Water Sleeps by Glen Cook, Part 2

Tuesday, August 21st, 2018 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_2142124LUWYmmo7I just finished Water Sleeps (1999), the ninth and penultimate volume in Glen Cook’s Black Company series. Instead of the gigantic battles where legions of soldiers clash under the evil glow cast by demonic sorceries we’re used to from him, Cook focuses here on subtler subjects. Yes, as last week’s review made clear, it’s chock-a-block with nasty twists, kidnappings, and assassinations, but there’s a quieter aspect to this book than to any of the others. For all the craziness that arises, particularly in the second half, this book really starts presenting the Black Company as family. There’s been lots of lip service to that effect over the course of the previous eight books, but we haven’t much seen it borne out. For that reason all the deaths and farewells in Water Sleeps — and there are plenty — have a greater poignancy and impact than ever before.

At the end of the first part of Water Sleeps, the Black Company had left Taglios. With the sort of misdirection and duplicity that is at its heart, the Company split into several groups, adopted secret identities, and lit out separately for the uttermost end of the known world: the Plain of Glittering Stone. Croaker, Lady, Murgen — in fact, most of the major members of the company — had been trapped inside a maze of caverns beneath the Plain by their oldest remaining enemy: Soulcatcher. It had taken fifteen years for the Company’s captain, Sleepy, to come up with a plan to free them and the means to carry it out.

Sleepy and her comrades arrive at the edge of the Plain and quickly outmaneuver the Taglian regional commander, Suvrin. A clever, doughy man who has risen to his position based more on family connections than military competence, he is unable to escape manipulation by Sleepy and ends up willingly signing on with the Company. I mention this bit here because it will become very important in the series’ finale, Soldiers Live. It also reinforces how the Company prefers to operate. From long experience as a spy and urban guerilla, Sleepy has become adept at quickly assessing someone’s real nature and playing to it.

Gradually the rest of the Company, their dependents, and their animals and baggage train make it to the entrance to the Plain, and just in time. Once again, Murgen’s ability to spy via astral projection saves the Company. He sees Soulcatcher, having figured out Sleepy’s plan, in hot pursuit. Barely forewarned of her imminent arrival, the Company rushes its people to the safety of the Plain — where instant death awaits any who enter without the protection of the Nyueng Bao key — while preparing a deadly reception for Soulcather at its entrance. It doesn’t succeed in killing Soulcatcher, and she ends up with the the Kina-possessed Daughter of Night and Naryan Singh as her prisoners, but the Company escapes. Soon they are on the brink of recovering their lost comrades.

It as this point the truth of the vast, circular Plain of Glittering Stone is finally revealed. It is a gigantic artifact created by a vanished race and connects sixteen worlds. Whether they are different realities, the same world at different times, no one knows. What is known is that humans, being the greedy, vicious things they are, turned to conquest across the sixteen worlds. At some point, the greatest villains of the universe — now remembered as gods in the Gunni pantheon, though their origin is unclear — pooled their resources and elevated one of their own to even greater heights of power and wickedness: Kina the Destroyer. Eventually she was cast down and imprisoned far beneath the giant fortress and someone — or possibly the Plain itself — created a giant golem, Shivetya, to protect the the gates and oversee traffic between the worlds.

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Future Treasures: Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames

Wednesday, August 15th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Kings of the Wyld-medium Bloody Rose Nicholas Eames

The books I select to showcase here don’t always connect with readers. And that’s okay; I try to highlight books that aren’t getting enough attention, and sometimes that means they have a niche appeal. But there are plenty of titles that do connect, and one of them was last year’s Kings of the Wyld, the first fantasy novel by Nicholas Eames.

It wasn’t just Black Gate readers that responded positively. Publishers Weekly called it a “Brilliant debut… emotionally rewarding, original, and hilarious.” They’re even more impressed with the upcoming sequel Bloody Rose, calling it “”The equivalent of a 500-page heavy metal guitar… This is a messy, glorious romp worthy of multiple encores.”

It arrives at the end of the month in trade paperback from Orbit, and it being called Book 2 of The Band. Here’s the description.

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Fifteen Years Gone: Water Sleeps by Glen Cook, Part 1

Tuesday, August 14th, 2018 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

Water Sleeps.

In their homes, in the shadowed alleyways, in the city’s ten thousand temples, nervous whispers never cease. The Year of the Skulls. The Year of the Skulls. It is an age when no gods die and those that sleep keep stirring restlessly.

In their homes, in the shadowed alleyways or fields of grain or in the sodden paddies, in the pastures and forests and tributary cities, should a comet be seen in the sky or should an unseasonable storm strew devastation or, particularly, if the earth should shake, they murmur, “Water sleeps.” And they are afraid.

oie_1372930SSs2Hx7jI wish I had managed to finish the ninth Black Company book, Water Sleeps (1999), in a single go because, after two frustrating choppy books, Cook is back on his game. Yes, it’s very different than the bloody, battle-focused earlier books, but Water Sleeps, so far, is a tight story with narrative complexity, brutal twists, and more world-building than any of the others.

The previous volume, She is the Darkness, ended with most of the Black Company’s senior officers  — Croaker, Lady, and Murgen — and several important prisoners — the Prahbrindrah Drah of Taglios, Howler, and Lisa Bowalk — trapped by Soulcatcher and held in stasis on the demon-haunted plain of Glittering Stone.

As Water Sleeps opens, we quickly learn that Croaker et al. have been imprisoned for nearly fifteen years. Murgen’s Standardbearer-in-training, Sleepy, is acting Captain, aided by Murgen’s Nyueng Bao wife, Shara, and the increasingly feeble One-Eye and Goblin. Soulcatcher has declared herself Protector of Taglios, has made the Radisha Drah little more than a puppet, and has rendered her councilors toothless. For a decade and a half, the survivors of the Company have been hunting for a way to free their colleagues from Soulcatcher’s trap, while constantly reminding her that the Black Company never lets a betrayal go unpunished.

Sleepy is not only Captain, she’s also the Company’s Annalist. In her hands, there’s greater attention paid to politics and culture than in the other volumes. Unlike Croaker and Lady, Sleepy doesn’t see Soulcatcher and the other power brokers in Taglios just as obstacles. They are part of a complicated nexus of power centers and religious beliefs. Through her, Cook explores and underscores how they manage to run a vast realm. She’s also the only narrator in any of the books who has religious beliefs. When she explains the three main religions of Taglios — Gunni, Shadar, and her own Vehdna — she does it with a degree of sympathy absent from Croaker’s or Lady’s books.

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Religious Cults, Vampires, and the London Underground: Dreadful Company by Vivian Shaw

Saturday, August 11th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Strange-Practice-Vivian Shaw-small Dreadful Company Vivian Shaw-small

Vivian Shaw’s debut novel Strange Practice was labeled “a triumph” by SFFWorld, and Booklist called it “a standout in the genre.” I was surprised to discover the second book in the series, Dreadful Company, already on the shelves at Barnes & Noble last week, and I snatched it up immediately. Here’s what the always-reliable Liz Bourke said in her feature review at Tor.com.

Dreadful Company is Vivian Shaw’s second book, sequel to last year’s excellent Strange PracticeAnd if anything, it’s even more fun…

Dr. Greta Helsing isn’t your average medical doctor. She runs a practice dedicated to the supernatural, treating vampires, werewolves, zombies, demons, mummies, ghouls, and all manner of other being. Her best friend is Edmund Ruthven, vampire; and Sir Francis Varney (also a vampire) is tentatively trying to swoon at her feet. After the events of Strange Practicein which Greta found herself at the centre of attempts to dissuade a very strange religious cult beneath London’s underground from doing a whole lot of murder, Dreadful Company finds Greta attending a medical conference in Paris…

Dreadful Company is fast, fun, and immensely readable. As with Strange Practice, one of the largest parts of its appeal is in its voice. Dreadful Company has a wry edge, one that at times goes all the way over into laugh-out-loud funny, without ever losing a sense of heart. And it’s got kindness in its bedrock… As you may have guessed, I deeply enjoyed Dreadful Company… it’s delightful. I recommend it wholeheartedly, and I’m looking forward to seeing much more of Shaw’s work in the years to come.

You can read Liz’s complete review here.

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Future Treasures: The Moons of Barsk by Lawrence M. Schoen

Tuesday, August 7th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Barsk The Elephants' Graveyard-small The Moons of Barsk-small

Lawrence M. Schoen’s novel Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard was nominated for a Nebula Award, and Nancy Hightower at The Washington Post gave it a concise and enthusiastic review, saying:

Barsk is set 62,000 years into a human-less future, where anthropomorphic animals rule the galaxy. There is no record of human existence, and while the different species get along relatively well, the Fant, an elephant-like hybrid, are completely shunned and exiled to live on a rainy planet called Barsk. While labeled less intelligent and “dirty,” the Fant nonetheless are the only species to produce a drug that allows clairvoyants known as Speakers to commune with the dead. When the planet is threatened with invasion and annihilation by the galaxy Senate, Jorl, a Fant Speaker, must race to save it by communing with ancient beings who hold even darker truths. Suspenseful and emotionally engaging, Barsk brings readers into a fascinating speculative world.

It was widely praised in the genre. Walter Jon Williams called it “a work of singular imaginative power,” and Karl Schroeder proclaimed it “a compulsive page-turner and immensely enjoyable.”

I’ve been looking forward to the sequel, and I’m not the only one. It was selected as one of the the Best Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books of August 2018 by both Unbound Worlds and the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi 7 Fantasy Blog; the latter said, “With a cast of uplifted animals of all stripes and unparalleled worldbuilding, this series is a sorely under-appreciated, highly original delight.” It arrives in hardcover next week from Tor.

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Don’t Let Go the Coat: The Greatcoats by Sebastien de Castell

Saturday, August 4th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Traitors-Blade-smaller Knights-Shadow-smaller Saints-Blood-smaller Tyrant's Throne-smaller

Rather foolishly, I thought Sebastien de Castell’s Greatcoats trilogy was, er, a trilogy. But that was before the fourth novel, Tyrant’s Throne, showed up in hardcover last year. Jo Fletcher Books reprinted it in trade paperback on May 1 of this year, and this time it seems that de Castell has indeed bought his popular debut series to a close.

In her review of Knight’s Shadow Sarah Avery said,

De Castell is carving himself an enduring place in the fantasy canon…. Knight’s Shadow is so strong, the only way I can see the Greatcoats series failing to achieve eventual wide recognition as a classic is if the author meets an untimely demise.

Fortunately that hasn’t happened, and in fact de Castell just launched a brand new four-volume series, Spellslinger (which we discussed here). The second volume arrives this month, and the next two before the end of the year. With productivity like that, Sebastien de Castell may well be the hardest working man in fantasy.

Here’s the description for Tyrant’s Throne.

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When Traveller Meets Tiptree: The Wayfarers Trilogy by Becky Chambers

Thursday, August 2nd, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet-small A Closed and Common Orbit-small Record of a Spaceborn Few-small

I love a good science fiction series, though I don’t get to indulge that love very often. But I’ve got some vacation time coming up this month, and I plan to put it to good use. I’ve had to ruthlessly pare down my to-be-read pile to an achievable size (man, that was painful), and only one SF series survived the culling: Becky Chambers Wayfarers trilogy.

There’s been a lot of praise heaped on these books — including making numerous Best of the Year lists, and a Hugo nomination for the second volume, A Closed and Common Orbit — but what’s really drawn me to them has been the intriguing reviews. Niall Alexander at Tor.com called the opening novel, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, “A genuine joy,” and Publishers Weekly labeled the second “Superb work from one of the genre’s rising stars.” But I think my favorite review came from James Nicoll, who admitted up front that he read the first one expecting a Traveller novel.

I picked it up because, over on Livejournal, Heron61 said:

It’s basically what you’d get if you took Firefly (minus the unfortunate Civil War metaphors) or an average campaign of the Traveller RPG and focused more on interpersonal dynamics and character’s emotional lives, while substantially reducing the level of violence.

Yes, this book reminds me of Traveller… I was more strongly reminded of James Tiptree, Jr.’s short story “And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill’s Side”… that is, if James Tiptree, Jr. instead of being relentlessly, inexorably depressing, had been a cheerful optimist. The book isn’t quite what I was expecting, but it was a refreshing change of pace.

The third volume, Record of a Spaceborn Few, arrived last week. I’ve been looking for something fun and different — and new — and this series very definitely fits the bill.

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Into the Night: She Is the Darkness by Glen Cook Part 2

Tuesday, July 31st, 2018 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

0812555333.01.LZZZZZZZI think this reread of She Is the Darkness (1997) took me so long because I subconsciously remembered how disappointing it is. The first half (reviewed last week), despite a bunch of problems, is all right because of Cook’s usual talent at creating cool characters and sticking them into tough situations. It also had some epic battle scenes. As the Black Company inched its way toward the Shadowmaster’s fortress, the good managed to outweigh the bad. This was not the case for the book’s second half, despite some crowning moments of awesome. Not at all.

We left off last week’s post with the siege of Overlook about to begin. The Taglian legions raised and trained by Croaker and Lady invest the fortress. The great castle eventually falls not to starvation or the walls being thrown down, but to a coup de main. Overlook is so vast and so undermanned that Lady and her most loyal troops were able to secretly bore their way into its foundations and operate from within. After much planning (and magical scouting by Murgen), Lady is able to capture Longshadow.

Back in Taglios the Prince’s sister, the Radisha Drah, starts hunting down the Black Company’s allies. She has always feared the Company; now that Longshadow is defeated the time is ripe for its destruction. Having assumed a betrayal would come (as it always does for them), Croaker has readied the Company for the for the final trek to Khatovar.

The road to Khatovar lies to the south of Overlook, through something called the Shadowgate. From the gate come the shadows — deadly spectral things Longshadow and the Shadowmasters could control to a certain extent. Beyond the gate lies a great barren circular plain. From the gates (turns out there are more than one) are roads leading to the plain’s center, like the spokes of a wheel. And there stands a ruined fortress even greater than Overlook. Its inner courtyard measures nearly a mile across.

Certain the answer to where or what Khatovar is lies within, Croaker leads the core of the Black Company, along with its most important prisoners, — Longshadow, Howler, and Soulcatcher — into the ruins. But instead of answers, what lies behind the broken walls is a devastating trap. The book ends with the most important military commanders and veterans of the Black Company in stasis, and Soulcatcher racing back to Taglios in order to unveil some yet-undescribed scheme.

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The Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog on the Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of July 2018

Sunday, July 29th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Kill the Farm Boy Kevin Hearne and Delilah S. Dawson-small City of Lies Sam Hawke-small Redemption’s Blade Adrian Tchaikovsky-small

July has been a terrific month for fantasy readers, with several exciting debuts, more than a few big names, and a handful of highly anticipated installments in popular series. As usual, Jeff Somers at the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog handily summarizes the most interesting titles of the month. Here’s a half-dozen of his best selections.

Kill the Farm Boy by Kevin Hearne and Delilah S. Dawson (Del Rey, 384 pages, $27 in hardcover/ $13.99 digital, July 17)

Hearne and Dawson set out to undermine the white male patriarchy in a hilarious and surprisingly deep fantasy in the Pratchett mold. The titular, clichéd farm boy destined to save the world is killed more or less immediately after being anointed the Chosen One, but his death doesn’t end the threat to the world. A colorful band of unlikely heroes must assemble to do the job for him, including a half-rabbit bard, an aspiring evil wizard whose main skill is conjuring bread, a rogue lacking any sort of coordination, and, naturally, a talking goat. Their quest to take on the Dark Lord infesting their world with evil curses and evil-er magic is filled with plenty of jokes, songs, and riffs on the fundamental importance of cheese — but also delves into the inner lives of these crazy characters, making them real, interesting people. (Which is more than can be said of many super-serious epic fantasy stories.)

If Kill the Farm Boy is half as much fun as I’ve been hearing, it deserves to be the breakout title for the month. It’s book 1 of The Tales of Pell; no news yet on the next release.

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Vintage Treasures: Take Back Plenty by Colin Greenland

Friday, July 27th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Take Back Plenty-small Seasons of Plenty-small Mother of Plenty-small

I’ve been buying up back issues of Science Fiction Eye, one of the better SF review zines of the 90s. SF Eye had a marvelous stable of hot young writers, including Bruce Sterling, Richard Kadrey, Paul Di Filippo, Pat Murphy, Gary Westfahl, Tony Daniel, Charles Platt, John Shirley, Jack Womack, Elizabeth Hand, Mark Laidlaw, and many others. I thought I’d enjoy revisiting the cutting edge genre journalism I found so thought provoking two decades ago, but what I really find entertaining this time around is the high quality reviews. Especially coverage of now-forgotten books like Colin Greenland”s Take Back Plenty (1990) the opening novel of his gonzo space opera trilogy featuring Tabitha Jute. Here’s a snippet of Sherry Coldsmith’s excellent review, from the Winter ’91 issue, which I bought on eBay last month for $7.50.

Take Back Plenty is a raid on the traditional space opera, a coup at the galactic palace. Its author has poked through the rubble of pulp SF, looking for the genre’s mermaids and Marie Celestes. Greenland’s pickings include a fecund Venus that chokes with unconquerable jungles, and an arid Mars scarred by canals. More modern tropes are also put to use: cyberjacks, talking corpses, titanic tin-can inhabitants that circle the Earth. Greenland has chucked away anything that requires scientific veracity and kept anything that possess mythic dazzle.

The protagonists are as fascinating as the background. Tabitha Jute is the owner-operator of a space vehicle, the sentient and personable Alice Liddell. These two soul sisters of the Sol system get into love and trouble in a world that Is a surreally logical as the one the bedeviled Lewis Carroll’s Alice.

Take Back Plenty won both the British Science Fiction and Clarke awards for Best Novel; it was followed by two sequels, Seasons of Plenty (1995) and Mother of Plenty (1998). Greenland’s last two books, Spiritfeather (2000) and Finding Helen (2003) appeared only in the UK. You can read Coldsmith’s complete review of Take Back Plenty (and the tail end of the enthusiastic notice of Crichton’s Jurassic Park) here — page 1 and page 2. See all our recent Vintage Treasures here.

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