New Treasures: Trial of Intentions by Peter Orullian

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Trial-of-Intentions-small2Trial of Intentions is the second volume in Peter Orullian’s Vault of Heaven series, following The Unremembered (2011). In his recent Black Gate article, Peter gives a tantalizing glimpse of the worldbuilding in these novels:

In the midst of these political machinations, this one regent realizes that even if she can get all the kingdoms to agree, it might not be enough. The sheer numbers of the army they could create may be insufficient this time. What do you do then?

War machines.

In the instance of my book, this takes a couple of forms. There is, in fact, an entire kingdom given to the production of what I call “gearworks.” This society is densely populated with smiths of various kinds all designing and building better war machines…

This time, the threat from beyond the veil is more dire than ever before. And to meet it, this lone regent realizes that mere muscle and bone won’t be enough. The escalation needs to go further this time. They need to exhaust approaches that might once have seemed inconceivable and forbidden…

War is coming. One of those great wars you read about. The kind people call “the war to end all wars.” And in the face of such a thing, you arm. You do all you can. Pull out all the stops. Ask impossible, impractical, maybe unholy things. Because losing isn’t an option. Losing means annihilation.

Peter has been writing a series of acclaimed short stories set in the same world, and many of those are available free online at It’s a great way to get introduced to to Vault of Heaven. Here’s a few helpful links.

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Dragon’s Rook (The Lost Sword, Book 1) by Keanan Brand

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_26031584LVummnLet me start by stating that I am an inconsistent person with inconsistent tastes and opinions. I tend to get overly emphatic and dramatic when discussing things I like or dislike. In the light of what I’m about to write about Keanan Brand’s epic fantasy novel, Dragon’s Rook, I need to look back and see how many times I disparaged thick books and those set in European-styled worlds. Because that’s exactly what Brand’s book is and I really enjoyed it.

I actually like novels set in pseudo-European worlds. Tolkien, King Arthur, and much of the earliest fantasy reading I did was set in such places. The best included Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain and Poul Anderson’s various excursions in fantasy.

Brave farm boys, daring princesses, wise old women, and wicked kings (plus dragons!) are endemic to the fairy tales read to me by my dad. Mysterious huts in dark forests, dire castles towering over the countrysides, and dank, fetid caves were common locales for those characters’ exploits. This is good stuff that speaks deeply to me for nostalgic and cultural reasons (about 99% of my ethnic heritage originates north of the Rhine River) and it all makes its way into Brand’s novel.

It’s just that often I feel like it has been done to death. Prior to the late 1970s, fantasy was a pretty diverse field. While Tolkien loomed above the genre, he spawned few direct imitators. In the first part of the decade, fantasy writing was all over the place. Sure, there was plenty of swords & sorcery, but there was also Roger Zelazany’s wild romp, The Chronicles of Amber, Ursula K. LeGuin’s very non-European Earthsea trilogy, and Tanith Lee’s phatasmagorical Tales from the Flat Earth (books I need to reread and review).

And then came Terry Brook’s The Sword of Shannara. For the unitiated, many of Shannara‘s events parallel those of the Lord of the Rings closely, and it was a monster success. That was enough to convince publishers and authors that the key to sales lay in the same sort of mimicry. In the years that followed, dozens of quest stories set in very familiar Euro-style worlds appeared. The worst were slavish imitations of Tolkien’s masterpiece, while the best took advantage of the familiarity of quest and fantasy tropes and used them to explore original ideas. Either way, though, Dark Ages and Medieval Europe came to be the default setting for fantasy fiction.

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New Treasures: Long Black Curl by Alex Bledsoe

Monday, May 25th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Long Black Curl Alex Bledsoe-smallThe first volume in Alex Bledsoe’s Tufa series, The Hum and the Shiver, was named one of the Best Fiction Books of 2011 by Kirkus Reviews. The second, Wisp of a Thing, was called “A chilling mix of fantasy, realism, and a touch of horror” by Booklist. The long-anticipated third volume in the series finally arrives this week.

In all the time the Tufa have existed, only two have ever been exiled: Bo-Kate Wisby and her lover, Jefferson Powell. They were cast out, stripped of their ability to make music, and cursed to never be able to find their way back to Needsville. Their crime? A love that crossed the boundary of the two Tufa tribes, resulting in the death of several people.

Somehow, Bo-Kate has found her way back. She intends to take over both tribes, which means eliminating both Rockhouse Hicks and Mandalay Harris. Bo-Kate has a secret weapon: Byron Harley, a rockabilly singer known as the “Hillbilly Hercules” for his immense size and strength, and who has passed the last sixty years trapped in a bubble of faery time. He’s ready to take revenge on any Tufa he finds.

The only one who can stop Bo-Kate is Jefferson Powell. Released from the curse and summoned back to Cloud County, even he isn’t sure what will happen when they finally meet. Will he fall in love with her again? Will he join her in her quest to unite the Tufa under her rule? Or will he have to sacrifice himself to save the people who once banished him?

Alex Bledsoe is also the author of the Eddie LaCrosse novels (The Sword-Edged Blonde, Burn Me Deadly, Dark Jenny and Wake of the Bloody Angel), the novels of the Memphis vampires (Blood Groove and The Girls with Games of Blood), and Sword Sisters: A Red Reaper Novel, written with Tara Cardinal (read a sample chapter here.)

Long Black Curl will be published by Tor Books on May 26, 2015. It is 382 pages, priced at $25.99 in hardcover, and $12.99 for the digital edition. The cover photo is by Elisabeth Ansley.

New Treasures: The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Friday, May 22nd, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Girl With All the Gifts-smallI like knowing the premise of a book before I start reading it. I think that’s fairly normal. But what happens when knowing the premise is a spoiler, and the publisher won’t tell you?

That seems to be the case with the trade paperback reprint of M.R. Carey’s The Girl With All the Gifts, which I found on the New Releases table at Barnes and Noble last Saturday. The front and back cover reveal almost nothing about the book, beyond calling it “The Most Original Thriller You Will Read This Year,” and this cryptic text on the back:

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class.

When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite. But they don’t laugh.

Instead of a plot synopsis, the book is plastered with blurbs… lots and lots of them. Joss Whedon says “So surprising, so warm and yet so chilling… as fresh as it is terrifying.” Vogue calls it “Haunting, heart-breaking,” Marie Claire says it’s “Tense and fast-paced with a heartwarming tenderness,” and Reader’s Guide gushes with “Propulsive, imaginative.”

Wait a minute. Vogue? Marie Claire? Last time I picked up something Marie Claire called “heartwarming,” I ended up reading Eat, Pray, Love. I don’t want that to happen again.

A little investigation (I have sources) reveals that The Girl With All the Gifts is, in fact, a genre novel. It’s (mild spoiler!) some kind of future dystopia. Revealing more than that would be telling, but suffice to say that I’m very intrigued indeed.

This is M.R. Carey’s first novel. The Girl With All the Gifts was published by Orbit Books on April 28. It is 435 pages, priced at $15 in trade paperback.

New Treasures: Jack Cloudie by Stephen Hunt

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Jack Cloudie-smallI think perhaps the most unusual thing about Stephen Hunt is that he claims to have virtually invented steampunk, with the publication of the first novel in his Jackelian series, The Court of the Air, in 2009. Here’s a snippet from his Amazon bio:

Hunt is arguably best known for his best-selling Jackelian series of novels… the success of the first of which, The Court of the Air, gave rise to a genre called steampunk.

The Jackelian world is a fantasy adventure set in a far-future Earth where the passage of time has erased almost all memory of our current world from history. Electricity is now unreliable and classed as a dark power, with many of the nations of the world existing at a Victorian level of development and relying on steam-power, mechanical nanotechnology and biotechnology to survive and prosper.

It is an age of strange creatures, flashing blades, steammen servants, airship battles and high adventure.

That’s a pretty gutsy claim, especially since the term steampunk was coined by K. W. Jeter in a letter to Locus in 1987, and there have been steampunk bestsellers as far back as William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine in 1990 (and the seminal steampunk RPG Space 1889 came out in 1988).

Nonetheless, Hunt has been one of the more popular practitioners of the form. His Jackelian series now totals six novels.

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New Treasures: The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume Nine, edited by Jonathan Strahan

Monday, May 18th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume Nine-smallThe first — and one of the finest — of the Best of the Year collections has arrived: Jonathan Strahan’s The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume Nine. Strahan has crammed 28 stories into his latest anthology. He published the complete table of contents earlier this year, and it looks fantastic. Here’s the description:


The best, most original and brightest science fiction and fantasy stories from around the globe from the past twelve months are brought together in one collection by multiple award winning editor Jonathan Strahan. This highly popular series now reaches volume nine and will include stories from both the biggest names in the field and the most exciting new talents. Previous volumes have included stories from Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Cory Doctorow, Stephen Baxter, Elizabeth Bear, Joe Abercrombie, Paolo Bacigalupi, Holly Black, Garth Nix, Jeffrey Ford, Margo Lanagan, Bruce Sterling, Adam Robets, Ellen Klages, and many many more.

This kicks off the Best-of-the-Year season; there will be over a dozen more released from various publishers between now and October.

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May 2015 Lightspeed Magazine Now on Sale

Saturday, May 16th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Lightspeed May 2015-smallIf you’re an aspiring fantasy writer, there’s even more reason to read Lightspeed this month. It has a short story by C.C. Finlay, the new editor of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Here’s your chance to do a little homework, and learn a little more about what kind of fantasy Charles enjoys.

There’s also a new story in Matthew Hughes’s long-running Kaslo Chronicles, as well as new fiction from Seanan McGuire and Helena Bell, and reprints from Sean Williams, Merrie Haskell, R.C. Loenen-Ruiz, and Annie Bellet.

Lightspeed publishes fantasy and SF, both new fiction and reprints. Here’s the complete fiction contents of the May issue.


Sun’s East, Moon’s West” by Merrie Haskell (from Electric Velocipede #17/18, Spring 2009)
Mouth“ by Helena Bell
“Breaking the Spell” by R.C. Loenen-Ruiz (from Philippine Speculative Fiction IV, 2009)available May 19
“The Blood of a Dragon” by Matthew Hughes available May 26

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New Treasures: Vermilion by Molly Tanzer

Saturday, May 16th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Vermilion by Molly Tanzer-smallWasn’t I just saying that I love weird westerns? (Yes, I was.) And now comes the debut novel of British Fantasy Award nominee Molly Tanzer from Word Horde, featuring a gun-slinging 19-year-old, an undead villain, geung si (wait… what the heck are geung si?), ghosts, and an alternate San Francisco. Life is good.

Publisher Word Horde has been doing some terrific work recently, including The Children of Old Leech, Ross E. Lockhart’s Giallo Fantastique, and the upcoming anthology Cthulhu Fhtagn! Vermilion looks like a terrific edition to their catalog.

Gunslinging, chain smoking, Stetson-wearing Taoist psychopomp, Elouise “Lou” Merriwether might not be a normal 19-year-old, but she’s too busy keeping San Francisco safe from ghosts, shades, and geung si to care much about that. It’s an important job, though most folks consider it downright spooky. Some have even accused Lou of being more comfortable with the dead than the living, and, well… they’re not wrong. When Lou hears that a bunch of Chinatown boys have gone missing somewhere deep in the Colorado Rockies she decides to saddle up and head into the wilderness to investigate. Lou fears her particular talents make her better suited to help placate their spirits than ensure they get home alive, but it’s the right thing to do, and she’s the only one willing to do it. On the road to a mysterious sanatorium known as Fountain of Youth, Lou will encounter bears, desperate men, a very undead villain, and even stranger challenges. Lou will need every one of her talents and a whole lot of luck to make it home alive… From British Fantasy Award nominee Molly Tanzer comes debut novel Vermilion, a spirited weird Western adventure that puts the punk back into steampunk.

Vermilion was published by Word Horde on April 15, 2015. It is 386 pages, priced at $16.99 in trade paperback and $6.99 for the digital version. The splendid cover is by Dalton Rose.

Knights of the Dinner Table #219 Now on Sale

Friday, May 15th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Knights of the Dinner Table 219-small DC Showcase 12 Challengers of the Unknown-small

The latest issue of Knights of the Dinner Table boasts another great Kirby tribute by the fabulous Fraim brothers. The cover is an homage to DC Showcase #12, featuring the Challengers of the Unknown, drawn by the great Jack Kirby and originally published in 1957. (Kirby later claimed he reused elements from this series at Marvel Comics, when he collaborated with Stan Lee to create The Fantastic Four four years later.) Click on the images for bigger versions.

I remember buying the very first issue of KoDT, at a comic convention here in Chicago. I had no idea then that it would become one of the longest-running independent comics in history.

Knights of the Dinner Table Magazine is written and drawn by my friend Jolly R. Blackburn, with editorial assistance by his talented wife Barbara. Readers of the print version of Black Gate may remember the KoDT spin-off The Java Joint, which appeared in the back of every issue (and was eventually collected in a single volume in 2012).

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New Treasures: Hexed: The Sisters of Witchdown by Michael Alan Nelson

Thursday, May 14th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Hexed Michael Alan Nelson-smallI’m not familiar with the the BOOM! comic Hexed, but perhaps I should be. It’s apparently a spin-off from the horror comic Fall of Cthulhu, but you don’t need to be familiar with her appearances there to enjoy her adventures in her own comic. I’m not sure how many issues were published, but enough to be collected into at least two graphic novels, the first published in March 2010, illustrated by Pretty Deadly Artist Emma Rios, and the second by newcomer Dan Mora, to be released this July.

Lucifer the thief, the star of Hexed, seems like a pretty interesting character, and The Sisters of Witchdown marks her first appearance in a prose novel. It’s being marketed as a YA title, but I’m intrigued enough to check it out.

Luci Jenifer Inacio das Neves, Lucifer for short, isn’t your typical teenaged girl. She’s a thief who survives by stealing bad things from bad people in the magical and mystical underworld hidden beneath our own. So when a policeman’s daughter, Gina, is kidnapped by a force he can’t explain, Lucifer is the only one who has a chance at getting his daughter back.

With the unsolicited help of Gina’s friends, including Gina’s boyfriend David, Lucifer’s investigation leads to the unfortunate truth of the kidnapping. Gina was taken to an otherworldly dimension by a creature of unspeakable evil: one of the Seven Sisters of Witchdown. Against all odds, Lucifer must use every magical tool hidden in her trick bag to steal her way into the Shade and bring Gina back before the Sister sacrifices her for her own dark ends. But the closer Lucifer gets to Gina, the closer she gets to David. And David to her. Lucifer must risk her life by confronting demons, witches, and the cruel demigoddess controlling her destiny — all to save the one girl who stands in the way of Lucifer finally finding love.

Michael Alan Nelson’s comic writing includes 28 Days Later, Supergirl, Valen the Outcast, Dominion, Cthulhu Tales, Dead Run, and many others.

Hexed: The Sisters of Witchdown was published by Pyr on May 5, 2015. It is 279 pages, priced at $14.99 in trade paperback and $9.99 for the digital version. The cover is by Larry Rostant.

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