R. S. Belcher’s previous novels, The Six-Gun Tarot and The Shotgun Arcana, were weird westerns set in the town of Golgotha. The San Francisco Book Review called the first “A fun, rollicking, dark, and disturbing romp… a whirlwind of shootouts, assassins, cults, zombies, magic, attractive ladies, dubious morals, and demonic possession.”
With his newest novel, Nightwise, Belcher tries something a little differenr: a brand new new urban fantasy series that explores a gritty occult underworld, with a resourceful and cynical hero. It will be released in hardcover from Tor next month.
In the more shadowy corners of the world, frequented by angels and demons and everything in-between, Laytham Ballard is a legend. It’s said he raised the dead at the age of ten, stole the Philosopher’s Stone in Vegas back in 1999, and survived the bloodsucking kiss of the Mosquito Queen. Wise in the hidden ways of the night, he’s also a cynical bastard who stopped thinking of himself as the good guy a long time ago.
Now a promise to a dying friend has Ballard on the trail of an escaped Serbian war criminal with friends in both high and low places — and a sinister history of blood sacrifices. Ballard is hell-bent on making Dusan Slorzack pay for his numerous atrocities, but Slorzack seems to have literally dropped off the face of the Earth, beyond the reach of his enemies, the Illuminati, and maybe even the Devil himself. To find Slorzack, Ballard must follow a winding, treacherous path that stretches from Wall Street and Washington, D.C. to backwoods hollows and truckstops, while risking what’s left of his very soul…
Nightwise will be published by Tor Books on August 18, 2015. It is 320 pages, priced at $25.99 in hardcover and $12.99 for the digital edition.
See all of our recent reports on the best in upcoming fantasy here.
The self-published book review will be going on hiatus for the next few months while I start on a new project. Feel free to continue sending me submissions, but don’t expect to see many reviews posted before 2016.
Peter Nealen’s Nightmares is this month’s self-published novel. As a marine serving in Iraq, Jed Horn had a nasty encounter with an ifrit, a creature of fire and darkness. Returning to the states, he tried to forget, but no matter how much he drank, it wasn’t enough. So he started looking into the matter, hooking up with ghost hunters and amateur occultists. That turned out to be an even worse mistake. Dabbling, with no real knowledge of what you’re up against, is a quick way to attract the attention of some very dark, very evil things. One of them is following Jed now, killing those he’s interacted with. When he meets up with a priest, Father O’Neal, and Dan, who claims to be a Hunter of the dark things, they give him an ultimatum: either join up and fight back against the things hunting him, or keep running, and probably die in short order. You can probably guess which one Jed chooses.
The hunt takes Jed back to a small college in Colorado, where he first met Professor Ashton, whose studies into the occult have unearthed something real. From a stone tablet that only the professor can read, to ancient books and artifacts imbued with a sense of wrongness, Ashton has begun to glimpse what lies beyond, and has developed a mad obsession with summoning the chthonic spirit buried beneath Powell Hill. Much of the book is about Jed’s interactions with Ashton, trying to determine whether the professor is the source of the things hunting him, or merely a tool of larger forces. There’s something Lovecraftian about the horror here, manifest in wrongness and madness and alien spirits, hidden in ancient tablets and underground vaults and art and sculpture that change when you’re not looking. But Nealen turns away from Lovecraft’s nihilistic existential horror, and filters the same imagery through the lens of Catholicism.
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We continue to survey the best omnibus volumes for collectors out there. And at long last, we come to one of my favorite short story writers, and one of my favorite omnibus sets: the seven volumes collecting the science fiction and science fantasy of James H. Schmitz, published by Baen Books.
Baen Books, and especially its long-time editor Eric Flint, have done some really extraordinary work collecting classic SF and fantasy in handsome and highly affordable mass market editions, and they’ve been doing it for decades. Baen has published omnibus collections featuring Andre Norton, P.C. Hogdell, Murray Leinster, A. Bertam Chandler, Lois McMaster Bujold, Cordwainer Smith, Christopher Anvil, Randall Garrett, Keith Laumer, Howard L. Myers, Michael Shea, A. E. Van Vogt, and countless others.
The Baen reprint program largely began with these volumes in 2000, and I still believe they may be their crowning achievement.
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Bone Swans, the long awaited first collection from C.S.E. Cooney, has just been released, and in the last few days has accumulated some marvelous notices. She received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, and over at Tor.com Brit Mandelo had many positive things to say, especially about “Life on the Sun,” originally published here at Black Gate:
Cooney’s approach also brings in a sort of cavalier, witty, and approachable contemporary story-telling, perhaps more closely related to adventure yarns than anything… The result tends to be a fascinating mashup between the tropes and resonances of the mythic tale with the sensibilities of contemporary action-oriented fantasy… “Life on the Sun” is perhaps the best illustration of what I mean…
And the July 1 issue of Library Journal had this to say:
In five beautifully crafted stories, Cooney (Jack O’ the Hills) builds imaginary worlds full of flying carpets, fairy-tale characters, and children confronted with a postapocalyptic Earth. In addition, each tale packs in enough plot for a novel, with adventurous characters who brim with wit. In “Life on the Sun” a young woman’s fate catches up to her. In the title story, Maurice the rat hires the Pied Piper to help out a swan princess. The marvelous “Martyr’s Gem” begins with a marriage and ends with true love. “How the Milkmaid Struck a Bargain” is another fairy tale, this time a play on the Rumpelstiltskin story. Cooney’s final piece, “The Big Bah-Ha,” shows her virtuosity with language, as she tells of doomed children striking a bargain with the monster who would eat their bones. VERDICT Short stories… [are] usually not where you find vivid worldbuilding or immersive storytelling, but this gorgeous new collection reveals that both are possible in the short form.
Bone Swans was published by Mythic Delirium Books on July 1, 2015. It is 224 pages, priced at $15.95 in trade paperback and $5.99 for the digital version. Cover art by Kay Nielsen. See the Mythic Delirium website for more details, and the complete Table of Contents here.
When I reviewed the first book in the Greatcoats series, this was my conclusion:
Is Traitor’s Blade destined to be a classic? Well, that’s a kind of question I ask myself about books I can get some distance from. I don’t want any distance from this book. What I want, just as soon as I finish writing this review, it to read Traitor’s Blade again, immediately. And maybe once more right after that.
Now that I’ve read the second book in this planned series of four, I’m pretty sure de Castell is carving himself an enduring place in the fantasy canon.
Usually when a new author stumbles after a stellar debut, it’s on the second book. I wondered whether I’d see that play out here… right until I read the first page. Then I forgot I was wondering or worrying or writing a review, because the stalwart, somewhat cracked hero Falcio Val Mond was tugging me back into his story. I’d follow Falcio anywhere. Okay, so he’s an idealist in a world that despaired of those ideals years ago, and he’s slowly dying from a little poisoning incident in the last book, but his berserker episodes are much improved, and he hardly ever froths at the mouth anymore.
And he makes us laugh, raucously, especially in the bleak moments when he and we need it most. Yes, I’d definitely still follow him anywhere. In the spirit of lively and surprising storytelling, though, in this volume, some of Falcio’s friends and allies stop being so sure they can do the same.
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Last week, I was looking for something to read and as I was hunting through my shelves, I came upon Michelle West’s Sun Sword series. I had picked up the first volume (The Broken Crown) when I was about to head to Central America for 6 months of volunteering, and had wanted to have a few fat books with me.
The Broken Crown was a lucky pick back then. Firstly, it was fat, clocking in at an epic 764 pages, but it was also really good. The thrust of the whole series is that a very competent general has staged a coup and killed an incompetent king and all his family. So far, no problems. I like the General.
But there are always problems.
The symbol of kingship in the south is whether the king can take up the Sun Sword, which happens to be really really useful against demons. There was one last son of the old king’s who was serving as a hostage in a northern court, and the agent sent to kill him was not successful. So, we have a lost prince deprived of his thrown, and only he can wield the Sun Sword.
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It’s a pretty popular time for dinosaur novels, what with Victor Milán’s upcoming The Dinosaur Lords, and the biggest movie of the summer being Jurassic World. What many people don’t realize is that dinosaur stories weren’t created by the makers of Jurassic World. They weren’t even created by Steven Spielberg, director of Jurassic Park, way back in the last century in 1993. Believe it or not, they weren’t even created by Michael Crichton, the author of the original 1990 novel. Dinosaur novels were totally created by the science fiction novelist Keith Laumer, in his 1971 novel Dinosaur Beach.
Okay. After doing some, y’know, actual fact checking, it turns out Keith Laumer didn’t completely create the dinosaur novel. But it’s true enough for our purposes. Which are, to give us an excuse to talk about Dinosaur Beach.
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I’m nostalgic for most things that belong to the age of my childhood and teenage years (i.e. the 70s and 80s), especially for things we now mostly think of as geek-ish (though that label was hardly admirable when I was a kid).
In this spirit, I recently watched a very interesting documentary on Netflix called Atari: Game Over, about one man’s quest to find the (now legendary) dumping ground of Atari’s fabled mass of unsold game cartridges based upon the Steven Spielberg movie E. T. (And by the way, I highly recommend watching that very short documentary.)
Atari: Game Over includes footage of author Ernest Cline, who is about my age and seems to have similar 80s interests. Case in point: the man owns a DeLorean sports car like Marty McFly’s from Back to the Future.
Cline made his 2011 novel debut with Ready Player One. I’d heard nothing but great buzz about this book since it was first released. But since I’m not a gigantic fan of science fiction literature — I tend to read more fantasy and horror — I hadn’t really bothered to pick it up. After seeing the documentary I became more intrigued, and so I bought and read it.
Oh my goodness!
I can definitely say that I am now a huge Ernest Cline fan. What a great book! This was one of those books that I could not put down. I blazed through its nearly 400 pages in just two days — I would’ve done it in one if I hadn’t had real-life responsibilities. It was definitely something of an 80s nostalgia-fest, but that’s merely surface, and not integral to enjoying this book.
What’s Ready Player One about?
It starts in a dystopian near future — though not dystopian because of nukes or zombies. Rather, in Cline’s book our current fears are extrapolated to a world feeling the effects of increasing overpopulation, in terms of climate and economics. Many people are unemployed, and where once cushioned bastions were unaffected by such, like most of the United States, they are now populated with flimsy towers of RVs and trailer-homes (Jim Massey’s paperback cover presents this in awesome detail).
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The first time I encountered Mary E. Pearson was with her short story “The Rotten Beast” at Tor.com. Her first fantasy novel, The Kiss of Deception, was published by Henry Holt last year, and called “a wonderfully full-bodied story: harrowing, romantic, and full of myth and memory… this has the sweep of an epic tale,” (Booklist), and Publishers Weekly said “the novel has a formidable heroine at its core, who is as quick with a knife as she is to laugh or cry… [a] masterfully crafted story.” The Heart of Betrayal, the second volume in The Remnant Chronicles, will be released next week, and it continues the tale of 17-year-old princess Lia.
Held captive in the barbarian kingdom of Venda, Lia and Rafe have little chance of escape… and even less of being together.
Desperate to save her life, Lia’s erstwhile assassin, Kaden, has told the Vendan Komisar that she has a magical gift, and the Komisar’s interest in Lia is greater than either Kaden or Lia foresaw.
Meanwhile, the foundations of Lia’s deeply-held beliefs are crumbling beneath her. Nothing is straightforward: there’s Rafe, who lied to her, but has sacrificed his freedom to protect her; Kaden, who meant to assassinate her but has now saved her life; and the Vendans, whom she always believed to be barbarians but whom she now realizes are people who have been terribly brutalized by the kingdoms of Dalbreck and Morrighan. Wrestling with her upbringing, her gift, and her very sense of self, Lia will have to make powerful choices that affect her country, her people… and her own destiny.
The Heart of Betrayal will be published by Henry Holt and Co. on July 7, 2015. It is 480 pages, priced at $18.99 in hardcover and $9.99 for the digital edition.
Last time I was talking about those real life events and happenings that never seem to occur on TV, or in books. If you have a look, the comments are well worth reading, and not only because most everyone agrees with me (and William Goldman) on the whys and wherefores of this phenomenon. There were also many examples given of fantasy characters pooping, though not necessarily in the woods.
There did seem to be a consensus that we were in agreement with Goldman, that too much reality could slow things down, not only in TV and movies, but in the written narrative as well. If we do include what one commentator called “the earthier things” they’re usually plot or story related. Or, as another put it, “if it doesn’t propel the plot (not the plop!) strike it.” Couldn’t have put it better myself.
The subject also sparked a lengthy comment stream on Facebook, thanks to James Enge sharing a link to my original post. One woman was prompted to point out that female characters in fiction don’t menstruate – in the same sense, that is, that they don’t poop, which is to say, we don’t talk about it. As a woman, it took me a surprisingly long time to become aware of this particular example of the phenomenon (or perhaps not, considering the dearth of female protagonists until fairly recently). It’s particularly odd, when you think about it, since so many of us link the appearance of psychic abilities in our characters with the onset of puberty.
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