In 500 Words or Less: An Advance Review of The Fall by Tracy Townsend

Friday, October 19th, 2018 | Posted by Brandon Crilly

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The Fall (Thieves of Fate, Book 2)
by Tracy Townsend
Pyr (400 pages, $18 paperback, $9.99 eBook, Jan 15, 2019)

Let’s start with something my friend Matt Moore would call a “hand grenade” on a panel: The Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars movie.

Why? Because it splits up our beloved characters and challenges them with new locales and crises, all while introducing brand new favorites and raising the stakes. I can still remember watching it for the first time as a kid (fine, it was on VHS) and learning back then that one of my main measures for the quality is how many times I gasp out loud at what’s happening. That sort of reaction is tough to achieve with a debut, let alone a sequel, but Lucas and his team pulled it off. And Tracy Townsend has done the same with The Fall, her follow-up to breakout novel The Nine, which I reviewed last year as my Top Book 0f 2017.

And good gods, The Fall is just as amazing. It even reminded me of Empire in a lot of ways, which may or may not have been intentional. Young Rowena Downshire is still very much the star, as she tries to find her footing in the company of Erasmus Pardon and Anselm Meteron, retired campaigners determined to keep her from realizing she’s one of nine subjects being studied by God as part of His Grand Experiment. But each of our valiant heroes gets their moments in the sun, as we learn how far they’re willing to go on the side of right. Much like Empire, The Fall expands various characters like Rowena’s mother Clara, but also adds a bunch of new faces to the mix. There’s even a Palpatine-esque shadow cast by Anselm’s father, Bishop Meteron, though he isn’t quite the Big Bad you’d expect – if he’s a villain at all.

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A Treasure Trove of Classic British Horror: Darkness Mist & Shadow: The Collected Macabre Tales of Basil Copper

Tuesday, October 16th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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I first saw the three volumes of Darkness Mist & Shadow: The Collected Macabre Tales of Basic Copper at Greg Ketter’s booth at Windy City seven years ago. It was a gorgeous set of hardcovers, with magnificent wraparound Stephen Fabian artwork, and it drew my eye immediately.

It was prohibitively expensive, however — nearly $200 for the set, if I remember correctly. Two hundred bucks buys a lot of vintage paperbacks. I put them back on the shelf with a sigh, and headed for the back of the room, where the cheap paperbacks were piled high on countless tables.

Darkness Mist & Shadow was published by Drugstore Indian Press, a division of PS Publishing in the UK, which means it wasn’t widely distributed here in the US. I’ve always been curious about Basil Copper’s fiction… not curious enough to part with $200 on an impulse purchase, but still. Bob Byrne is a fan of his Solar Pons tales (also available from PS Publishing), and Bob has good taste, so that heightened my curiosity.

I’m not always in the mood for classic British horror, but when October rolls around, with its long evenings, hot chocolate, and a cat that insists on climbing into my lap at seven o’clock and staying there, immobile, until midnight, I’m much more receptive. The promise of a virtual library of short stories and novellas — painstakingly gathered from such hard-to-find sources as the Dark Terrors anthology series, the Pan Book of Horror Stories, New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, and long out-of-print Arkham House volumes — gets a lot more appealing. So when PS reissued the books in beautiful trade paperback editions, priced at just £9.99 each ($17 from most US sellers), it was simply too hard to resist. I paid $45 for the complete set, and I’m very happy I did.

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The Claw of the Conciliator by Gene Wolfe

Tuesday, October 16th, 2018 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_164159RYRk8xECHaving set out to discuss The Claw of the Concilator (1981), the second entry in Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun, I’m completely unsure of what to write. Oh, I can tell you what happened, even how some things happened, but I’m not sure I can tell you why a lot of things happened. It’s probably due to a lack of context as two books remain in the series, but I’m not totally sure about that. Much of the story is conveyed via weird encounters, dreams, memories, fables, and even the text of a play. It’s challenging to piece the parts together to form a linear narrative, let alone anticipate the tale’s direction, which remains nearly as mysterious at the conclusion as at the start.

At the end of the previous book, The Shadow of the Torturer, Severian and his companions were caught in a violent outburst among the crowd of people at the great gate exiting the city Nessus. Severian is now accompanied by Jonas, a man with “a jointed contrivance of steel” for a right hand. The others he traveled with, Dr. Talos, Baldanders, Jolenta, and Dorcas, were lost to him in the chaos. While intent on reaching Thrax to take up his assignment as the town’s executioner, Severian and Jonas still hope to find the others. Severian makes his way serving as itinerant headsman and torturer in several towns along the road. It is in the mining town of Saltus (its mine is the buried ruins of an ancient city) that we find Severian and Jonas as Claw opens.

After he carries out a pair of executions, Severian is lured into danger by Agia. Previously she had colluded in setting him up to be killed and robbed, resulting in her own brother’s execution. She had also stolen the powerful artifact, the Claw of the Conciliator, and hidden it on Severian. Having discovered it, he has begun to realize it can emit a powerful light, heal wounds, and even raise the dead. With it, he is able to survive and overcome the trap set for him.

Unfortunately it can’t keep him from falling into the hands of the rebel leader, Vodalus. This encounter leads to Severian and Jonas signing on with the rebels and being sent to the House Absolute, the secret palace of the Autarch. There he must deliver a message to another agent of the uprising. They will also find their friends there who have been hired to put on a play. Along the way things get extra weird.

By book’s end, Severian has still not reached Thrax. He has, though, explored the House Absolute, one of the coolest works of fantastical architecture. It is covered with lawns and gardens to keep it from be spied from the sky. Miles and miles of tunnels lie below it, some, perhaps, even reaching all the way back to Nessus. Even more mysterious than the secret passages and rooms that seem de rigueur for any self-respecting palace, is the Second House. Instead of just adding more hidden chambers, the Autarch’s mysterious aide, Father Inrie, added an entire new house within the very structure of the House Absolute.

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Future Treasures: Restless Lightning by Richard Baker

Sunday, October 14th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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Richard Baker’s new military SF series Breaker of Empires, set in an era of great interstellar colonial powers, began with Valiant Dust last year, and the second installment is scheduled to arrive in trade paperback from Tor next week.

I’m glad to see it. Baker began his career as a game designer at TSR where he co-designed the Birthright campaign setting. His first novel was Forgotten Realms: The Adventures: The Shadow Stone (1997). He wrote nearly a dozen more for TSR over the next decade, but Breaker of Empires is his first non-licensed project. It’s generated plenty of interest — Booklist called the first volume “a great start,” and Michael Stackpole proclaimed it “an excellent example of military SF at its best.”

Richard Baker continues the adventures of Sikander North in Restless Lightning, the second book in his new military science fiction series Breaker of Empires and sequel to Valiant Dust.

Lieutenant Sikander North has avoided an outright court martial and finds himself assigned to a remote outpost in the crumbling, alien Tzoru Empire―where the navy sends trouble-makers to be forgotten. When Sikander finds himself in the middle of an alien uprising, he, once again, must do the impossible: smuggle an alien ambassador off-world, break a siege, and fight the irrational prejudice of his superior officers. The odds are against his success, and his choices could mean disgrace ― or redemption.

We covered Valiant Dust here.

Restless Lightning will be published by Tor Books on October 23, 2018. It is 429 pages, priced at $18.99 in trade paperback and $9.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by Larry Rostant.


New Treasures: The Accidental War by Walter Jon Williams

Friday, October 12th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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I love a good space opera. Especially when it features evil empires, civil war, a valiant Terran navy, and ‘splosions. One of the weighty classics of the genre is Walter Jon Williams’ Praxis Universe, which includes the Dread Empire’s Fall trilogy (The Praxis, The Sundering, and Conventions of War), the Tor.com novella Impersonations (2016), a novella in Robert Silverberg’s Between Worlds, and more.

The Dread Empire’s Fall trilogy is scheduled to be re-released next year in handsome new Author’s Preferred Editions from Harper Voyager, with brand new covers by artist Damon Za. (Which you can see here. For you vintage paperback collectors in the audience, the original editions looks like this.) Just in time to build excitement for those versions, Williams has released a new novel, The Accidental War, the opening volume in a new trilogy in the series. To help whet your appetite, here’s our previous coverage of Walter Jon Williams.

Walter Jon Williams Explains Why UFOs Are Actually Made of Bread, and Other Little Known Facts by Emily Mah
Future Treasures: Quillifer
John DeNardo on SF and Fantasy for October 2016: Impersonations by Walter Jon Williams
Birthday Reviews: Walter Jon Williams’s “The Fate Line” by Steven H Silver

The Accidental War was published by Harper Voyager on September 4. It is 496 pages, priced at $16.99 in trade paperback and $11.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by Damon Za.


A Love Letter to the Paranormal Western: The Shadow by Lila Bowen

Thursday, October 11th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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If you’re a Weird Western fan like me, you know some years are a lot leaner than others. Like pioneers on the prairie, you learn to survive by keeping your eyes sharp for unexpected bounty.

So I have no idea how Lila Bowen’s The Shadow series managed to evade me this long. I stumbled on a remaindered copy of the second book over at Bookoutlet, and quickly tracked down the other two volumes. And I just learned today that the fourth and final book, Treason of Hawks, arrives on Tuesday — perfect timing.

“Lila Bowen” is a pseudonym for Delilah S. Dawson, the New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Phasma and Servants of the Storm. Wake of Vultures, the opening novel in The Shadow, won the RT Fantasy of the Year Award, and in a starred review Publishers Weekly said, “The unforgiving western landscape is home to supernatural beasties as diverse as the human inhabitants… the narrative is a love letter to the paranormal western genre.”

In a featured review last year at Tor.com, Alex Brown offered a tantalizing summary of the story so far. Here’s his take.

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Proud to Be Ashamed: The Destroyer

Thursday, October 11th, 2018 | Posted by Thomas Parker

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There are guilty pleasures, and there are guiltier pleasures, and then there are the pleasures that have you wearing an orange jumpsuit and standing in front of a stone-faced judge with your hands and feet shackled together, wretchedly staring at the floor, unable to look anyone in the eye, so tongue-tied with shame and degradation that all you can do is whisper, “I just can’t help myself, Your Honor… I never meant to hurt anyone, and… I know it’s wrong, and… and, there’s no excuse… but… I just can’t help myself.”

That’s reading The Destroyer.

The Destroyer series was part of the wave of “Men’s Adventure” paperbacks that sprang up like mushrooms during the 70’s and drove decent literature like Jane Eyre and Valley of the Dolls off the shelves and into the outer darkness, there to be pulped and perish. The catalyst for the whole seedy genre was the 1969 publication of War Against the Mafia by Don Pendleton, the first entry in his wildly successful Executioner saga, which featured Vietnam veteran Mack Bolan waging a single-handed war against the Mafia, just like it said in the title.

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Under a Blood-Red Sun: The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

Tuesday, October 9th, 2018 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

Of those values that Master Malrubius (who had been master of apprentices when I was a boy) had tried to teach me, and that Master Palaemon still tried to impart, I accepted only one: loyalty to the guild. In that I was quite correct — it was, as I sensed, perfectly feasible for me to serve Vodalus and remain a torturer. It was in this fashion that I began the long journey by which I have backed into the throne.

oie_91580lF5ljN9QBased solely on Don Maitz’s now classic cover art, I grabbed Gene Wolfe’s The Shadow of the Torturer (1980) from the library shelf as soon as I laid eyes on it. I cracked it open and dropped it almost at once. It was too dense and too alien for my teenaged brain to appreciate. To this day, Gene Wolfe, considered one of the most accomplished scifi/fantasy writers (see “Sci-fi’s Difficult Genius” by Peter Bebergal), remains a serious blind spot for me, even if I do have a large selection of his most important works gathering dust on the shelf.

I did finally revisit Shadow some years ago, but while I liked it and the next book in the sequence, The Claw of the Conciliator, I didn’t go on to read the remaining three volumes, The Sword of the Lictor, The Citadel of the Autarch, and The Urth of the New Sun. Well, it finally seems like the right time to give the series another go.

Urth is a dull, rusted-out world orbiting a fading, red sun. Within the Matachin Tower, in the citadel of the great capital city of Nessus, the Order of the Seekers for Truth and Penitence, or the Torturers, service the clients sent them by the Autarch, absolute ruler of the Commonwealth. Once among their members was a young apprentice named Severian. From some future vantage point Severian has set out to narrate the great story that seems to end with him upon a throne, presumably the Autarch’s.

From William Hope Hodgson to Clark Ashton Smith to Jack Vance, worn-out Earth with fading-ember sun has been explored many times. For Hodgson it was a stage on which to tell a story of romantic heroism, for Smith, to spin tales of decadence and terror, and for Vance, cynically comic tales of adventure. With only the first book read, it’s not clear where Wolfe is going with this series. The myths and legends that are told by various characters throughout The Shadow of the Torturer are filled with angels and demons and premonitions of impending apocalypse. While there are elements similar to those in the works of the illustrious earlier sojourners to Earth’s dying days, Wolfe seems to be aiming for something deeper and more complex than his forebears.

Severian’s Urth is decrepit and weather-beaten. More knowledge seems to have been forgotten than is still remembered and the world staggers along, propped up more by tradition than by any real understanding or philosophy. While we learn man has traveled to the stars, that seems to be long in the past. The tower used by the Torturers, as well as those of several other guilds, are clearly long-immobilized rocket ships. The sand favored by many artists for their creations is atomized glass of long-vanished cities. What appears to Severian as a painting of a warrior in a barren land, to the reader it is obviously Neil Armstrong on the moon.

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New Treasures: Priest of Bones by Peter McLean

Monday, October 8th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Priest of Bones-smallBlack Gate readers took Peter McLean’s debut fantasy trilogy The Burned Man to heart — and we even did an exclusive Cover Reveal for the final volume in 2016. But the public acclaim for his gritty new fantasy novel Priest of Bones is on a whole new level.

Booknest calls it “Absolutely sensational… Low Fantasy at its finest, and I wouldn’t hesitate to call it the Fantasy Debut of the Year.” Publishers Weekly labels it “A delightful combination of medieval fantasy and crime drama,” and Fantasy Book Review says, “I can safely say that this will be the book dark fantasy and grimdark fans will be raving about at the end of this year.” Even Booklist raved, proclaiming it “A pitch-perfect blend of fantasy and organized-crime sagas like Puzo’s The Godfather… Expect word of mouth support from fantasy fans to turn this one into a genre hit.”

Priest of Bones is the opening novel of War for the Rose Throne. The second volume, Priest of Lies, is scheduled to release in July 2019. Here’s the description for Priest of Bones.

The war is over, and army priest Tomas Piety heads home with Sergeant Bloody Anne at his side. But things have changed while he was away: his crime empire has been stolen and the people of Ellinburg — his people — have run out of food and hope and places to hide. Tomas sets out to reclaim what was his with help from Anne, his brother, Jochan, and his new gang: the Pious Men. But when he finds himself dragged into a web of political intrigue once again, everything gets more complicated.

As the Pious Men fight shadowy foreign infiltrators in the back-street taverns, brothels, and gambling dens of Tomas’s old life, it becomes clear:

The war is only just beginning.

Priest of Bones was published by Ace Books on October 2, 2018. It is 352 pages, priced at $16 in trade paperback and $11.99 for the digital editions. The cover was designed by Katie Anderson. Get more details at Peter’s website Talonwraith, and see all our recent New Treasures here.


Talking to Ghosts: Keri Arthur’s Outcast Trilogy

Saturday, October 6th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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I quit reading urban fantasy and paranormal romance sometime around 2008, when you couldn’t browse bookshelves without being blinded by a sea of leather-clad heroines wielding crossbows. I mean, I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel as much as the next person, but man. That show has a lot to answer for.

Now that it’s safe to shop again, I’m kinda curious about those books that survived the mass extinction of urban fantasy. I pull them off the shelves at Barnes & Noble and say, “What are you doing here?” They’re like the rebel pilots that survived the attack on the Death Star. They can hold reunions in a phone booth.

Like any publishing boom-and-bust cycle, it’s only the best that endures. So I was naturally intrigued to find Keri Arthur’s City of Light at B&N earlier this year. Arthur is the author of the Souls of Fire, Dark Angels, and the New York Times bestselling Riley Jenson, Guardian series. She’s written more than forty books, and won Romantic Times‘ Career Achievement Award for urban fantasy. City of Light is the opening novel in the Outcast trilogy, a post apocalyptic tale set a century after a devastating war tears a hole in reality, and the last remnants of humanity cling to life in brightly-lit cities that shield them from terrifying spectres. It’s a promising blend of SF and paranormal horror (even if it does have a crossbow on the cover), and has sort of a Resident Evil vibe, with a superhumanly powerful heroine who faces off against both undead nasties and an evil pharmaceutical company whose experiments on adults and children bring unexpected horrors.

City of Light won plenty of acclaim, with Library Journal praising it for “An intriguing world and a marvelous heroine who speaks to ghosts,” and The Speculative Herald calling it “Exciting and well written… a remarkable mix of intrigue and action.” The first two books in the series were published in paperback by Signet, but it didn’t do well enough for them to pick up the third volume, so Arthur self published it in the US in December of last year.

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