folk. It would be depressing, except for the cheery sound of a cash register ringing.

There’s been such a flood of new dystopian fantasy that it’s made it tough for a quality new series to get noticed. Mandy Hager’s Blood of the Lamb trilogy — beginning with The Crossing (January 2013) and Into the Wilderness (January 2014) — has quietly been accumulating excellent reviews and new readers, and the arrival of the third book next month is sure to launch this one into the spotlight. Pick up the first two books now, while there’s still time.

When Maryam arrives back at Onewēre and tries to loosen the Apostles’ religious stranglehold by sharing the miraculous remedy for Te Matee lai, she finds herself captured once again — prey to the Apostles’ deadly game. The ruling elite manipulate her return by setting in motion a highly orchestrated ritual before a hysterical and brain-washed crowd. Somehow Maryam must get the islanders to listen to her plea that they start thinking for themselves — hoping to stir the independence in their hearts, even as she finds herself on the brink of death.

Resurrection will be published on August 12 by Pyr Books. It is 365 pages, priced at $17.99 in hardcover and $11.99 for the ebook.


The Series Series: The Night of the Swarm by Robert V.S. Redick

Friday, July 18th, 2014 | Posted by Sarah Avery

The Night of the Swarm Robert VS RedickIt’s one of the classic dilemmas all fantasy readers face: When the last volume in a series finally comes out, do you go back and reread from the start so you can reach the end with all the grace notes and loose ends fresh in memory as the author ties them off? Or do you dive in immediately because you’ve been longing to resolve the suspense of the last volume’s cliffhangers?

If you’ve been reading Robert V.S. Redick’s delightful series, The Chathrand Voyage, you face this decision again with the arrival of the final book, The Night of the Swarm. The opening volume, The Red Wolf Conspiracy, was Redick’s debut novel, so we’ve never seen him bring a series to closure before. The first three books were delicious, but will he pull off the conclusion well enough to justify the time it takes you to reread the whole set?

Yes. Do it. Go find your copy of The Red Wolf Conspiracy, or buy a new one if you’ve mislaid it. I’ve just finished The Night of the Swarm, which I dove into without reacquainting myself with the earlier books, and though it was immensely satisfying, I will definitely be rereading the whole series.

And if you’re a newcomer to The Chathrand Voyage, oh, you are in for such a treat. Get all four books at once, turn the ringer off on your phone for a few weeks, and set up an auto-response for your email, because you won’t want to leave the battered, glorious world of Alifros until you’ve seen its struggles through.

Our young heroes Pazel, Thasha, and Neeps — along with a ship’s company of fanciful, and sometimes frightening, supporting characters that Charles Dickens might have come up with if he’d been trying to adapt his favorite techniques from George R.R. Martin — have only been at sea for a year, but what perils they have weathered! They have resisted a madman whose army of followers worship him as a god, rescued Thasha from political assassination, fled by sailing ship across an almost unimaginably large and wild ocean, and rediscovered civilizations no one from their continent has seen in centuries.

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Balance of Power

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014 | Posted by Jon Sprunk

People of the Black Circle-smallFantasy is generally about power. Who wields it, who wants it, and the price they pay for it. Magic (the supernatural world) is often the metaphor used for power in fantasy lit. But there are plenty of other kinds, such as fighting prowess, political power, and so on, that can also be incorporated.

In fact, what a fantasy story says about power is usually one of the most important elements to me.

In Robert E. Howard’s Conan series, Conan represents the superiority of the barbarism over decadent civilization, and also the power of the individual against society. He is the fulcrum that swings the balance of power away from the rich nations by the force of his will and the strength of his arm. Until, of course, he eventually comes to rule one of those soft civilized nations….

In The Black Company, Glen Cook creates an epic saga about a company of grunts trying to survive during a massive war between supercharged sorcerers. Not only do the soldiers of the Black Company survive, they manage to thwart the wizards and witches who try to use them, showing that the common man and woman are the true shapers of history.

Steven Erikson’s The Malazan Book of the Fallen features a stunning array of factions and individuals across many levels of society, many of them jostling for power and some just trying to stay out of the way.

My own Book of the Black Earth series has only just begun, but already in the first book I’ve laid down the underlying conflict of rival powers. Religious cults vie with secular government. City-states compete for regional power. Individuals strive against the institutions of slavery and caste in a world where sorcery is the province of the ruling class.

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