John Ottinger Reviews The Conqueror’s Shadow

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012 | Posted by Bill Ward

the-conquerors-shadow1The Conqueror’s Shadow
Ari Marmell
Spectra/Ballantine (480 pages, $7.99, mass market edition December 2010)
Reviewed by John Ottinger III

The Conqueror’s Shadow is Ari Marmell’s first wholly original novel. Though published three times before under the Dungeons & Dragons trademark (Agents of Artifice, Gehenna: The Final Night), this is the first fiction Marmell has produced without a shared world. What results is a mix of epic fantasy and sword and sorcery tropes slanted slightly, ringed around with humor, peopled with not-good but not-really-evil characters, with a setting that Marmell says, “drew on all the traditional sources of fantasy. There is some historical Western Europe, some D&D, a sprinkling of Eddings and Feist.” The end result is a fast-paced epic adventure bursting with riotous humor and likable characters.

Oddly, the story begins at its ending, or at least seemingly so. Corvis Rebaine, the Terror of the East, has conquered Denathere, a key city in the Impahallion Empire. But Rebaine makes a tactical error, and he won’t be able to hold the city against the combined might of the empire’s armies and the private armies of the Guilds. So Corvis flees, taking along as hostage the young noblewoman Tyannon, leaving his own armies to be defeated. Skip forward seventeen years, and Rebaine has settled down into the life of farmer with his wife Tyannon. All is well, until Rebaine’s two young children are threatened by the roving marauders of a new warlord, Audriss, who follows the exact same battle plan Rebaine once devised. The now middle-aged ex-warlord gathers old compatriots from his glory days to end the threat to his new life, family, and the very empire he once tried to destroy.

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Finding the Right Cover Artist for your eBook

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012 | Posted by Shawn L. Johnson

serpent-without-skin2When I resolved to publish the two novels in my Heart of Darkness series as eBooks, I figured I was all set. The books had already been edited and re-edited; I had the future plotlines mapped out in my head. That was everything, right?

Of course not. My wife — aka “Queen of Internet Research” — cautioned me, “Everything I’ve read says you need a great cover that really catches the eye.”

I hadn’t thought that far ahead. I’d always dreamed of being picked up by a major publishing house that had its own artists.

I mean, I like fantasy art as much as anyone, but I’m good with words, not pictures. I had no idea how to locate a good cover artist.

So I asked a friend of mine who is an artist to do it. He begged off, citing his current, non-artistic workload. Nor did any other personal connections pan out.

Ahead of me yet again, my wife told me about several options she’d read about on the internet. The most interesting was a contest where artists compete for the prize of being your cover artist. You are presented with several custom options and only pay if you accept one.

An intriguing concept, but I wanted to know more about my prospective artists. So my friend recommended There, my wife and I posted a job description and waited, though not for long.

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Art of the Genre: Why don’t they change their clothes?

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012 | Posted by Scott Taylor

It would have been great... you have to admit.

It would have been great... you have to admit.

There’s an argument brewing again here at Black Gate’s L.A. offices, and yes, it’s about the Avengers. Ryan Harvey, Mr. Captain America himself, seems to think it’s ok that Black Widow is the token female member of the Avengers in the upcoming movie, while I ardently believe that Wasp should have gotten the nod.

Now that’s not to say there’s anything wrong with Black Widow, or Scarlet Johansson for that matter, but Wasp WAS a founding member of the team and she’s certainly one of my favorite comic book heroines.

There are several reason for this, primarily because she was the very first comic book heroine I had a crush on when I bought my first comic, Avengers #195. But putting first crushes aside, there is another reason I love Wasp, and that’s because she isn’t static.

In the world of animation, be it on TV or in comic books, there is a static formula for most characters involved, the basis of which is uniform. It’s rare that a character gets to change their clothes, and for some reason that always rubbed me that wrong way.

Wasp, however, has certainly had the most uniform changes of any comic book hero ever, and I truly dig that about here because it makes her more human.

I remember watching the G.I. Joe cartoon when I was a kid and thinking, “You know, Cover Girl was a freaking super model and she’s always in the same damn outfit!” And don’t get me started on Scarlet, bless her, because she had to wear the same stupid unitard on every assault. Then there was Lady Jaye who looked great in her army gear but you’d think she might change it up a bit once in a while.

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New Treasures: Judge Dredd: Crusade

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012 | Posted by John ONeill

jd-crusadeAh, Judge Dredd. You always know how to make a jaded comic fan smile.

So the enticing artifact at right showed up in my mailbox last week. Why, I have no idea. Every week we receive about a dozen books for review here at the Black Gate rooftop headquarters, where they are diligently farmed out to the hard-working Review Corps, bless ’em. Usually they’re the latest paperback fantasy novels (the books, not the Review Corps). Or maybe advance review copies, or RPGS, or the occasional board game. But comics? Not so much.

Not that comics aren’t welcome. Especially (let’s face it) Judge Dredd comics. ‘Cause Judge Dredd, he’s the man. The last line of defense in a post-apocalyptic megacity perpetually on the verge of chaos and destruction! With no pension plan, and not even a decent sidekick. Trust me, if all you know of officer Dredd is the cheesy 1995 Sylvester Stallone movie, you’ve missed out on three decades of great comics. Check out Judge Dredd vs. Aliens. No, seriously, check it out. It’s awesome.

Anyway, here’s the blurb for this one:

In a riot of violence at the ends of the Earth, when a scientist returns from a 15-year deep space mission claiming to have a message from God himself, judges from all of the world’s Mega-Cities race to Antarctica to try and claim the secret for themselves. Among them is the toughest future lawman of them all – Judge Dredd – but in the scramble to secure the scientist, the judges all brutally turn on each other as the prize proves too much to resist! Meanwhile, a deadly agent from one of the world’s superpowers stalks through the warzone, hoping that the confusion will ease his path to securing the secrets of the cosmos!

In the back-up story The Frankenstein Division by Mark Millar and Carlos Ezquerra, the sinister judges of East Meg create the ultimate judge by stitching together pieces of their best. But when it goes on the rampage it heads for Mega-City One and the one man responsible for the death of its many ‘donors’ – Dredd himself.

Come on, like you needed the blurb after you saw that cover. A slathering monster, and Judge Dredd armed only with a sidearm and a stern expression? Admit it, you were sold 90 seconds ago. (Click on the image for a larger version. Come on, try it! There. Wasn’t it worth it?)

Here’s the 411 so you can sound cooler than your friends: Judge Dredd: Crusade was written by comic superstars Grant Morrison (Batman and Robin, All Star Superman) and Mark Millar (Kick-Ass, The Ultimates), and illustrated by Judge Dredd co-creator Carlos Ezquerra, and Mick Austin. How did they get Carlos Ezquerra to return to illustrate a new story? They didn’t — this is a reprint from 1994/95. But at least it has a great new Brian Bolland cover. (Love the cover. Did I mention?)

Word on the grapevine is there’s a new film in the works (Dredd, staring Karl Urban, scheduled for release this September), which explains the timing. But whatever. I’m just glad to see a little love for some classic Judge Dredd. The heck with the Review Corps — I’ll be curling up with this one myself this evening. If my teenage sons don’t find it first.

The Nightmare Men: “The Enemy of Evil”

Monday, February 20th, 2012 | Posted by Josh Reynolds

JohnThunstoneManly Wade Wellman is responsible for the creation of a number of supernatural sleuths, occult detectives and werewolf punchers, including Judge Pursuivant. But, arguably one of the more well-known of Wellman’s coterie of heroes is John Thunstone. Big and blocky, with a well-groomed moustache and eyes like flint, Thunstone is an implacable and self-described ‘enemy of evil’. He hunts it with the verve of a Van Helsing and strikes with the speed and viciousness that puts Anton Zarnak to shame.

Well read and well-armed against vampires, werewolves and all things dark and devilish, Thunstone seeks out malevolent occult menaces in a variety of locales. The sixteen stories and two novels have settings which range from the steel and glass corridors of Manhattan to the mountains of the rural South, or the pastoral fields of England. He faces off against Inuit sorcerers, demonic familiars and worse things in the name of protecting the Earth and all its peoples from the hungry shapes in the dark that would otherwise devour it and them.

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Have Fun Storming the Chaostle

Monday, February 20th, 2012 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

chaostleChaostle (Amazon)
Chivalry Games ($69.99, May 2011)

Reviewed by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

Many fantasy board games have you performing some sort of dungeon crawl, but the approach in Chaostle is a bit different. Instead of crawling through the bowels of a castle’s lower levels, you are instead moving through various levels, leaping from floor to floor in an effort to make it through the castle as quickly as possible. There are a variety of different paths to take and these choices are as significant as any others that you make in the game.

Designed for 2 to 8 players (ages 10 and up), the goal of Chaostle is to beat the other groups of adventurers through the castle. Once you enter the Sanctuary in the center of the castle, you still haven’t won until you are able to beat the castle itself, meaning that the other players do have an opportunity to catch up and sweep in for victory at the last minute.

The game has a fairly sophisticated style of play, so it’s not for the feint of heart. If you are an experienced fantasy gamer, then this will be  fun game, but be warned:

Do not use this game as a means to get your kids, girlfriend, spouse, or other non-gamer involved in the genre.

If you’ve already got a solid group of gamer friends available to you, though, Chaostle can provides hours of entertainment with combat and surprises aplenty.

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After the Golden Age: A Review

Sunday, February 19th, 2012 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

After the Golden AgeAfter the Golden Age
Carrie Vaughn
Tor Books (A Tom Doherty Associates Book; 304 pp, $24.99 USD, $29.99 CDN; hardcover April 2011, paperback January 2012)
Reviewed by Matthew David Surridge

Celia West is an accountant in her mid-twenties. She seems normal enough, but appearances are deceiving. Celia lives in Commerce City, home to a number of super-powered heroes and their archenemies. She’s not one of them, though, being in fact the non-powered daughter of two of Commerce City’s greatest champions, Captain Olympus and Spark, leaders of the group called the Olympiad. Now the Olympiad’s worst enemy, the Destructor, has been arrested, and Celia’s skills as an accountant can help to find the fiscal evidence to put him behind bars — only, once, years ago, Celia joined the Destructor as an ally. Can she overcome that act of youthful rebellion to build her own life, and see that justice is done?

That’s the question driving the plot of Carrie Vaughn’s novel After the Golden Age. Super-heroes arguably started in prose, with the exploits of Zorro, the Spider, the Shadow, and Doc Savage, to name some of the best known, but the full-blown super-hero — with exceptional powers, a distinctive costume, and an alter-ego — was really a development of comics. A costumed hero is inherently visual, and many of the best super-hero powers lend themselves to illustration. Can prose present a super-hero story as well as comics can? It’s notable that a lot of the better prose super-hero tales have been shorter works: the best of the Wild Cards shared-world books, for example (a series for which Vaughn writes), or the 2008 anthology Who Can Save Us Now?, or Daryl Gregory’s excellent story from the same year “The Illustrated Biography of Lord Grimm.” Perhaps the strangeness of powers and costumes works better at that length.

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Charlene Brusso Reviews The Way of Kings

Sunday, February 19th, 2012 | Posted by Bill Ward

wayofkings255b8255d1The Way of Kings
Brandon Sanderson
Tor (1280 pp, $8.99, May 2011 mass market)
Reviewed by Charlene Brusso

When does the end justify the means? That is the overarching question posed in the first volume of Sanderson’s new series. It’s a tough one, and an excellent choice for exploration within an epic fantasy framework. Working on the Wheel of Time series has made Sanderson’s writing longer, but thankfully it hasn’t dulled his skill at worldbuilding, or his masterful ability to create vivid characters caught up in challenging situations.

The Way of Kings is an ancient text which discusses how to protect a nation and govern honorably. Most of its teachings, however, are poorly regarded – in fact, outright heretical – by the powerful Vorin church in contemporary Roshar, some 4500 years after it was written. The text comes from the time of the lost Radiants, noble warriors whose mighty Shardblades gave them powers beyond normal men. But the Radiants disbanded, abandoning their responsibilities, and none now knows the truth of those times. And so the text has fallen into disfavor.

Millennia later, the current king, Elhokar, has his hands full fighting off Parshendi incursions, and no time or interest in reading heretical philosophy. His father’s assassination left him in control of a vast kingdom under siege, and he is determined to do whatever he must to hold it together. The last thing he needs is to lose his top commander and most trusted advisor, his uncle Dalinar, to insanity.

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Art of the Genre: The Art of Kickstarter, Advice #2

Saturday, February 18th, 2012 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Steampunk by David Deitrick, and everyone likes Steampunk right?

Steampunk by David Deitrick, and everyone likes Steampunk right?

So a bit over a month ago I started my first every Kickstarter, a retro-fantasy book launch with Jeff Easley that ended earlier this week. It was a very interesting month and as people seem interested in Kickstarter’s and the possibilities that the Kickstarter site provides, I thought I’d continue blogging about it on Saturdays as long as I find out new and applicable facts concerning the program.

That being said, I’ll take you into the process once more and even append some of the numbers I initially reported during my first discourse into this topic.

This post will be about percentages, and how they can affect your project.

When I started my Kickstarter, my pledge numbers [which is to say those who became backers of the project and gave money] were mostly rolling in from feeds on Facebook. This was a cool fact, and showed that viral marketing through your social network does pay off. The percentage was roughly 70% Facebook and 30% Kickstarter internal marketing, and I was happy with that. As the month continued, however, the numbers started to realign with less and less Facebook traffic and more and more Kickstarter original pledging taking place.

Why is this, you might ask? Well, it’s an interesting thing. You see, Kickstarter has a tag it calls ‘Discover’ on its Home Page, and from that tag you can find various categories that might interest you as a possible backer. There are a bevy of them including Art, Music, Photography, Publishing, etc. One of these categories is ‘Recently Launched’ which is a nice way for Kickstarter to promote new projects and give them a bit of a boost when they start out. Still, as a Kickstarter page is laid out, a viewer can see only three projects across the top of their screen per category and perhaps another three below those before the ‘cut’. These first three projects featured at the top of the page are called ‘Staff Picks’ which are prime real estate for any project looking to draw the eye of a backer.

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Interzone #238: It’s All the Cards

Saturday, February 18th, 2012 | Posted by Soyka

interzone-238Ben Baldwin gets dibs as the cover artist for Interzone in 2012.  In his guest editorial, Baldwin explains his intention to foci “around the imagery and symbolism of some of the Major Arcana of the tarot deck.”  For the January-February issue, the subject  is The Moon.

This issue’s fiction includes “Fata Morgana” by Ray Cluley, “”Fearful Symmetry by Tyler Keevil, “God of the Gaps” by Carole Johnstone and “The Complex” by E.J. Swift along with the usual departments and columns.

Further details on this issue can be found on the Interzone web site.

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