Friday, December 31, 2010

Six Questions for Ari Marmell (Gollancz)

A quick interview with the author of The Conqueror’s Shadow:


1. How did you come up with the idea for Conqueror’s Shadow? Who would you say is the biggest influence on your work?

The very earliest kernel of the idea was just one of those random thoughts that strikes out of nowhere: I was having lunch with my wife, and I just sort of came out with “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool to have a fantasy novel where the ‘hero’ is a retired evil warlord who has to come back to stop someone even worse?”

Really, the genesis was just that basic. Obviously, the concepts of the novel grew and evolved well beyond that – for instance, my decision to take the opportunity to take many classic fantasy tropes and twist them throughout the book came later, and was much more deliberate – but the core just sort of dawned on me.

As for my biggest influence? While there are several, if I had to pick one, I’d say probably Steven Brust. Specifically, his Vlad Taltos novels.

2. You’ve been writing and developing fantasy products for a long time, from Dungeons & Dragons to White Wolf’s Vampire: The Masquerade; what made you decide to finally create your own fantasy world, and how did you find that process?

The truth is, while I’ve been publishing mostly role-playing game materials for most of my career, my actual writing happened the other way around. I wrote five full-length original novels before I ever wrote a single word for the games (though I’d been playing the games for years). The first three of those novels were, to put it kindly, a learning experience, and are utterly unsalvageable. The other two, after massive rewriting, became The Conqueror’s Shadow and The Goblin Corps.

But at the time, I wasn’t having any luck getting my fiction published (in part, I’ll admit, because I wasn’t good enough yet). So when the opportunity came to write for RPGs, which were also a passion of mine, I jumped on it. As I said, though, the original stuff actually came first.

As to what made me decide to start shifting focus once more from RPGs to fiction? Simply the fact that I’m finally having some success with the latter. It’s always been my ultimate goal. (I don’t see myself abandoning the RPG stuff any time soon, though. It just won’t be as much of a focus as the fiction.)


3. What can we expect from your upcoming novels, The Warlord’s Legacy (the sequel to Conqueror’s Shadow) and The Goblin Corps?

The Warlord’s Legacy picks up six years after TCS, with things having not even remotely gone the way one might expect from the ending of the first book. I think it’s a more mature novel; not necessarily a better book, but better written. (At least, it feels that way to me, and I hope it is.) While there are some far-reaching ramifications of what’s happening, it is, in a way, a somewhat more personal story for the protagonists than TCS. (This despite the fact that it’s a threat to his family that brings Corvis Rebaine
out of retirement in the first book.) I can’t really say more than that without spoilers, but I’ll admit that I’m very much looking forward to seeing how fans of the first book react to the second.

I did, incidentally, do my best to make TWL stand alone. It’s better if you’ve also read TCS – you’ll have a more emotional connection to the characters – but I’ve had several people read TWL first and tell me they didn’t feel like they were at all confused or missing important details.

Marmell-TheGoblinCorpsThe Goblin Corps is something of a different beast. It’s completely unrelated to my other novels – different setting, different tone – and it’s rather more exaggerated. What I mean by that is, anyone who’s read any of my prior novels knows that I enjoy the juxtaposition of sarcastic humor and bloody violence. TGC takes both of those to an extreme. It’s both funnier and gorier than TCS, and while TCS focused on a very dark anti-hero, TGC actually focuses on the villains. They’re not “dark good guys”, they’re not looking for redemption; they’re the bad guys, and unapologetic about it.

Basically, take your typical almost Tolkien-esque epic fantasy. Then turn it around, so you’re telling a tale about what’s happening to the villains during these events, rather than the heroes. Then flavor the resulting story with a dollop of Quentin Tarantino and a tiny sprinkling of Sam Raimi.

4. How do you enjoy being a writer and working within the publishing industry? Frustrations, pleasant surprises, different processes depending on genre, etc.?

Well, I really enjoy working from home, for one thing. The dress code is pretty relaxed, and the hours are flexible.

Honestly? It has its ups and downs. Income is far from steady, there are no benefits, and a huge amount of my time is spent waiting and hoping. I don’t have access to nearly as much information as I’d like – in terms of sales, marketing, audience, etc. – and I wouldn’t know what to do with it if I did. There’s a lot of frustration, a lot of waiting, a lot of worrying.

But I’ve also gotten to meet and work with some truly fantastic people, including several who I now count among my very close friends. More importantly, I love what I do, and I truly can’t imagine doing anything else.

So far, there’s not a huge difference in terms of genre. Obviously, when I work on tie-in materials, there’s more creative control from above, but since I developed my career doing freelance work, I usually find that pretty easy to work with. And while it’s important for any given book to have only one hand actually at the rudder, I’ve found that the collaborative process can actually produce some pretty cool results.

5. What else do you have in the pipeline?

Well, I can’t go into too much detail, but I can say this much. In addition to The Goblin Corps, I’ll be publishing another novel through Pyr Books. It’s currently untitled, but it’s a fantasy set in a culture somewhat reminiscent of Renaissance France. It’s actually my first young adult novel, but it should prove perfectly accessible to my older fans as well.

My agent is currently shopping my first urban fantasy novel. (That is, modern or near-modern fantasy. Near-modern, in my case.) I obviously can’t talk about it until it sells, but I have really high hopes for it. I feel it’s one of my best books to date, if not the best.

And I’ll be doing some more tie-in novels in the future as well, though again, I can’t yet talk about what or for whom, I’m afraid.

Beyond those? Dunno. I have a whole heap of ideas, but which one(s) I go with really depends on how everything else turns out. (I wouldn’t mind going back to the setting/characters of The Conqueror’s Shadow and The Warlord’s Legacy, if the opportunity arises. But to be perfectly blunt, that’s all a question of sales, now, whether it happens or not.)

6. Who are you reading at the moment (fiction and/or non-fiction), and which books of 2011 are you most looking forward to?

I’m right in the midst of James Lovegrove’s Age of Zeus at the moment. I recently read Gary Corby’s The Pericles Commission and Peter Brett’s The Warded Man. Next on my list (in no particular order) are The Desert Spear (Brett again), The Wolf Age (James Enge), Shadow’s Son (Jon Sprunk), and, well, a whole mess of novels from Pyr Books.

Books I’m looking forward to? Man, there’s a lot; I’m sure I’m going to forget a bunch (and if any of my friends are on that list, I humbly apologize). Some are actually already out, but I haven’t gotten them yet. In any case, they include another heap of Pyr novels (far too many to list here), new instalments in Simon Green’s Nightside series and Drood series, Echo (Jack McDevitt), Unsympathetic Magic (Laura Resnick), Iorich (Steven Brust), Servant of the Underworld (Aliette de Bodard), the start of the Iron Druid series (Kevin Hearne)...

Man. At this rate, I’m not going to have time to write anything...


Big thank you to Ari for taking the time to answer these questions!

The Conqueror’s Shadow is out now in both the US and UK, and was reviewed on this site, here. The novel has also been nominated for the 2010 David Gemmell Legend Award for Fantasy!

The Warlord’s Legacy will be published in the US on January 25th 2011 (Spectra/Random House), and will be published in the UK in May 2011 (Gollancz/Orion).

Monday, December 27, 2010

“The Conqueror’s Shadow”, by Ari Marmell (Gollancz)

Marmell-ConquerorsShadowUKA brilliant new fantasy, with a sense of fun and a classic feel.

They called him the Terror of the East. His past shrouded in mystery, his identity hidden behind a suit of enchanted black armour and a skull-like helm, Corvis Rebaine carved a bloody path through Imphallion, aided by Davro, a savage ogre, and Seilloah, a witch with a taste for human flesh. No shield or weapon could stop his demon-forged axe. And no magic could match the spells of his demon slave, Khanda.

Yet just when ultimate victory was in his grasp, Rebaine faltered. His plans of conquest, born from a desire to see Imphallion governed with firmness and honesty, shattered. Amid the chaos of a collapsing army, Rebaine vanished, taking only a single hostage – the young noblewoman Tyannon – to guarantee his escape.

Seventeen years later, Rebaine and Tyannon are married, living in obscurity and raising their children, a daughter and a son. Rebaine has put his past behind him, and given up his dreams of conquest. Not even news of Audriss – an upstart warlord following Rebaine’s old path of conquest – can stir the retired warrior to action.

Until his daughter is assaulted by Audriss’ goons.

Now, to rescue the country he once tried to conquer, Rebaine once more dons the armour of the Terror of the East and seeks his former allies. But Davro has become a peaceful farmer. Seilloah has no wish to leave her haunted forest home. And Khanda... well, to describe his feelings for his former master as undying hatred would be an understatement.

But even if Rebaine can convince his onetime comrades to join him, he faces a greater challenge: does he dare to reawaken the part of him that glories in cruelty, blood and destruction? With the safety of his family at stake, can he dare not to?

I’ve not got much experience reading Marmell’s work. I do know his Vampire: The Masquerade novel, Gehenna: The Final Night, which I thought was good, but I am not familiar with his roleplay output at all. Despite his success in the US, the author doesn’t appear to be too-well-known in the UK; it probably doesn’t help that I’ve yet to actually see a copy of Conqueror’s Shadow in any bookstore, despite it’s recent publication over here.

The author’s first foray into an entirely original setting, the Conqueror’s Shadow exceeded my expectations, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

The Conqueror’s Shadow is lighter in tone than much of the top fantasy output these days, despite some of the sinister and grim content. One gets the sense that Marmell wants his novel to entertain just as much as make the reader think on its themes – maybe more, and for this reason we are put in mind of early, classic fantasies. That being said, despite its classic feel, The Conqueror’s Shadow still retains a contemporary ‘grittiness’, and can sit comfortably alongside the novels of Lynch and Abercrombie, while also appealing to fans of Gemmell and Erikson. If I had to choose one of Marmell’s peers to compare him to, I would say that Scott Lynch is probably the closest in style and quality, if not content. At the same time, his world had a similar feel to that in the Fable computer game series.

The humour Marmell sprinkles throughout the novel is good – it’s made up of understated quips, sarcastic or amusing comments, observations and asides, rather than laugh-out-loud moments. It doesn’t always work (sometimes the comments fall a little flat, or come a little too close together), but rarely did I go a chapter without smiling or chuckling at a comment or snippet of dialogue. Marmell’s writing can lean towards the flamboyant or florid on occasion, but it’s easily forgiven as the pace of the story and quality of the plot and writing pulls you quickly onwards.

Marmell writes all of his characters well and realistically. His companions are well-rounded and their banter makes it easy to visualise them as a loyal, if difficult, band of warriors. The more you read, the more you will become invested in the fates of Davro, Seilloah, and you’ll even come to like Khanda. There’s an interesting twist about three-quarters of the way into the novel, wrapped around a red-herring that was satisfyingly dealt with. Audriss never comes across as clichéd or cartoonish. The author’s take on vampires, the “Eternal Legion”, is pretty sinister and an interesting, original take on the supernatural species. The relationship with Corvis and Tyannon was initially difficult to accept (it felt like an extreme example of Stockholm Syndrome), but as we get to know Rebaine it feels more plausible.

The author has a good knack for describing locations and atmosphere: his descriptions are sparse, but still evocative, allowing the reader’s imagination to fill in the blanks, or the perspective of the characters to fill out our impressions. A good example is Rebaine’s walk into Theaghl-gohlatch, the (horribly “fantasy”-named) haunted forest in which he searches for a former companion. Rebaine is clearly spooked by his surroundings, with all-too-human and familiar fears and phobias creeping into his thoughts.

In general, Marmell’s characterisation is solid and very believable, and I don’t think any characters came across as contrived. The dialogue is fluid and quick, as are the author’s prose. The plot rattles along at a fair clip, which is a very good thing as this is not a short novel. I was never bored, reading this, and never felt myself starting to skim-read. Rebaine struggles with the ease with which he falls back into the role of warlord, and some of the actions he condones (sometimes without all the information) haunt him.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Conqueror’s Shadow. It is a fantasy novel that invites you in and allows you to stay for as long as like, entertaining you all the way. It was easy to sink into each time I picked it up – unfortunately, there were altogether too many other things going on while I read this – although I still managed a couple of into-the-wee-hours reading sessions, and found myself grabbing any and every opportunity to read even just a couple of pages. The characters are all well-realised, engaging and likeable, and it was fun to get to know Rebaine and his companions over the course of the novel. Marmell draws on a number of classic fantasy tropes and makes them his own – we have a band of ‘heroic’ companions, a quest to retrieve long-forgotten treasure, and also an evil marauder to slay.

Marmell maintains a sense of fantasy, wonder and fun in his novel that sets it apart from many of his contemporaries. This is a great fantasy novel and getting inside the mind of a former-marauder, and one who is all too familiarly human, is a welcome premise.

Very highly recommended, The Conqueror’s Shadow is an absolute pleasure to read, and offers an alternative to the more ‘gritty’ fantasy output that dominates at the moment (not that there’s anything wrong with this type of fantasy). I really can’t wait for The Warlord’s Legacy.

For fans of: Joe Abercrombie, Scott Lynch, Gav Thorpe, Nathan Long, William King, David Gemmell, KJ Parker, Graham McNeill, Col Buchanan

The Warlord’s Legacy is is published in the US in January 2011 by Spectra, and UK in May 2011 by Gollancz.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

“Wolfsangel”, by MD Lachlan (Gollancz)


An original, enjoyable take on Norse mythology and Werewolves

The Viking King Authun leads his men on a raid against an Anglo-Saxon village. Men and women are killed indiscriminately but Authun demands that no child be touched. He is acting on prophecy. A prophecy that tells him that the Saxons have stolen a child from the Gods. If Authun, in turn, takes the child and raises him as an heir, the child will lead his people to glory.

But Authun discovers not one child, but twin baby boys. Ensuring that his faithful warriors, witness to what has happened, die during the raid Authun takes the children and their mother home, back to the witches who live on the Troll Wall. And he places his destiny in their hands.

And so begins a stunning multi-volume fantasy epic that will take a werewolf from his beginnings as the heir to a brutal Viking king, down through the ages. It is a journey that will see him hunt for his lost love through centuries and lives, and see the endless battle between the wolf, Odin and Loki – the eternal trickster – spill over into countless bloody conflicts from our history, and over into our lives.

Wolfsangel has been left unread for far too long, so I finally forced myself to put down the new and upcoming releases and give this novel the attention it deserves. As a big fan of werewolves, Norse mythology, and weird and dark fantasy, everything I had heard about this novel suggested it would be perfect for my tastes. After reading Wolfsangel, I was certainly not disappointed. Lachlan is a gifted author and one who clearly loves his chosen subject and historical setting, which makes this novel is a must-read for fans of dark fantasy tinged with atmospheric horror elements.

The novel focuses on the lives of the two brothers, raised in very different circumstances, and the transformations they are forced to undergo in a relatively short period of time. Vali, raised as Authun’s son; and Feileg, raised by a family of Odin-worshipping berzerks. Their lives are, of course, very different, and when they finally meet it is not a happy family reunion. Vali is a strange character: to begin with he seems more sensitive than your average Norseman in his thoughts, but he also sometimes acts like a spoiled rich kid. His treatment of and lack of respect for Bragi, his mentor, sometimes jars with his general demeanour, but we slowly come to realise that Vali has learned his lessons of politics and strategy. A strange character, Lachlan keeps us guessing for a long while what sort of person he is, who he will become, and how we’re supposed to feel about him. Feileg, on the other hand, is hard as nails, resourceful and independent: he adopts a wolf-like aspect, mentality and persona, and is fierce and sometimes brutish, given to berzerker-type bouts of sheer violence. When he meets Adisla, Vali’s low-born love, Feileg becomes more human and sheds some of his wolf-like persona. One thing that was particularly noteworthy about Wolfsangel is that, while set over only a number of months, the characters are visibly effected and changed by the ordeals they experience, and we see some proper character development throughout the novel – even a handful of minor characters evolve as the novel progresses.

Norse culture was violent, and Lachlan does not shy away from the grittier and grimmer realities of life in medieval Scandinavia. From raids to single combat, the author really puts the reader into the heart of the action; it is close, brutal and often highly personal. Certainly, Wolfsangel contains some of the best, most realistic fight scenes I’ve read in a while. The author also does a great job of explaining the politics of the times, not to mention the shifting patterns in religion and allegiances.

Lachlan’s writing has a certain quality that sucks you in and draws you on through the story. It’s very difficult to describe if one’s not an English Lit major; but at its best it is captivating, and very atmospheric. The author’s prose is wonderfully evocative, and there is a great, tense atmosphere about the novel. The Norse way of life and their world is fully realised on the page, and you get the sense that the author did a lot of research to make everything feel natural and also realistic and authentic (see the author interview, below). From the idyllic farmsteads where Vali grows up, to the stygian darkness of the Troll Wall (the home of the witches and their queen), Lachlan has a gift for giving the reader a solid impression of what a place might actually be like.

The final quarter of the book throws a lot of what we think we know about the characters and their roles out the window, and the complexity of the conspiracy at the centre of the plot is fully, satisfyingly revealed. Lachlan weaves the machinations of the gods, their human subjects and their enemies deftly; the specific plot and mythological elements expertly woven into an interesting and original plot. That Lachlan keeps to the spirit of Norse mythology throughout the novel is one of its greatest strengths. For example, the magic system and the rituals that comprise it are sacrificial and masochistic in nature, mirroring the sacrifices that Odin had to make in order to gain wisdom and magical knowledge. The nature of the magic also lends itself to the stranger passages in the novel, which come in the form of hallucinations and dreams – I’d recommend making sure you can pay attention throughout these sections.

The magic system Lachlan has incorporated is harsh and brutal, and I thought it was very different from your standard fantasy magic systems (it’s in no way flashy, for one thing). The transformations that take place to turn a man into a werewolf are also handled in a great, original way (actually, it’s a more classical approach than contemporary readers will be familiar with), and is very different to what you might be familiar with. It should be noted at this point that this is not your standard werewolf/supernatural novel. It is far more about Norse mythology and mysticism, and is all the better for it.

If I had one criticism of the novel, it concerns pacing. The momentum of the plot is not overall consistent. After a few early chapters that enjoyed a quick pace, the momentum started to have peaks and troughs that were occasionally quite noticeable. This is odd, actually, as the first few chapters are usually the slowest in any new fantasy series, as the author is forced to do some initial world-building and lay the groundwork for the story to come. In Lachlan’s case, it is clear that one of his fortes is when writing about the Norse and their myths. There was also a short section in the middle that was thematically a tiny bit repetitive (capture, escape, capture, escape). The pacing issues are overcome in the final quarter of the book: there’s a nice surprise at about the 72% mark (thank you, Kindle progress tracker…), which I wasn’t expecting and certainly made the final chapters less predictable. As the pace and tension pick up again dramatically in the final 25% of the novel, as plots and transformations come to fruition, and as the struggle between Odin and Fenrisulfr at the root of the story is laid bare, the novel offers a satisfying climactic battle and some highly intriguing suggestion for future novels in the series.

To sum up, I would say that Wolfsangel is a highly recommended historical fantasy. It may not suit everyone’s taste (be it for the pacing concerns I mentioned earlier, or maybe the lack of ‘overt’ fantasy elements), but I think if you give it a try you will be rewarded for doing so.

Dark, atmospheric, original… This is a great read.

Six Questions for MD Lachlan (Gollancz)


An interview with the author of Wolfsangel

Wolfsangel offers a twist on the werewolf myth, and marks the beginning of a superbly written fantasy epic that spans hundreds of years of our history to bring Norse legends and the myth of the werewolf to blood-curdling life. After reading Wolfsangel, I found that I had a handful of questions I wanted to ask the author, and thanks to the wonder that is Twitter, I contacted Lachlan and was kind enough to take some (considerable) time and provide some answers to them.

1. What drew you to Norse mythology & why or how did you come up with the idea for Wolfsangel, & this particular werewolf 'breed'?

Lachlan-WolfsangelI’ve been a Norse nut since being a kid. I read about them in library books starting at about aged eight. Originally, the series began in World War II and the Norse episode was a flashback to the werewolf’s creation. I realised when writing the first chapter that the werewolf had lived for a very long time and that, as he was drinking a whisky looking at the full moon when the book started, that he wasn’t a conventional ‘skin splitter’ as we’ve come to expect from Hollywood.

My werewolf is nearer to the Norse conception of the creature: someone becomes a wolf either by choice, through sorcery, or as a curse. The idea of werewolves changing with the full moon is a very late one – it doesn’t arrive even in film until the 1950s, although there are a few earlier examples. Even in The Wolfman (1941), the Lon Chaney film, the creature doesn’t change with the full moon. Similarly, the werewolves of legend don’t transfer their curse through a bite. This is something that arrived with horror films and novels.

So my werewolf is nearer to an older, traditional werewolf. These werewolves couldn’t always turn back into humans, either. I think the interesting thing about the werewolf is how his wolf nature intersects with his humanity. My idea of the werewolf was to try to make it truly horrific, in that the wolf consumes the man’s personality, destroys everything he loves.

2. What sort of research did you do for the novel? How did you find the whole process?

I didn’t have to do too much, as I’ve spent a lifetime being interested in this sort of thing.  The magical sections were all things I knew about anyway – stuff drawn from Norse, Celtic and Mayan cultures along with other ascetic traditions. I was very interested in witchcraft and the occult from a very early age and all of that went into the novel. All the rest of it, I research as I write. When I find something I don’t know, I just move on and look it up later. There are difficult things – language, how extensive the deck is on a trading longship, do Vikings wear makeup (yes), the religious climate of the day, but that’s part of the fun of writing.  I very much enjoy finding out about the historical world my work’s set in and incorporating a bunch of other ideas I’ve had down the years. It’s a challenge to make the characters convincingly “of their time”. I want my characters to act and think as people from the 9th Century, not 21st Century people in helmets and armour. For this reason I agonised about putting a love story into the book. However, there are enough contemporary references to love to make it historically possible, if not common, for two people to love each other in a sense we would understand today.

History can achieve one of the aims of fantasy – to show us different worlds, different ways of thinking.  The risk is that if you’re too successful in your depiction of early medieval thinking, characters come over as too alien or unsympathetic but I’d rather have that than having a Viking with a modern outlook. The heroine of my new book, Fenrir, for instance, is a Frankish aristocrat and quite a snob. This doesn’t change, really, throughout the book. She’s a woman of her background. She has many good qualities – she’s brave, resourceful, clever and resilient. But she is still going to expect the peasants to do exactly as she says, when she says it, and never question her commands. She won’t view the death of a farm worker as anywhere near as meaningful as the death of a lord.  I could have made her a modern egalitarian and readers might have liked her more. I could have had her learn the value of humility. But it would have been very unrealistic. It’s simply not how she’s been raised and, to her, there is no value in humility. Her pride is the product of a god-ordained social order. Vali, in Wolfsangel, however, sees himself on more of a level with ordinary farmers. This is because he was raised in a much smaller society and dealt with these people every day of his life, even living in their houses. As a warlord’s son, he farms himself. So there is a marked difference of view between an early/mid-medieval Frankish lady and a late Dark Ages son of a warlord.

You can’t give the daughter of Robert the Strong the outlook of a modern woman just because she will reflect your readers’ views more closely and make them warm to her more easily. We come to fantasy for strangeness, among other things, and it seems a cop-out to ignore that strangeness when history presents you with it. I think fantasy writers are entitled to ask a little of their readers. You come to this genre to be amazed, to be shocked, to be thrilled and even disturbed. So go with that. Don’t always look for easy certainties and cosy, comfortable characters. Fantasy can be a challenging and radical genre. You’re missing out if you come to it just looking for a mirror of yourself.

Don’t think I'm knocking traditional, epic fantasy here. There’s a place for it, just as there’s a place for the new wave of so-called “gritty” fantasy writing, some of which is very good. It’s a broad genre and if you want to read about a downtrodden but plucky servant boy who turns out to be the wizard/warrior the world has been waiting for and battles the Orcs or Orc-substitutes to take the X to the temple of Y with the help of the Elves or Elf-equivalents and save the world/girl in a clash of Mithril and adverbs, then you’ll get no argument from me. Similarly, if you want to read about a washed-up, one-spell wizard who finds himself running errands for the murkiest of Troll gangster lords and who blunders into a situation way over his head, you’ll probably have to borrow the book off me.  I want to read those stories sometimes. It’s just that I don’t have much interest in writing them. Or rather, I couldn’t write them. You have to really love a story to write it well. You only have to like it to read it.

So, to sum up, as a historical fantasy writer, I’m all for historical accuracy. That said, I believe there is room for characters who do not reflect absolutely the prevalent thinking of their day. There are streams of thought that run through any age and not all of them go in the same direction. The Vikings were a warrior culture who prized strength and skill in battle, ostentatious displays of wealth and who didn’t regard death with the same fear we do today. But that’s not to say everyone felt like that. Our society, for instance, is founded on the acquisition of personal wealth. Wealthy people are looked up to and people seek to emulate them. However, not everyone does. There are plenty of people who swim against mainstream opinion, so I think it’s as realistic to have a Viking who’s ambivalent about fighting as it is a university graduate who’s not interested in making money.

I really enjoy the task of creating a memorable and believable story which gives people an insight into the thinking of characters who may not be very much like themselves. This is one of the reasons I like historical fantasy because I think people get a true sense of strangeness when they read; for instance, someone describing a town of 100 houses as “vast” , or seeing a wolf shaman through the eyes of fearful villagers who interpret him as something from a myth and really believe he is a werewolf.

3. What can we expect from Fenrir and other future volumes in the series?


I’m very proud of Fenrir. I think it may be the best book I’ve written. It virtually wrote itself inside six months, which is a good sign. It takes off where Wolfsangel finishes, and explains more about the magical background to the novel – exactly what the mad god Odin is up to. It’s much faster-paced than Wolfsangel, which is saying something because I think Wolfsangel is quite fast paced. I wrote it as “24 with a werewolf” but it turned into something a bit different, though still with a very fast-moving plot.

Writing is, to an extent, a game of pot luck. You start a story and wonder what sort of characters are going to turn up in it. Sometimes no one interesting appears and you have to start again. Fenrir seemed to bring in a whole bunch of characters who – and I know this sounds pretentious – I enjoyed meeting. It begins with the Viking siege of Paris in 885, and goes on from there. The same mythic forces are operating as in Wolfsangel, but the plot is more linear. There are two main characters – one male, one female and a host of major supporting characters including two Norse shamans, a fat Viking, a Slavic merchant and a few kings. The fat Viking in particular surprised me, because he was meant to have one line in the whole book but he decided somehow to take it over. Saitada did this in Wolfsangel. You really long for a character to do that because, if as the writer you’re fascinated by them, then the chances are the reader will be too.

Future volumes in the series will follow the central struggle between Odin and the Fenris Wolf down the centuries, and chart the stories of those who find themselves caught up in it. I have stories mapped out for WWI and for the modern day. The third book, however, takes place at the end of the 10th Century, so we have a way to go through history yet!

4. How do you enjoy being a writer and working within the publishing industry? Frustrations, pleasant surprises, writing process, etc.?

I love being a writer and wouldn’t want to do anything else. It’s what I feel I was born to do, and I take it very seriously. That means reading a lot, thinking a lot about writing and trying always to be better. I try to take on board criticism of my work and to learn from it.  There’s nothing I’d rather do. Given the choice between the TV, the pub, the cinema, a PC game or an evening’s writing, I’ll go for the evening’s writing. If I’m in the flow of a novel I find normal life a very irritating interruption. Luckily, I have an understanding wife.

Frustrations? Hmm. Well, there’s the up-and-down nature of artistic careers. You can’t tell why a book succeeds and another fails sometimes. I was convinced that my third mainstream novel under my real name – Lucky Dog – was very good. It didn’t sell well, though, despite good reviews. Sometimes you can’t explain these things. Perhaps I was wrong about it, and it wasn’t very good, you never know.

Pleasant surprises would include how well received Wolfsangel has been. For good or for bad, it’s not a typical fantasy tale and, for that reason, I was anxious that people wouldn’t get it. It contains two very distinct forms of writing – one an adventure story, and another that operates in the area of hallucination, dream and myth. Putting the two together felt natural to me but I wasn’t sure everyone – or anyone – would feel the same way. There are moments that are deliberately jarring, too. Not everyone likes to be jarred!

The writing process, for me, just involves writing the book as quickly as I can and then meticulously rewriting it, trying to be as savage and unsparing as I can with my own work. I’m not an author who thinks “oh well, the story’s a belter, I won’t worry too much about the odd cliché here and there, or a bit of wooden dialogue or bad description.” Or, as one author I know said: “Grammar? I leave that to the editor.” To me, it’s important that every word in the story earns its keep. If it doesn’t, it goes. I’m lucky enough to work with a truly excellent copy editor so, if I miss lines like “he froze and drew his sword”, at least I know someone is going to put a blue pen through them.

The one piece of advice I always give to new writers is, “Remember, it’s only ink on paper.” Or pixel on screen. If something isn’t working just throw it away and start again. And listen to other people. Samuel Johnson once said,

“Read over your compositions, and where ever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.”

If you think something’s brilliant and your editor thinks its overblown pretentious muck, the chances are it’s overblown pretentious muck. I once fell in love with the word “calefaction” and used it in a novel. I should have been whipped for the offence and if I could go back in time and chop it away to replace it with the word “heat”, I would. Too late, though. If in doubt, chop it out.

I do love revising the work. Very often – when I’m rewriting fantasy – I’ll then try to listen to music that seems appropriate to the writing, or read poetry that’s in the same area to try to really get in the mood to put some energy into the language. Fenrir was written to The Hounds of Love by Kate Bush and while I was rereading Ted Hughes’s poetry. I also – and I know how pretentious this sounds – reread Macbeth. Shakespeare was a terrific fantasy author and a name I often mention if people say genre is incapable of producing great writing. I want that mythic quality in my own work; the sense that this is part of a story that has been told for a very long time and says something fundamental about us. OK, I might not quite reach the heights of Shakespeare, but it’s that sense of myth-making I’m aiming for. Paradoxically, if fantasy is to work, I think it needs to feel real and rooted.

5. Do you have plans for any other novels outside/beyond this series (different genres, different worlds, different times)?

Yes. I am writing a thriller and a “literary novel” (whatever that means). When I say I’m writing them, the first chapters have spilled out of me and I hope to get time to complete them this year, when I finish the third in the Wolfsangel series. They are all, in some way, novels about transformation. They say you only ever write the same novel in different ways.

6. Who are you reading at the moment (fiction and/or non-fiction), and which books of 2011 are you most looking forward to?

I’m reading all of Ursula K Le Guin – or quite a lot of her. I think she’s a very good fantasy writer indeed. I’ve just finished the book Tehanu, which is excellent and, to me, shows what fantasy can do as a genre. It’s really about post-traumatic-stress, viewed in one way, and brilliantly and sensitively done. What I love about her writing is the complexity of her characters. If you take the priestess Tenar from The Tombs Of Atuan, for instance, it’s very difficult at first to know if you’re meant to sympathise with her or not. She’s been abused, taken from her family to serve terrible old gods in the sightless darkness of the tombs. But it has made her monstrously cruel. In fact, she’s willed herself to become cruel. However, there’s the sense that she’s redeemable. This is a living, breathing character, not a broad type. Le Guin can also write – that is, turn out interesting, clear, striking sentences that are free of cliché, hokiness, corn, or flab.

I’m also embarking on reading A Clash of Kings, the second book in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. I loved the first one and am hoping the second will be as good.

I’m not an early adopter in anything – technology, books, or music, and I’ve only just got a mobile phone, so I probably won’t read anything released in 2011. I’m too busy catching up on the stuff I should have read ten years ago.  I’m planning to read The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber, Q by Luther Blissett, and Ash by Mary Gentle next year, so once I’ve chewed through those slabs I’ll probably be in the mood for something short and light.

Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Wind Up Girl looks interesting, so I may have a look at that, along with The Silent Land by Graham Joyce and New Model Army by Adam Roberts, which I haven’t read yet. I’m not implying those books are short and light, by the way, but they look interesting.

Children of Húrin [by J.R.R. Tolkien] is on the list, too.


Thanks very much to MD Lachlan for taking the time to provide such in-depth and interesting answers to these questions!

This is the first interview done for Civilian-Reader, and I would like to start including similar interviews alongside future reviews whenever possible.

Wolfsangel is in stores now. Fenrir will be published by Gollancz in May 2011. Here is the synopsis for the second novel:

The Vikings are laying siege to Paris. As the houses on the banks of the Seine burn, a debate rages in the Cathedral on the walled island of the city proper. The situation is hopeless. The Vikings want the Count’s sister, in return they will spare the rest of the city. Can the Count really have ambitions to be Emperor of the Franks if he doesn’t do everything he can to save his people? Can he call himself a man if he doesn’t do everything he can to save his sister? His conscience demands one thing, the demands of state.

The Count and the church are relying on the living saint, the blind and crippled Jehan of St Germain, to enlist the aid of God and resolve the situation for them. But the Vikings have their own gods. And outside their camp a terrifying brother and sister, priests of Odin, have their own agenda. An agenda of darkness and madness. And in the shadows a wolfman lurks.

M.D. Lachlan’s stunning epic of mad Gods, Viking and the myth of Fenrir, the wolf destined to kill Odin at Ragnorok, powers forward into a new territories of bloody horror, unlikely heroism, dangerous religion and breath-taking action.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Some Exciting Artwork for 2011

Just some more artwork for you to enjoy before the next review gets posted, and to further whet your appetite for upcoming 2011 fantasy releases.

First up, Tor UK recently revealed the brilliant artwork for the follow-up to Col Buchanan’s superb Farlander, Stands a Shadow (published in the distant future… well, August 2011):


It’s becoming rather trope-ish to have a single figure posing as the centre-piece of a cover, and while some disapprove, I think Stands A Shadow is very eye-catching, and I like the mellow tones. It also fits nicely with the style of Farlander.

Next up, the (possibly final) UK artwork for Jon Sprunk’s second novel, Shadow’s Lure – it’s in the same style as Shadow’s Son, but this time in a more eye-pleasing blue:


And one final cover, again from Tor UK: Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Heir of the Blades, the seventh in his critically acclaimed, successful Shadows of the Apt series:


This, to me, looks like a fantasy novel designed by someone who is very fond of the Neal Asher re-jacketing (also published by Tor UK). I think it works very well. I really must catch up on this series!

“The Bone Palace”, by Amanda Downum (Orbit)


The second volume in the Necromancer Chronicles

Death is no stranger in the city of Erisín, but some deaths attract more attention than others.

When a prostitute dies carrying a royal signet ring, Isyllt Iskaldur, necromancer and agent of the Crown, is called to investigate. Her search leads to desecrated tombs below the palace, and the lightless vaults of the vampiric vrykoloi.

But worse things than vampires are plotting in Erisín – a long-dead sorceress is making a bid not only for renewed life but for the throne as well, and Isyllt’s former lover is caught in her schemes.

As a sorcerous plague sweeps the city, Isyllt must decide who she’s prepared to betray – the man she still loves, or the royal family she’s sworn to defend.

I really liked Downum’s debut novel, The Drowning City, with its interesting takes on fantasy tropes, and the author’s keen sense of location and evocative writing style. I particularly like the author’s take on the supernatural, especially when mixed with the politics of the realm she has created. In The Bone Palace, which is set a little after the events of The Drowning City, we are taken back to the capital city, Erisín, into the midst of the aristocracy’s machinations, and also into the dark world below.

“Two years and a half years ago she’d been sent to stir rebellion in the distant port city of Symir. The mission had ended in murder, chaos, and the near-destruction of the city - a success, as far as the Crown was concerned.”

Downum offers a good look at both sides of society: the high class lives and intrigues of the wealthy and aristocratic families (sometimes deadly, but always polite) and the eternal games and schemes of those not occupying the throne; and also the grimmer and tougher world of the poor and lower-classes. Isyllt’s investigation into the death of the prostitute gives us a glimpse of the harsh life of the denizens of ‘the Garden’, Erisin’s pleasure district, and introduces us to the various characters and groups of that world. The author paints a depressing picture of the lives and potential of those born into this world, and Isyllt’s eventual concern for Dahlia is based on a desire to save just one person from a harsh life as a prostitute.

Savedra, the Crown Prince’s mistress, conducts her own investigation into the vrykoloi and how they might be involved with her family. At first it’s not entirely clear how Savedra’s story will tie in to Isyllt’s plotline, but in Part II of the novel, it becomes clear that they are somehow connected. Savedra joins with Ashlin (the Crown Prince’s wife, who shares a surprisingly cordial relationship with her husband’s concubine) to investigate a mysterious, mostly-unknown member of her family. Downum uses this second mystery to take the reader to other locations in the world she has created. The author does a great job of tying the two plot-lines together in the second and third part of the book, making the novel far more satisfying and the plot larger in scope. Indeed, Downum’s pacing of the whole novel is very good – key plot lines are slowly unrolled for us, and the wider picture becomes visible only gradually, keeping us guessing about how the characters will develop and overcome the challenges they must confront and where the story is going.

The death-magic Downum has created for her world is great, and was one of the best elements in the first novel: It’s gruesome, horrific, complex, and strangely captivating at the same time (I love vampires, so this necromantic-magic was bound to pique my interest). There’s also the blood-magic, or ‘haematurgy’ used by vampires and demons, which is also described with skill and originality. Unlike other novels published these days that have an undead flavour, Downum has played with the traditions of the genre, and for that she should be thanked. There are some recognisable influences, but Downum has added plenty of new and unusual twists and elements to her supernatural world to make this feel more original than many recent vampire/undead novels.

The vampires of the synopsis live in catacombs below the city, existing there with the full knowledge of the city’s rulers as part of a long-ago truce of non-disturbance. The vampires can live there as long as they are “discreet”, feeding off indigents and criminals but not the high-born or those connected to them. They’re an interesting, more gothic/horrific take on the breed, though also highly intelligent. They’re quite sinister in their way, but not brutal killers, and not particularly broody... (They remind me of White Wolf’s Nosferatu and Warhammer’s Nechrarchs – more demonic and horrific than the beguiling, beautiful, teenage-seducing vampires of today’s vogue).

There are occasional, slower passages that don’t quite have the same polish and assurance as the majority of the rest of the novel, but on the whole The Bone Palace is better than The Drowning City. Downum’s prose flows well, with excellent description and atmospheric narrative – in fact, the author’s gift for evoking atmosphere is both one of her greatest strengths, and also what can cause those slower moments I mentioned above (when the balance isn’t quite right). She could be described as a less-confident Anne Rice, in this respect. In terms of the characterisation in the novel, I noticed a distinct lack of cliché and over-emoting, which kept the characters and their relationships interesting and realistic. I found myself hooked by the story, and sunk into the plot easily and quickly each time I picked up the book. If I hadn’t been so busy this past week, I have no doubt I would have finished this in just a couple of long, into-the-wee-hours sittings.

While I really liked The Drowning City, I got sucked into the story of this second novel much quicker. Downum’s writing is more assured, her characterisation more interesting and developed, and the plot is as interesting and well-executed as the debut.

Horror, fantasy and detective elements are woven together skilfully to make this a very enjoyable and original read. Amanda Downum is definitely one of the best new authors writing in fantasy, and is an author to watch. If you like your fantasy dark and gothic, with some interesting new takes on some classic fantasy tropes, this is a highly recommended must-read.

For fans of: Gail Z Martin, Anne Rice, Brent Weeks, Steven Saville, CL Werner, Jack Yeovil, Joe Abercrombie

[The third novel in the series, I think, will be titled The Kingdoms of Dust]

Upcoming: “The Dragon’s Path” by Daniel Abraham’s (Orbit)

Continuing the Orbit Books-theme we’ve been enjoying this month on the site, here’s an introduction to Daniel Abraham’s upcoming The Dragon’s Path – the first novel in the new The Dagger and the Coin series from the author of the critically acclaimed The Long Price Quartet. I have read the first half of that series (collected in the Shadow & Betrayal omnibus), and I’ll be trying to get to the second half of the series (Seasons of War) before Abraham’s new novel hits the shelves.

Some of you might have read my “Coming up in 2011” post a couple of weeks back that also featured The Dragon’s Path. Why revisit it so soon? Well, for one thing, the lovely people at Orbit have just revealed the final cover artwork – and it’s much better than the ‘original’ (which as actually still pretty good).

Here it is for your viewing pleasure, designed and “noodled with” by Lauren Panepinto:


Here’s the teaser synopsis, too:

Summer is the season of war in the Free Cities.

Marcus wants to get out before the fighting starts. His hero days are behind him and simple caravan duty is better than getting pressed into service by the local gentry. Even a small war can get you killed. But a captain needs men to lead — and his have been summarily arrested and recruited for their swords.

Cithrin has a job to do — move the wealth of a nation across a war zone. An orphan raised by the bank, she is their last hope of keeping the bank’s wealth out of the hands of the invaders. But she’s just a girl and knows little of caravans, war, and danger. She knows money and she knows secrets, but will that be enough to save her in the coming months?

Geder, the only son of a noble house is more interested in philosophy than swordplay. He is a poor excuse for a soldier and little more than a pawn in these games of war. But not even he knows what he will become of the fires of battle. Hero or villain? Small men have achieved greater things and Geder is no small man.

Falling pebbles can start a landslide. What should have been a small summer spat between gentlemen is spiralling out of control. Dark forces are at work, fanning the flames that will sweep the entire region onto The Dragon’s Path — the path of war.

If you haven’t checked out Abraham’s writing yet, his work is epic fantasy, with – at least in terms of The Long Price Quartet – an eastern flavour, and in my opinion some of the best writing in any genre, let alone just fantasy. His novels aren’t necessarily the quickest reads, but neither are they on the scale of Robert Jordan and/or Brandon Sanderson. I was very much blown away by Shadows & Betrayal and only through other commitments did Seasons of War slip through the cracks – something I am very eager to rectify.

The Dragon’s Path is published by Orbit Books in April 2011, and is one of my Most Anticipated Books of 2001.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Calling all Jim Butcher fans! (Orbit)

Orbit UK has just opened one of the most generous competitions I’ve ever seen. To mark the re-release and re-packaging of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series, the publisher has put together the following prize:

A complete set of new Dresden Files paperbacks (that’s 12 in total,  including Changes ahead of it’s March 2011 publication)


Advance copies of Ghost Story and Side Jobs: Stories from the Dresden Files


One copy each of Kate Griffin’s The Midnight Mayor and The Madness of Angels

One copy each of Trent Jamieson’s Death Most Definite, Managing Death and The Business of Death

To be in with a chance of winning all of this, all you need to do is tell Orbit why you love Jim Butcher. To do so, head over to their website by clicking on the image below…


Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Book Shelf

A new feature I might run a couple of times a year, in which I take a look at what the ‘to-read’ shelf looks like at the moment.


Some pretty exciting releases, stretching from December to March next year. (Behind the fiction are many of the non-fiction titles I’ve used for my PhD. My flat has way too many books in it…) The books are arranged by publication date, but not necessarily in the order I shall read them. Those on the right will (or, at least, should) be reviewed after those on the left, but the best laid plans…

First, pre-December releases (which I’m being slow with reading, and really should have paid more attention to):

Karpyshyn-DynastyOfEvilDrew Karpyshyn, Dynasty of Evil (Arrow)

Twenty years have passed since Darth Bane, reigning Dark Lord of the Sith, demolished the ancient order devoted to the dark side and reinvented it as a circle of two: one Master to wield the power and pass on the wisdom, and one apprentice to learn, challenge, and ultimately usurp the Dark Lord in a duel to the death. But Bane's acolyte, Zannah, has yet to engage her Master in mortal combat and prove herself a worthy successor. Determined that the Sith dream of galactic domination will not die with him, Bane vows to learn the secret of a forgotten Dark Lord that will assure the Sith’s immortality-and his own.

It’s been a while since I read a Star Wars novel, so this will probably be reviewed pretty soon (also, I feel bad for not getting to it sooner). This is the only ‘early’ Star Wars series that I’ve been following with much interest, and is the third novel to feature Darth Bane – the Sith who reinvented the order into the Rule of Two that we know from the movies (one master, one apprentice, no others). I prefer the post-New Hope novels, of which I think I’ve read most, if not all. Good science fiction escapism, in a familiar setting = comfort reading worth pursuing! I’m also eager to get my hands on Vortex, the latest instalment of the Fate of the Jedi series.

Hinks-WarriorPriestDarius Hinks, Warrior Priest (Black Library)

Warrior Priests are the holy crusaders of the Empire, crushing daemons, witches and heretics alike with righteous fury. These bold men wield death and damnation, with warhammers held high and the word of Sigmar on their lips. They provide the final bastion against the forces of darkness that would run rampant and forever turn the hearts of men. Jakob Wolff is one such warrior, and sets out to track down his brother, whose soul has been tainted by the Ruinous Powers. Family must be put to one side as he battles to prevent the Empire from sinking into Chaos, with only his strength of arms and the purity of his beliefs to call upon.

The Warrior Priests have always been an intriguing sect in the Warhammer realm – as are their real-life inspirations from the Crusades (and other eras, of course). This would be my first novel from the Empire Armies series, and I’ve heard some good stuff about Hinks’s writing, so I’m looking forward to having the time to read this sometime over the Christmas break. I don’t know what sort of novels they are – I assume plenty of warfare, which is actually not what I favour (I prefer more attention to be paid to plotting and character development), but I’ve only heard good things about Warrior Priest and Hinks’s writing, so I shall definitely give this a go, and soon.


Untitled-1Amanda Downum, The Bone Palace (Orbit)

Death is no stranger in the city of Erisín, but some deaths attract more attention than others.

When a prostitute dies carrying a royal signet, Isyllt Iskaldur, necromancer and agent of the Crown, is called to investigate. Her search leads to desecrated tombs below the palace, and the lightless vaults of the vampiric vrykoloi. But worse things than vampires are plotting in Erisín – a long-dead sorceress is making a bid not only for renewed life but for the throne as well, and Isyllt’s former lover is caught in her schemes.

As a sorcerous plague sweeps the city, Isyllt must decide who she’s prepared to betray – the man she still loves, or the royal family she’s sworn to defend.

I’m actually reading this at the moment, so if you wait just a few days, you’ll be able to read my whole review. Needless to say, I liked Downum’s debut (The Drowning City), and I’m loving this second novel a whole lot more. There is an exceptional quality to Downum’s writing and attention to character that is noticeably improved from her debut. I’m am finding myself very much drawn to her world and style. Now if only I would stop being interrupted by other things going on, I could give this the attention it deserves and sink into the story. I should get a lot read over the next couple of days.

Aaron-3-SpiritEaterRachel Aaron, The Spirit Eater (Orbit)

With the pressure on after his success in Gaol, Eli Monpress, professional thief and degenerate, decides it’s time to lie low for a bit. Taking up residence in a tiny seaside village, Eli and his companions seize the chance for some fun and relaxation.

Nico, however, is finding it a bit hard. Plagued by a demon’s voice in her head and feeling powerless, she only sees herself as a burden. Everyone’s holiday comes to an untimely close, though, when Pele arrives to beg Eli’s help for finding her missing father.

But there are larger plans afoot than even Eli can see, and the real danger, and the solution, may lie with one of his own and her forgotten past.

If only Nico could remember whose side she’s on…

I really enjoyed the first novel in the Eli Monpress series, The Spirit Thief, and as soon as I get the middle book in the series (The Spirit Eater is the third volume, preceded by The Spirit Rebellion), I shall probably get through them both pretty quickly. A series that focuses on the more fun aspects of fantasy, doesn’t take itself too seriously, but also contains an intriguing take on magic, this is highly recommended.

Clancy-DeadOrAliveTom Clancy & Grant Blackwood, Dead Or Alive (Penguin)

For years, Jack Ryan, Jr. and his colleagues at the Campus have waged an unofficial and highly effective campaign against the terrorists who threaten western civilization. The most dangerous of these is the Emir. This sadistic killer has masterminded the most vicious attacks on the west and has eluded capture by the world’s law enforcement agencies. Now the Campus is on his trail. Joined by their latest recruits, John Clark and Ding Chavez, Jack Ryan, Jr. and his cousins, Dominick and Brian Caruso, are determined to catch the Emir and they will bring him in... dead or alive.

It’s been a long while since I read a Clancy novel, and this is quite the beast (not to mention press event – there were parachutes, the Tower of London, and lockdowns involved!). Clancy is a thriller author of considerable prestige, a leading talent in the genre, and one of the few who has been able to make the transition from a Cold War setting to the War on Terror setting. As the characters have developed over time, and the new generation of soldier has taken over from the old (see The Teeth of the Tiger), Clancy has maintained the personal and large scale attention to plot and story. I’m eager to settle into this mammoth thriller, so expect a review relatively soon.

Lyons-DeadMenWalkingSteve Lyons, Dead Men Walking (Black Library)

When the necrons rise, a mining planet descends into a cauldron of war and the remorseless foes decimate the human defenders. Salvation comes in an unlikely form – the Death Korps of Kreig, a force as unfeeling as the Necrons themselves. When the two powers go to war, casualties are high and the magnitude of the destruction is unimaginable.

Sounds like a good, action-packed slice of Warhammer 40,000, so I am hoping to get to this very soon. My reading about the Imperial Guard has mainly focussed on Gaunt’s Ghosts – the flagship WH40k series that I have featured and written about frequently on this site. Dead Men Walking would be a new reading experience for me, and the regiment portrayed is very different from the Tanith First & Only, so I’m interested to see if this novel holds as much enjoyment as Abnett’s series.

Untitled-4Paolo Bacigalupi, The Windup Girl (Orbit)

Anderson Lake is a company man, AgriGen's calorie representative in Thailand. Under cover as a factory manager, he combs Bangkok’s street markets in search of foodstuffs long thought to be extinct. There he meets the windup girl – the beautiful and enigmatic Emiko – now abandoned to the slums. She is one of the New People, bred to suit the whims of the rich. Engineered as slaves, soldiers and toys, they are the new underclass in a chilling near future where oil has run out, calorie companies dominate nations and bio-engineered plagues run rampant across the globe.

And as Lake becomes increasingly obsessed with Emiko, conspiracies breed in the heat and political tensions threaten to spiral out of control. Businessmen and ministry officials, wealthy foreigners and landless refugees all have their own agendas. But no one anticipates the devastating influence of the Windup Girl.

Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl has already received a ton of praise from seemingly all across the publishing and journalism landscape, not to mention a number of awards over in the US. Finally, Orbit have brought the book properly to the UK, and with it has come a good deal of expectation and interest. I’m eager to give this a read, so I shall try to slot it in as soon as possible. For those of you who have already heard of the novel, and would like to give it a try, head over to the website to read a sample.


Abnett-ProsperoBurnsDan Abnett, Prospero Burns (Black Library)

The Emperor is enraged. Primarch Magnus the Red of the Thousand Sons Legion has made a terrible mistake that endangers the very safety of Terra. With no other choice, the Emperor charges Leman Russ, Primarch of the Space Wolves, with the apprehension of his brother from the Thousand Sons home world of Prospero. This planet of sorcerers will not be easy to overcome, but Russ and his Space Wolves are not easily deterred. With wrath in his heart, Russ is determined to bring Magnus to justice and bring about the fall of Prospero.

The next Horus Heresy novel. And it’s by Dan Abnett. Enough said, really. Can’t wait to get to this, but I’m going to leave it for closer to the release date. It’s really difficult to not dive straight into it, but I shall control myself.

Flynn-AmericanAssassinUKVince Flynn, American Assassin (Simon & Schuster)

Before he was considered a CIA-super agent, before he was thought of as a terrorist’s worst nightmare, and before he was both loathed and admired by politicians on Capitol Hill, Mitch Rapp was a star college athlete with an untapped instinct for violence.

Tensions in the Middle East are simmering when Central Intelligence Agency Director Irene Kennedy pays a visit to Syracuse University, where she hopes to recruit none other than Mitch Rapp, a student who has quickly climbed up the academic and athletic ranks. At first glance, he appears like any other smart, good-looking American college kid. Under the surface, however, a tempest rages.

Tragedy entered Mitch’s life a year before when 35 of his classmates, including his girlfriend, perished on Pan Am flight 103. Since then, Mitch has grieved their senseless deaths and has felt helpless in his desire for revenge. When Kennedy arrives on campus, his career path is suddenly laid out for him. Nine months later, after gruelling training, Mitch finds himself in Istanbul on his first assignment, which is to assassinate the Turkish arms dealer who sold the explosives used in the Pan Am attack. Mitch hits his target but quickly sees, for the first time, what revenge means to the enemy. When Mitch’s mentor and a fellow recruit are kidnapped and tortured by a dangerous group of Islamic jihadists, he must stop at nothing to save them.

One of my favourite series (regardless of genre), Vince Flynn takes us back to the beginning of Rapp’s career with the CIA. It’s a time the author has only alluded to in previous novels, so it will be interesting to see how Rapp became the man he did over the course of the series. This will be read within the next couple of weeks. An awesome author, and I really hope this novel lives up to my expectations.

Osborne-KillMeOnceJon Osborne, Kill Me Once (Arrow)

Nathan Stiedowe is seeking perfection – and he has been learning from the best. Recreating some of the most sickening murders in history, his objective appears chillingly simple, but his true motive remains unclear.

On the trail of this sadistic monster is FBI Special Agent Dana Whitestone. Driven by the brutal childhood slaying of her parents, Dana’s relentless pursuit of the most evil and twisted criminals has seen her profile many violent cases. But never has she encountered a maniac as demented as Stiedowe, or a mind as horrifyingly disturbed…

I’ve been searching for a new thriller/crime author to take the place of James Patterson, and I have high hopes for Osborne. The premise of his novel sounds interesting, and I am eager to get started on this. I shall wait until closer to the novel’s publication date, however, so don’t expect a review within the next couple of weeks.


Cumming-TrinitySixCharles Cumming, The Trinity Six (HarperCollins)

One of the enduring mysteries of modern espionage is the Cambridge Spy Ring--the group that included Anthony Blunt, Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, and Donald Maclean – and the identity of the long-rumored sixth man. Many theories have been proposed over the years, yet no one has come forth with any irrefutable proof. And Sam Gaddis, an academic with a specialty in modern Russian history, is the least likely person to do so. Until an old friend reveals that she's working on just that story, suddenly dies; Sam's need for money becomes pressing, and he finds his way to someone claiming to have access to the real sixth man.

But the few remaining people with any direct connection to that sixth man begin dying unexpectedly, MI-6 begins tracking Gaddis trying to throw him off the trail, and he finds himself in the cross-hairs of a very real, very dangerous plot emanating from the highest levels of contemporary Russia. As Sam risks everything he has and everyone he loves to unravel the layers of secrets surrounding the identity of the sixth man, someone else is equally determined, for reasons unknown, to keep the details surrounding the long-standing deception surrounding the sixth man buried forever.

After I received a review copy of Cumming’s previous novel, Typhoon, I was eager to read more from this up-and-coming author. As a member of the Amazon Vine program, I was extremely happy to see it offered as a review-option. It’s not out for a while, so I probably won’t get to it until the second half of January, but if it’s anywhere near as good as Typhoon, then this will be a wonderful read.


Lowe-HeirOfNightHelen Lowe, The Heir of Night (Orbit)

The violence of an age-old war casts a long shadow. It falls on a world where mercy is weakness and conflict is a way of life.

Young Malian is being trained to rule. Her people garrison the mountain range known as the Wall of Night against an ancient enemy, keeping a tide of shadow from the rest of their world. Malian is expected to uphold this tradition, yet she’s known little of real danger until the enemy launches a direct attack upon her fortress home.

In the darkest part of the night, the Keep of Winds becomes a bloodbath. Women and children, warriors and priests, are slain by creatures with twisted magic flowing in their veins. And as the castle wakes to chaos, Malian flees deep into the Old Keep, her life at stake. Then when the danger is greatest, her own hidden magic flares into life.

But this untapped potential is a two-edged blade. If she accepts its power, she must prepare to pay the price.

I don’t know much about this novel or author, but the artwork for this novel is certainly eye-catching. The premise sounds interesting, and I’ve seen some positive feedback on the internet for the author and the novel. Again, like Cumming’s novel, it’s not out for some time. I am certainly looking forward to reading it, however.

*     *     *

So, that’s just a small slice of what we have in store over the next couple of months (with some other reviews not mentioned – mainly because I’ve bought them for my Kindle, so couldn’t include them in the photo at the start). As and when we discover more releases, the schedules might shift a little – as is always the case – but  I wanted to at least mention these books as novels readers of science fiction and fantasy should keep an eye out for. What I’ve seen of 2011 release schedules, it is going to be another great year for fantasy readers, and there will also be plenty of science fiction to slake even the most voracious reader’s thirst.

Happy reading.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

“The Crowded Shadows”, by Celine Kiernan (Orbit)

Reviewed by Alyssa Mackenzie

Kiernan-2-TheCrowdedShadowsBook two of the Moorehawke Trilogy

Wynter Moorehawke has fled the dangers of court for bandit-infested forests, seeking exiled prince Alberon.

But more than just thieves lurk in these shadows. Every tyrant and zealot who has ever threatened the kingdom is sending emissaries to meet Alberon, whose motivations seem unclear.

Razi and Christopher had also set out to track Alberon, and find Wynter as enemies close in. With a savage wolf clan on their heels, they must seek sanctuary with the nomadic Merron. But this leaves them enmeshed in a net of sinister black magics and forbidden ritual. Their safety and the kingdom’s future will depend on a web of alliances and hostilities. And Alberon and his war machine sit at its heart.

In The Poison Throne, Kiernan’s debut, Wynter Moorehawke returns home to find her childhood friend Alberon, the heir to the throne, fled from the palace and apparently plotting to overthrow his father. In this environment, she joins Alberon’s half-brother, Razi in carefully navigating the newly-perilous world of King Jonathan’s court. When I read it in May, I knew I’d be reading the next books in the Moorhawke Trilogy as soon as I could. Kiernan combined nuanced, engaging characters with a compelling and fast-paced plot, and the novel left me eager to read more. In The Crowded Shadows, I was pleased to find Wynter’s story continuing in fine form.

This second novel picks up soon after the first left off, with Wynter alone in the wilderness on a quest to find Alberon. Even after she is again in the company and under the protection of Razi and Christopher, she lives with the constant threat of physical danger. The three find themselves caught between the Loups-Garou, a sinister clan of nomadic slave-traders and mercenaries (also known as ‘Wolves’, they are the “wolf clan” mentioned in the synopsis above), and the Merron who, while apparently friendly, hold their own physical and emotional perils for the three friends. In an interesting contrast to the first book, in which Christopher is a naïve outsider whom both Razi and Wynter feel impelled to protect, with the Merron it is Christopher alone who can see the dangers that they present clearly, having been raised by a Merron tribe.

In The Crowded Shadows, Kiernan introduces a number of different peoples into Wynter’s world, most notably the Loups-Garou and the Merron. Each of the two is evoked in brilliant detail, with their own traditions, attitudes, and, in the case of the Merron, language. Kiernan has drawn extensively from Irish Celtic tradition in creating the Merron, and their spoken language is adapted from modern Irish.

[Included with the novel is a short piece by Kiernan on “Merron Religion, Ritual, and Hierarchy” that you can also read here. For an interesting account of how she came up with the Loups-Garou, see Kiernan’s post here, but I would recommend reading The Crowded Shadows first, as it does contain some spoilers.]

As the scene shifts from the enclosed world of Jonathan’s court, we see the imaginative work that has gone into Kiernan’s world-building fully realised. Kiernan’s world is a re-imagined medieval Europe, in which the conflicting concerns of many kingdoms, tribes, and factions – whether religious, moral, or mercenary – are held in a precarious balance, largely due to the alliances initiated and maintained by King Jonathan. Once again, Kiernan does a brilliant job of intertwining the political stakes of her world with the personal concerns of her characters: for Wynter and Razi, reconciling Alberon and his father will not just reunite a beloved friend with his father; it may save their kingdom and those around it from political disintegration.

However, while the political crisis that drives the action of the trilogy is still very much present – for one thing, the Merron tribe with whom Wynter, Razi, and Christopher find safety is acting as emissary from a neighbouring kingdom to Alberon – I found The Crowded Shadows to be more concerned with raising the personal stakes for the characters. Once they leave the court, the focus of the story shifts from the political history that has led to the crisis to the personal histories of the three main characters. Kiernan continues to reveal tidbits of information about Jonathan’s and Lorcan’s pasts, but the emerging back-story of the younger generation is much more prominent.

Kiernan uses this back-story to great effect, building tension and deepening motivation for her characters. Alberon, whose personality and motivations are still mostly unknown, is at least partially revealed to the reader through Wynter’s memories. We learn more about his relationships with Wynter and Razi, and their relationship with each other, and so gain further understanding of the urgency that drives them to find their missing friend. We also get a lot more information about Christopher’s past, and his relationship with Razi, which is by no means as simple as it might appear.

Kiernan does not shy away from brutality: she includes scenes of occasionally shocking violence, and puts her characters through intense emotional and physical duress, challenging them to overcome experiences of intense fear and pain. Christopher’s past is especially painful, and the longer they spend with the Merron, and the nearer the threat of the Loups-Garou becomes, the more he is forced to face his past experiences. Kiernan does not spare her characters from the consequences, foreseeable or otherwise, of their decisions: they must repeatedly make difficult choices, where even the right decision can lead to unhappiness and guilt.

As in The Poison Throne, the atmosphere of the novel is tense, and the pace is brisk. Kiernan does a good job of maintaining the sense of tension and danger she established in her debut, despite the dramatic shift in scene and characters. Her characters are still on precarious ground, trying at once to survive in a situation that they don’t entirely understand and to accomplish their own ends. There is no place of safety or stability for her characters: even the developing relationship between Wynter and Christopher, which in itself promises to be quite sweet and simple, is complicated by the brutality and instability of their environment and Christopher’s past.

In The Crowded Shadows, Kiernan has written a brilliant follow-up to The Poison Throne, with complex and nuanced characters, and a fast-paced plot that made this book nearly impossible to put down. By the end of the novel, Kiernan wraps up the main story-arc; however, it is towards the eventual meeting with Alberon, and the necessary final confrontation with Jonathan, that both the personal and political threads of its plot are driving – there are a wealth of questions to be answered and uncertainties to be resolved in the trilogy’s final instalment.

Wonderful writing and story-telling.

Highly recommended.

The Moorehawke Trilogy: The Poison Throne, The Crowded Shadows, The Rebel Prince (review forthcoming)