Deadly Tech, Terrifying Aliens and Huge Explosions: The Lazarus War by Jamie Sawyer

Tuesday, March 12th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Lazarus War Book One Artefact-small The Lazarus War Legion-small The Lazarus War Origins-small

I tend to grade space opera on a curve — especially military space opera. That’s not to say I don’t have standards. I’m just more forgiving of my space-faring, laser-blasting, alien-artifact-explodin’ interstellar sagas than I am when I read, say, contemporary fiction, or even fantasy. I’m in the market for a different kind of book when I reach for space opera.

That probably means I’m not the best person to be recommending this sort of stuff. But you knew that already… and you’re still here, bless your generous little heart. With that out of the way, I want to continue my space opera obsession of the last few weeks, and tell you about another series, this one from new author Jamie Sawyer. Since he burst on the scene with his first novel The Lazarus War: Artefect in 2015, about an elite military unit who mind-swap between cloned bodies to survive the deadliest kill-zones in the galaxy, Sawyer has gradually been accumulating readers and recognition. Neal Asher summed up the first book in the series as follows:

A hostile race of alien biomechs somewhat in the mould of H. R. Giger aliens… terrorism, subterfuge and traitors… starships sporting particle beam weapons, railguns the size of skyscrapers, laser batteries, missiles… And then there are the uber-human super-soldiers clad in powered armour and wielding plasma weapons… This, dear readers, is the good stuff.

As we’ve established, I’m not the person to count on for a quality recommendation here. But I can point you to some more reliable sources. Here’s Uncle Geoff at SFcrowsnest on The Lazarus War: Artefect.

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For the Killing of Kings by Howard Andrew Jones

Tuesday, March 12th, 2019 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_53921t7oYJGMSWhen 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 hand to mete justice to high and to 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 my sisters, for I am eternal.

 

 

Pledge of the Altenerai

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kyrkenall, veteran of the great war that almost destroyed the realm of Darassus, and Elenai, a young squire, both members of the Altenerai, an elite corps of warriors, find themselves on the run from their comrades in Howard Andrew Jones’ rapid-fire new book, For the Killing of Kings. At an almost brief 350 pages, it moves at an astounding pace, each chapter ratcheting up the suspense and the danger until everything seems ready to spin out of control. This is exciting storytelling from one of the best and most knowledgeable writers of heroic fantasy around. If you haven’t yet read Jones, this is an awesome place to start.

A little less than a decade before the book begins, the barbarian Naor almost conquered Darassus. In the end, the Naor were driven to near collapse by the Altenerai under the leadership of N’lahr. Following their massive battlefield defeat, the queen of Darassus, against the advice of the Altenerai, offered the barbarians peace. They accepted and withdrew to their ancestral lands. As the book begins, though, it seems the barbarians are on the move, threatening to bring fire and death once more to Darassus.

During the war a prophecy had been made that Mazakan, warlord of the Naor barbarians, would die at the hand of N’lahr by his sword, Irion. Though Mazakan surivived and N’lahr died, Irion hangs in the Altenerai’s hall and has remained a totem strong enough to deter the Naor from a full invasion. Until now.

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Hither Came Conan: Jason Durall on “Xuthal of the Dusk”

Monday, March 11th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

John Buscsema - Savage Sword of Conan - Issue #20

John Buscsema – Savage Sword of Conan – Issue #20

Welcome back to the latest installment of Hither Came Conan, where a leading Robert E. Howard expert examines one of the original Conan stories each week, highlighting what’s best. Jason Durall is the line editor for Modiphius’ RPG, Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of.

Xuthal of the Dusk on 25 Lunas a Day

Of all of Howard’s Conan stories, “Xuthal of the Dusk” is one of his most emblematic, regardless of its quality compared to the other. If one were to assemble a tasting menu of Conan containing all his recurring themes and story elements, one could look no further than this story and come away with a good sense of the whole. With only one glaringly weak point, the story is an underappreciated gem and worth reconsidering in its place among the overall canon.

First appearing in the September 1933 issue of Weird Tales under the title “The Slithering Shadow”, the story, like many of Howard’s tales, was graced with an extremely risqué cover by Margaret Brundage, no small contributor to the magazine’s sales (more on this later). Though the story’s published title was “The Slithering Shadow”, Howard, in a letter to Clark Ashton Smith, clarifies that its original title was “Xuthal of the Dusk”. Given a choice between the title the story was written under versus a title provided by the editor, let us remain true to Howard’s preference in the matter.

“Xuthal of the Dusk” may not be the best of the Conan stories, but it is one of the purest Conan stories. Let’s examine all the notes this story hits, and this should become clear.

 

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New Treasures: The Wormwood Trilogy by Tade Thompson

Friday, March 8th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Rosewater Tade Thompson-small The Rosewater Insurrection Tade Thompson-small The Rosewater Redemption-small

Tade Thompson’s second novel Rosewater was one of the more intriguing books published last year. Here’s a snippet from Ross Johnson’s rave review at the B&N Sci-fi & Fantasy blog, which labeled it “a groundbreaking future noir.”

In the Nigeria of the mid-21st century, a makeshift town has sprung up around a mysterious dome that inexplicably appeared there some time in the recent past. Though the structure is alien in origin, its purpose is unclear—its influences can be malign, but also dramatically beneficial. Approximately once a year, people come from far and wide to take advantage of the healing powers released by the structure, but the effects aren’t entirely predictable, and sometimes leave pilgrims mangled and malformed — and those who die are left vulnerable to soulless reanimation. Still, HIV and cancer are completely curable in this altered world, and that alone makes the journey worth the risk.

This is all the backdrop for the story of Kaaro, a former thief and sometimes rogue government agent, first recruited for his unique sensitivity to the minds of others. For in the new world of the dome, a small portion of humans have developed empathic and telepathic powers, to greater and lesser degrees, and Kaaro is near the top of the scale. As a young man, he used his abilities to hunt down his neighbors’ valuables. As an adult, he’s tasked with interrogating subversives and potential public enemies, even as turbulent political waters leave those categories clouded.

Though generally mercenary in his considerations, Kaaro is ultimately pushed too far by his handlers in Section 45, threads of classic noir run thread through the story. A reluctant hero (when he’s being heroic at all), there’s a strong sense throughout that Kaaro’s sins and flaws might ultimately be his undoing…  It is, on one level, an engaging future noir about a flawed protagonist falling into the role of reluctant hero while coming to grips with an alien mystery, and that alone would make for a solid read. But Thompson’s ambitions are greater, and alongside the complex puzzles and multiple mysteries, he has a great deal to say about the ways in which individuals, whatever their nations of origin, respond to oppressive governments.

The second volume in what’s now being called The Wormwood Trilogy will be published next week in trade paperback from Orbit; and the final book arrives just six months later. Here’s the description for both.

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Enchantment, Heartache, and Mystery: The Blackthorn & Grim Trilogy by Juliet Marillier

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

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Cover art by Arantza Sestayo

If you visit the bookstore every couple of weeks like I do, you stay on top of the latest titles. You spot the exciting new books early, and learn the names of future genre superstars. Or you stumble on books you’ve overlooked for five years and think they’re brand new, like I did last week.

The book in question was Dreamer’s Pool by Juliet Marillier, author of the 6-volume Sevenwaters Series. Looked new to me. Read the back and thought, “This sounds cool.” Took it home. Found out there are sequels, the most recent published two years ago. I guess I’m not nearly as hip as I thought I was.

Well, what the hell. Now I have a complete trilogy to enjoy instead of a single novel, so I suppose there’s an upside. Set in the mystical landscape of ancient Ireland, the series sounds like a winning combo and magic and mystery. The opening volume earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly:

Marillier (the Sevenwaters Series) opens the Blackthorn & Grim epic fantasy series by sweeping readers into a lavishly detailed world full of enchantments, devotion, heartache, and mystery. Blackthorn, an embittered wise woman, longs for vengeance against the wicked lord responsible for her grievous loss, her imprisonment, and her coming execution. Conmael, a handsome fey nobleman, offers her freedom if she will travel to Dalriada, provide healing help to all who ask, and forsake revenge for seven years… She settles at Winterfalls, home of the humane Prince Oran of Dalriada, and eventually solves a tortuous magical puzzle for him. Marillier’s fascinating narrative, based loosely on Irish myth and centered on women’s empowerment, never slips into sentimentality… a tasteful feast for the imagination.

Dreamer’s Pool won the Aurealis Award for Best Australian Fantasy Novel in 2014. Here’s the description.

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Hither Came Conan: Iron Shadows in the Moon, the Bible, and Dark Horse

Monday, March 4th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Hither_Shadows_PirateFightEDITED2 Timothy Truman turned sixty-three recently. Truman is one of the leading graphic book writers and artists in the industry. He was a cornerstone of Dark Horse’s Conan line, both writing and drawing.

Truman scripted “Iron Shadows in the Moon,” which Morgan Holmes recently expounded on. So, today we’ve got a bonus Hither Came Conan post, looking at Dark Horse’s version. Along with some discussion of the ‘before and after’ in that storyline.

The Free Companions covered issues 16 -18 of Dark Horse’s Conan The Cimmerian run. They picked up the storyline after the end of “Black Colossus,” with Conan at Yasmela’s side, to the disapproval of the Khorajans. He rescues her brother, king Khossus, but by story’s end, is displaced by Prince Julion of Muric (Al-Muric), an exiled stepson of King Strabonus.

Issues 19 – 21, Kozaki, cover Conan leading the Free Companions. After being dismissed from Khorajan service by Al-Muric, they raided willy nilly, building up some enmity.

But all of this is muddled together, as Dark Horse has Conan, near dead, in the swamps of the Ilbars River, the lone survivor of the Free Companions. And until Shah Amaruth shows up, pursuing Olivia, the story is a mélange of flashbacks involving Conan, Olivia’s story, and activity in the swamps. It will take more effort than it’s worth to sort through all that, so I’ll just work in a relatively linear fashion, time-wise.

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A Time Travel Epic of Grand Scale and Everyday Life: Time’s Children by D.B. Jackson

Sunday, March 3rd, 2019 | Posted by Margaret S. McGraw

Times-Children-DB-Jackson-smallerTime’s Children is the first novel in a new series called The Islevale Cycle, by D. B. Jackson, one of my favorite fantasy authors. Jackson excels at fully realized worldbuilding, including nature, culture, history, religion, politics — the grand scale and everyday life. Islevale is no exception: a large collection of islands with a great variety of culture and nature among them, as well as travel by ship on the waters between. Our young hero Tobias has been raised in Trevynisle, trained in practical and magical studies. He is quickly swept into his travel adventure on a merchant sailing ship, and then to various city and wilderness locations throughout Islevale.

The magic of Islevale centers around Travelers: Walkers, who can travel through time; Spanners, who can move instantly between great distances; and Crossers, who can move through solid objects. The magic is a combination of innate talent and the use of special tools to calibrate each destination. Tobias is a Walker, and we learn the intricacies of these magical abilities through his experiences.

Time travel is a challenge for any storyteller, and Jackson builds a solid and realistic framework for the Walkers. The amount they move forward or back in time is added to their physical body. For instance, if Tobias goes back one week in time and then returns the one week day to his original “present,” his body ages two weeks, although his mind and memory would only have aged the amount of time he experienced during the “trip.” Trevynisle’s governing rules prevent Walkers from going more than one year past or future. But Tobias accepts a mission to go fourteen years in the past — he leaves his “present” as a fifteen-year-old boy and arrives in the body of an almost-thirty-year-old man. The characters wrestle with the mechanics and morality of time travel and their actions in the past, present, and future — their choices have real consequences, anticipated or not.

I also particularly enjoyed the elements of daily life that affect the characters and the action. When Tobias is called before the Lord Chancellor of Trevynisle, he comes immediately from sword practice — hot, sweaty, and concerned about appearing in such rough condition. When he rescues infant Sofya, he suddenly has to deal with feeding, changing and caring for a baby — in addition to evading assassins still intent on completing their mission!

Tobias is not our only point of view character — in fact, we see the story from many different perspectives, including the antagonists. I enjoy this kind of storytelling, and Jackson does an amazing job building the richness of the world and presenting each point-of-view character with their own voice. In addition to the broad cast of human characters, there are other intriguing species in Islevale — mostly dangerous to humans. On Trevynisle, Tobias has befriended Droë a mysterious Tirribin who becomes an integral part of the story. Through Droë, we learn of other magical creatures whom the humans only know as “demons,” such as the predatory Belvora, all bound by the oaths and laws of the Distraint. I was pleasantly surprised to see Droë become a more central character, and I hope to see more of her and the other “demons” in the rest of the series.

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New Treasures: The Witchlands by Susan Dennard

Saturday, March 2nd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Truthwitch-small Windwitch-small Sightwitch-small Bloodwitch-small

In her enthusiastic Black Gate review of Susan Dennard’s Something Strange and Deadly, the opening novel in a dark fantasy trilogy, Zeta Moore wrote:

For readers with dark tastes and a deep-seated love for romance… Dennard has a supreme understanding of how to enhance gothic themes with an addictive steampunk flourish, and captivate her readers with antagonists you come to enjoy more than the protagonists.

Dennard’s latest series is the far more ambitious Witchlands saga, which opened with Truthwitch (2016), which Robin Hobb called:

A cake stuffed full of your favorite fantasy treats: highway robbery, swordplay, deep friendships, treachery, magic, piracy on the high seas, and romance. This book will delight you.

Dennard has followed with a new book every year: Windwitch (2017), the novella Sightwitch (2018), and now Bloodwitch (February 12, 2019), just arrived in hardcover. All four are published by Tor Teen. Here’s the back covers for the first two.

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A Mystery in the Ruins of the Future: The Bannerless Saga by Carrie Vaughn

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

Bannerless-small The Wild Dead-small

Bannerless, the opening novel in Carrie Vaughn’s new science fiction saga, was based on the short story of the same name in the John Joseph Adams & Hugh Howey anthology of post-apocalyptic fiction The End Has Come (2015). It was one of the most acclaimed books of the year, and won the Philip K. Dick Award for best original science fiction paperback. The sequel, The Wild Dead, arrived in trade paperback from John Joseph Adams Books last summer.

When he selected it as one of the premier titles of July 2017, Andrew Liptak at The Verge wrote:

Carrie Vaughn is best known for her urban fantasy novels, but she’s been shifting gears quite a bit lately. Earlier this year, she published Martians Abroad, a YA space opera, and with Bannerless, she’s looking into what happens after society collapses. In this world, the Coast Road is thriving after the fall of civilization, rebuilding with a culture of households. The population is controlled as people earn the right to bear children, displaying their privilege by hanging banners outside their homes. Enid of Haven is an Investigator, who is called upon to mediate disputes in the community. When a dead body turns up, she begins to investigate, finding cracks in society that makes her question everything she’s been raised to believe. You can read the original short story here.

These are complex, ambitious books with a thoroughly original take on post-apocalyptic society. Here’s the back covers to both.

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Future Treasures: The Spin Trilogy by Andrew Bannister

Thursday, February 28th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Last week, in my article about Elizabeth Bear’s upcoming novel Ancestral Night, I included a quote from Publishers Weekly about the current “space opera resurgence.” The most common response to that piece has been, “There’s a space opera resurgence?”

You know, I think there might be. Just in the last few weeks we’ve talked about Gareth L. Powell’s Embers of War books, Jesse Mihalik’s Polaris Rising, Lisanne Norman’s Sholan Alliance series, Alastair Reynolds’s Shadow Captain, Zenith by Sasha Alsberg and Lindsay Cummings, Tom Toner’s The Amaranthine Spectrum trilogy, Marina J. Lostetter’s Noumenon series, K.B. Wagers There Before the Chaos, and a whole lot more. That’s a critical mass of space opera, especially for a site that pretends to mostly cover fantasy books…. so yeah. I kinda think there’s a resurgence.

The latest evidence landed on my desk earlier this week, in the form of a new review copy from Tor. It’s the debut novel from British author Andrew Bannister, the first in a promised trilogy, and it received some enviable attention in the UK when it was first published there three years ago. Here’s the notice from The Guardian, from their May 2016 roundup of the Best Recent Science Fiction and Fantasy Novels.

Space opera lends itself to the depiction of grand dimensions and great duration, but it’s one thing to talk big, quite another to present a vast universe through the eyes of fully rounded characters without the former overshadowing the latter. Many a novice has floundered, their vision ill served by technique. Fortunately, debut novelist Andrew Bannister comes to the genre with his talents fully formed in the ambitious, compulsively readable Creation Machine, the first volume in a trilogy. Fleare Haas, the maverick daughter of the industrialist tyrant Viklun Haas, is imprisoned in a monastery on the moon of Obel, her crime to join rebels opposed to her father’s ruthless regime. Her escape from prison and her headlong race across the galaxy to the Catastrophe Curve is just one of the novel’s many delights. Creation Machine has everything: intriguing far-future societies, exotic extraterrestrial races, artificial galaxies and alien machines dormant for millions of years. Bannister holds it all together with enviable aplomb.

Tor has scheduled the sequel, Iron Gods, for publication in July. It will be followed by Stone Clock. Here’s the back covers for the first two.

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