Thursday, May 28, 2009

June Releases I'm Excited About

With May winding down and June quickly approaching I thought I'd share with you the new releases that I'm excited about. These four books are all ones that I'll be picking up upon their release.

An Empire Unacquainted with Defeat by Glen Cook
Release Date:
TBD (Preorders are shipping at the moment so shouldn't be long before anyone can get their hands on a copy.)

I've been looking forward to the release of this book for months now. I preordered my copy back in February and my credit card was just charged yesterday so think its on its way. (Fingers Crossed)

This book collects of all the short fiction set in the Dread Empire along with a brand new story from Cook entitled "Hell's Forge." Apparently it's a story of haunted pirates in far off lands. Arrrrr! Can't wait to read the pirate's tale and catch up with my old friends Mocker and Bragi.

Nights of Villjamur by Mark Charan Newton
Release Date: June 5, 2009 (UK Only Release)

This book is the current belle of the blogosphre in that it's the pretty girl that everyone seems to have a crush on. This book has garned so many rave reviews I'm in a fever pitch to get my hands on it. Unfortunately for us in the good ole' USA its only going to see a U.K. release.

Fortunately we live in the Internet Age and can get our hands on anything we want. Including The Nights of Villjamur. I've already preordered my copy from Have you?

The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Release Date: June 16, 2009

The Angel's Game is Zafon's follow-up to The Shadow of the Wind. This one is a no brainer for me. With the Shadow of the Wind Zafon crated an amazing story that I recommend everyone reading (immediately!)

It appears that this novel will loosely follow the events of Shadow of the Wind with the story happening a few years down the road featuring a new cast of characters. If it's even 50% as good as the Shadow of the Wind I'm going to love it.

Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd Century America by Robert Charles Wilson
Release Date: June 23, 2009

Lastly that brings us to Robert Charles Wilson's Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd Century America. In my review of Julian: A Christmas Story I noted how the novella felt like a chapter in an overall larger biographical work and this my friends is that larger biographical work. It'll be interesting to see how Wilson expands the story. For those of you who haven't read the original its narrative is almost Twain-like in its delivery and the alternate history that Wilson has created is fascinating.

Nice how the release dates worked out. Leaves me with roughly one new book a week.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Impressions of Postscripts 18

Impressions aren't a review per say rather just some thoughts on what I've been reading. Impressions will usually consist of a cluster of short stories seeing as I usually read short stories in spurts between novels. I feel this will be a good way to get my thoughts down and more digestible for you the reader.Postscripts 18: This is the Summer of Love from PS Publishing focuses on some newcomers to the field of Speculative Fiction. For the most part these authors are unknown to me and as far as I know the public at large. It's always a treat discovering new authors and so far I've only read three stories but I've already found an author who I think is great. So without further adieu let me give you my impressions of the stories I've read so far.

In the Porches of My Ears by Norman Prentiss

The first story of the anthology touches upon a pet peeve of mine and that is people who talk in the movie theater. Apparently the author has just as much distaste for the act as I do; however he puts a nice spin on it here as the person doing the talking is describing the movie to her blind husband. Seated directly behind the couple what do you do? Get up and move? Remain seated and have the movie ruined for you? A difficult position to be put in.

There's some nice paranormal activity added into the story but I wasn't overly impressed with it. I'd say its fairly mediocre.

Horses by Livia Llewellyn

I skipped this story for the moment as the premise didn't grab me. I'll read it at a later time or then again maybe not.

The Wages of Salt by Deborah Kalin

Set in a Desert Dystopia an archeoligist and her crew dig up something that should have remained buried. That's all I'll say as far as the story's plot goes but this one is worth the price of admission alone. Kalin from the first paragraph brought me into this world she's created and I'll be honest; I'm feinding for more. I've already read the story twice now and I want, no I need more. Can't wait to get my hands on some more material by this author.

Shem-El-Nessim by Chris Bell

As a child I loved everything about Egypt. The Pharoahs, The Mythology, The Mummies the Pyramids I was fascinated by all of it. Chris Bell has done a great job of capturing the essence of everything I loved as a child and putting it in an adult context. The central focus of the plot revolves around a mysterious fragerance and a haunting woman which leads our protagnist to Egypt. Another exceptional story.

Well that's all for these impressions look for another one of these in a week or two after I've got some more short stories under my belt.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Collector's Corner: Some Recent Pick-Ups

Huge Lot of Glen Cook Books

It should come as no surprise to anyone reading this that I'm a huge fan of Glen Cook. So when I saw this huge lot of Cook novels up for auction on eBay I couldn't pass it up. I placed my bid and kept my fingers crossed and for once no one sniped me on the auction at the last second.

So for $45 shipped I received all the novels you see above. Some good books there especially a few of Cook's stand alone novels such as The Tower of Fear, Passage At Arms, The Sword Bearer and The first three novels in The Dread Empire series along with the entire run of The Black Company.

You read that correctly the entire run of the Black Company! Including the very rare Bleak Seasons and She is the Darkness. These are the hard cover copies complete with dust jacket both in Near Fine condition.

Each book cost me roughly $2.65 which I couldn't be happier about seeing as:

The Softcover edition of Bleak Seasons is selling for an average of $23:

Completed eBay listings for Bleak Seasons

And the softcover edition of She is the Darkness is selling for between $50 and $60:

Completed eBay listings for She is the Darkness

Gunpowder by Joe Hill (Signed Jacked Hardcover, Limited edition #91/300)

Joe Hill has made quite a name for himself in a short amount of time so I was looking forward to checking out some of his work. Unfortunately for me by the time I became aware of Gunpowder released by PS Publishing it was out of print prior to publication. So with the books huge popularity sellers were and still are asking exorbitant prices for it. Luckily one popped up at auction and I won it for $45. (OH YEAH!) So it's currently sitting on my shelf besides its PS brethren.

Brasyl by Ian McDonald (1st Edition/1st Printing)

I've heard so many good things about Ian McDonald's River of the Gods and Brasyl I had to get copies of both. (I just had to.) Picked up the beauty above for an even 20 bones.

The Reef by Mark Charan Newton (Signed, Dated, Lined with a Quote, Doodled. THEN signed, dated doodled by the cover artis
ts Darius Sinks.) So basically this is The Reef: Everything But the Kitchen Sink Editon.

Sometimes as collector's we have to throw caution to the wind and just go with our gut and my gut was telling me to pick up this book. After reading The Fantasy Book Critic's interview with Netwon where I learned that his first novel was not in fact Nights of Villajmur but rather The Reef which was released in March 2008 by a small publisher in Britain known as Pendragon Press it became my quest to track down a copy of this novel.

At the beginning of my quest I had no idea it would end with me shelling out a substantial amount of quid in order to get my hands on a copy.

The Reef has a supposed print run of only 300 copies. With the upcoming release of Nights of Villajmur one would think Pendragon Press would begin to print more copies however at this time the publisher is saying there are no plans at this time to print more.

The copy pictured above is one of only 26 Lettered Editions. (I got "D" if anyone is interested.) However this seller is claiming that he was the one that personally commissioned the lettered editions and there are also two more copies (One for the prologue and one for the epilogue.) So that would make 28 Lettered Editions. I have no reason to doubt this seller as he has superlative feedback on a number of other books.

The copy he's selling however is priced much higher than what I paid for mine. I purchased mine for $85 which included shipping from the U.K. A hefty sum no doubt, but one I feel is worth it to add such a unique book to my collection.

So what have you picked up this week? I always love to hear about what other readers/collectors are adding to their collection.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Review: The House of the Stag

The House of the Stag by Kage Baker knocked me out with its one two combination of humor and world building. Previous to finding this book on the shelves of my local library it wasn’t just below my radar it wasn’t even a blip. As I scanned the titles of the novels in hopes of finding Baker’s Gardens of Iden the title The House of the Stag jumped out at me. So I took it down off the shelf and read the blurb:

It begins with a tragedy. Before the Riders came to their remote valley, the Yendri led a tranquil pastoral life. When the Riders conquered and enslaved them, just a few escaped to the forests. Only one of them possessed the necessary rage to fight back: Gard the foundling, half-demon, began a one man guerilla war against the riders. But his struggle ended in the loss of the family he loved and condemnation from his own people.

I was sold. Sitting down in my lazy boy recliner and cracking the cover I didn’t quite know what to expect and sometimes it’s the unexpected that turns out to be just what I was looking for.

From the beginning the story seems to draw influence from of all books; The Bible. In the beginning the Yendri live in a Garden of Eden environment content to live out their days in harmony with nature. Unfortunately this harmony is shattered when the Riders appear and enslave the Yendri and ravish the land

Other similarities exist as well. Cain and Abel is revisited in the form of Gard and his brother Ranwyr, The Beloved in a Moses type role, Lendreth in the role of Joshua and even a foretold savior that will arrive to deliver the Yendri from their enslavement.

Along with the biblical motifs Baker also mixes in quite a bit of primitive mythology and in turn creates a unique mythos for her world. The world Baker creates will look vaguely familiar; like someone you went to high school with who has had some work done. Baker offers the fantasy genre a face lift with numerous fresh ideas.

The concept of The Mountain in the second section of the book is wholly unique to any fantasy I’ve read. Also the way she handles the race of demons is exceptional and completely different than any demons I’ve ever come across. (in the pages of a book.)

Along with these fresh ideas Baker infuses the story with humor throughout. She takes more than a few shots at the Fantasy Genre in particular. You can’t help but smile when you see the Theatre company perform variations of The Great Theme time after time. Each play is just like the one before in much the same way many Epic Fantasies are derivative of each other.

With this humor and a number of fresh ideas The House of the Stag was an unexpected surprise for me and one that I hope many others will take the time to search out along with its predecessor The Anvil of the World.

The House of the Stag is truly a unique book and to me feels like several different novellas collected into one book and that’s not a knock on it at all. Each section of the book has its own “feel” which makes for a very pleasurable reading experience.


You'd have to pay me to finish: The Caryatids by Bruce Sterling

This book is not good. Not good at all. You'd have to pay me to finish this novel.

How much?

About $60.00

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Review: Dandelion Wine

It’s not often that I find myself in the perfect frame of mind, on the perfect day with the perfect book in my hands but at one point or another it’s happened to all of us. I’m happy to report that I had such an occurrence this past weekend.

It was a picturesque day in Michigan. The sun was shining down, the lawn freshly mown and a warm breeze rustled the leaves in the trees. I had nothing to do that afternoon but read. I parked myself in a nice chair with a cold glass of water within reach and opened up my copy of Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. Over the course of the afternoon I was transported not only back to small town of Green Town circa 1928 but also my own childhood.

The story focuses on Douglas Spaulding and his brother Tom as they make their way through the summer months in the small town they call home. The boys are both at the age when the world still seems a place filled with magic and mystery and through their adventures it reminds you how much magic truly does exist in the world.

Page after page made me wax nostalgic for my own childhood. As I read about Doug and Tom’s lives it conjured up many fond memories for me. I remembered the long days of swimming at the beach followed by long sessions of Mario Kart 64 with my friends. The lazy summer evenings spent reading Battle Tech novels on the back porch until the sun finally set. The novel evoked so many feelings for me it truly made me appreciate all the small moments that make life worth living.

Doug and Tom remember their summer days by bottling them in the form of Dandelion Wine. One bottle for each day of summer. Whenever they yearn to return to summer they simply go down to the cellar and open a bottle of Dandelion Wine. As they savor the taste of the wine it transports them back to the wonderful moments of summer’s past.

Like Doug and Tom whenever I need to remember my own lost summers I’ll turn to Dandelion Wine again and again. This is a book that will touch your heart. I can’t recommend it highly enough.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Review: The Empress of Mars

With the recent release of the Empress of Mars I decided I’d take a look at the novella that was expanded upon to make the most recent incarnation. I was interested to see the genesis of the story and then later read the expanded novel. The first incarnation of the Empress of Mars was released by Night Shade Books in 2003. It was a jacked hardcover release limited to 500 signed copies.

With this novel Kage Baker does an exceptional job of creating a plausible Mars scenario. Throughout the course of the novel she pulls away our preconceptions of what colonization of far off planets would be like. Oftentimes we picture shiny rocket ships with the perfect specimens of humanity aboard them in for the adventures of their life. However Baker makes us realize within the first few pages of the novella that this is not the reality in which we live.

She reminds us how truly dreadful and at times wonderful the colonization process can be. Baker uses historical precedent when taking into account the Colonization of Mars as she looks to the examples of Australia and Georgia which were set-up as penal colonies as is the Mars we are given in this book. Likewise with the Frontier where settlers took solace in their local saloon so do the denizens of Mars. As after a long day of work they head to the Empress of Mars which is run by Mary Griffith.

Mary Griffith along with an assortment of family members and castoffs from various walks of life make up the staff of the Empress of Mars. Mary is an intriguing character and reminds me of so many women I know. She’s tough, intelligent and above all stubborn. She deals with a great deal of sexism from the British Aerean Company (BAC) who for all intents and purposes owns Mars and her neighbors of the Celtic Federation. For me the way Mary handles herself is a pleasure to read about. She doesn’t take any crap from anyone. She knows who she is and she doesn’t change for anyone. The woman also knows her beer.

I no longer drink but at one point I considered myself a beer aficionado so it was nice to see a writer who was actually knowledgeable about beer. We don’t get the usual generic references to beer; rather we’re given various beer styles from Oatmeal Stone to a nice India Pale Ale. (which is fitting for the story as India Pale Ale was the choice of the British while they were occupying India.) It’s the little things like this that add so much to a story. Knowing which beers are served at the Empress add another tangible aspect that develops the world that much more.

At this point you might all be saying so it’s a story about a bar? It is a story about a bar, in fact it’s a great story about a bar but over the course of the novella playing out it becomes so much more. The story encompasses everything that human beings have an interest in; our place in the cosmos, women, drinking, religion, politics, family, loyalty and freedom to pursue life in our own ways. So if you as a human being have an interest in any of those things I can not recommend this novella highly enough.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Review: The Last Book

It’s been awhile since I’ve read a good mystery novel. I went through a James Patterson jag during my college years which completely killed the thriller/mystery genre for me as it all seemed a bit too formulaic. It was going to take something special to revive the genre for me and as luck would have it Zoran Zakovic’s The Last Book did just that.

The premise of the novel is a straight forward mystery. People at Papyrus Books are dropping dead for no apparent reason and it’s up to literature loving inspector Dejan Lukić to get to the bottom of it. Along the way Zakovic hits every trope the mystery/thriller genre has to offer. They’re all here from the femme fatale to the mysterious cult. While it is the same formula we’ve seen a million times Zakovic makes it different enough that I don’t feel like I’m reading the same book I’ve read a million times before. That and the metafictional nature of the story that underpins the narrative adds a wonderful what the hell just happened feeling at the end. This is a mystery that leaves you feeling somewhat in the dark even after the denouement.

The thing I took away from reading this book is to not allow preconceived notions to hamper your enjoyment of a variety of literature. Throughout the book there’s a large debate between the characters about what is worthy of being considered serious literature versus fluff and genre writing. Ultimately the conclusion I came to about the books message was that as readers we should judge the content of the book rather than the genre it has been placed in. I myself am guilty of this very thing when it comes to the mystery/thriller genre. I hope to amend that in the coming months as I begin to once more reenter the genre.

If you enjoy a good solid mystery novel then you’re going to like this book. If you enjoy metaphysical “what the hell” just happened stories then you’re going to love this book.


Monday, May 11, 2009

Review: Act of Will

A.J. Hartley’s novel Act of Will is a nice change of pace for me. I’ve been predominantly reading a host of dark and gritty fantasy novels over the last couple months so it was nice to sink my teeth into some lighter fare. You won’t find swearing or sex in this novel; you will however get a healthy dose of violence along with a smooth talking rogue who can best anyone in a battle of wits.

Act of Will focuses its attention on William Hawthorne a young actor turned fugitive from the Empire who’s now taking center stage in an adventure all his own. As he flees from the Empire’s soldiers he runs smack dab into a group of adventurers. Despite the fact that these adventurers have safely smuggled him from the Empire’s grasp Will still is weary of associating with them. He sees them as little more than mercenary cutthroats. It’s with reservation he decides to continue on with them as they set forth to take up a difficult commission in far off lands.

Brief summary out of the way the thing I liked most about this book is that it was a nice tight read. There are no wasted words or chapters. Each chapter propels the story forward allowing me to move along at a good pace enjoying myself the entire time.

Next I have to mention the extraordinary character that is Will Hawthorne. The man can talk there’s no doubt about it. His silver tongue is both a blessing and a curse however as his tongue gets him into just as much trouble as it gets him out of. While that’s not good for him its good for us the readers as each time Will opens his mouth you can’t help but be entertained. The lies he spins are clever and its clear that Will likes to lie just for the pure joy of it. It’s an art for him and he’s one of the finest bullshit artists I’ve ever seen.

Will seems to revel in his wretchedness much like another young rogue the world has fallen in love with; Huckleberry Finn. Both characters appear to be little more than charlatans and are more than happy to be seen as such. Beneath each character’s façade however lies a good man. (whether either of them want you to believe that or not.) This is evidenced in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn with Huck’s relationship with Jim. Mirroring that relationship is the one Will develops with Orgos a black man who is death incarnate with a blade.

Throughout the story it’s this relationship between Will and Orgos that gives the story legs. It’s a friendship that develops naturally between the two and it’s a treat to watch it unfold. It feels wholly organic which is a testament to Hartley’s ability. Throughout the story the two teach each other a lot about life and what it means to be an honorable man. It’s this foundation Orgos lays through his actions rather than his words that begins to, if not necessarily change Will, gives him a new perspective.

While the character development with Orgos is well done I felt that the other supporting characters could have used a little more fleshing out. We are given a few good scenes with Mithos and Garnet that let us gain a little more insight into what makes them tick but not enough for my tastes. Renthrette and Will’s flirtation is entertaining throughout but again Renthrette feels a bit hollow and I don’t feel like I know much about her when the story ends. The worst though was the leader of the group Lisha who I felt was almost nonexistent as a character.

The second qualm I had with the novel was that there wasn’t a sense of real consequences. Even when characters were in grave jeopardy there never a sense of foreboding as I felt that the characters would always make it through a little worse for wear. It’s this lack of danger that made it less enjoyable for me.

Those criticisms aside the positives far outweigh the negatives of this novel. This novel is just a joy to read and I could see it bringing a lot of people into the genre as it’s well done and accessible in a way that many fantasy novels just aren’t.


Saturday, May 9, 2009

Collector's Corner: Patrick Rothfuss's First Book

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss is one of my favorite fantasy novels of the last few years and I've been an ardent collector of his work which is quite easy to do as he's only released only one full length novel. After reading his blog however it was brought to my attention that in 2005 a book entitled Your Annotated, Illustrated College Survival Guide Volume 1 by Patrick Rothfuss with B.J. Hiorns was released from Cornerstone Press, University of Wisconsin.

Tracking this book down was no easy task as the print run was quite small. Rothfuss himself believes there to be roughly 500 copies in circulation. I have heard from other collectors that the amount printed could be closer to 700 copies. Either way it's a difficult book to get your hands on.

Wanting to add this book to my collection I scoured, abebooks and alibris to no avail. Then I turned to eBay; land of the rare, quirky and hard to find items where as luck would have it someone had a BIN (Buy It Now) on a signed copy of College Survival Guide for $40.00 shipping included. So with a big grin in on my face I purchased the book and two weeks ago I recieved it in the mail:

Happy with the condition of the book and as I'm wont to do with most new book purchases I put kid gloves on and began skimming the book. There's some great illustrations from Rothfuss that anyone familiar with his blog will immediality recognize his illustration style. After reading a few articles I must say it was good for a chuckle or two. The book is a collection of the first four years of a humor column Rothfuss wrote and is very similiar to the informal writing style you'll find on his blog.

Content with knowing that I have a copy of Rothfuss's first book I gently placed it in a place of honor upon my shelf and began searching for that next hard to find tome for my collection.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Review: The Drowned Life

The Fantasy Writer’s Assistant and The Empire of Ice Cream are two of the best short story collections I’ve ever read. Not only did they introduce me to the Golden Gryphon Press but they introduced me to one of my favorite authors; Mr. Jeffrey Ford. It’s hard for me to put into words my thoughts on Jeffery Ford as his writing is both ethereal and grounded at the same time. Any story he writes is worthy of attention and it was with great pleasure that I sat down to read his latest short story collection The Drowned Life.

The Drowned Life-
Whatever it was he was going for in this story whether it was allusion, metaphor or allegory it was over my head and thus didn’t do it for me.

Ariadne’s Mother
-Very Short. Very Clever.

The Night Whiskey-An absolutely great story which takes a interesting concept and then executes it flawlessly. I’m so glad to have this collection as I read the Night Whiskey a couple years ago in an anthology and its just such a great idea I always want to have it on hand.

All I’ll say about the story is that with the Night Whiskey there are more dangers then just a hangover the next day or hitting on your best friend’s wife.

A Few Things About Ants-This story for me defines Jeffery Ford. He turns an odd premise into something completely enthralling as the narrator reminisces about his past. It makes you remember how great the simple things in life can be.

The Bottom of the Lake
-Original narrative perspective that I hadn’t come across before. The story unfolds in front of us and the narrator at the same time. A good solid story that I was able to sink my teeth into.

Present from the Past-Ford has an absolute mastery of the family dynamic and this is a perfect example of such. The story is one of the up and downs we all encounter in our family life. There is redemption, then loss, and finally a sort of redemption in the end. The way in which this story unfolds you can’t help but empathize with the main character as Ford puts you directly in his shoes.

The Manticore Spell
-This is something you don’t see often from Ford; Traditional Fanstasy i.e. swords and sorcery. Much of his Fantasy is set in the modern world so it was nice to see his take on medieval fantasy. It’s nothing spectacular but it’s a solid story.

The Fat One- Just a fun story to read. Be warned though this is not one to read on an empty stomach as it will make you ravenously hungry. Unless you’re a vegetarian or a health nut in which case you’ll probably be sickened.

The Dismantled Invention of Fate-Here’s the first truly science fiction story of the group and it’s a doozy. The story delves into the true nature of love and also in the true nature of reality. Very enjoyable read.

What’s Sure to Come-For my money this is the best story in the collection. With a combination of prophetic dreams, card games, horse racing, small business ownership and a cast of great characters this is one not to be missed.
The Way He Does It-Whatever “It” is he does it well. Not just well he does “It” the best. What is “It” he does? I don’t want to spoil it for you so you’ll have to check out the story yourself.

The Scribble Mind-
One never really knows what’s occurring in this short little mystery. Dark ulterior motives may lay beneath the surface. Then again maybe not. It will keep you guessing throughout.

The Bedroom Light
-Call me a wimp or what not but certain scary stories tend to creep me out. Namely the ones with sinister small children and those of a more psychological nature. This story had both and as such gave me the heebie-jeebies.

In the House of the Four Seasons
-This is another example of Ford experimenting with narrative structure and unfortunately for me this one came across as a failed experiment. There’s really not much to be said here as I don’t want to spoil anything for you future readers out there.

The Dreaming Wind
-In each story collection there’s one story that is just beautiful. It’s the type of story that you want to read to your children as it’s truly magical. In The Fantasy Writer’s Assistant we were given The Annals of Eelin-Ok and in The Drowned Life we are given The Dreaming Wind.

As I mentioned before it is a beautifully written story and truly will pull at your heart strings. In the last days of summer The Dreaming Wind comes down from the distant north to wreak havoc on the tiny village by distorting everything into a dreamscape with weird creatures and other oddities that can only be found in one’s dreams.

From time eternal the Dream Wind has blown through the village only this year it hasn’t…

The Golden Dragon-
This story is the last of the collection and as such is a nice way to close. It’s somber as it focuses on a young man just starting a family and the friends he makes in his neighborhood. Throughout the daily grind that each endures they meet up for a weekly card game which allows each to relax from the stress of daily life. Only as with life, things change and not always for the better.

In conclusion this is another strong showing from Ford and well worth your time to pick it up. While there are some stories that didn’t gel with me the ones that did gel were phenomenal. I firmly believe that Ford’s work will endure for 10, 20 even 50 years down the road as they speak to me in a way which few works of fiction ever have. He’s a wonderful author and it’s my hope that more people will seek out Ford’s work and fall in love with it as I have.


Monday, May 4, 2009

Review: Vault of Deeds

James Barlcay’s Vault of Deeds has completely redeemed him in my eyes as I was less than thrilled with Light Stealer. Vault of Deeds is a farcical look at your common Sword & Sorcery adventure complete with all the clichés that make the genre great. The clichés are given new life as the author delves into the symbiotic relationship between the Hero and his scribe. It becomes a question of if there’s no one there to record a Hero’s heroic feats did they actually occur?

The story takes place at the best H.E.R.O. (Hideous Evil Routinely Overcome) school in the land of Goedterre where future heroes are taught about Heroic Utterances (Virtue always triumphs over evil! Hearty Laugh for effect) and the proper way to uphold a fair maiden’s honor. Their scribe counterparts are taught how to tell rip roaring yarns of the hero’s exploits to ensure that never a dull read is to be found in the Vault of Deeds. Therein lies the problem, where once evil was routinely overcome something has gone amiss as now evil routinely triumphs over good.

47 heroes have perished at the hands of nev’do wells leaving their scribes hero-less and unemployed as is the case with our main protagonist Grincheux who thinks something stinks about the whole situation and is bound and determined to remedy the problem. With a bit of a role reversal Grincheux takes up the mantle of the heroes he once wrote about and sets off on his quest and oh what a quest it is. Along the way he’ll find a new hero, battle the forces of evil and writers cramp all in order to put the world back as it should be.

The pacing of the story is perfect as there’s never a dull moment. There’s plenty of sword swinging for those of you who like that kind of thing along with a healthy dose of humor. Caustic one-liners left me chuckling as did the absurd situations that are protagonists encounter along the way. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Barclay’s take on the Ancient Elfin Language. While the action and humor are all well and good what separates this novel from the pack are the characters.

The relationships the characters develop with each other over the course of 80 pages gives the story a lot of heart. While it is definitely farcical in nature and doesn’t take itself too seriously the way the characters begin to care about one another in turn makes you as the reader begin to form a deeper bond with each of them and this adds a lot of depth to the story. In lieu of this great character development Barclay will be sure to remind you that this is a bit of a farce by the motivations which drive the two central “evil characters”. It’s great how one of the “bad” guys actions at least in his own eyes are completely justifiable and the others actions are just because he’s evil “mwaahahahahaaha”

When the novella ended I felt as if I had just been through a whirling dervish of humorous devastation. It had all the elements needed for a great adventure; action, humor and intrigue along with a couple of well placed twists I didn’t see coming. The ending is spectacular and gave me goose bumps. Any story which can evoke that kind of emotion in me is one I would highly recommend to everyone.


Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Sunday Review: Catching Up Edition

It feels good to be back from my self-imposed exile and back among my fellows in the Speculative Fiction blog-O-sphere. I had a lot of catching up to do and lucky for you I came across some great content this week.

Starting us off Plinydogg at the Speculative Fiction Junkie has pledged not to buy another book for 3 months. While I'd like to lend my morale support by abstaining from book buying myself unfortunately the release of The City & The City, The Angel's Game, Nights of Villajmur and Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd America will all prevent me from doing so. Bets are also being taken to how long he'll last. Highlander is wagering he'll only be able to last 3 weeks. My money is on him lasting the whole three months though. He comes across as a guy that sticks to his guns.

While your placing your bets also check out this review of Bill Hussey's The Absence and his review of the book I'm currently in the midst of Act of Will by A.J. Hartley

If you're looking for another opinion on The Absence by Bill Hussey check out Dark Wolf's Fantasy Reviews. After reading both reviews I'm really looking forward to reading some of Hussey's work but I'm having a hell of a time tracking down his first novel Through The Glass, Darkly. Might have to import it.

Speaking of importing I'm going to do just that through for Mark Charan Newton's latest novel Nights of Valljamur. The Fantasy Book Critic also has a stellar interview with Mark posted so make sure to check that out as well.

Also stumbled upon Highlander's Book Reviews for the first time this past week and was veryl impressed with his review of Rain by Conrad Williams. I think I'm going to have to track down a copy of it for myself. I was also purviewing the archives and came across his review of Read by Dawn: Volume 3. Hadn't heard of this anthology before but looks very interesting.

I mentioned it on her blog but I'll mention it again here Mulluane is a book reviewing machine! Her reviews of A Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone were excellent. I really like her review style. It's very informal and reads as if she's a friend giving you advice of what to read next. Not content to rest on her laurels though she's already reviewing a new series of books starting with Book 1 of the Worldweavers Series: Gift of the Unmage.

Last thing I wanted to mention was as I was reading The Blood of the Muse and took a look at A Note About Review Grades. His philosophy about reviewing books really resonated with me so for all you bloggers out there I think its worth a gander.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Review: The Silver Spike

2009 continues to be the year of Glen Cook for me as I jump back into his Black Company series with The Silver Spike, a transitional novel set between The Books of the North and the Books of the South. The story begins directly after the events of The White Rose and we’re quickly reintroduced to some old friends. So as not to spoil anything for people who haven’t read Cook’s earlier Black Company novels all I’ll say is that Croaker is noticeable by his absence.

After reading the original three novels you can’t help but begin to feel an affinity for Croaker and the narrative he weaves throughout the stories. His perspective on things is cynical and grounded. To put it frankly Croaker doesn’t bullshit. He tells it like it is. So while his blunt narrative is missed Cook introduces some great new characters to the fold which pick-up the slack in the narrative department.

It has become apparent to me after reading many of Cook’s work that the author has a talent for bringing background characters to the forefront as well as introducing interesting new characters to each book he pens. In this novel Case, a friend of Raven’s from the Barrowlands takes front and center and we watch the story unfold through his eyes. He’s a bit uncouth some might even say dimwitted but his voice is similar to Croakers if not as witty. Case lends a nice sense of continuity to the novel as he’s able to shed some light on the events which occurred in The White Rose and also the history of the enigma known as Raven.

Besides Case, we’re also introduced to a foursome of some of the most interesting characters you’ll ever have the pleasure to read about. They go by the names Smeds, Tully, Timmy and Old Man Fish respectively. They play a central role in this book and each time they were the focal point of a chapter it was a true pleasure reading about their exploits. Their plan for retrieving the Silver Spike from the tree was so simple it was genius. By the time the book ended these characters ranked right up there with Marron Shed from Shadows Linger, which is saying something as Marron Shed is one of my most beloved characters of all-time.

While the characters were fantastic as always, the beginning of this book didn’t capture my heart right a way. It took me quite some time to warm up to this novel as the first fifty pages appeared to be nothing more than a rehash of the previous Black Company stories. As the characters began to take on more depth and the narratives began to weave together, I felt a bit ashamed for ever having doubted Mr. Cook for even a second. The story had me completely engrossed until I finished the last page.

Cook writes in such a way that you never know what’s going to happen. Characters don’t do what you expect them to they do what’s logical to them. The characters feel as if they’re making decisions for themselves rather than having the man with the pen making the decisions for them. There’s just certain free flow in his writing that I find lacking in so many other fantasy novels out there.

So if you haven’t picked up any Glen Cook novels yet, I suggest you get cracking and find yourself the first three novels of the Black Company or the Dread Empire novels as they’re both just incredible reads.