In Hell — We Reap What You Sow: Hell Hounds by Andrew P. Weston

Tuesday, April 17th, 2018 | Posted by Joe Bonadonna

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Hell Hounds by Andrew P. Weston
Perseid Press (508 pages, $23.85 in hardcover/$8.90 in digital formats, October 25, 2017)
Cover art and cover design by Roy Mauritsen

I inhaled deeply, my phantom nostrils flaring in pleasure as a pungent blend of brimstone and exhaust fumes filled my nonexistent lungs. Home — the perfect place for me, Daemon Grim, the Reaper, Satan’s personal enforcer. This was my kind of place, and I loved it here. But I suppose that was understandable, as I was top of the food chain.

According to Wikipedia, “Bangsian fantasy is a fantasy genre which concerns the use of famous literary or historical individuals and their interactions in the afterlife. It is named for John Kendrick Bangs who often wrote it.” And that is what the Heroes in Hell series is all about.  Now, while the identity of Andrew Weston’s character, Daemon Grim, remains a mystery, that’s all part of the fun: who was Grim in life? What famous or infamous person from earth’s history was he, and how did he become Satan’s personal enforcer?

Hell is, as Weston states in his dedication, “the best playground — ever!” And that’s true indeed, for writers, and for us readers. This is Weston’s second novel in Janet Morris’ Heroes in Hell Universe, following closely on the heels of his Hell Bound, published in 2015, which I also reviewed for Black Gate. This second novel from this best-selling author is a real mind-blowing trip through the dark, dangerous and various levels of the infernal Afterlife.

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Sorcery and Science: The Broken Lands by Fred Saberhagen

Tuesday, April 17th, 2018 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

The Broken Lands Saberhagan-smallI wonder if Fred Saberhagen suspected that his short 1968 novel, The Broken Lands, was laying the groundwork for a series that would ultimately run 15 volumes. The initial three books, The Broken Lands, The Black Mountains (1971), and Changeling Earth (1973) — collected together as The Empire of the East — take place in America a long time after some yet-undefined catastrophe. While bits and pieces of technology — one giant piece in particular — survive, there is also magic. Wizards, familiars, demons, elementals, even love charms, they’re all there in a very unfamiliar landscape.

The setup for The Broken Lands is one only the slackest of readers haven’t encountered a hundred times or more: young boy faces off against evil empire, discovering and drawing on heretofore unknown skills and abilities. Along the way he encounters unrequited love, a wise mentor, and a villain with honor (and more style than everyone else). The primary narrative concerns the search for a secret thing with which to fight the empire. Did I mention the empire was evil?

I like this book way more than I should. Stock as the characters are, routine as the setup feels, at some point we start getting hints that something bigger and better is going on. In fact, that it feels like what’s coming next is going to be familiar, and then it isn’t, is a big part of the book’s success for me. In the meantime Saberhagen’s writing is clean and the story’s pacing is brisk. There’s little poetry in The Broken Lands, but there is an economy that keeps the undertakings lively and enjoyable.

Only recently has the much-feared Empire of the East expanded its grasping hands into the West. The people of the region, mostly farmers, have been easily conquered and cowed into submission. In addition to bronze-helmeted soldiers, the forces under the local Satrap, Ekuman, include intelligent flying reptiles and a pair of wizards. It is with his wizards the Satrap is conferring as the book begins.

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Future Treasures: Dragon Road, Book II of Drifting Lands by Joseph Brassey

Sunday, April 15th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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Last August John DeNardo tipped me off to an exciting new series from Joseph Brassey. Editor Michael R. Underwood had this to say about Skyfarer, the first volume of The Drifting Lands and the first book he’d acquired & edited for Angry Robot Books.

I am of course very biased, but this book is *amazingly* fun, and fans of Star Wars, Firefly, and Final Fantasy will be very likely to have a great time with the book. It’s got heroic sorcerers, badass evil knights, skyships, A+ sword fights (the author is a HEMA instructor), a family-of-choice airship crew, and all the fantasy adventure you could want in a compact package.

Right on schedule comes the second book in the series, Dragon Road, arriving in paperback on May 1st.

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Military SF, Mystery, and Thriller all in one Package: The Central Corps Trilogy by Elizabeth Bonesteel

Tuesday, April 10th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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Elizabeth Bonesteel’s Central Corps trilogy began with The Cold Between in 2016, which SFF World called a “taut, space-based science fiction mystery.” John DeNardo selected the sequel, Remnants of Trust, as one of the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Reads of November 2016, calling it “an engaging blend of military science fiction, mystery, and thriller.” The third installment, Breach of Containment, arrived last October. Man, I hope it’s not too late to jump on board. Here’s the description.

Space is full of the unknown… most of it ready to kill you.

When hostilities between factions threaten to explode into a shooting war on the moon of Yakutsk, the two major galactic military powers, Central Corps and PSI, send ships to defuse the situation. But when a strange artifact is discovered, events are set in motion that threaten the entire colonized galaxy — including former Central Corps Commander Elena Shaw.

Now an engineer on a commercial shipping vessel, Elena finds herself drawn into the conflict when she picks up the artifact on Yakutsk — and investigation of it uncovers ties to the massive, corrupt corporation Ellis Systems, whom she’s opposed before. Her safety is further compromised by her former ties to Central Corps — Elena can’t separate herself from her past life and her old ship, the CCSS Galileo.

Before Elena can pursue the artifact’s purpose further, disaster strikes: all communication with the First Sector — including Earth — is lost. The reason becomes apparent when news reaches Elena of a battle fleet, intent on destruction, rapidly approaching Earth. And with communications at sublight levels, there is no way to warn the planet in time.

Armed with crucial intel from a shadowy source and the strange artifact, Elena may be the only one who can stop the fleet, and Ellis, and save Earth. But for this mission there will be no second chances — and no return.

Breach of Containment was published by Harper Voyager on October 17, 2017. It is 576 pages, priced at $16.99 in trade paperback and $11.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by Chris McGrath. Get excerpts from all three novels at Bonesteel’s website.

Vintage Treasures: The Masters of Solitude by Marvin Kaye and Parke Godwin

Monday, April 9th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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Marvin Kaye and Parke Godwin made a powerful combination in 1978. Kaye already had a growing reputation as an anthologist, with Fiends and Creatures (Popular Library, 1974) and Brother Theodore’s Chamber of Horrors (Pinnacle, 1974) under his belt; he would produce dozens more over the next 30 years, including Ghosts – A Treasury of Chilling Tales Old and New (Doubleday, 1981), Weird Tales, The Magazine That Never Dies (Doubleday, 1988), and The Fair Folk (Science Fiction Book Club, 2005). Parke Godwin was already an established novelist, with Darker Places (1973) and A Memory of Lions (1976); he would go on to win a World Fantasy Award for his 1981 novella “The Fire When It Comes,” and gained lasting recognition for his Firelord trilogy (the opening novel of which was also a World Fantasy Award nominee) and his Robin Hood novels Sherwood (1991) and Robin and the King (1993).

Their collaborative novel The Masters of Solitude was serialized in Galileo magazine in 1977/78, and published in hardcover by Doubleday in 1978. A postapocalyptic tale of two disparate cultures that are all that remains of humanity after a “great devastation,” it drew comparisons to Tolkien. It has been out of print since the 1985 Bantam paperback (above), but has a surprising 166 ratings on Goodreads, and some lively reviews.

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Constant Killing, Machiavellian Schemes, and Political Intrigue: Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman

Sunday, April 8th, 2018 | Posted by Elizabeth Galewski

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Neal Shusterman’s dystopia Thunderhead has rocked the New York Times bestseller list for YA Hardcover for the past two months as of this writing. The sequel to Scythe, a Printz Honor book, it’s just as dark, intense, and daring as the original.

The world of Scythe and Thunderhead is perfect. An incomprehensibly complex, sentient, and nearly all-knowing AI named the Thunderhead runs everything without the slightest hitch. No one needs to work unless they want to, and humans are immortal. If you grow older than you’d like, you can “turn the corner” and become whatever age you choose. If you fall from a high place and splat, a revival center will bring you back. Don’t worry about poison. Don’t worry about car crashes. As long as your flesh isn’t consumed, you’ve only been rendered deadish. Give it a day or two, and you’ll be back among the living.

Unless, of course, a Scythe chooses to glean you.

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Rebels in a Society of Masks: The Masks Of Aygrima Trilogy by E.C. Blake

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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E.C. Blake is a pseudonym for Canadian writer Edward Willett, author of The Helix War novels, The Cityborn, and Magebane (written as Lee Arthur Chane), all from DAW Books. His debut novel as “E.C. Blake” was Masks, a 2013 hardcover; he followed it with two more in rapid succession to complete the trilogy. All three were published by DAW; the covers were by Paul Young.

Masks (396 pages, $8.99 in paperback and digital, November 5, 2013)
Shadows (331 pages, $7.99 in paperback and digital, August 5 2014)
Faces (358 pages, $7.99 in paperback and digital, July 7, 2015)

Masks won some immediate attention. Publishers Weekly called it “A delight,” and RT Book Reviews said it was “Simply impossible to put down.” Here’s occasional Black Gate blogger Julie E. Czerneda.

Brilliant worldbuilding combined with can’t-put-down storytelling, Masks reveals its dark truths through the eyes of a girl who must learn to wield unthinkable power or watch her people succumb to evil. Bring on the next in this highly original series!

All three novels are still in print. I picked up a paperback copy of Masks a few weeks ago at Barnes & Noble; it was the back-cover text that caught my attention. Here it is.

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Witch World by Andre Norton

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2018 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

Witch World 1963-smallThis isn’t merely an excercise in cross-promotion (it is that, just not only that), but also a chance to redress a failing in my reviews of Andre Norton’s Witch World books. Neither here at Black Gate nor back at my own site, Stuff I Like, have I ever actually written about the first book in the series, Witch World. Now that I’m a “special guest” on the just released episode of the Appendix N Book Club podcast about the book, I believe I have a responsibility to write it up, too.

I’ve written a fair amount about Andre Norton’s classic Witch World series over the past six years. So far, I’ve read five of the Estcarp books, two of the High Hallack books, and two collections of short stories. While several of the books are less than stellar, overall the series is terrific.

Sadly, instead of being one of the salient series from sword & sorcery of the 1960s and 70s, it’s a half-forgotten afterthought. While I want to say that that’s a savage indictment of the nature of contemporary readers, really it’s the lamentable reality of the fate of the vast sum of popular fiction, no matter how objectively good it is or how much we love it. All a fan can do is put it out there that these are good books, still worth reading, and hope for the best.

Born in 1912, Alice Mary Norton worked as a teacher, a librarian, and finally a reader for Gnome Press before becoming a full-time writer in 1958. By then she’d already had a dozen books published, including such classics as Star Man’s Son, 2250 A.D. and Star Rangers. Based on their easy style and simpler characterizations, most of her early books would probably be classified as YA today. It was with 1963’s Witch World that Norton first wrote a full-fledged sword & sorcery book, steeped in pulp gloriousness.

The opening of Witch World is straight out of a Third Man-style film noir. Some years after the close of WWII, Simon Tregarth is a disgraced ex-US Army Lieutenant Colonel and desperate black marketeer on the run from his own associates. He’s just killed two of them, but the worst and most dangerous is still hunting for him.

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Scavengers in a Crowded Galaxy: Union Earth Privateers by Scott Warren

Thursday, March 29th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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Last month I wrote a brief article about Flotsam by RJ Theodore, an intriguing steampunk/first contact novel. It was the first book I’d ever seen from Parvus Press and, as I commented at the time, it seemed like I should be paying them more attention.

That paid off this month after I ordered a copy of their very first book, Vick’s Vultures by Scott Warren. It was released in trade paperback in 2016, and has been gradually winning an audience. It has an intriguing premise: mankind is one of many space-faring species in a crowded galaxy, and has used captured alien technology to establish a tentative foothold on a handful of colony worlds. Here’s H. Paul Honsinger, author of the Man of War series.

I was on board with Captain Victoria Marin and her multinational, multi-ethnic, multi personality type, mismatched crew from the first moment. Scott Warren gives us an uncommon premise, humans as technological inferiors to most of the galaxy, and follows the plausible consequences of that premise: from our race’s particularly human adaptation to that situation – becoming pirates and scavengers of technology while flying under the radar of the major civilizations – to the cultural and character traits that come to the surface in that event. It all comes together with a richly-imagined universe, three-dimensional characters, and a fast-moving plot… [a] swashbucklingly exciting tale from a talented emerging author.

The next volume in what’s now being called the Union Earth Privateers series, To Fall Among Vultures, arrived in August. Here’s a look at the back covers for both books.

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Future Treasures: Fire Dance by Ilana C. Myer

Wednesday, March 28th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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Ilana C. Myer’s debut fantasy novel Last Song Before Night made a pretty big impression; David Mack said “It’s one of the most impressive debut novels I’ve ever read; I am in awe,” and Jason Heller at NPR called it “A beautifully orchestrated fantasy debut… an intoxicating mix of the familiar and the fresh.” See our earlier coverage here and here.

Her follow-up is a standalone novel set in the same world as Last Song Before Night. It arrives in hardcover next month from Tor. The Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog has a fine appreciation; here’s a snippet.

Nearly two years ago, Tor Books released Last Song Before Night, a lyrical epic fantasy set in a world where magic is created through the melding of music and poetry. A striking conceit to say the least, and Ilana C. Myer’s debut gave us much more than that: memorable characters, beautiful prose, and a complex plot, full of politics and history worthy of comparisons to Guy Gavriel Kay.

Myer returns to that world with Fire Dance, a standalone sequel inspired by Al Andalus and medieval Baghdad.

Get more complete details here.

Fire Dance will be published by Tor Books on April 10, 2018. It is 368 pages, priced at $27.99 in hardcover and $12.99 for the digital edition. Get all the latest at Myer’s website.

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