30 April, 2012

Review - The Curse of the Mistwraith by Janny Wurts

The best thing I can come up with to describe this book is that it's the most frustratingly amazing book I've ever read.

The Curse of the Mistwraith [US] [UK] is the first book in the epic fantasy series, The Wars of Light and Shadow. Wurts, arguably most notably known for her work with Raymond E. Feist in The Empire Trilogy is both an accomplished novelist and artist.

From the back of the book:
The world of Athera lives in eternal fog, its skies obscured by the malevolent Mistwraith. Only the combined powers of two half-brothers can challenge the Mistwraith's stranglehold: Arithon, Master of Shadow, and Lysaer, Lord of Light. Arithon and Lysaer soon find that they are inescapably bound to a series of events dictated by their own deepest convictions. Yet as the sorcerers of the Fellowship of Seven know well, there is more at stake than one battle with the Mistwraith: between them the half-brothers hold the balance of the world—its harmony and its future—in their hands.
I can see why The Curse of the Mistwraith is one of those love it or hate it kind of books. It's been called overly-long, overly-detailed, and overly-descriptive, but I didn't find that to be the case. Instead, I'd go with the word 'immersive,' a word more often used to describe imagery and 3D technology.

What polarizes readers of this book/series comes down to the writing. This is also the reason for the "frustrating" part of my above statement. Not only is it full of details and description, the phrasing itself is complicated and the ideas expressed are, therefore, difficult to grasp the first time through. I can honestly say I've never had to reread passages as often as I have with this book.

At the same time, I couldn't imagine anything different. The writing perfectly fits the story, giving it an epic feeling, making it feel like history in the making and your struggle draws you closer to the characters.

Sometimes it's just a phrase framed with a negative instead of a positive and while I loved this book, I had a really hard time being forced to reread so often. It's definitely not a book to take to bed with you or for any time when you are remotely tired. You need full brainpower for this one.

Wurts is an incredible writer in so many ways and what I really noticed is her ability to combine the "show don't tell" advice that's the typical writing advice with the moments when it's just better to tell. Character traits will be displayed through action or dialogue, but sometimes it's just better to tell a few things and Wurts is the master at it.

Like Robin Hobb, Wurts is also able to convince you that things are headed one direction only to completely turn things on their head. As much as you have to struggle with this book, it really draws you into the characters' lives and you can't help but feel attached to their pains and their triumphs and understand their motivations.

Along with the writing, the structure of the book is unique. After a short prologue, the book follows a pattern with a chapter, followed by two titled sub-chapters and then another prologue (essentially) with three lines that set up the next block of chapter/sub-chapters. The closest thing I can compare this to is Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings, which has set-up chapters throughout to explore the entire world and begin foreshadowing events.

Probably best compared to The Wheel of Time in terms of complexity of plot and immersion into the world, the Wars of Light and Shadow series is something full of life where if the characters don't feel like good friends, you'll at least know them just as well.

If you want a challenge along the lines of Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen, in the sense that you need to be ready to apply yourself fully, that will having you living and breathing in another world altogether, you're in for a treat. While not everyone will connect with The Curse of the Mistwraith, those who do will really have a truly powerful experience.

4.5 out of 5 Stars (More than loved it)

Ps. Janny Wurts is also an amazing artist who's done all the covers (new and old) of this series plus the artwork at Fantasyliterature.com. Some people just have it all. :)

The Wars of Light and Shadow by Janny Wurts
Arc I
1) The Curse of the Mistwraith
Arc II: The Ships of Merior
2) The Ships of Merior
3) The Warhost of Vastmark
Arc III: Alliance of Light
4) Fugitive Prince
5) Grand Conspiracy
6) Peril's Gate
7) Traitor's Knot
8) Stormed Fortress
Arc IV: Sword of the Canon
9) Initiate's Trial
10) Destiny's Conflict (forthcoming)
Arc V
11) Song of the Mysteries (forthcoming)

26 April, 2012

A Memory of Light Excerpt

(not actual cover)

I haven't read this (still catching up), but I thought I'd post it anyway cause I'm pretty excited about it. I keep telling you I can't resist peer pressure!

This year’s JordanCon brought a great deal of information on A Memory of Light to the eyes of the public. Tor Books and Harriet McDougal revealed Darrell K. Sweet’s final cover sketch for the book, and Harriet herself read a passage from the prologue of A Memory of Light, the final book in the Wheel of Time series.
Now, we present that passage in full. Join Bayrd, an Andoran soldier on the wrong side of history, as his tiny corner of the world prepares for the end of all things.
Check out the excerpt here.

Update, Excuses, and Something Funny

First, we'll go with the funny (click on it to embiggen):

(source: Doghouse Diaries)

And now for the updates and excuses:

I guess this is as good of a time as any to let you know. This next week is my last week of law school (and last week of school period after 21 years of it, whoot!). Directly after that, I have just about 2 months to relearn everything I've been learning in the last 3 years of law school so I can pass the bar.

In addition, the California bar has one of the lowest passing rates (if not THE lowest). Needless to say, I have lots of work ahead of me. They say if you can get in 500 hours of good studying for the bar, you should be able to pass it no problem. That's only over 8 hours a day for two months with maybe a day or two break. Shoot me now. Please, I'm begging you.

What that means is that posts will probably be sparse around here until the end of July.

Oh, and did I mention my wife's having twins the week after, well, as long as everything goes according to plan...which things always do right? Oh yeah, and then we'll probably be moving back to California after that...

So, let me take that back, things will probably be sparse around here until the end of August at the very least. I'll still be reading, which means I'll still be reviewing, but there may not be much else. I'll keep you updated as the summer progresses.

Ps. No, I don't have a job either, but that could actually mean more blogging in the future. :D

24 April, 2012

(Audiobook) Review - Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry

Jonathan Maberry has made a name for himself writing horror, but more specifically writing about zombies. Going into Patient Zero [US] [UK] [Kindle], I knew it would contain zombies, but it could probably fit just as well under the label of "covert ops" or some such (not that this fantasy nerd knows anything past dragons and magic). It technically contains a form of "zombie," but it really isn't a zombie book.

The real threat in this book is terrorism. Joe Ledger, the series' eponymous hero and Baltimore detective, is recruited by a special, super secret task force, the Department of Military Sciences (DMS). The DMS is charged with taking out a group of terrorists with a bio-weapon that turns people essentially into zombies.

Maberry does a great job getting you right into Patient Zero. Ledger's right in the middle of the action, gets recruited, gets tested to see if he can cut it. I was sucked in fast, but it also got old fast for me.

I love a good zombie book as much as the next guy, but as I mentioned above, this wasn't really a zombie book and I found myself getting a bit bored. I really think it was me more than anything the author did, these types of books just aren't my cup-o-tea. I don't mind watching these types of movies, but I like reading more about the supernatural than espionage, etc, and there really wasn't a whole lot of supernatural going on here.

And maybe that's kudos to the author. He did a great job explaining the plague/zombie-making disease and maybe too good because it all made sense and it was more like preventing the spread of the mumps.

But, while I admit that these types of books aren't my favorite, I also had a hard time with the main character, Mr. Ledger. He's a tough-guy, a meat-head so to speak (so we probably wouldn't hang out anyway), but he grated on me after awhile. It's almost like he's constantly pissed, but that's not quite it. He's not quite griping either, but he's got this attitude quite frequently expressed such as "you're doing it all wrong."

I'll admit that my disappointment could also be from the impression given by the narrator who was good but intense at times.

While Joe Ledger plays a large role in Patient Zero, he maybe only takes up a little over 50% of the book. The rest is in Afghanistan with the terrorists and specifically Sebastian Gault, a billionaire who specializes in pharmaceuticals. While considered a philanthropist by the world, he really takes advantage of ailing countries rather than really helping them, so of course something like this is right for him.

The Afghanistan parts are where most of the twists and turns take place, but I still can't say I loved it all that much. I think I'm over the terrorists as the "bad guys" and while it really was the only thing that worked for the story (who else could pull off bio-weapons?) I'm done with them just like I'm done with the Germans and Russians (as bad guys not as characters).

I think a lot of people will enjoy this much more than I did and I can't say I didn't like it either, I just didn't love it. The twists and turns were great and I really didn't expect the ending where he could have gone the way of I Am Legend, but didn't. 

Recommended, but not necessarily as a zombie novel.

3 out of 5 Stars (Liked it)

Download a free Joe Ledger short story here.

19 April, 2012

It's News To Me - Game of Thrones (Playmobil) and More

First, this is just awesome. I'm an addict to all things legos (like this one) and fully support all the legos trailers, especially in this instance - Game of Thrones. EDIT: Sorry, this is Playmobil not legos, but still awesome.

Cover Art for The Siren Depths: This is the third Raksura book (following The Cloud Roads and The Serpent Sea). I don't think I've heard a bad thing about this series.  

Interview with Bradley P. Beaulieu: Sarah at Bookworm Blues has been busy with her new site, author interviews, and discussion. I'll be guest-posting there next month and I'm really looking forward to it.

Agency in SFF: Justin at Staffer's Musings has a discussion going about agency, especially of women, in fiction. So far Elizabeth Bear and Michael J. Sullivan have chimed in as Guest Posts.

Embedded with the Enemy?: Jeff Salyards, author of Scourge of the Betrayer, guest posts on A Dribble of Ink discussing how journalists chronicle the action while being right in the middle of it and how he uses it in his own work.

Review of Pandemonium: Stories of the Smoke: Mieneke of A Fantastical Librarian reviews this anthology edited by the amazing Jared Shurin and Anne C. Perry (of Pornokitsch fame). Looks like a great read.

18 April, 2012

Guest Posting - The Speculative Scotsman

I wish I were clever enough to have tricked our beloved Speculative Scotsman to appearing on this here blog, but in fact, the opposite is true. You can find one of the most random posts I've ever come up with over on The Speculative Scotsman.

Disclaimer - I was in a VERY odd mood at the time, so keep this in mind! :D

16 April, 2012

Review - Unclean Spirits (Black Sun's Daughter #1) by M.L.N. Hanover

I don't read a lot of Urban Fantasy, but when I do, I read the Dresden Files.

Now, I read The Black Sun's Daughter as well.

Unclean Spirits [US - only $6.00] [UK] [Kindle] is the first of M.L.N. Hanover's Black Sun's Daughter series. As you may or may not know, M.L.N. Hanover is the pseudonym of the author Daniel Abraham (Abraham talks about his many pseudonyms here). I find he does a great job separating his different writing interests (Abraham - epic fantasy, Hanover - urban fantasy, Half of James S.A. Corey - science fiction) by using the whole pseudonym scheme, letting his readers know what they're in for.

Anyway, Unclean Spirits follows Jayné Heller, a twenty-something girl who inherits everything from her uncle, the black sheep of the family, who has recently died. Jayné quickly finds out that her uncle, Eric, was involved in not only some very dangerous, but highly unbelievable (i.e., supernatural) dealings, which she has now inherited as well.

Jayné quickly meets up with Aubrey, a male friend of Eric's whom she had thought was his lover, who later develops into a love interest. She also learns of of Eric's other friends who are immediately called in to help when she is attacked checking out her newly inherited condo. This after just meeting a walking dead guy (not quite zombie), another of Eric's "friends."

In this urban fantasy, the supernatural exists as demons who "ride" humans, essentially taking them over for their own, usually evil, purposes. Jayné finds out she has some type of power of her own, although I'm looking forward to finding out more about this. We only get a small glimpse in this installment.

Hanover/Abraham quickly dives you into the story, even introducing our main protagonist in a clever way - she arrives to find someone waiting with a sign - and helps us pronounce her often mispronounced name. We're then plunged into the thick of things quite speedily and yet completely logically - nothing happens just to provide more action.

Unclean Spirits is a hard book to put down, not only because of the seamless action and plot development, but also because his prose is clever and compelling. It even helps that the print is quite large, the pages almost turn themselves.

Having known that Hanover is indeed a man, as I mentioned earlier, it was a bit odd at first reading about the thoughts of this first-person narrated female character, Jayné. I'm sorry if I ruin that for you here. Once I got into the swing of things, however, it's not bad at all and for a guy reading this, it worked well. I'm sure it was completely my own preconceptions that were getting in the way of my enjoyment. I'm very curious to know if women find this difficult at all.

The one thing I didn't love, because honestly everything else was spot-on, was the love interest between Jayné and Aubrey. They're in a very intense situation, trying to keep themselves alive and probably many others, and yet they start to fancy each other. This, in itself, is quite normal and often used, but they even go so far as to go out on a date while they're trying to stay protected and undercover. The complications that develop are great, but I as I said, I didn't love this part, but that means I didn't completely hate it either.

If you're an Urban Fantasy fan, Unclean Spirits is a series not to miss. If you're not an Urban Fantasy fan, maybe now's the time to become one. As the intro to this review says, I don't read a lot of Urban Fantasy, but I really enjoyed my time in Jayné's world. It's fun and full of action, lots of great characters and ideas and a pace that doesn't let up.

And just remember, stay tramp-stampy my friends.

3.5 out of 5 Stars (Really liked it)

The author's website can be found here.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher

12 April, 2012

Review - Corrupts Absolutely? Edited by Lincoln Crisler

I always thought that if I got a superpower it'd be something like fire coming out of my butt. Everyone else gets the handy dandy and oh so convenient power from palms or the little less convenient plasma from eyes, but I'd have to be like, "Give me just a sec..." *zip* "...alright, I'm ready to do this."

Corrupts Absolutely? [US] [UK] [Kindle] is an anthology of 21 stories that deals with superheroes and metahumans and their powers. What would we actually do if we had a power? Hopefully people would do good, but like the title of the anthology says, wouldn't it more likely corrupt people absolutely as the saying goes.

Retribution by Tim Marquitz - Let's just say this is quite the explosive beginning. Okay, I have more to say than that. This one deals with a man who's lost his family in 9/11 and watched it happen. Revenge consumes his life and he has the means to make something happen. (4/5)

Hollywood Villany by Weston Ochse - This was a hard one to put down. A "kid," who really just looks like a kid, but who's actually quite old follows a man home - "I want my two dollars." This story has a sick twist that was entirely unexpected. (4/5)

Mental Man by William Todd Rose - I really enjoyed the concept of this one, a man can get inside the victims' or the killer's head and see what happened, but in this case the killer smashes all the mirrors in the house and hides his face well enough he can't figure it out. I would love to see this as a full length novel. (4/5)

The Real Church by Jeremy Hepler - A guy resurrects a dog and then, with his mother, starts a church. This, in my opinion, is one of the most truthful stories of what someone would do with a "superpower." (3/5)

Ozymandias Revisited by A.S. Fox - No, this is not a Watchmen tribute, but has to do with the poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley. Worth a read before reading this story as it is often referenced with it's own changes. Ozymandias Revisited is about a guy who has ultimate power, who can do anything he wants, which he also does. Sex, drugs, rock and roll, and everything else. This all comes with costs, some what you may think, others not expected. Revisited has a very unique style that's worth a read in and of itself. (3.5/5)

Enlightened by Sin by Jason M. Tucker - Another I'd love to see turned into a novel and my favorite so far, Enlightened is about a Dexter-like character, but who has the power to actually know the sins of those he kills (unlike Dexter's "I proved one bad thing so they're dead" take). Victor's tracking a brutal serial killer, but what's great about this one is that it expands the whole concept and world - there are superheroes, but who are sponsored by corporations. They help, but at the same time make sure to help themselves. (5/5)

The Origin of Slashy by Jeff Strand - This is how a serial killer is made. I was expecting a clown going into this for some reason, but this concept was creepy too. Slashy starts off with Kaylie getting raped and then finding out she can't be hurt. (3.5/5)

Conviction by Edward M. Erdelac - Told from the perspective of a young black boy and also as if he had written it, misspellings and everything. Abassi meets with a shrink about a picture he drew and tells about his rough life in the ghetto. He likes the shrink and decides to follow her advice. Conviction kind of had a similar concept to Ozymandias but also very different. (4/5)

Threshold by Kris Ashton - Similar to Enlightened by Sin in that the main character can tell whether a person has done something wrong, but in this one he feels pain until he does something about it. Great ending and great story. (4/5)

Oily by A.D. Spencer - About a superhero who gets hints from her dad about who to track down, she goes about as Cat's Eye. Enjoyable but a bit forgettable at the same time. (3/5)

Hero by Joe McKinney - A man, to around 7 minutes ahead, can predict the future - so of course he's being held captive. A highly enjoyable story. (4/5)

Pride by Wayne Ligon - One of my favorites, I think I like the stories a bit more that do a good job displaying the powers. This reminded me a lot of Shadow Ops: Control Point where powers are highly regulated by the government, but that doesn't necessarily mean controlled. (4.5/5)

G-Child by Malon Edwards - A girl with parental issues attempts to stop a similarly power-enhanced teammate. Lots of action, but I didn't love it. The story switches back and forth between the action and her earlier years. (3/5)

Static by Jason Gehlert - I loved the plot, the ideas, and the action, but had a hard time following exactly what everyone could do as far as powers go and some of the dialogue was a bit stilted, a bit awkward. (3.5/5)

Illusion by Karina Fabian - Probably one of the most realistic in terms of what would actually happen if someone had psychic abilities - they'd go crazy. Illusion follows a kid's experience with this. (4/5)

Sabre by Anthony Laffan - The closest to an actual comic, this had great action, great scenes, and was lots of fun. It follows Sabre, a superhero dogged by reporters with lots of secrets to hide. (4/5)

Crooked by Lee Mather - The name of this story says a lot more than I realized when I started reading. A man with certain handicaps runs into an ambush while breaking into a home. Crooked is one of the darker stories, I wasn't a big fan of the parts that discussed children being injured or worse (I've become a softy in this area), but otherwise a very worthy installment. (3.5/5)

Fixed by Trisha J. Wooldridge - A woman, often marginalized by the men she's working with, both because of her gender and because of her handicaps, becomes a big player. But, is it because of her expertise or because of blackmail. Fixed wasn't my favorite, but very well done. (3.5/5)

Acquainted with the Night by Cat Rambo - One of the shortest stories if not the shortest, this story describes the origin, the career, the arrival, and the announcement of our superhero. I liked the unique structure and this story is the only to involve aliens so far. (4/5)

Gone Rogue by Wayne Helge - I mentioned some of these stories are very close to being comics, well, Gone Rogue is more like an '80s superhero cartoon. Filled with campy superhero and villain names (like The Midshipman and Kitty Twister), a teenage sidekick has to step up. (4/5)

Max and Rose by Andrew Bourelle - One of my favorites, if not my favorite, Max and Rose is a powerful story. I was going to say it's about what it means to be a superhero, but it's really more the opposite - if you're not being a superhero with your powers what does that make you? What if you're taking advantage of those powers? (5/5)

Corrupts Absolutely? is a great anthology with a concept that never gets old. Each of the stories is incredibly unique, even the ones that deal with a similar power or theme. I had a great time with this and I didn't dislike a single story. That's hard to do. Highly Recommended!

4 out of 5 Stars (Loved it)

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher

11 April, 2012

eBook Deals, or Books I Bought Recently

Really, this should be called The Orbital Drop because that's where I'm getting these deals.

Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski ($2.99) - I wasn't a huge fan of The Last Wish (It's an early review, don't judge me) although I thought it was mostly due to the translation, the dialogue was just odd.

For Today Only:

The Dragon's Path by Daniel Abraham ($2.99) - Includes Hugo Nominated Leviathan Wakes as well.

EDIT: Non-Orbit deals

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi ($2.99)
Servant of the Underworld by Aliette de Boddard ($2.99)

10 April, 2012

Game of Thrones Renewed For Season 3

It's been up in the air as to whether Game of Thrones would be renewed for a third season. We were told we'd find out over a week ago and still nothing...until today! EW has a nice little article:
The third season is expected to be more-or-less based on the first half of George R.R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords — the third novel of his “Song of Ice and Fire” series of fantasy bestsellers. Long a fan favorite book of the series,  Swords has several dramatic twists and confrontations. Given the book’s length (the paperback edition is 1216 pages) and action-packed content, producers plan to break up the novel into two seasons. So … save the date!
Like we didn't know it would be renewed what with record viewings in the first two episodes. :)

(Audiobook) Review - Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb

This is another one of those, how-can-you-call-yourself-a-fantasy-fan-without-reading series. I really am sorry I waited this long because I loved it and can't wait for more...good thing there are 10 more and counting set in the Realm of the Elderlings.

That's not to say I loved it from the beginning, however. I had a bit of a hard time getting into Assassin's Apprentice [US] [UK-Kindle £1.99] [Kindle], but that could also be the fact that I had a hard time with the narrator of the audiobook at first. By the end, I actually found it quite fitting.

Assassin's Apprentice is the first book in the Farseer Trilogy. The Farseer's are a ruling family in the land of the Six Duchies and the book is told from the perspective of Fitz Chivalry, the bastard of Prince Chivalry Farseer.

Everyone knows he's the bastard, his name even connotes such, but he has an uncanny resemblance to his father. Also, no one really knows what to do about the bastard until King Shrewd Farseer decides to put him to good use by putting him to work as the title of the book suggests.

As an assassin for the king, Fitz learns about herbs and languages, stealth and subterfuge. He's given tasks that test his skills such as stealing certain artifacts and then putting them back without being seen.

The setup of the book works really well to build up the world without slowing down the action too much. It's told essentially as Fitz Chivalry writing his memoirs. Each chapter begins with some information about the world, the politics, the peoples of or around the Six Duchies, among other things. Following this, the story resumes as if we're right there with Fitz as he is experiencing things.

In this way, the world becomes a rich tapestry you can't help but feel yourself a part of. The world expands while we continue to see the important role (and roles) that the bastard is beginning to play.

As I talk about this book now, Assassin's Apprentice wasn't nearly as exciting as I thought it would be going into it. We learn a lot about the world, the history, the relationships and the assassin work is really just a small part.

Then again, the story is much more than I ever thought it would be. It's more than just assassins, it's a rich story with a huge history that's told impeccably. Hobb is a master at leading you to expect one thing while her real plans come out of left field...and yet are so obvious at the same time.

4 out of 5 Stars (Loved it!)

Farseer Trilogy
Assassin's Apprentice (1995)
Royal Assassin (1996)
Assassin's Quest (1997)

Liveship Traders Trilogy
Ship of Magic (1998) 
Mad Ship (1999) 
Ship of Destiny (2000)

The Tawny Man Trilogy 
Fool's Errand (2002) 
Golden Fool (2003) 
Fool's Fate (2003)

Rain Wilds Chronicles

Dragon Keeper (2009) 
Dragon Haven (2010) 
City of Dragons (February 2012) 
Blood of Dragons (February 2013)

09 April, 2012

And one more thing...Will GRRM Keep Up With HBO?

I meant to add this to the last post, but, what the hey. Here's another tidbit:

Will Martin Keep Up with Game of Thrones?: SFFWorld has a nice discussion about whether George RR Martin will be able to keep up with the writing of A Song of Ice and Fire as the HBO TV show unfolds. Survey says - Nope.
From Werthead: "we will see the end of ASoIaF on screen potentially years before GRRM produces the final novel."
Can't say I'm a big fan of that, but I think we can be almost guaranteed of its occurrence. Then again, opportunities like the show don't happen all the time, so you have to take advantage where you can. Maybe the final season or so will just have poor ratings - I don't think I could watch it before knowing the ending through paper.

It's News To Me - Hugo Shortlist, Game of Thrones

I couldn't help but get wrapped up in the Hugo berating. I fully understand that a line has to be drawn somewhere, but it's still fun to rant.

Hugo Shortlist: You may have already heard about this by now, if you haven't, where have you been? There's been lots of good discussion going on, not nearly as bad as a certain other award, but I definitely recommend checking it out. Justin, Rob, Larry, to name a few, go into the discussion in some depth.

You can view the list linked above, but I wanted to focus on what people are saying, some very good points being made:
From Justin regarding the "Best Professional Editor - Long Form" category: "[rant] No Jeremy Lassen, no care. These five are all great editors, but no one had the kind of year Lassen did. He created the New Voices Program at Night Shade Books and brought us first novels from Kameron Hurley, Teresa Frohock, Stina Leicht, Bradley Beaulieu, Courtney Schaefer, Mazarkis Williams,  Michael Dempsey, Will McIntosh, Rob Ziegler, Katy Stauber, among several others."
From Rob regarding the same list: "Pyr published a lot of good novels in 2011, novels I enjoyed a great deal but none of them made the short list. DAW has no books on the shortlist though is responsible for the juggernaut that is Patrick Rothfuss’s The Wise Man’s Fear. On the other hand, two Orbit titles are on the Novels short list but none of their editors are on this list of Long Form editors"
From Larry regarding the "Best Novel" category: "As long as there isn't an active critical base within these genre fandoms that make readers question what they are reading more and seeking out more than just reiterations of familiar, beloved works/genres, "safe" shortlists like this will continue to be produced."

Game of Thrones: Viewership is staying strong even on a holiday weekend where almost no one was running new episodes of anything, but then again maybe that helped. From Westeros.org, they report that episode 2 of season 2 pulled in 3.8 million viewers, "[t]his is a very slight dip from the 3.9 million for the first episode." They also have a good article on why no news about the renewal of a third season is good news.

07 April, 2012

Convince Me: Star Trek Novels

This is a new segment I've been thinking about for a while. There are a certain number of books that I get in the mail that I honestly just don't have time for. Then, there are books I hear are good, but that I just have no interest in. Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to convince me that I actually should give these books a try.

This first installment of "Convince Me" is a bit different from what I originally foresaw because I'm all but sure I want to read one of these books, I just need some direction....

It's confession time at Only the Best and I've got one big whopper of a confession to make. I've never read a Star Trek book. Never. Ever. That's not to say I haven't enjoyed the movies or the episodes of the TV show I've watched, but I don't think I can ever be accused of being a die-hard fan.

The Star Trek books seem to have their own unique subset of fans and I'm not even sure if the same people that read this blog and other blogs I read even read any. I hope to find at least a couple this way.

But I need some help. Who is a favorite author in the Star Trek universe? Where do I even start? Well, I at least have a starting point. I've received a total of 8 books as of today thanks to Pocket Books and I'd like to give at least one (if not more) a try. Please help me pick one.

Here they are:

That Which Divides by Dayton Ward

Star Trek: Destiny (Omnibus) by David Mack

Star Trek: Enterprise: The Romulan War: To Brave the Storm by Michael A. Martin (Wins longest title I've ever seen award)

Star Trek: A Choice of Catastrophes by Michael Schuster and Steve Mollman

Books I don't think I'll try since they're the final volumes in a series, but I'll post them anyway:

 Star Trek: Vanguard: What Judgments Come (Vanguard #7) by Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore

Star Trek: Vanguard: Storming Heaven (Vanguard #8) by David Mack

Whether you've read these or not, whether you know anything about the Star Trek universe or not, I'd love to hear your opinion. Which book looks good to you? Please comment and let me know.

04 April, 2012

Jon Sprunk Interviewed

Over the last couple years I've been heartily enjoying The Shadow Saga (Pyr) by Jon Sprunk and this last week saw its stunning conclusion in print. My interest in this series was first piqued when I saw the excellent Michael Komarck cover for Shadow's Son (see below) and it's been a great ride since.

This trilogy revolves around an assassin named Caim and his Fae (and invisible) companion, Kit. While starting off centered around assassination, the series evolves into a much more epic adventure filled with action.

Thanks to Jon for stopping by, he was nice enough to let me pepper him with questions even as he had a very busy week due to the release of the final volume in The Shadow Saga, Shadow's Master.

Check out my reviews for Shadow's Son, Shadow's Lure, and Shadow's Master.


  • Can you introduce yourself and tell us about your debut work, The Shadow Saga?

Of course! I live in central Pennsylvania with my family. My first fantasy novel, Shadow’s Son, was published in the summer of 2010 by Pyr Books. Since then volumes two and three (Shadow’s Lure and Shadow’s Master, respectively) have been released, and the books have also been published overseas in eight or nine languages.
Shadow’s Son tells the tale of a lonewolf assassin named Caim who gets pulled into a government plot involving an extinct dynasty, a powerful religious body, and a particular brand of dark magic. In the subsequent books, Caim goes back to his homeland (and beyond) to track down the people who killed his father and abducted his mother.
  • The Shadow Saga has been called good ol’ fashioned sword and sorcery, being compared to such greats as Michael Moorcock and Fritz Lieber. Is this an accurate assessment? How would you categorize the series?

I remember when I was pitching the first book, I just called it fantasy, or maybe ‘dark’ fantasy because of its themes, but since then the series has been deemed sword & sorcery, which I think is awesome because I grew up on Moorcock, Leiber, Howard, and so on. But I don’t get too hung up on categories. Hell, on Amazon the first two books are placed under “Historical Fantasy,” for what that’s worth.
  • What book got you into fantasy? Was there anything that made you think, “I can do that?” Also, what is a book we should drop everything to read?

I don’t recall any single book that made me realize fantasy was the genre for me, but I’m sure all the Conan books I read as a kid didn’t hurt. The Lord of the Rings was certainly instrumental (although I never thought I’d be able to match it in scope or grandeur).
As far as recommending a book, there are too many to list. I think The Black Company (Glen Cook) was revolutionary. Robert E. Howard, although a flawed person (aren’t we all?), wrote some marvelous stories. Same with H.P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith.
  • Caim is the ultimate assassin, but he’s got heart as well. How did Caim come about and how much is he a part of you?

Let me answer that in reverse order. Caim is nothing like me. Although I started training in various martial arts when I was ten years old, I work studiously to avoid the kinds of violent situations where Caim feels most at home. Then again, both Caim and I have little patience for assholes, so you never know . . .
When I was planning the series, my main character was originally going to be a break-in artist. A cat-burglar who would avoid fights rather than engage. Yet as I fleshed out the story, I realized that I wanted a more visceral experience that included violence. That’s when I remembered a few chapters of a novel I had written years before and abandoned, about an assassin who gets betrayed by his employer and goes on a homicidal rampage. I took that character and retooled him to fit the story of Shadow’s Son. And the rest is history.
  • What is it about assassins that you like so much?

I don’t particularly like assassins, although in another life I think I might have been a good one. I like reading about assassin though, because they break one of the basic rules of society. Thou shalt not kill. And once you go there, turning back is extremely difficult. That was the story I wanted to tell in this series, about one very flawed man’s attempt to redeem himself. Or at least to make sense of the shambles his life has become.
  • Kit is one of my all-time favorite characters and one of the things that really sets this series apart. What was the inspiration for her? Who came first, the world (including shadows), Caim, Josey or Kit?

Kit is a happy accident. I didn’t have her in my initial outlines. Yet, when I started writing that first scene with Caim in the duke’s castle, Kit just appeared. And she’s been flitting in and out of Caim’s life ever since. I think some of my inspiration for her might have come from Tinkerbell as played by Julia Roberts in the movie Hook, her unrequited longing for Peter. For a kid’s movie, it’s a very grown-up sentiment.
The story idea came first, including the primary characters. Things like setting and the shadow magic came later.
  • Who is the character you most enjoyed writing, had the hardest time writing? (I guess they can be one and the same too)

Caim and Ral were the easiest. Their sections seemed to ‘click’ in my head without too much anxiety. Kit was more of a challenge when I had to write her perspective in the later books. Maybe I was self-conscious about trying to get her Fae-ness “just right.” And all the villains are pretty smooth for me. I like the darker sides of people.
  • How did you come up with the language for the Northmen? I’ve been known to speak some German and I noticed at least a bit of Scandinavian influence.

I’m no Professor Tolkien, so don’t dig too deeply!
For the Northmen, I knew I wanted them to resemble the various tribes of northern Europe, so I started with Old Norse as a basis for the words and names, and changed them a bit to make it more unique.
  • Do you have any plans to go back to the Shadow Saga now that it's finished, whether it's sequels, prequels or novellas?

The short answer is: not at this time. I think there's still a lot to explore with Caim and Kit and Josey (and Hubert, too), but I'm a one-project-at-a-time kind of guy and all my energy is going into this new book.
  • What else do you have in store for us? I know there’s some mysterious “work in progress” going on, can you tell us more about it?

There’s always something in the works. Up next is an epic fantasy series centering around two soldiers captured by a foreign land ruled by wizard-kings (and –queens). These soldiers both fight to be free again, but their battles take them down divergent paths.
  • What kind of writer are you, there’s always discussion about outliners versus free-writers? Do you fall into any of those? And what was the hardest part about writing this series?

I’m an outliner. It’s just how my brain constructs a story.
The hardest part of writing this series was how to end it. Ending a novel is difficult enough for me as I try to pull together all the storylines and themes into something satisfying. Concluding a series is like that, but harder because you’re drawing that last novel to a close while at the same time pulling together the whole saga. Or, at least I tried to.
  • Any advice for wannabe writers in getting published or just plain writing something people want to read?

There are a few things I’ve picked up that are as near to “rules” as I can see.
One, read. If you don’t love to read fiction, falling so deeply into a book that you lose track of time, writing as a profession probably isn’t for you.
Two, write. A lot. I write almost every day. That includes Christmas, my birthday, my wife’s birthday, and every day in between except when I’m on vacation.
Three, develop patience. Just about every aspiring author imagines their first book will be published, resulting in a life of fame and wealth. The reality is somewhat less impressive. You’ll likely write several books (including months of revising and re-revising each one) before you get published. This means years of toil for no pay and no accolades. Get used to it. Because once you are published, riches and awards are the exception, not the rule. You might be the next J.K. Rowling, or you might die penniless and unknown. If you have talent in any other profession, I advise you (strongly) to pursue that instead. But if you simply cannot not write….
Four, develop a thick skin. Once you are published, your beloved book will be out in the cold, cruel world where people will trash it, mock it, and publically ponder whether or not you are an imbecile. If you are easily discouraged by negative criticism, save yourself a lifetime of abuse and take up knitting.
  • How much of an impact do you think social networking, either through your own efforts or others has had with your series?

At first, I would have said none. But over the last couple years I have gained a small (but loyal!) social media following. They help me spread the word about my work, so I think it depends on luck and how much you put into it.
  • Do you read every review of your books and does anything that is said influence anything you do?

I read all the ones that I know about. The interwebz is a huge place, so there are probably things said about my books (and me) that I never see. I like knowing how the series is hitting people. I don’t know if it actually influences me, except that if I saw the same criticism again and again and I thought it was valid, I might try to address it in future works.
But probably not. I’m a stubborn bastard at heart.
  • If you were to see someone reading your book in public (like on a bus or something) what would you do?

Smile and go on with my day. 

03 April, 2012

Review - Shadow's Master (Shadow Saga 3) by Jon Sprunk

In my first review for this series (Shadow's Son), I made a big deal about assassins. The main character is Caim, an assassin above and beyond the rest. He's not only able to use the shadows around him to his advantage, but he also has an invisible friend (I said invisible not imaginary), Kit, who helps him out and warns him of hidden dangers.

By book three, Shadow's Master [US] [UK] [Kindle], Caim and the story itself have evolved into much more than an "assassin" tale. Yes, his assassin skills continually come in handy and yes, this takes the action scenes to the next level of awesome, but Caim is a different man who's conflicted with more problems than finding his next target.

At this point in the tale, Caim is driven north by an unknown prompting, but the problem is, the north is filled with northmen. Unruly tribes battle each other for territory while all the while the shadow is slowly taking over - so much so that the sun can no longer be seen.

Caim also struggles as he loses more and more friends to his possibly meaningless quest north. Even Kit acts odd as she struggles with her love of Caim and impossible situation of being intangible. Sprunk even adds a catch-22 reminiscent of Lord of the Rings.

As Caim heads north, Josey, the empress of Nimea and mother of Caim's unborn child, decides to head north herself under the guise of ... well ... she just wants to find Caim okay. Is that so bad? As she tours the northern ends of her empire, she runs into troubles of her own with feuding nobles being the least of her problems.

Keeping up the same action-packed pace as the rest of the trilogy, Shadow's Master is an excellent conclusion to a great series. While things wrap up nicely (for the most part), it didn't feel like such a perfect wrap-up, more like a transition to the next stage and I really liked that.

The Shadow Saga is light on description and world-building, but heavy on characters and combat. No word is minced and everything moves to the action-packed climax. A series not to be missed.

4 out of 5 Stars (Loved it!)

Book 1, Shadow's Son
Book 2, Shadow's Lure

Note: I'm not done with Jon Sprunk just yet, I have an interview with the author coming up here in the next few days.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher

01 April, 2012

Breaking News: Leaked Draft of A Memory of Light

LIABILITY DISCLAIMER: I am simply linking to this. I had no part in releasing it to the public or posting it online. Please download it at your own risk.

According to sources over on Dragonmount, A Memory of Light, the final installment in the Wheel of Time series has leaked to the public. The leak came about as an accidental email reply of a draft from Harriet to Brandon. Apparently auto-fill completed an e-mail address which was intended to be Brandon's but instead was that of a fan, who wishes to remain anonymous.

The leaked draft of A Memory of Light has been posted here. It contains what appears at first glance to be suggestions and comments from Harriet and reveals an interesting dispute about the ending of the story.

I fully expect my soul to go to hell for this. Good reading and happy endings fellow fans.

Review: The Songs of the Earth, by Elspeth Cooper

The Songs of the Earth [US][UK] (☆), by Elspeth Cooper, is a remarkable debut that will leave most fantasy aficionados asking for more. While not groundbreaking in any sense, the Songs of the Earth is a highly pleasing sword and sorcery adventure that manages to be original while still embracing the tropes of the genre.

A young protagonist, whose parentage is unknown, has a 'gift' that society deems a curse.
The Book of Eador, Abjurations 12:14, is very clear: Suffer ye not the life of a witch. For a thousand years, the Church Knights have obeyed that commandment, sending to the stake anyone who can hear the songs of the earth. There are no exceptions, not even for one of their own. Novice Knight Gair can hear music no one else can, beautiful, terrible music: music with power. In the Holy City, that can mean only one thing: death by fire—until an unlikely intervention gives him a chance to flee the city and escape the flames.
It is hard to imagine a debut author breaking the mold in her first book and revolutionizing the genre, but I certainly encourage her to widen the narrative in the next installment to the series. With strong writing and a knack for character building and action sequences I am excited to see where the series is headed. But back to the story...

After escaping the clutches of mother church, our young protagonist, Gair, is thrown into a struggle for the future of the world. With a magical gift which surpasses that of any student in the history of his magic school but one, Gair seems destined for greatness. Self-sacrificing, honest, and pretty damn skilled with a sword, Gair must put it all on the line to defend his school, his way of life, and, well, the world.

Magic takes the form of songs, which practitioners can hear. Somewhat Platonic in nature, Gair has the ability to transform into any animal by mimicking its Song. While there are distinct areas of magic, such as fire and air, ect, the precise workings of the magic system are somewhat blurry, and deliberately so. In an interesting interview with Cooper over at Staffer's Book Review, Cooper has remarked...
I'm not particularly interested in the nuts and bolts of how anyone's magic works, as long as it's consistent and enough is explained for me to understand it. That's one of the reasons why I didn't dwell on Gair's studies: I shouldn't need to write a primer on the use of the Song for a reader to enjoy the story. Besides, with Harry Potter et al the whole magical college thing has been done, and I didn't think I had anything new to add to that particular trope. The way I see it, if you make your magic too hand-wavy and unknowable, you run the risk of it becoming a cop-out, a cheat, a way to cover up a deus ex machina. Analyse it to death and it becomes too much like science (don't you start quoting Clarke's Third Law at me!) and you lose a little bit of what made it magic in the first place.
That said, I found the 'system' perfectly enjoyable as well as the emphasis on sword play. The sword training scenes are strongly reminiscent of those where Rand practices the sword in the Wheel of Time. There is a zen like, meditative quality to the exercise that I have always found to be very appealing that Cooper captures very well.

Of further interest to readers is a fact that Adam caught on to that I had not realized until I read his review. Every main character has some sort of disability.
Gair is branded and recovering from torture and trauma; Ansel is old, infirm and suffering from a lung disease; Darin has diabetes; and Aysha has two crippled legs, but her shapeshifting skills enable her to avoid her disability for a few hours per day. Cooper doesn't beat the reader over the head with this (in fact I was halfway through the book before noting it), but it's interesting and all-too-rare to see handicapped and infirm characters depicted in a fantasy novel, with disabled issues viewed though the lens of a world where magic exists (but its healing properties have limits). It's not a huge deal, but it's an interesting minor theme that Cooper develops subtly through the book.
The fact that I didn't notice it shows how subtly it was done. This just underlines the fact that Cooper is a strong writer with lots of promise. I am glad that Tor picked her up and sincerely hope that she will push herself and the story down a less trodden path in future installments to the Wild Hunt series. As a plus, to those readers who care about these things, according to Cooper's twitter feed, the next book is at the end of the proof reading stage. This generally translates into the book being out within the next year! You won't have to wait GRRM amounts of time to see where the series is going.