A Grim Take on the Holy Grail: Upon the Flight of the Queen by Howard Andrew Jones

Tuesday, November 12th, 2019 | Posted by SELindberg

flight-of-the-queen-larger-BG When comes my numbered day, I will meet it smiling. For I’ll have kept this oath.

I shall use my arms to shield the weak.

I shall use my lips to speak the truth, and my eyes to seek it.

I shall use my hands to mete justice to high and low, and I will weigh all things with heart and mind.

Where I walk the laws will follow, for I am the sword of my people and the shepherd of their lands.

When I fall, I will rise through my brothers and sisters, for I am eternal.

Pledge of the Altenerai

The Ring-Sworn Trilogy

Howard Andrew Jones’s For the Killing of Kings jumpstarted the epic fantasy Ring Sworn trilogy this February 2019, and the sequel Upon the Flight of the Queen hits shelves next week (November 19th). MacMillan’s St. Martin’s Press pitches the series as “The Three Musketeers presented via the style of Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber.” The pacing is reminiscent of Zelazny since Howard Andrew Jones (HAJ) doles out action and backstory with precision. Yet there are many more than three heroes, and the milieu has more medieval flare than musketry, so it is more “King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table” than Musketeers.

For the Killing of Kings is actually a grim take on the consequences of seeking, and finding, a figurative Holy Grail (hearthstones). The Altenerai guard had been spread out over the Five Realms searching for many hearthstones that fuel magic — the enigmatic Queen Leonara deems them holy. Twice I was completely floored by plot twists, and the last third kept me from going to sleep. I haven’t had that much fun reading a book in a long time. Black Gate’s Fletcher Vredenburgh’s review should likewise entice new readers.

#2 Upon the Flight of the Queen

Summarizing a sequel can be tough without spoiling its predecessor, but the following overview will try as it showcases why you should commit to Ring-Sworn. Upon the Flight of the Queen starts off exactly where For the Killing of Kings ends. The adventure begins in high-gear with Alten Rylin assuming his action-thriller role (~James Bond) penetrating the Naor camp disguised in magic, dragging the reader into mayhem.

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Ancient Gods and Trees That House an Entire City: The Titan’s Forest Trilogy by Thoraiya Dyer

Sunday, November 10th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Crossroads-of-Canopy-small Echoes-of-Understorey-by-Thoraiya-Dyer-small Tides of the Titans-small

Cover art by Marc Simonetti

In her 2017 guest post at Tor.com ,”Walk Beneath the Canopy of These 8 Fictional Forests,” Thoraiya Dyer wrote:

Give me your Fangorns and your Lothloriens, your Green Hearts and your Elvandars. Evoke your Haunted Forest Beyond the Wall complete with creepy weirwoods, your Steddings and your Avendesoras. Send me pleasant dreams about Totoro’s Japanese Camphor and the Forest Spirit’s kodama-filled canopy. Or, y’know, tree cities full of Wookiees instead of elves. I will take them all!

Forests in speculative fiction novels have a special place in my heart. Especially tree-cities.

Now there’s a woman who talks my language. Tree cities! Haunted forests! Creepy weirwoods! Kodama-filled canopies!(Uh, what?) Whatever, just tell me Dyer has a more than casual interest in tree cities. Like a book trilogy or something?

Yeah, it’s a rhetorical question. I write a book blog; everybody I talk about has a book trilogy. Dyer’s is titled Titan’s Forest, in which trees loom large as skyscrapers, mortals can be reborn as gods, and a young man sets out on an epic woodland journey to unlock the great Forest’s hidden secrets. It opened with Crossroads of Canopy (Tor Books, 2017), her debut novel; Echoes of Understorey was published last year, and the third book Tides of the Titans arrived earlier this year.

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Future Treasures: Upon the Flight of the Queen by Howard Andrew Jones

Wednesday, November 6th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

For the Killing of Kings-small Upon the Flight of the Queen-small

In his Black Gate review of For the Killing of Kings, the opening novel in Howard Andrew Jones’ new epic fantasy Ring-Sworn Trilogy, Fletcher Vredenburgh wrote:

For the Killing of Kings is proof that great, modern heroic fantasy is being written. Like Doc Smith’s Lensmen or DC Comics’ Green Lantern Corps, the Altenerai are an elite band of warriors endued with magical talents and dedicated to protecting the land and ensuring justice… Heroes are a too often forgotten commodity in fantasy these days, but not here.

I think Fletcher nailed what I loved so much about this book: it’s packed with heroes you can root for. More than that, it pits those heroes against truly overwhelming odds. The courageous men and women of the Altenerai aren’t just up against a nearly-unbeatable army of their ancient enemy; they also face betrayal from within, mysterious and sinister magic, and a conspiracy whose roots run to the very highest levels of government. To win, they’ll have to emulate the Altenerai legends of old: use bravery, guile, and magic of their own, and — especially — rely on each other. For the Killing of Kings is filled with powerful moments in which untested men and women faced breathtaking odds, and somehow find the strength to become genuine heroes.

But I think the best thing about Howard’s new Ring-Sword Trilogy may be that we don’t have to wait long for the sequel. For the Killing of Kings was released in hardcover by St. Martin’s Press earlier this year; the sequel, Upon the Flight of the Queen, will be in stores in less than two weeks. It’s already getting rave reviews — Publishers Weekly calls it “a heart-racing, action-packed thrill.” Here’s the back covers for both books, and a snippet from the PW review.

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I Admit, I’m Intrigued

Tuesday, November 5th, 2019 | Posted by S.M. Carrière

The Witcher USA

Good morning, Readers!

So, the main trailer and release date for Netflix’s new nerd acquisition, The Witcher, dropped a fortnight or so ago. Knowing that I streamed the lengthy final game (and its DLCs) in the trilogy not all that long ago and had a good time with it, a number of my friends directed me towards the trailer when it dropped. I may have also had and voiced opinions about the news that Netflix acquired the rites to The Witcher, and then had more opinions when Henry Cavill was announced in the titular role.

A few things to note about me and my opinions. They’re horribly ill-informed. My experience with The Witcher is the third game (The Wild Hunt). That’s it. If you’re curious about how I felt about the game, you can check out my review on Chalgyrs here. I’ve not read the books on which the game was based, though I do plan to (should I make it a thing to do, and then share my thoughts here, do you think?). I don’t have as strong an emotional attachment to the world, the characters or the story as I might have had I read (presuming I enjoyed them) the books, or even had followed the games from the first.

But about the Netflix series….

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When the Berlin Wall Falls: The Cold War Magic Novels by W.L. Goodwater

Friday, November 1st, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Breach-W-L-Goodwater-medium Revolution Goodwaters-small

I bought W.L. Goodwater’s debut Breach earlier this year, about five minutes after picking it up in the bookstore. The back cover blurb did it for me. I’m a sucker for an original premise, and a Cold War apocalypse fantasy hit all the right buttons. Here’s an excerpt from the review at BookPage.

In the waning hours of World War II, Soviet magicians conjured a wall of pure magic, dividing Berlin in two and protecting their hold on East Germany. While the world was aghast, there was little the West could do. The wall was impenetrable except at specific, predetermined crossing points like Checkpoint Charlie. Until now. The wall is failing, and to avoid World War III, the US needs to find out why — and try to reverse the process. The CIA calls on Karen, a young researcher from the American Office of Magical Research and Deployment. As she searches for a way to repair the wall, Karen quickly realizes that the truth is never straightforward in Berlin, especially when it comes to the story behind the Wall itself….

Goodwater’s debut novel is tightly wound in the way that only good suspense stories can be. At any moment it seems that the fragile peace built between the West and East could fall apart with disastrous consequences, which is a testament to Breach’s overall success with dramatic timing… Breach combines the magical world building of The City & the City with the suspense of Cold War thrillers like Bridge of Spies, resulting in a cinematic suspense story that will keep readers on the edge of their seats until the very last page.

The second book in the series, Revolution, arrives in two weeks, and I’m very much looking forward to it. In this installment, set some years after Breach, American magician Karen O’Neil travels to Cuba to find a missing girl intertwined with a new kind of magic that threatens to upend the global balance of power. Here’s the description.

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Vintage Treasures: Cats Have No Lord and The Tangled Lands by Will Shetterly

Thursday, October 31st, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Cats Have No Lord-small The Tangled Lands-small

Covers by Janny Wurts and E. T. Steadman

Will Shetterly has a fine back-catalog of fantasy novels, most from the 80s and 90s. They include Witch Blood (1986), Elsewhere (1991), and his most famous book, Dogland (1997). With his wife Emma Bull he created and edited the popular Liavek shared universe anthologies.

He began his career as a novelist with the wonderfully-titled Cats Have No Lord, released back in April 1985. It came in sixth in the annual Locus Poll for Best First Novel (losing out to Tad Williams, Guy Gavriel Kay, Michael Swanwick, and Carl Sagan, but ahead of Geoff Ryman, Judith Tarr, Sheila Finch, and Dan Simmons — no shame placing 6th in a year like that!) Four years later he published a prequel, The Tangled Lands. In a 2012 post on his blog, Shetterly looked back fondly at Cats Have No Lord, while openly acknowledging its flaws.

Cats Have No Lord is my first novel. I had tried to write several more ambitious — meaning, more pretentious — books and gave up on them because they were awful, so I finally decided to learn how to write by writing something with everything I’d loved as a kid. If I missed any fantasy cliches of the ’70s, I don’t know what they were: this book has a spunky female thief, a mysterious swordsman, a magician, and a big barbarian. Oh, and a talking horse.

It sounds awful, but my love must’ve shown through, or maybe readers were more desperate or more kind in those days. Booklist said, “The first-rate world building, the unique cast of characters, and the author’s clever whimsey make it absorbing reading. Recommended.”

“Unique” must mean they thought I did good things with the characters, but every single one began with a trip through Central Casting to see who was available. Literally.

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New Treasures: Grave Importance, Book 3 of Dr. Greta Helsing, by Vivian Shaw

Tuesday, October 29th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Strange-Practice-Vivian-Shaw-smaller Dreadful-Company-Vivian-Shaw-smaller Grave Importance-small

Vivian Shaw’s debut fantasy novel was Strange Practice (2017). It introduced the world to Dr. Greta Helsing, doctor to the undead, and SFFWorld labeled it “a triumph.” The sequel, Dreadful Company, in which Dr. Helsing uncovers a coven of vampires underneath Paris, was released last year. Liz Bourke at Tor.com raved, saying “Dreadful Company is fast, fun, and immensely readable… [and] laugh-out-loud funny… it’s delightful.”

I’ve been looking forward to the third volume of this witty fantasy adventure series, and it finally arrived last month. Here’s the description.

Oasis Natrun: a private, exclusive, highly secret luxury health spa for mummies, high in the hills above Marseille, equipped with the very latest in therapeutic innovations both magical and medical. To Dr. Greta Helsing, London’s de facto mummy specialist, it sounds like paradise. But when Greta is invited to spend four months there as the interim clinical director, it isn’t long before she finds herself faced with a medical mystery that will take all her diagnostic skill to solve.

A peculiar complaint is spreading among her mummy patients, one she’s never seen before. With help from her friends and colleagues — including Dr. Faust (yes, that Dr. Faust), a sleepy scribe-god, witches, demons, a British Museum curator, and the inimitable vampyre Sir Francis Varney — Greta must put a stop to this mysterious illness before anybody else crumbles to irreparable dust…

…and before the fabric of reality itself can undergo any more structural damage.

You can read the first four chapters of Strange Practice at the Orbit website, and get more details on the series hereGrave Importance was published by Orbit on September 24, 2019. It is 448 pages, priced at $15.99 in trade paperback and $9.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Will Staehle. See all our recent coverage of the best Series Fantasy here.


Future Treasures: Quillifer the Knight by Walter Jon Williams

Wednesday, October 16th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Quillifer-medium Quillifer the Knight-small

Covers by Gregory Manchess and Alejandro Colucci

Walter Jon Williams is one of the most versatile writers we have. Space opera, military science fiction, cyberpunk, alternative history, SF police procedural — you name it, he’s done it. He’s written historical adventures, disaster novels (The Rift) and even a Star Wars novel (The New Jedi Order: Destiny’s Way). In his Locus review of the opening novel in William’s ambitious new fantasy series, Quillifer, Gary K. Wolfe says “Williams has been cheerfully genre-hopping for most of his career, sometimes even in the same novel.”

Quillifer is worth a second look — and not just because it’s one of Williams rare attempts at historical fantasy. Booklist calls it a “swashbuckling tale reminiscent of George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman.” The second novel in the series, Quillifer the Knight, arrives in three weeks. Here’s Gary on the first volume.

Quillifer belongs to the ranks of what we might call displaced historical fantasies, stories which make meticulous use of actual historical detail (Williams’s character quote Elizabethan poets, and his weapons and ships are all historically real), but which are set in imaginary nations or kingdoms, often with restrained use of fantasy elements – such as we see from writers like Ellen Kushner, K.J. Parker, or Guy Gavriel Kay (although Kay is far more specific in his historical analogues).

In classic adventure-novel tradition, Quillifer comes from modest beginnings: the son of a butcher, he studies law in the port city of Eth­lebight, but is also something of a classic 18th-century rake, and the novel opens with his comical escape out the window of the young woman with whom he’s currently in love… things quickly begin to change when Ethlebight is invaded, plundered, and destroyed by pirates from the rival empire of the Aekoi. Quillifer survives, but is later captured by a notorious bandit calling himself Sir Basil…

With the aid of a nymph-goddess who finds him appealing, he manages to escape again, but rejects her advances as he realizes that joining her in her kingdom might result in his returning to his world as much as a century later (one of the few classic fantasy motifs that Williams employs). Spurning her sets up a threat that will hang over Quillifer for the rest of the novel, which consists largely of fully realized independent episodes: Quillifer finds his way into the court of Duisland, where he assumes the title “Groom of the Pudding” and almost accidentally proves himself to be a champion stag-killer (drawing on his background as a butcher), later a brilliant naval strategist, and eventually an effective field-marshal in a crucial land battle to save the kingdom from usurpers…  a thoroughly enjoyable series of historical adventures in a faux-Europe that is as meticulous in its details as it is vague in time and place.

Here’s a look at the back cover.

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What Happens After the Greatest Con in History: The Quantum Garden by Derek Kunsken

Monday, October 14th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Quantum Magician-small The Quantum Garden-small

Covers by Justin Adams

Derek first appeared in Black Gate in issue 15 with his short story “The Gifts of Li Tzu-Ch’eng.” He’s been our regular Saturday evening blogger since 2013, producing nearly 150 articles on diverse topics such as web comics, Alan Moore, Star Trek, New York ComicCon, Percy Jackson, Science Fiction in China, and much more.

His first novel, The Quantum Magician, was published by Solaris on October 2, 2018. In his Black Gate review Brandon Crilly said,

The worldbuilding here is intricate, compelling and absolutely fascinating. From the moment concepts were introduced I wanted to know more, especially the different subsets of humanity that Künsken presents, each the product of generations of genetic manipulation. I mean, an entire population of neo-humans nicknamed Puppets because of their diminutive size, who double as religious zealots worshipping their divine beings’ cruelty? Or an intergalactic political hierarchy based on the economics of patrons and clients, complete with the inequalities and social issues you might expect?…

The core plot is a con game perpetrated by a team of ragtag scoundrels, trying to sneak a flotilla of warships through a wormhole controlled by another government… but don’t ask me to explain more than that. Künsken does an amazing job of presenting a bunch of quirky protagonists who play off each other well, but the characters that stand out do so powerfully; between that and the rich worldbuilding of things like the Puppets, I forgot about that flotilla and the original aim of the con for a good third of the novel, until they came back into focus.

Much as I rooted for protagonist Belisarius (who would be the Danny Ocean of these scoundrels) and his partner/love interest Cassandra (who I suppose is Tess and Rusty from Ocean’s Eleven combined), the secondary characters stole the spotlight for me, particularly AI-on-a-religious-mission Saint Matthew and the creepily dangerous Scarecrow hunting these scoundrels down.

Solaris releases the sequel The Quantum Garden tomorrow. Here’s a look at the back cover.

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New Treasures: The Wolf’s Call by Anthony Ryan

Saturday, October 12th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Wolf's Call-smallAnthony Ryan arrived with a splash in 2012 with his debut Blood Song, the opening novel in the Raven’s Shadow trilogy. A little slow on the uptake, I didn’t discover the series until the second volume, Tower Lord — and even then mostly because of the title. For a week after I spotted it in the bookstore, I wanted to add a turret to our house and have all my children address me as Tower Lord. The books in the series were:

1 Blood Song (2012)
2 Tower Lord (2014)
3 Queen of Fire (2015)

I see now that Ace has released The Wolf’s Call, the first novel in a brand new series featuring Vaelin Al Sorna, the legendary blademan of Raven’s Shadow. In a comment on my Tower Lord article, Rogue Blades mastermind Jason M. Waltz said, “I read Blood Song last summer, enjoyed it, want to read Tower Lord. Not revolutionary but definitely fills the heroic-Gemmell-like niche.”

That’s enough of an endorsement for me. Here’s the description for The Wolf’s Call.

Peace never lasts.

Vaelin Al Sorna is a living legend, his name known across the Realm. It was his leadership that overthrew empires, his blade that won hard-fought battles – and his sacrifice that defeated an evil more terrifying than anything the world had ever seen. He won titles aplenty, only to cast aside his earned glory for a quiet life in the Realm’s northern reaches.

Yet whispers have come from across the sea – rumours of an army called the Steel Horde, led by a man who believes himself a god. Vaelin has no wish to fight another war, but when he learns that Sherin, the woman he lost long ago, has fallen into the Horde’s grasp, he resolves to confront this powerful new threat.

To this end, Vaelin travels to the realms of the Merchant Kings, a land ruled by honor and intrigue. There, as the drums of war thunder across kingdoms riven by conflict, Vaelin learns a terrible truth: that there are some battles that even he may not be strong enough to win.

The Wolf’s Call was published by Ace on July 23, 2019. It is 414 pages, priced at $28 in hardcover, and $14.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Cliff Nielsen.

See all our recent New Treasures here.


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