Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Random Bits #6 - 2012


The British Fantasy Society is delighted to announce that the 2012 British Fantasy Awards will be decided by a jury of five volunteers, a first in BFS history. The jury consists of:


James Barclay: James is the author of the two Raven trilogies: Chronicles of The Raven and Legends of The Raven, and the epic fantasy duology, The Ascendants of Estorea. He has written two novellas, Light Stealer and Vault of Deeds, and his latest book Elves: Once Walked With Gods is out now.

Hal Duncan: Hal’s debut Vellum was published in 2005, garnering nominations for the Crawford, Locus, BFS and World Fantasy Award, and winning the Gaylactic Spectrum, Kurd Lasswitz and Tähtivaeltaja. He’s since published the sequel Ink, the novella Escape from Hell!, various short stories, and a poetry collection.

Maura McHugh: Maura is a writer, freelance web designer and IT consultant. She’s currently writing two comic book series (Rķisín Dubh and Jennifer Wilde) for Atomic Diner in Ireland, and she also works for the Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild as their webmaster, blogger and newsletter editor.

Esther Sherman: Esther is a medical underwriter, burlesque performer, voracious reader, computer games addict and geek culture fan. She is co-editor of Nasty Snips 2, a horror anthology from Pendragon Press due in Autumn 2012.

Damien G. Walter: Damien is a writer of weird and speculative fiction. In 2005 he was shortlisted for the Douglas Coupland short fiction contest, and more recently won a grant from Arts Council England to work on his first novel. He writes and reviews for The Guardian and io9 among others.

The jury will deliberate on a shortlist of four nominations as determined by the members of the BFS. The jury shall also have powers to add nominations where it identifies an egregious omission.

The British Fantasy Awards 2012 will be presented during FantasyCon, to be held in Brighton in September.

The British Fantasy Society is a not-for-profit membership organisation that caters for fans of Fantasy, Horror and Science-Fiction in the UK.

For more information on the BFS Awards, please click here, or contact Sarah Ann Watts (Awards Administrator - bfsawards@britishfantasysociety.org).


For more information on the BFS, please contact Lizzie Barrett (Publicity Officer - pr@britishfantasysociety.org).

Guest Blog: David Tallerman talks Giant Thief's Easie Damasco

Very thrilled to have David Tallerman chat to us about Easie Damasco and what went into creating him as the main character in Giant Thief:

Kicking From the Sidelines


I've never thought of my - let's just say protagonist - Easie Damasco as a hero, or for that matter as an antihero. Over the course of my debut novel Giant Thief, he certainly does some heroic things, but also some completely despicable deeds, and often in close succession. Mostly he tries to stay alive, using whatever resources are available. It that means stealing a giant then so be it. If that means abandoning said giant, or drugging a friend, or robbing a palace full of nobles then likewise.

The thing is, I've always let Damasco choose his own path as much as possible. Right at the beginning, he had a few fixed character traits, most of them defined by the role I knew he'd be playing. He was a thief. That meant he didn't have too much of a conscience; at least, not the kind of conscience people who don't habitually steal things have. I knew he was going to have off with a giant and some other choice treasures too, and I knew he'd be taking them from a uniquely dangerous individual, which meant he was impetuous to say the least, with a knack for getting into trouble. I knew a tough-as-nails hero would have just stabbed his way out of there instead, which meant Damasco was a talker not a fighter.

At the start of chapter one, I took those basic ingredients, thrust his neck into a noose, and more or less figured things out from there. I'd be lying if I said Damasco wrote himself, because things are never that easy, but it didn't take me long to gain a sense of how he'd react and what he'd say in any given situation. For the former, thieving, running away and betrayal tended to feature high on the list. For the latter, wisecracks and sarcasm were a safe bet. Often, the difficulty was in remembering that there was a little more to him than that ... that like most people, Damasco was capable, in the right circumstances and given the right motivation, of behaving like a semi-decent human being.

As for the nurture side of things: Well, Damasco's back-story, so much of it as is revealed in Giant Thief anyway, could be written on the back of a large postage stamp. Giant Thief is his tale, after all, and it only seemed right he should tell it his own way. If he's cagey about his life before the opening chapter, can you blame him? When you've been stealing since you were introduced to long trousers, maybe some things are better left unsaid. What Damasco has is not so much a past as a history of trouble. He's been run out of most everywhere and offended most everyone. He makes enemies far more easily than he does friends, and people tend to remember a name like "Easie Damasco."

One last thought. Looking back, the thing I find most interesting and fun about Damasco is that, though I described him as a protagonist at the start, he actually fits far more readily into the role of sidekick. He's hardly ever the one to push the story forward. More often he's trying to derail it, or get out from under it in one piece. The real protagonists of Giant Thief are Moaradrid, the warlord whose lust for power and revenge thrust Damasco's world into chaos, and Marina Estrada, the brave small-town politician who sets herself up against Moaradrid when no one else is willing to.

But then, I like the idea of characters who watch a plot unfold from the sidelines, especially ones with big mouths. And as much as Damasco frequently misses the point or just plain ignores it, he does have one clear advantage: he sees everything and everyone in shades of grey. He's no more taken in by heroism than villainy, he's always looking for the angle and it takes a lot to make him see anything as other than enlightened self-interest. His take on events might not be the most complete or the most honest - and Giant Thief would certainly be a completely different story if either Moaradrid or Estrada were doing the telling - but I'm not sure Easie's version is any less the right one for all that.

David Tallerman was born and raised in the northeast of England. A long and confused period of education ended with an MA dissertation on the literary history of seventeenth century witchcraft that somehow incorporated references to both Kate Bush and H P Lovecraft.


David currently roams the UK as an itinerant IT Technician-for-hire, applying theories of animism and sympathetic magic to computer repair and taking devoted care of his bonsai tree familiar.

Over the last few years, David has been steadily building a reputation for his genre short fiction and increasingly his writing has tended to push and merge genres, and to incorporate influences from his other great loves, comic books and cinema. David’s first novel, Giant Thief, was published in January 2012, with two sequels to follow.

David’s home on the net is here: davidtallerman.net and his brilliant blog is here: davidtallerman.blogspot.com

His debut novel - the Leiberesque Giant Thief - is available now from Angry Robot.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Random Bits #5 - 2012

I was recently contacted by Penguin about their new urban fantasy / paranormal romance imprint here in the UK, Berkeley UK. Needless to say, as a ladygeek I am over the moon to have more titles published here to suit my tastes. Here's a bit of info about Berkeley UK:

Berkley UK is Penguin’s new fiction imprint, specialising in publishing the best in urban fantasy and paranormal romance. The Berkley name has a history of publishing the highest quality commercial fiction in the US and, building on this reputation, Berkley UK will publish an exciting list of fantasy and supernatural fiction for the UK market. Officially launching with Magic in the Blood by Devon Monk in January 2012, Penguin is thrilled to be stepping into the exciting world of fantasy and science fiction.

I've just cast an eye over some of their other titles coming out this year and they are delicious!



A masive favourite of mine: Rob Thurman's Cal Leandros Series. I'm about to pass out from happy joy feelings. *flails* For anyone who loves the Supernatural TV show, be sure to read Rob's books. They pre-date Sam and Dean and are full of action, adventure, snark and are just plain fun. Also, the brothers Cal and Niko are possibly cooler than Sam and Dean. Although I'd like to see Castiel go toe to toe with one of the best tricksters ever written: Robin.



 

The Resurgum Series by Joan Frances Turner (Dust & Frail)
The fabulous Devon Monk and her Allie Beckstrom Series
Jason Starr's The Pack and The Craving
The super talented Meljean Brook's excellent Steampunk series Novels of the Iron Seas which include The Iron Duke, Heart of Steel and Riveted.

As you can tell, I'm ready to faint. I am so pleased that we are getting these authors officially over here in the UK. It feels like we've arrived!

Happy reading!

Edited: added 3 of the amazing Cal Leandros UK covers.  I have to buy these all over!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Giant Thief by David Tallerman

Meet Easie Damasco, rogue, thieving swine and total charmer.


Even the wicked can’t rest when a vicious warlord and the force of enslaved giants he commands invade their homeland. Damasco might get away in one piece, but he’s going to need help.


Big time.

I had such fun reading Giant Thief. It is the equivalent of a Sunday Matinee movie, it's a popcorn book, the kind of fantasy you give a friend who has never read fantasy and wants to give it a try. It's easy on the eye, the characters are immensely likable and the story sweeps you along.

By no means is this a mad George RR Martin style sprawling fantasy epic which feels like it will never end, no - the key here is that the author has given us a chase book, albeit in a fantasy world, and after an initial wobble where the chase scenes become a bit dull, we find a narrative full of great world-building and interesting characters, but he reigns in all the exposition, which gets many votes in my book. See, Easie (best name ever?) manages to steal something from a Very Bad Man. And of course, the VBM wants it back. And he has an entire army to throw at Easie. And so Easie does something rather unexpected, he steals a giant. One of the giants from the VBM army, to boot.

You are never in doubt, for a single second, that Easie is trouble. The first line of the book tells you this - The sun was going down by the time they decided to hang me- and as he goes on the run with the giant Saltlick, I fully expected him to become more disagreeable and unpleasant. I was ready to dislike Easie, I was ready to dislike the story. But what won me over, after the initial running and hiding from the VBM's army, was the developing relationship between Saltlick and Easie. Easie is selfish, self-absorbed and you know that he'd sell his best mate in a twinkling of an eye. And yet, there is some spark in Easie that you can't help but like. He is the unreliable guy you can't help but like, because you think that deep down he's a good guy gone wrong.

The author plays a very delicate game, showing us that Easie is not to be trusted, and yet we do place our trust in him, because he saves the cat.

There is action aplenty and great dialogue and by the time I had finished reading it, I wanted my own Sallick and was ready to start learning how to pick locks and creep about in the shadows.

Cinematic and cool, Tallerman gives us a fun, fast debut where old fantasy tropes are dusted off and given a newer sheen for a new audience, ones who may be put off by giant-sized fantasy epics, but who are keen to try summat smaller in size and scope.

Giant Thief is out now from Angry Robot in book and digital format.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

JK Rowling Book News


Got the email through about forty minutes ago and thought I'd update the blog with the news - this is from the Publishers Marketplace email, with a quote from JKR:

The true deal of the day: Little, Brown has world English rights to the first novel for adults by JK Rowling, the company announced Thursday morning. Little Brown UK publisher David Shelley, Publisher will serve as Rowling's editor and Michael Pietsch will oversee publication in the US. All other details--title, pub date "and further details about the novel will be announced later in the year." Rowling says in the release: "Although I’ve enjoyed writing it every bit as much, my next book will be very different to the Harry Potter series, which has been published so brilliantly by Bloomsbury and my other publishers around the world. The freedom to explore new territory is a gift that Harry's success has brought me, and with that new territory it seemed a logical progression to have a new publisher. I am delighted to have a second publishing home in Little, Brown, and a publishing team that will be a great partner in this new phase of my writing life."

Rowling was represented by Neil Blair at The Blair Partnership.


Guest Blog: Justin Hill - How being a nerd turned me into a writer

I "met" Justin last year via Twitter and the blog.  Turns out when we did Viking Week, we had somehow managed to miss his very excellent Shieldwall (Mark reviews it here). And as Justin and I started chatting, it transpired that he's a big gaming geek and has the same sort of background as us, and many of our friends.  And many of our friends and acquaintances are also published genre writers and writers-in-waiting.  So I asked Justin to write me an article for MFB about how his gaming and geekiness inspired his writing and interests.

This here, is the article he sent through. The geeklevels blew my mind.


I was there at the beginning - when the boxed set came out, 25 years ago, with a Crimson Fists Space Marine , shooting his gun and swinging an orc head, that was wearing a Prussian style helmet.  Most visions of the future then saw bright lights, shiny space ships and talking computers.  The Warhammer 40K universe was different.  It was Blade Runner meets Apocalypse Now: a Orwellesque future where Big Brothers the best man around.  

I had got into gaming through Dungeons and Dragons, RuneQuest.  Its obvious to me now that character creation, adventure, confrontation, return, recoup and recover which is essentially what each adventure was is the perfect template for writing.  Writing is the assumption of other personalities; its role playing in its simplest form.   

In my school there was nothing particularly special about playing Dungeons and Dragons: except that it was what the weird kids did after school, in the school library.  Playing for me wasnt enough.  I went a step further and wrote my characters adventures down as stories in their own books.  My first characters were the half elf twins Tallan and Tollon; my favourite was an orphan thief called Bergen, who lost his hand to a poisoned lock, and murdered at close quarters with a kukri; and my last major RuneQuest character was an arbalest wielding hard man named Skarp-Hedin, who went on to be a Orlanth Runelord, fighting the long defeat against the Lunar Empire in the wilds around Griffin Mountain.

Watch Toy Story III and you know theres a time when boys must put away their toys and get into girls and ale.  But I kept my brushes, and kept painting figures, and kept tabs on the hobby from a distance.  But adventure was in my soul, and after university I went to work as a volunteer in the furthest part of the world I could find: rural Shanxi Province, north China, where the wind blows down from the battlefield passes through the Great Wall and the landscape is rich with ruined pagodas and once-rich houses.  It was an adventure of my own.  I rode Mongolian ponies on the steppes; hiked above Tibetan monasteries; stood awed in ancient temples  as incredible and foreign as anything I discovered in the pages of Conan the Barbarian.  And I wrote about these experiences, and then they were published.  And so my dream came true, of becoming a writer. 
There are some stories that happen to you, and some you make up.  My first writing was all about China and Eritrea, East Africa.  And those were very fine books.  They won prizes, and a lot of reviewers said very nice things about them.  They called me a literary writer, which felt like Id been steered through the open front door when all the writers I felt in common with were steered round the back to the Tradesmans Entrance.
I asked my editor the question, one day, What is literary fiction?
His explanation was that literary fiction has convincing characters.  But I think it goes further than that.  Theres a snobbery within the literary establishment that excludes almost all genre fiction from their dwindling club, unless sometimes, its a crime story.  And this is regardless of whether theres convincing characters, or not.  Put an elf or a dwarf or a space-ship in a story, and its immediately sub-standard.   How it must irritate the critics that people insist on reading, watching and encouraging more fantastical stories.  Just look at recent mainstream hits: Game of Thrones, Avatar, Lord of the Rings: people cant get enough of the stuff. 

And no wonder people love these stories.  From myth to legend and religion; Shakespeare to Mallory; Beowulf to Homer to Gawain to Chaucer - stories about the fantastical, the possible and impossible have always been popular.   


Ive read lots of literary and lots of genre fiction, and Ive always thought that genre writers wrote better books than their literary cousins.  Which for me begs the question, what makes a good book? 
Like lots of other writers, my first literary love affair was with Tolkien.  He first inspired me to read, and then to become a writer.  It was Tolkiens ability to create a new world that astonished me.  And when I got to the end of the Lord of the Rings I went back to the beginning, and re-read it for the first time.  And keep reading and learning from it: which is the mark of a real classic. 
Answers to this question Whats a good book are hugely personal.  My answer is this: I like books that grab me, entertain me, and keep me turning the pages.  I like strong characters and big decisions.  I like life and death stories, the question of how to survive the modern world.  I like strange worlds, and the choices it gives the characters therein.  I like big worlds, big challenges, and the things they teach me about my life.  These are found in many great literary books.  Theyre also in genre fiction by the bucket load.  And having ploughed through many literary books, Im sorry to say that its full of writers who can write a beautiful sentence, or even a great paragraph.  But theyre stumped when it comes to writing good stories: the very hardest thing to learn.  
Want a good read?  Give me Tolkien, or Terry Brooks, or Dan Abnett, or Graham McNeill, or George RR Martin, or Julian May, or an old RuneQuest adventure pack any day.  
I wanted to bring the best of genre writing into Shieldwall, so that it was both literary and a page turner. I had previously written a fantasy novel under a cunning pseudonym, and it had given me a test run at a very different kind of writing.  It had also taught me something about how to keep the pace ticking over.  And about writing battle scenes and fighting: that action scenes, he struck here and the other man struck there, tend to be very dull reading. 
So I set about teaching myself how to write better.  How to put the reader into the hack and slash and splatter of battle.  And when I tried to imagine what book I wanted it to be I remembered being a boy and my father giving me The King of Athelney, by Alfred Duggan, about his namesake, Alfred the Great.  That book left such an impression that Duggans Alfred is my Alfred, and I wanted Shieldwall to be the kind of book dads would give their sons, and say.  Want to know about the Battle of Hastings?  Read this.
And for it to kindle within them some of the magic Duggan or Tolkien did for me.  And still do. 
***
Superb guest blog, Justin! Thanks very much for taking the time to write it. Find Justin's site here, and his blog here.  Shieldwall is out now from

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Outpost by Adam Baker



Kasker Rampart: a derelict refinery platform moored in the Arctic Ocean. A skeleton crew of fifteen fight boredom and despair as they wait for a relief ship to take them home. But the world beyond their frozen wasteland has gone to hell. Cities lie ravaged by a global pandemic. One by one TV channels die, replaced by silent wavebands.

The Rampart crew are marooned. They must survive the long Arctic winter, then make their way home alone. They battle starvation and hypothermia, unaware that the deadly contagion that has devastated the world is heading their way..

Outpost was one of a handful of books I picked up after Christmas courtesy of some very welcome gift vouchers. I like dystopic/ apocalyptic stories, and the premise was an intriguing one (the great opening line helped too) and while it took me longer than expected to get a chance to read it, in retrospect the timing was good as I finally got stuck in as an unexpected cold snap hit us.

Outpost opens with a suicide bid by what will be one of the main characters, and the tension begin to trickle in almost immediately afterwards as news of the worldwide pandemic finally filters through to the rig. The information that comes through is sketchy, and not knowing what is actually happening out there keeps you from pigeonholing the story and adds to the atmosphere.

Suffice to say that things start going awry sooner rather than later, more often than not due to very real, very human fears, all accelerated by dwindling food supplies and the first terrifying and bewildering encounter with the reality of what is waiting out there. Hard decisions need to be made as conflict tears the crew apart, and while there are some solid action sequences, the real impact comes from the conflict between the characters and the slow implosion of their hopes and dreams in the face of the utterly bleak and alien future that awaits them.

Outpost surprised me at several turns, evolving as it did from the expectations of a survival-horror into the sinister lovechild of The Thing and 28 Days Later. As a debut novel it punches way above its weight, and Adam Baker is certainly someone to keep an eye out for in the future.

Liz says: I read this one before Mark and was smitten by the slow creeping horror of the story, about how this handful of survivors would survive. It's a slow burning psychological thriller that freaked me out. In fact, it took me ages to finish it, after the initial rush of reading more than two thirds of the book in a day. I wanted to believe that everything was just an awful dream. Needless to say, it wasn't. Adam is definitely an up and coming horror writer and one I'm looking forward to reading more, specifically in Juggernaut, his 'prequel' to Outpost.



You can visit Adam's blog here.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Don't Expect Magic by Kathy McCullough



Synopsis

Delaney Collins doesn't believe in fairy tales. And why should she? Her mom is dead, her best friend is across the country, and she's stuck in California with "Dr. Hank," her famous life-coach father—a man she barely knows. Happily ever after? Yeah, right.

Then Dr. Hank tells her an outrageous secret: he's a fairy godmother—an f.g.—and he can prove it. And by the way? The f.g. gene is hereditary. Meaning there's a good chance that New Jersey tough girl Delaney is someone's fairy godmother.

But what happens when a fairy godmother needs a wish of her own?


I've had this on my wish list for a while as I love a fairy godmother story and I knew that this would have a great deal of potential to be fun. The start is fairly low key and the Delaney we meet has just lost her mum and is grieving. Even worse she has to go and live with her life-coach dad in California when she'd rather stay with her friend Posh and her family. Delaney's short-term goal is to find an immediate way to get back home and put the whole west coast disaster behind her. She's obviously upset by recent events but Delaney's obviously been grieving for the loss of a relationship with her dad for many years. As a result she's snarky and spikey.

School is the disaster she expects but then she discovers that Hank is a fairy godmother and that she is too. I couldn't see how such a turnaround in character and outlook was going to happen but that's the fun thing about this book. Bit by bit everything that Delaney tries to protect; her heart, her unassailable defences and her hermit-like existence are chipped away. I loved Cadie, the head cheerleader, who pushes against the expectation that she be the bitchy queen bee. I also think that the underlying message of this book - that everyone is not what they seem and you should take time to get to know people - is a good one.

This is a short read, fun and probably for a younger audience - twelve-year-olds would probably love this but it's a little too light perhaps to call this a YA read. Nonetheless it was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon when you want entertaining.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Dark Storm by Sarah Singleton


Ellie is staying with her maternal grandparents for the summer, while her recently bereaved dad takes off on holiday with his new girlfriend. Upset by his apparent callousness, missing her mother, and jealous for her dad's attention, she begins to spiral into depression. Her grandparents suggest she joins a local theatre group, to meet people her own age and get away from the dark thoughts that threaten to engulf her. But then she gets roped into a seance at the theatre, and is the only one who actually sees a real ghost. Now a spirit is contacting her from beyond the grave - and as the dead boy's story unfolds, Ellie finds herself falling in love with him. But if she solves his mystery and helps release his soul, will he be lost to her forever?

It seems that Sarah Singleton can't not write creepy books. And there is nothing wrong with this, in my opinion. In The Amethyst Child she explored a young girl getting involved in a cult; In The Poison Garden she gives us a murdery mystery set in the 1850's that kept me guessing right to the end.

In Dark Storm she's given us a haunting romance. I do not use these words lightly.

Ellie is such a complex character, someone who is still struggling to come to grips with her grief over the loss of her mum who died from cancer not too long ago. Ellie and her dad nursed her mum through the illness and Ellie suffers from pangs of depression, doubt and anger at her mum, herself, her dad. She feels that people who see her now, immediately know what she's been through, that her mum's illness and death has somehow left its mark on her. She's also deeply resentful of her dad who seems to have walked away from her and the memories of her mother. He's found a new girlfriend and they've gone on holiday to the States. They had asked Ellie to come along but she couldn't stand the thought of doing that and instead chooses to go and spend her time with her Nan and Granddad at the seaside, hoping to rekindle the memories of going there with her mum.

Ellie is not my favourite person. She still isn't. She seems selfish, self-absorbed and so intensely focused on her own misery, she doesn't seem to notice how her actions are hurting those she loves. The case being her grandparents and her dad. She mopes, she sulks, she's occasionally quite rude. And even though I didn't like her, I did understand exactly where she was coming from, as I too had lost my mum young and so I could empathise with her to a certain extent, but I did also want to shake her and tell her to get over herself, to realise how much she still has to be grateful for. This is a clear indication of a character getting under your skin and for that, I applaud Ms. Singleton wholeheartedly.

It's when Ellie discovers a paper theatre in the local secondhand bookshop and take it home that the weird things start happening.  Someone else writes in her diary and the messages are there when she wakes up in the morning.  Then, when she goes to join the theatre group for their production of Midsummer Night's Dream, that things go into overdrive.  Ellie somehow has a connection to the ghostly boy who writes her notes, who does everything in is power to lure her over to his world.

I wanted to run away when I read certain sections of the book.  Ellie is in such a fragile state of mind, that she falls wholeheartedly for the enigmatic ghost boy who tells her he's waited for her for a very long time.  Their romance is so Romeo and Juliet that it made me well up a few times, but like R&J's story, there are much darker elements than some people may expect.  Ellie becomes so involved in discovering the story about the theatre she has at home, with her ghost boy, with their family history, that she forgets to live in the present.

She looks past her friends and doesn't see them, not really.  Her obsession becomes deeply unhealthy and in part it replaces her grief for her mother.  As Ms. Singleton breaks it down and puts it all back together again, the outcome is not entirely what you may expect, but there is a resolution and parts of it, again, had me sobbing like a girl.

Because of its powerful writing and the exploration of grief in all its forms it's a deeply reflective book but then, it is also about redemption and family and so many more things.  It's a beautiful book in many ways, but it's also a very tough book to read, or I found it anyway, because I think I could identify with Ellie so much.  Another thing I'm now desperate to do after finishing Dark Storm is to have a wonderful UK seaside summer holiday. I'll wisely steer clear of theatres and graveyards.

Dark Storm is out in a few weeks' time, at the end of March and I apologise for reviewing it now, as it is a long lead-up time to the actual release but I just had to get the review out and talk to someone about it.  Even if it is my computer screen.  And also, it may give you a chance to go ahead and read some of Sarah's other fab titles.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Hexed by Kevin Hearne


Atticus O’Sullivan, last of the Druids, doesn’t care much for witches. Still, he’s about to “make nice” with the local coven by signing a mutually beneficial non-aggression treaty—when suddenly the witch population in modern day Tempe, Arizona, quadruples overnight. The new girls are not just bad, they’re badasses with a dark history on the German side of WWII.

With a fallen angel feasting on local high school students, a horde of Bacchants blowing in from Vegas with their special brand of deadly decadence, and a dangerously sexy Celtic goddess of fire vying for his attention, Atticus is having trouble scheduling the witch-hunt. But aided by his magical sword, his neighbor’s rocket-propelled grenade launcher, and his vampire attorney, Atticus is ready to sweep the town and show the witchy women they picked the wrong Druid to hex.

How much do I love Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid Chronicle series? *stretches arms at least six metres wide* About this much.

Atticus is a great main character.  He's charming, deeply funny, sarcastic, intelligent and feels genuine.  He's a bit of a bad-ass, but he never comes across as over-powered in this world he inhabits.  His enemies are always just that bit stronger than him, that bit more dangerous, which is why your sense of disbelief remains suspended, always.  He gets beaten up loads, but like all good heroes, he just doesn't lie down and die.

He gets up, he gets mean and he fights back.  I like that in my heroes.  He also isn't afraid to ask for help.  Which is another thing I liked.  He screws up plenty and his interactions with various fae and supernatural creatures feels real and we come away with a sense of awe when he encounters various gods and goddesses. 

But importantly, he makes these mythical beings feel human, so that we can see them stripped of their godhood and identify with them.  One of my favourite scenes from Hexed is when he teams up with Coyote, the quintessential trickster god.  Atticus is completely convinced that Coyote's on the level and they work together well, yet when at the end of sorting out the trouble at the high school it's revealed Coyote basically used him, he is a bit stunned.  This I approved of, because it showed off Coyote's trickster nature, but it also showed some of Atticus's naivete and it makes him even more real and easy to identify with.

Another thing I love about Kevin Hearne is his writing style.  There is nothing about it that drags.  It's fast paced, incredibly well written and researched.  The mythologies are close to the originals we may read up in more scholarly works and yet he's given it a unique spin, keeping it fresh and will probably lead to readers picking up dusty mythology books to find out more about the creatures he references.  What I also like is how unforced his dialogue is.  It is easy on the eye and if you look carefully, you pick up the nuances that help define the various secondary characters.

Again, there will be the inevitable similarities drawn between Jim Butcher and other urban fantasy writers, but so what? The Iron Druid books are great fun and I find myself thinking about the two I have read in retrospect and smiling to myself because I've enjoyed them so much.  My only quibble is that well, that I'm a bit jealous of Kevin Hearne.  He's done what all good writers can do: given me a hero I genuinely like and secretly wish was real.  His world-building is never intrusive and some readers who like denser titles like Gaiman's American Gods may sneer at the "lightweight-ness" of the Iron Druid books but you know, if you've liked Gaiman and Carey and Butcher and Aaronovich, you're going to love Hearne.

I cannot wait to get Hammered and the rest of the titles he's recently signed a contract for.  I'm a fan and I don't care who knows it. For aspiring writers of the urban fantasy genre, I recommend reading these books to give you a good grounding in how to do it right.  For fans who are already fans of the genre, try them!

The first three titles are out now: Hounded / Hexed / Hammered, with Tricked coming in April. Find Kevin's website here and do tweet at him on Twitter at @KevinHearne.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Random Bits #4 - 2012


Novelicious.com launches writing competition in association with Avon (HarperCollins), Books and the City (Simon & Schuster UK), and Literary Agent, Diane Banks

Popular Chick Lit and Women’s Fiction website Novelicious has launched a writing competition in association with Avon Books, Simon & Schuster UK’s Books and the City initiative and Literary Agent, Diane Banks.
Novelicious Undiscovered, which kicks off today (February 14th), invites aspiring commercial women’s fiction writers to submit the first 3000 words of their novel to undiscovered@novelicious.com before April 3rd.

The top twenty entries, as chosen by the Novelicious.com team, will be showcased on the site during May and put to a public vote in June. From these top twenty entries two winners will be chosen.
The People’s Choice award winner (the entry with the highest amount of public votes) will win:

·         A full manuscript critique with Avon Commissioning Editor Caroline Hogg over tea and cake in their London offices

·         A £50 voucher for writersgifts.co.uk

·         An introduction to and entry critique from Literary Agent Diane Banks of Diane Banks Associates Ltd

·         A selection of 10 Avon Titles

·         A Kindle
The Books and the City Choice award winner (chosen from the top 20 entries by the Fiction Editorial department at Simon & Schuster UK) will win:

·         A full manuscript critique from a member of the Fiction Editorial team at Simon & Schuster UK

·         Author Mentoring and meeting with Sunday Times Bestselling author of RSVP, Helen Warner

·         A £50 voucher from writersgifts.co.uk

·         A Selection of 10 Books and the City Titles

Maxine Hitchcock, Fiction Editorial Director at Simon & Schuster UK says:

“We're thrilled to play a part in the brilliant Novelicious Undiscovered competition. Simon & Schuster / Books and the City prides itself on finding new talent and in recent years has discovered wonderful new voices such as Jane Costello, Milly Johnson, Helen Warner and Ali Harris who have gone on to hit the bestseller lists. We're honoured to be working with Novelicious, such a supporter and champion of female fiction, to find potential new stars.”
Diane Banks of Diane Banks Associates Ltd says:

"I'm delighted to have the opportunity to critique the winner of Undiscovered and the option to offer them representation.  A competition which is judged by readers is a promising way to discover new talent and I'm excited about seeing the shortlist"
Caroline Hogg, Commissioning editor at Avon says:

“It’s such a pleasure to be involved with the Novelicious Undiscovered competition. For years Novelicious has been championing fantastic women’s fiction and the team there sum up everything that’s best about publishing: a genuine love of good writing and the boundless energy and good humour it takes to keep trying new things. At Avon we’re always on the look-out for brilliant new voices to add to our list of stellar authors – among them bestsellers Miranda Dickinson, Trisha Ashley and Claudia Carroll – so who knows what we might find through Novelicious Undiscovered!”
Kirsty Greenwood, Founding Editor of Novelicious.com

“I am so excited to able to extend such an amazing opportunity to Britain’s aspiring writers. Novelicious is passionate about women’s fiction, and we are hopeful that the ‘Undiscovered’ competition will unearth some sparkling new talent in the genre.”
The Winner of Novelicious Undiscovered will be announced on 26th June. For full entry details and terms and conditions please visit http://www.novelicious.com/noveliciousundiscovered2012

Books and the City’s website can be found at http://www.booksandthecity.co.uk


Diane Banks Associated Ltd’s Website can be found at http://www.dianebanks.co.uk/

Helen Warner was Head of Daytime for Channel 4, where she was responsible for shows such as Come Dine With Me and Deal Or No Deal.  Previously she worked for ITV where she launched the daytime talkshow Loose Women and was editor of This Morning. She lives in East Anglia with her husband and their two children. RSVP, her first novel was a Sunday Times bestseller. Her second novel, IOU is published in March 2012.
For all further enquiries about Novelicious Undiscovered 2012 please contact kirsty@novelicious.com

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Wood Queen by Karen Mahoney


Spoilers for The Iron Witch!

Synopsis

Donna Underwood is in deep trouble. An ancient alchemical order is holding her accountable for destroying the last precious drops of the elixar of life. Never mind the fact that Donna was acting to free her friend, Navin, from the dangerous clutches of the Wood Queen at the time. But what the alchemists have in store is nothing compared to the wrath of the fey. The Wood Queen has been tricked and Donna must pay. Get ready for all hell - quite literally - to break loose..

I adored The Iron Witch, every little tiny bit of it, so was ridiculously pleased to get my hands on the sequel. I wanted to throw myself back into the world of Ironbridge as quickly as possible. The opening finds Donna in a whole load of trouble. I mean, she did do something awful with the elixar at the end of the last book but it was all in a good cause - to ensure that Navin and The Maker were kept safe and surely this would be enough to help her cause, right? Wrong, as far as the alchemists are concerned she's got to be punished and a full-on trial is the result. But while the wheels of justice seem to turn painfully slowly the rest of Donna's life is out of control. First her mum's health deteriorates then the wood queen herself makes an appearance and a demand that cannot be ignored. Donna is left trying to placate the alchemists whilst doing what needs to be done. As the book progresses, Donna's priorities change as she makes some shocking discoveries.

I noticed a slight change in this book from The Iron Witch. Both the dialogue and Donna's inner monologue is much more snappy and snarky. I liked this as it shows she's changing, going from being the unfortunate victim of past events to a young woman who can make life-changing decisions. Navin was a brilliant as ever. His and Donna's friendship is really touching - you can really feel the longstanding bond between them. I still love Xan, I can't wait to see what happens between them in book three - he is a hot boy and no mistake. He's also got some secrets of his own in this book and I'm excited to find out if he gets what he wants. The alchemists' trial does bring something potentially intriguing and this is two members of the London group. I loved them both and am also extremely excited to see what this might mean for Donna. As for Donna herself, she's starting to find out some interesting and long-hidden secrets about herself and those magical tattoos ...

I feel like I haven't done this book justice with this review, I'm bubbling over to tell you about this bit or that bit but don't want to spoil it. Karen did this wonderful blog post a while ago about the middle book syndrome. It's brilliant, in fact I replied to it saying it was the Best. Post. Ever which it is (please read it, there are Star Wars references). But more than that Karen outlined what a middle book should provide and what it cannot. It can't give you a big showdown (although the ending of The Wood Queen is pretty damn explosive) but what it can do is take you further into the world the author has created and show you more than the first book. It sets things up for the end but when done well you feel as if you're being guided to your destination with thrills along the way. The Wood Queen manages this in spades, no - in shed-loads. There are only two books on my Best Books of 2012 shelf on Good Reads and this is one of them. Bravo. This book both kicks ass and yet is full of beauty.

Book three, The Stone Demon, is out in February 2013. 2013!!! *tears at hair* However, to make up for this Karen's novel about the teen vampire Moth, Falling to Ash, is out in September of this year.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Know No Fear by Dan Abnett



Unaware of the wider Heresy and following the Warmaster’s increasingly cryptic orders, Roboute Guilliman returns to Ultramar to muster his Legion for war against the orks massing in the Veridian system. Without warning, their supposed allies in the Word Bearers Legion launch a devastating invasion of Calth, scattering the Ultramarines fleet and slaughtering all who stand in their way.



And so begins the 19th book of the Horus Heresy series.

The first thing you notice is that KNF is presented in the style of a chronicle of the battle of Calth rather than an out-and-out novel like its predecessors, the heading of each chapter showing the countdown to when Guilliman, Primarch of the Ultramarines, gives the order to return fire. It’s a very clever device, adding to the tension as the Word Bearers make their final preparations amidst the unsuspecting Ultramarines who are denied the reader’s knowledge. It’s a bold move, perhaps borne of the fact that the subheading on the cover is ‘The Battle of Calth’, or that ultimately the entire Horus Heresy is a retrospective study of what shaped the 41st millennium into the no-hugs-just-war hellhole that the rest of 40K is set in. Whatever the root of the idea, it works. This is a huge confrontation, one that ranks right up there with the Dropsite Massacre in terms of impact, and it deserves the epic tone that this approach gives it. It’s tricky to put exactly why and how it works into words, but it does (hence Dan being the NYT bestselling author and not me).

It’s a hybrid approach, made up of varying percentages of found footage, military report and typical third person narrative, and what that does is enable Dan to convey the sheer scope of the battle while seamlessly blending in the facets of the battle from the perspective of a range of Space Marines and troopers scattered across the battlefields. Through their eyes we are afforded a glimpse of uncounted moments of otherwise unseen heroism and bear witness to their deaths. The scope and intensity of the unadulterated violence that is unleashed is no less than awesome. There’s a very real sense of how utterly lethal and unforgiving a battle between Space Marines would be. You can tell Dan was having some real fun with this, and has really pulled the stops out in the action stakes; it’s crisp, dark and relentless, and reaffirms why he’s the crown prince of military sci-fi.

The stars of the show are the Ultramarines and how they react to the invasion as they’re steadily pushed to the brink of destruction. It’s a good insight into their psyche at that time, and an interesting take on how they assess and deal with such threats. Guilliman too gets a similar treatment, and while he doesn’t get as much attention lavished on him as, say, Corax did in Deliverance Lost, he’s nonetheless fleshed out and given more character. And he swears. I hooted with childish glee when Lorgar resorts to calling him a “giant pompous arsehole”. Thank you, Dan. They’re Primarchs. Soldiers, albeit on a scale we can’t really appreciate, but they’re not saints.

KNF clocks in at a respectable 412 pages and is a novel of epic, brutal proportions. I finished it over two days of commuting, including two jealously guarded lunch hours where I sat transfixed by blood, betrayal and heroism next to my cold and forgotten coffee. To say that I enjoyed it is an understatement, and my only complaint is that I want more.



You can watch the trailer here, read an extract of KNF here and visit Dan's blog here.

Remember that Dan will be at Games Workshop Plaza, Oxford Street on the 18th Feb (starting at 12 noon) where he'll be signing of Know No Fear!

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Shieldwall by Justin Hill

The year is 1016 and England burns, while the Viking armies blockade the great city of Lundenburh. King Ethelred lies dying and the England he knew is dying with him; the warring kingdoms of Mercia, Wessex and Northymbria tremble on the brink of great change. One man lives to bear witness to the upheaval: Godwin, barely out of boyhood and destined to become one of his country's great warriors.

Shieldwall is, of course, Godwin's story although it begins with his exiled father rather than him. Wulfnoth is steadily becoming aware that his strength and life are destined to fade before he can lay his eyes upon the son he was forced to leave as a hostage many years before. As he lays dying, he commands his war band, all tough and grizzled fighters, to seek out Godwin and serve him.

The story loops back then to introduce us to the Godwin, and so begins a journey into a turbulent period in England's history that has long been overlooked amidst the more glamourous and accessible Hastings. The hardback clocks in at just under 400 pages, and crammed into that are decades of warfare, betrayal and a desperate struggle see the dream of a better future bartered away by lesser men, all filtered through Godwin's perceptions. He's an interesting character, a realist who refuses to surrender his ideals or honour even in the darkest hours. The world he and his band occupy is not an easy one. People starve, wounds get infected, heroes piss their breeches. It may be fiction, but it sure isn't fantasy. The action is vivid and brutal -and there's plenty of it to go around too.

My only complaint per se, and I expect that it's a by-product of the sheer scope of the novel, is that there was a bit in the middle where I started to feel a bit distanced from Godwin. Things that I would have liked to have been 'in on' are fleetingly spoken of or referenced in retrospect, including an incident where one of his closest childhood friends was killed. It takes the focus off him and slows the pace a bit, but it's minor wobble, a deep breath before the plunge towards the showdown with Knut.

The Abacus cover - due c. 06/2012

For me this is historical fiction of the best sort. Hill has blended fact and interpretative fiction to bring an almost forgotten bit of history and the players therein to life in an immersive and taut novel, shot through with an evocative poetry that echoes the sagas of the time. It's a great read.

I enjoyed it immensely and have found it a home on my shelves next to Giles Kristian's Raven series.





You can visit Justin's blog here.


(And this is how not to charge a shieldwall)

Friday, February 03, 2012

The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan


Synopsis

Rollrock island is a lonely rock of gulls and waves, blunt fishermen and their homely wives. Life is hard for the families who must wring a poor living from the stormy seas. But Rollrock is also a place of magic - the scary, salty-real sort of magic that changes lives forever. Down on the windswept beach, where the seals lie in herds, the outcast sea witch Misskaella casts her spells - and brings forth girls from the sea - girls with long, pale limbs and faces of haunting innocence and loveliness - the most enchantingly lovely girls the fishermen of Rollrock have ever seen.

But magic always has its price. A fisherman may have and hold a sea bride, and tell himself that he is her master. But from his first look into those wide, questioning, liquid eyes, he will be just as transformed as she is. He will be equally ensnared. And in the end the witch will always have her payment.

From the first few pages I knew this was a very special book. We meet the witch at the end of her years and see her through the eyes of children. Before long we are transported back to the witch's childhood when she was just Misskaella, smallest of a large family. As she grows it becomes obvious that she's not the same as the rest; she has an affinity for the seals and they for her. As she gets older her gift becomes more pronounced and she can see the life in things, lights that flicker around the edge of her vision which are totally distracting. The oldest in the community of Rollrock know what she is but the rest just know that she's different and treat her as an outcast. Such treatment, even from her own mother, gradually makes Misskaella bitter.

What happens next is like a lesson in how not to treat people. Once she discovers that she's different and that the community have decided that she's to be avoided then Misskaella becomes a loner. Her talent is something that she uses to get her revenge on the island of Rollrock. The wonderful thing about Margo Lanagan's beautiful writing is that the whole time I read Misskaella's chapter I was with her and totally empathetic. For the rest of the book we see her through everyone else's eyes and my loyalty waned. With each chapter I completely agreed with the narrator - I'm either very fickle or this is powerful writing. I'm going with the latter!

This story is somewhat circular (not entirely but bear with me) as it starts in the just before present, rewinds and then we follow the tale back to the present day following different narrators. Not once did I feel the loss of the narrator before as the new one gathers you up, you hook your arm over theirs and they show you the same places, the same people through their eyes. Generations pass and things change on Rollrock. I reread earlier parts of the book before continuing as we meet someone's son or someone's granddaughter and I wanted to revisit the older relative, glimpsed in an earlier chapter. Because the island is so small I felt as if I knew them all and I felt sad and a little in awe of what the island had come to and what Misskaella had achieved.

This book is magic from the first page to the last. Just when I thought I'd definitely turned my back on Misskaella something happens to make me change my mind. I was completely bewitched by this book. The night I finished it I dreamt of selkies all night long and woke up wishing I could read it again for the first time.