Man, it’s been a while since I wrote a review. This blog is becoming more like “Staffer’s Crazy Rants about Publishing Stuff” than a review site. I can’t say I lament the change, but it’s nice to just write a review sometimes. Know what I’m saying? And why not jump back into the pool with what is already appearing to be hypiest title of early 2014, Brian Staveley’s The Emperor’s Blades. The title is one word from being fantasy buzz word saturated. Why couldn’t it be The Emperor’s Blades of Shadows or The Emperor’s Cloak of Blades? Come on folks, if you’re going to shoot the moon don’t get left holding the King of Hearts.
Yes, that was a reference to the classic card game, Hearts, which no one under the age of 40 has probably ever played, but I played prolifically in my teenage years due to being an only child.… Read the rest
Masks is the functional equivalent of the YA dystopia in a traditional epic fantasy setting. At the age of fifteen, citizens are recognized as adults and must don magic Masks on orders from the all powerful Autarch. To maintain his grip on the kingdom, the Masks reveal any treasonous thoughts or actions to the Autarch’s ever vigilant Watchers. At her coming of age ceremony, Mara, daughter of the Master Maskmaker, is rejected by her Mask. Banished into slavery, she’s forced to confront the rotten core that supports the Autarch’s reign.
Scott Lynch tackles something in Republic of Thieves that falls flat on its face. Politics. This doesn’t mean the novel fails. It’s actually a wonderful addition to a series that continues to excel with Lynch’s unique voice and kinetic narratives. Where Republic of Thieves falls short, MJ Locke’s Up Against It knocks it out of the park with the best portrayal of authentic politics I’ve found in the speculative genres.
At its roots, Up Against It is an asteroid colony disaster movie. When an accident occurs, destroying precious ice reserves, the entire colony is at risk if they can’t replenish it. Phocaea’s resource manager, Jane, is tasked with making that happen, while keeping the colony’s residents from tearing each other, and the government, apart. Add to that Mars’ mafia trying to move in, a group of teenage kids caught in the middle, a rogue AI coming to life, social structures based on internet popularity, and ubiquitous cameras beaming reality TV back to Earth.… Read the rest
As I’ve been moving lately, I find my writing time has declined somewhat. I’m sure things will settle down soon. Until then, here’s three quick reviews of some recently read stuff.
Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach
Rachel Bach is also Rachel Aaron, author of the more young adult oriented Eli Monpress Trilogy. She’s taken the name Bach to brand her science fiction as separate, at least in part because it’s quite a bit more mature. That is to say there’s sex and swearing.
Devi Morris is a power armor mercenary with plans to become one of the elite warriors in the galaxy, but it’s tough getting noticed. To speed up the process, she takes a job on the aptly named Glorious Fool. Known for attracting trouble like bees to honey, one year of security work under its captain is equal to five years anywhere else. And so begins Fortune’s Pawn.… Read the rest
Books like Zachary Jernigan’s No Return are the primary reason why the Night Shade Books collapse was a crying shame. It is bold, edgy, daring, and uneven in spots, making it both exactly the kind of book that demands to be published and one that is likely to be passed over by larger houses. In all, No Return is a quirky mash-up of speculative genres drawn into a thoroughly compelling package before petering out in the last twenty pages. While that might sound damning with faint praise, I insist that it’s a book that should be read.
The reality is Jernigan had no shortage of capable hands guiding him as he wrote No Return. Written mostly, if not in full, during his time in the Stonecoast MFA program, his advisers were Elizabeth Hand and David Anthony Durham. But, despite exceptional writing and a mind blowingly original concept, the novel ends abruptly with little resolution (if any) of the two disparate plot lines.… Read the rest
Two novels read this past month demonstrate an ongoing dichotomy in fantasy fiction. Anthony Ryan’s much heralded first novel, Blood Song, was a run away success as a self-published novel before it was bought by big publishing. It is, for all intents and purposes, a classic epic fantasy structurally reminiscent of Patrick Rothfuss’s Name of the Wind, with a texture more comparable to Brent Weeks’s Night Angel trilogy. Juxtapose it with Chris Willrich’s The Scroll of Years, which Scott Andrews described as Fritz Lieber meets Catherynne M. Valente, and the two faces of fantasy go to war.
But, the conflict doesn’t start or end with the fact that one echoes epic fantasy and the other a more literary style. Rather it’s a sense of going somewhere new, beyond traditional narratives that have for decades been a staple in the genre. A few sentences from Willrich’s blurb will begin to illustrate that,
Persimmon Gaunt and Imago Bone are a romantic couple and partners in crime.
… Read the rest
Richard Ford made me into Emperor Palpatine because all I could think reading the opening chapters of Herald of the Storm was, ‘Patience my friend. . .’ None are particularly boring, but they are exhausting. Ford takes eight chapters and some hundred pages before a point of view character is revisited. With only 398 pages to work with, so many characters left the novel rushed and me not particularly invested in anyone’s fate.
Herald of the Storm opens with a herald (stunning right?), coming to the city of Steelhaven. He brings word of his employer’s intent to defeat King Cael in the north, and offers deals to those within the city who will aid him. Despite the rebellion he sows, the populace seems content in their ignorance and life goes on as normal to one degree or another–officials squander their wealth, assassins and thieves lurk in the shadows, and agendas run rampant.… Read the rest
If I was put on the spot right now, on this blog, with all of you listening, to name the most important science fiction and fantasy series of the last decade I couldn’t give you an answer. If you asked for my top five, well. . . I could probably do that. I’m not going to, but I could. All I will say is that Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire Trilogy would be on the list. It may not be first, but it would be in the discussion. I finished Emperor of Thorns recently and I feel privileged to have read it.
By now most everyone has heard what the Broken Empire Trilogy is about. Young Jorg Ancrath had a shitty childhood. He watched his mother and younger brother butchered by his uncle’s men. His father lit his dog on fire, and subsequently tried to kill Jorg. Eventually, he ran away from home in the company of some of the most villainous hooligans who he eventually came to lead before the age of 14.… Read the rest
If you’ll recall, I wrote a post about the demise of Night Shade Books in which I admitted to being sent two manuscripts by the publisher to give my feedback on. Michael Martinez’s The Daedalus Incident was one of those titles. As a result, I’m not going to review it. Not really. Suffice to say I really enjoyed it despite an extremely unconventional narrative.
The nature of that narrative is two seemingly disparate story lines connected through space and time. One is in an alternate dimension set during the Napoleonic era, where, instead of plying the oceans, ships of the line sail between the planets powered by alchemy. If that sounds like a trip, it is. On the other side, Martinez tells the story of a research team on Mars in the 22nd century dealing with unexplained geological events. How these two stories collide is the telling of the tale and I won’t go into any greater detail except to say that there’s a very Lovecraftian solution to it all, which should come as no surprise to those familiar with Night Shade’s love of such things.… Read the rest
I’m going to say some stuff about ‘Young Adult’ fiction. Some of it’s going to be really wrong, but I’ll hedge by saying it’s my interpretation. Let’s try not to crucify me for it.
For me, what makes a book ‘Young Adult’ isn’t the age of its protagonist, simplicity of story, or basic themes. Instead, it requires some didactic aspect. For example, Paolo Bacigalupi’s Shipbreaker isn’t just a fucked-up coming of age story, but a teaching tool for conceptualizing climate change, as well as refining mores for peer group interactions. I would argue the weakest part of the novel is its plot and protagonist, both of which feel cookie-cutter. What makes it successful for young readers is what it imparts. Thusly, I would argue, until I’m blue in the face, that Raymond Feist’s Riftwar Saga or David Edding’s Belgariad are not ‘Young Adult’. I would prefer to call them fiction for all ages.… Read the rest