Future Treasures: Oathkeeper by J.F. Lewis

Sunday, May 24th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Oathkeeper-smallOathkeeper, the second novel in J.F. Lewis’s Grudgebearer Trilogy, will be published in early June by Pyr. It’s an intriguing series that features carnivorous elves, sentient armor, plant people, a newly ascended god, and much more. As Dave Gross puts it, “J.F. Lewis dials high fantasy up to 11.”

Rae’en has taken the place of her father, Kholster, as First of the practically immortal Aern, a race created by the Eldrennai as warrior-slaves to defend them from the reptilian Zaur. Freed from all Oaths by Kholster’s death, Rae’en decides to wage war on the Eldrennai.

Prince Rivvek must claim the Eldrennai throne by completing the Test of Four so he can save as much of his kingdom as possible. Meanwhile, his brother, Prince Dolvek, hatches a plot to enlist the aid of the plant-like Vael to defeat the Zaur horde, who mean to take advantage of the strife between the Aern and Eldrennai.

The inevitable war between the Eldrennai and the Zaur begins, with the Aern an unpredictable force that could save the Eldrennai – or doom them. Torn by rage and grief, Rae’en must decide who is worthy to keep her people’s Oaths.

J.F. Lewis is also the author of the Void City series of urban fantasy novels from Pocket Books, composed of Staked, Revamped, Crossed, and Burned, about a vampire who runs a strip club.

Oathkeeper will be published by Pyr Books on June 9, 2015. It is 381 pages, priced at $18 in trade paperback and $11.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by Todd Lockwood. Learn more at J.F. Lewis’ website.


Explore the Best of Early SF With Science Fiction From the Great Years

Saturday, May 23rd, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Armageddon 2419 AD-small The Mightiest Machine-small The Moon Is Hell-small Alien Planet-small

In the early 1950s, after the end of World War II and the beginning of the Space Race, science fiction experienced an almost unprecedented boom. Some 31 new SF magazines began publishing in that decade alone. Hungry to meet the demands of a new audience, publishers mined the pulps of the 1930s and 1940s for titles they could inexpensively reprint in paperback. Countless SF and fantasy writers enjoyed their very first mass market editions as a result — including Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, John W. Campbell, Lester del Rey, Jack Vance, Theodore Sturgeon, A.E. van Vogt, and many others. Avon, Ace, Berkely and others built their fledgling enterprises into mighty publishing houses repackaging classic SF and fantasy for a new generation.

By the early 1960s, the boom in SF was essentially over. Nearly 80% of the magazines on the market folded. Publishers drastically cut back on SF titles, and the entire industry re-trenched. By the early 1970s, a new generation of young SF readers was starting to show up in bookstores, clutching their dollar bills and looking for great adventure tales, and Frederick Pohl convinced his publishers at Ace that the time was ripe to repackage the great SF of the early 20th Century one more time.

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The Omnibus Volumes of P.N. Elrod: The Vampire Files

Saturday, May 23rd, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Vampire Files Volume One The Vampire Files Volume Two-small The Vampire Files Volume Three

To tell you the truth, I wasn’t initially interested in P.N. Elrod’s The Vampire Files. A few things happened to change that.

First, I started to hear about Jack Fleming, the investigative journalist in Prohibition-era Chicago who becomes a vampire and private investigator, and whose first case was to solve his own murder. Folks used adjectives like “surprising” and “old fashioned fun” to describe his adventures. That sounded pretty good. By then, the series had gotten pretty far along, and I wondered idly if I should pick one up. But it seemed a little late to jump on board, and I was never really sure what volume to start with. Plus some of the earlier books became harder to find, and it all seemed like just a bit too much effort.

Then Ace Books released the first omnibus volume in 2003, containing the first three Vampire Files novels. And, well, you know what a sucker I am for omnibus collections. All those hard-to-find paperbacks, in one handsome and economical package? It’s too much to resist.

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Future Treasures: Knight’s Shadow by Sebastien de Castell

Thursday, May 21st, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Knight's Shadow-smallThe highly-anticipated second book in Sebastien de Castell’s The Greatcoats series is due next month, and I’m really looking forward to it. Sarah Avery’s rave review of the first volume, Traitor’s Blade, should help you understand why.

Not only did I love this book, I trusted it. Somehow, de Castell managed in his debut novel to win my trust so completely and quickly that he could tell nearly half of his story in flashback, often for a chapter at a stretch, and never once did he throw me out of the waking dream of fiction to wonder whether he could pull it off…

As the story opens, our three Greatcoat heroes need to get out of town fast, so they take a job guarding a mysterious lady’s caravan, hoping her freedom to travel will protect them. And it does, sort of, until she leads them to Rijou, the most lawless, most ruthless, most corrupt city in all of Tristia.

It’s not difficult to imagine Traitor’s Blade as a western about circuit-riding judges in the boomtown days of Deadwood. There is something of the noir detective tale, too, about the bloody case Falcio vows to solve in Rijou. The flashbacks to the fall of King Paelis are intimately tragic, genuinely moving, and crucial to solving the puzzle that forms the novel’s overarching plot.

Knight’s Shadow will be published on June 2 by Quercus and Jo Fletcher Books. It is 580 pages, priced at $26.99 in hardcover, and $12.99 for the digital edition.


The Omnibus Volumes of Jack Vance, Part III: The Demon Princes

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

The Demon Princes Volume 1-small The Demon Princes Volume 2-small

The first novel in Jack Vance’s Demon Princes saga, The Star King, was published as a two-part serial in Galaxy Magazine, in December 1963 and February 1964.

It took Vance eighteen years to complete the series — the fifth and final novel, The Book of Dreams, appeared in 1981 — and during that time he wrote all four novels in of Planet of Adventure, the Durdane trilogy, one novel in The Dying Earth, three books in his Alastor Cluster series, and at least four standalone novels. This is not a man who liked to focus on one thing at a time.

The Demon Princes is essentially a revenge fantasy. The central character is Kirth Gersen, whose entire village was enslaved while he was a child by five notorious criminals, collectively known as the Demon Princes. Each novel deals with an elaborate revenge scheme masterminded by Gersen on one of the five Princes, each of whom has achieved significant power — and embodies at least one major vice.

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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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Future Treasures: The Liar’s Key by Mark Lawrence

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Liar's Key-smallPrince of Fools,, the first volume in Mark Lawrence’s new fantasy series The Red Queen’s War, was released in June 2013. It is set in the same world as his previous trilogy The Broken Empire (Prince of Thorns, King of Thorns, and the 2014 David Gemmell Legend Award winner Emperor of Thorns).

The Liar’s Key, the second book in the series, will be published this June, and it continues the story of the unusual fellowship between a rogue prince and a weary warrior.

After harrowing adventure and near-death, Prince Jalan Kendeth and the Viking Snorri ver Snagason find themselves in possession of Loki’s Key, an artefact capable of opening any door, and sought by the most dangerous beings in the Broken Empire — including The Dead King.

Jal wants only to return home to his wine, women, and song, but Snorri has his own purpose for the key: to find the very door into death, throw it wide, and bring his family back into the land of the living.

And as Snorri prepares for his quest to find death’s door, Jal’s grandmother, the Red Queen continues to manipulate kings and pawns towards an endgame of her own design…

We published the first chapter of Prince of Thorns, with a brand new introduction by Mark, here, and Howard Andrew Jones’s interview with him is here. Mark’s long article on writing and selling The Prince of Thorns is here.

The Liar’s Key will be published by Ace Books on June 2, 2015. It is 496 pages, priced at $26.95 in hardcover and $12.99 for the digital edition.


Vintage Treasures: The Arabesk Trilogy by Jon Courtenay Grimwood

Sunday, May 17th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Pashazade-small Effendi-small Felaheen-small

Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s Vampire Assassin Trilogy (The Fallen Blade, The Outcast Blade, and The Exiled Blade) has earned him an enviable rep as a fantasy author. But I first became acquainted with him over a decade ago with The Arabesk Trilogy, a trio of acclaimed novels that had the unusual distinction of being nominated for both the British Science Fiction and British Fantasy Awards.

The Arabesk Trilogy isn’t easy to describe. It’s sort of an alternate history fantasy cyberpunk hard-boiled detective series, if that makes sense. The point of divergence with our reality is 1915, with Woodrow Wilson brokering a peace accord that prevents World War I from expanding outside the Balkans. All three books are set in Alexandria, in Islamic Ottoman North Africa (called El Iskandriyah in the novels), in the 21st century. The main characters are Raf, a genetically enhanced ex-street criminal now posing as a rich Ottoman aristocrat, and the hallucinatory fox Tiriganiaq, who frequently accompanies him.

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Fantasy Literature: Blade of Tyshalle

Saturday, May 16th, 2015 | Posted by Edward Carmien

Blade of Tyshalle, sequel to Heroes DieMatthew Stover’s sequel to Heroes Die (which we discussed last week) begins not in media res but in deep prologue, establishing a new perspective character who meets and becomes friend to a 19-year old Hari Michaelson. Hari, sponsored by the “gangster” businessman Marc Vilo into the Studio Conservatory, the institution that trains actors to “risk their lives in interesting ways” on Overworld, nearly flunks out of battlemage school.

Vilo won’t have that; the Conservatory administrator forces a top student to mentor Hari, and after some kilometers of narrative the top student and Hari both get what they want. Several stock school bully characters end up in the hospital — but that’s an occupational hazard of getting in Hari Michaelson’s way.

Hari has it all, but of course he’s miserable, some seven years after victory over his foes in Heroes Die. Former Studio boss Kollberg works as a temp laborer; Ma’elkoth (“Limitless”) is now Tan’elkoth (“I was Limitless”) and works for the Studio. He calls Hari “Caine” and Hari himself runs the San Francisco Studio — badly, as one might expect of a man with limited executive experience.

Two significant sections in to Blade of Tyshalle and as Kollberg once complained after sending Caine to Overworld, nobody has even been killed yet.

Better, perhaps, to skip to the arresting scene in which a frazzled, semi-disabled Studio boss Hari Michaelson views a feed from one of his actors, Rossi. Rossi, part of a soap-opera like entertainment project, works as a sort of private investigator on Overworld. He’s been captured and knocked out.

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Vintage Treasures: Heroic Visions, edited by Jessica Amanda Salmonson

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

Heroic Visions-small Heroic Visions II-small

We’ve covered so many classic paperbacks here at Black Gate, in so many sub-genres, that I sometimes forget that our original focus was Heroic Fantasy. We’ve kept true to that promise (more or less) here on the website, although as a matter of course we’ve broadened our focus as the years have gone by.

But it’s good to be reminded from time to time that it was heroic fantasy that lured many of us into this field. This week’s reminder came in the form of a slender 1983 Ace paperback I found titled Heroic Visions. It collects sword & sorcery tales by Jane Yolen, Alan Dean Foster, F.M. Busby, Robert Silverberg, Michael Bishop, Joanna Russ, Phyllis Ann Karr — and a brand new Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser novella by Fritz Leiber. It was followed by a sequel, Heroic Visions II, with new stories from Thomas Ligotti, Manly Wade Wellman, Keith Roberts, Ellen Kushner, Michael Bishop, Avram Davidson, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, and many others. Both are fine collections featuring some of the top fantasy writers of the 80s.

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