Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Two New Reviews at SFFWorld - Vampire Earth and Themed Anthology

Another week, and two more reviews at SFFWorld. As usual, one of the reviews is mine. The other review is from long-time forum member and a forum leader in our writing forum, Dan Bieger.

I reviewed the latest volume of one of the more consistent long-standing SF series, E.E. Knight’s Vampire Earth - Winter Duty.

One element that has made the series so much fun to follow is the characters Valentine encounters throughout his travels. With each novel, Knight further fleshes out this future apocalyptic world and lends more plausibility and depth to it – everything is connected and comes together organically. As a fan of the series since the first book, Way of the Wolf I was pleased to see the return of Duvalier who was sort of an enigma since her first appearance. The history between her and Valentine is hinted at in such away to keep longtime readers wanting to see them become closer. On the other hand, Knight hints at enough for readers picking up Winter Duty as their first Vampire Earth novel to encourage them to seek the earlier books in the series.

The main plot is relatively linear throughout the story, but it holds up very well as Knight further explores this blasted future. Valentine deals with a reputation that precedes him and the author’s strength, in addition to the memorable characters, is providing great action scenes of battle as well as the encounters Valentine has with Reapers, the Kurian’s vampire army, and other nasties the Kurians have conjured to keep humanity under their heel.

Dan reviewed the Denise Little-edited anthology Intelligent Design. DAW publishes a themed anthology about once per month. Here’s a snapshot of what Dan thought of the book:
Start with the cover design consisting of various color exposures of linked Hasbro monkeys. Stir in Little’s intention to explore “that fascinating border that requires using our senses, and the evidence, and everything science can teach us, to explore the nature, or lack thereof, of the divine.” The result is eleven stories dealing with aspects of creation versus evolution, most with tongue in cheek.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Books in the Mail (W/E 09/26/2009)

This week’s Books in the Mail post is brought to you by Black Library, Nightshade Books, and Vandguard Press.

Isis by Douglass Clegg (Vandguard Press Hardcover 09/15/2009) – Douglass Clegg has been writing well-received horror for quite a few years now, well over a decade. One of those writers who I’ve, unfortunately, yet to read but have been wanting to read for some time. As I often say, maybe this will be the first book I read by him.

If you lost someone you loved, what would you pay to bring them back from the dead?

Old Marsh, the gardener at Belerion Hall, warned the Villiers girl about the old ruins along the sea-cliffs. “Never go in, miss. Never say a prayer at its door. If you are angry, do not seek revenge by the Laughing Maiden stone or at the threshold of the Tombs. There be those who listen for oaths and vows….What may be said in innocence becomes flesh and blood in such places.”

She was born Iris Catherine Villiers. She became Isis. From childhood until her sixteenth year, Iris Villiers wandered the stone-hedged gardens and the steep cliffs along the coast of Cornwall near her ancestral home. Surrounded by the stern judgments of her grandfather-the Gray Minister-and the taunts of her cruel governess, Iris finds solace in her beloved older brother who has always protected her.

But when a tragic accident occurs from the ledge of an open window, Iris discovers that she possesses the ability to speak to the dead…

Be careful what you wish for…it just may find you.

The Year’s Best Horror Volume 1 by Ellen Datlow (Nightshade Books Trade Paperback 10/11/2009) – Since The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror were split up a couple of years ago, Ms. Datlow brought the Horror component over to Nightshade with this, the first volume.

An Air Force Loadmaster is menaced by strange sounds within his cargo; a man is asked to track down a childhood friend... who died years earlier; doomed pioneers forge a path westward as a young mother discovers her true nature; an alcoholic strikes a dangerous bargain with a gregarious stranger; urban explorers delve into a ruined book depository, finding more than they anticipated; residents of a rural Wisconsin town defend against a legendary monster; a woman wracked by survivor's guilt is haunted by the ghosts of a tragic crash; a detective strives to solve the mystery of a dismembered girl; an orphan returns to a wicked witch's candy house; a group of smugglers find themselves buried to the necks in sand; an unanticipated guest brings doom to a high-class party; a teacher attempts to lead his students to safety as the world comes to an end around them...

What frightens us, what unnerves us? What causes that delicious shiver of fear to travel the lengths of our spines? It seems the answer changes every year. Every year the bar is raised; the screw is tightened. Ellen Datlow knows what scares us; the twenty-one stories and poems included in this anthology were chosen from magazines, webzines, anthologies, literary journals, and single author collections to represent the best horror of the year.

Legendary editor Ellen Datlow (Poe: New Tales Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe), winner of multiple Hugo, Bram Stoker, and World Fantasy awards, joins Night Shade Books in presenting The Best Horror of the Year, Volume One.

Cadian Blood (Imperial Guard Series) by Aaron Dembski-Bowden (Black Library Mass Market Paperback 09/25/2009) – This is a first time author so this might be another good entry point for the Warhammer 40,000 franchise and the Imperial Guard Series itself. Here’s a sample extract:

When the Imperial shrine world of Kathur is blighted by Chaos, the brave Guardsmen of Cadia are sent to reclaim it. The plague of Nurgle has set in deeply on the planet, forcing the Cadians into battle with an innumerable legion of the infected. In the midst of battle, Captain Parmenion Thade is thrust into an unlikely commanding role. Yet, he cannot imagine what lies ahead on Kathur, and just how important it will be to ensure victory there -

Space Wolf: The Second Omnibus (The Space Wolves Series) by William King and Lee Lightner (Black Library, Trade Paperback 09/22/2009) – One of the things I like about Black Library and their various Warhammer franchises is that they seem to be quite fan friendly in their products. In other words, they keep their series in print through Omnibus editions and I’m a big fan of the omnibus. The title on this one is pretty self-explanatory.

Wolfblade - The ancient Navigator House of Belisarius has long been bound to the mighty Space Wolves as allies. In return for the means to navigate the treacherous warp, the Space Wolves provide an honour guard of elite warriors – the Wolfblade – to protect the House. When Ragnar takes up his duties on ancient Terra he soon becomes embroiled in an assassination plot that reaches into the very depths of Imperium! Unused to the delicate political machinations, Ragnar must resort to the howling fury of the Wolves if he is to save this noble dynasty and regain his honour!

Sons of Fenris - Ragnar Blackmane is a legend within the hallowed ranks of the Space Wolves – his exploits are legendary and his courage is limitless. When Ragnar is sent to investigate reports of Chaos attacks on the planet Hyades, he encounters his Chapter’s most bitter rivals – the Dark Angels Space Marines. As old feuds come to the fore, both sides call in reinforcements and the situation quickly escalates out of control. Can these two ancient rivals call a truce and work together or will the savage forces of Chaos exploit the infighting and complete their nefarious plans?

Wolf’s Honour - Following events described in Sons of Fenris, the Space Wolves find themselves under attack from all sides by the Thousand Sons Chaos Space marines. In a last–ditch attempt to stop their ancient enemy, Ragnar and his battle–brothers launch a lightning strike on the Thousand Sons’ base. Will the Space Wolves triumph, and can Ragnar retrieve the Spear of Russ from his nemesis, the Chaos Space Marine Madox?

Shamanslayer (A Gotrek and Feilx Novel) by Nathan Long (Black Library Paperback 9/29/2009) Gotrek and Feilx is probably the most popular and long-running series/franchise in the Warhammer fantasy line of books, this being the 12th book in the series. The folks at Black Library, as they seem to do for most of their fiction, provided a sample chapter

Dwarf Trollslayer Gotrek and his human companion Felix Jaeger, Warhammer's most famous pair of heroes, head off to a new adventure in the latest novel of this best-selling fantasy series against a horde of beastmen who threaten the safety of the Empire.

Madness of Flowers by Jay Lake (Nightshade Books Trade Paperback 10/15/2009) – This is the follow-up to Lake’s Trial of Flowers, which is a nice looking book and was received very well. In regard to this one, how can you go wrong with a polar bear on a cover?

The battle has been fought and won, and all have been transformed by the struggle. Imago of Lockwood has become Lord Mayor of the City Imperishable, though at a price beyond his wildest imagination. Bijaz the Dwarf has been imbued with a godlike power and a responsibility he scarcely understands. And Jason the Factor, resurrected from death at the hands of his sister, the Tokhari sandwalker Kalliope, has become the sula ma-jieni na-dia, the fabled Dead Man of Winter. When a beautiful mountebank arrives in the City Imperishable, offering to lead an expedition to uncover the lost tomb of the Imperator Terminus, she stirs up the mob with promises of treasure and imperial power... but what will her quest unleash? Political intrigue, adventure, and all-out war await the principles and inhabitants of the City Imperishable. Through it all, the City may endure, but none will remain untouched by the Madness of Flowers...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Soulles, Tender Morsels

We’ve got two reviews this week at SFFWorld, one from me and another from Bridie.

My review is Soulless, the debut from Gail Carriger, which actually publishes in about a week but might be in stores right now.
Carriger does an impressive job of drawing the reader into the story immediately, as Alexia is confronted by a savage vampire at a party. She is shocked at its behavior, since most vampires know of her soulless status and would not be so forward in trying to drain an individual of their blood. With no other recourse, Alexia holds out her parasol and stabs the vampire in the heart, killing him. Carriger soon reveals the hierarchy of supernatural creatures in England. Vampires, unsurprisingly, hold very estimable positions in society, after all, they are long-lived and hold much knowledge. Werewolves hold to a pack mentality and are looked down upon in some circles as below man.
I was enjoying the way Carriger revealed her supernatural world and I liked the characters of Lord Maccoon, Alexia, and Lord Akeldama. Unfortunately, the immediacy of the opening of the novel and the charm of the characters began to wear off as the novel progressed, especially the prattling between Alexia and her friend Miss Ivy Hisselpenny, a constant wearer of ugly hats.

Bridie reviewed Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels a somewhat controversial novel released last year and re-released with a new cover this year.

Based on The Brother’s Grimm tale “Red Rose and Snow White” but with gruesome extras, this tale is not fairy, it’s quite harrowing in fact. Being aimed at Young Adults, it’s no surprise that it has stirred some controversy, with many believing that younger readers should not be reading books that contain incest and gang rape. Lanagan does gloss over the details however, making the scenes completely non- explicit, leaving me wondering why she would choose to put them in at all, like she was trying to make a book for both adults and children but got stuck somewhere in-between, somewhere where it was both too childish and too adult at the same time. It really sits on the fence and makes it obviously suitable for teens but that means it is close to the children’s section and easily mistaken as book for children.
The book is quite beautiful in places, with a lot of scenes that were especially well written and touching but there is a certain lack of pace that out-weighed the beautiful nature of the writing. Now, I am used to reading more action packed books so you may call me biased and stuck in my ways but I did come away with a feeling of; what has really happened? Sure, there were horrible sex acts but other than that… nothing! I didn’t feel any urgency while reading even the most unusual scenes. In the end, what I found most impressive is that, despite all the obstacles, ultimately other emotions did shine through, such as despair, hope and love, and it is these I would say are the real backbone of the book.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Books in the Mail (W/E 09/20/2009)

I get a lot of books for review on a weekly (and sometimes a daily) basis. Unfortunately, I’m not a speed reader and can’t read everything that arrives in my mailbox/in front of my garage/on my front step. This weekly post of arrivals is my effort to at least point out what comes in and not ignore it.

And Another Thing... (Book #6 in The Hithchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy) by Eoin Colfer (Hyperion Trade Paperback 10/11/2009) – I have a deep affection for the first 4 or 5 books in the trilogy and have read them each a couple of times. My wife loves the books, too. There seems to be some positivity surrounding this continuation of a deceased author’s defining work, quite the opposite of what’s happening with the Dune books.

An Englishman's continuing search through space and time for a decent cup of tea . .

Arthur Dent's accidental association with that wholly remarkable book, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, has not been entirely without incident.

Arthur has travelled the length breadth and depth of known, and unknown, space. He has stumbled forwards and backwards through time. He has been blown up, reassembled, cruelly imprisoned, horribly released, and colorfully insulted more than is strictly necessary. And of course Arthur Dent has comprehensively failed to grasp the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.

Arthur has finally made it home to Earth, but that does not mean he has escaped his fate.

Arthur's chances of getting his hands on a decent cuppa have evaporated rapidly along with all the world's oceans. For no sooner has he touched down on the planet Earth than he finds out that it is about to be blown up . . . ..again.

And Another Thing . . . is the rather unexpected, but very welcome, sixth installment of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series. It features a pantheon of unemployed gods, everyone's favorite renegade Galactic President, a lovestruck green alien, an irritating computer, and at least one very large slab of cheese.

Dust of Dreams (A Tale of the Malazan Book of the Fallen) by Steven Erikson (Bantam/Transworld Hardcover 08/18/2009) – This was a nice surprise in my mailbox! I just finished Reaper’s Gale about a week and a half ago so I’m still a book away from getting to this. However, as l mentioned in that post, Owen (aka kater) reviewed Dust of Dreams for SFFWorld:

You know the drill by now, this is the ninth Malazan book written by Steven Erikson, the twelfth overall, and if you haven’t read the rest you’re beyond help.

That being said, sturdy companion, if you’re at this point of your own free will – the end is nigh. This epic, compelling and indeed, at times, maddening series is but one weighty tome away from conclusion. But do we go there armed with answers or too many questions? Unfortunately it is heavily the latter.

The first and most interesting answer (it ISN’T a spoiler don’t worry) is that Dust of Dreams is in fact the end. It seems that so large is the final chapter of Erikson’s masterpiece, which he explains in the foreword, that it needed to be split into two.

My Dead Body (Joe Pitt Casebook #5) by Charlie Huston (Del Rey Paperback 10/13/2009) – I read and really enjoyed the first Joe Pitt Casebook, Already Dead, andI interviewed Charlie a couple of years ago after the first Joe Pitt Casebook. Now that the series is finished, maybe I’ll finally catch up with all of them.


Just ask Joe Pitt. After exposing the secret source of blood for half of Manhattan’s Vampyres, he’s definitely a dead man walking. He’s been a punching bag and a bullet magnet for every Vampyre Clan in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx, not to mention a private eye, an enforcer, an exile, and a vigilante, but now he’s just a target with legs.

For a year he’s sloshed around the subway tunnels and sewers, tapping the veins of the lost, while above ground a Vampyre civil war threatens to drag the Clans into the sunlight once and for all. What’s it gonna take to dig him up? Just the search for a missing girl who’s carrying a baby that just might be the destiny of Vampyre-kind. Not that Joe cares all that much about destiny and such. What he cares about is that his ex-girl Evie wants him to take the gig. What’s the risk? Another turn playing pigeon in a shooting gallery. What’s the reward? Maybe one shot of his own. What’s he aiming for? Nothing much. Just all the evil at the heart of his world.

Prince of Storms (Book Four of The Entire and the Rose) by Kay Kenyon (Tor Hardcover 01/15/2010) – I read all three books in this series Bright of the Sky, A World too Near, and City Without End) as each was released and thoroughly enjoyed them. This series is captivating and entertaining.:

Finally in control of the Ascendancy, Titus Quinn has styled himself Regent of the Entire. But his command is fragile. He rules an empire with a technology beyond human understanding; spies lurk in the ancient Magisterium; the Tarig overlords are hamstrung but still malevolent. Worse, his daughter Sen Ni opposes him for control, believing the Earth and its Rose universe must die to sustain the failing Entire. She is aided by one of the mystical pilots of the River Nigh, the space-time transport system. This navitar, alone among all others, can alter future events. He retires into a crystal chamber in the Nigh to weave reality and pit his enemies against each other.

Taking advantage of these chaotic times, the great foe of the Long War, the Jinda ceb Horat, create a settlement in the Entire. Masters of supreme technology, they maintain a lofty distance from the Entire's struggle. They agree, however, that the Tarig must return to the fiery Heart of their origins. With the banishment immanent, some Tarig lords rebel, fleeing to hound the edges of Quinn's reign.

Meanwhile, Quinn's wife Anzi becomes a hostage and penitent among the Jinda ceb, undergoing alterations that expose their secrets, but may estrange her from her husband. As Quinn moves toward a confrontation with the dark navitar, he learns that the stakes of the conflict go far beyond the Rose versus the Entire—extending to a breathtaking dominance. The navitar commands forces that lie at the heart of the Entire's geo-cosmology, and will use them to alter the calculus of power. As the navitar's plan approaches consummation, Quinn, Sen Ni, and Anzi are swept up in forces that will leave them forever changed.

In this rousing finale to Kenyon's celebrated quartet, Titus Quinn meets an inevitable destiny, forced at last to make the unthinkable choice for or against the dictates of his heart, for or against the beloved land.

Starship Flagship (Book Five of the Starship Series) by Mike Resnick (Pyr, Hardcover December 2009) –I’ve read the first three books (Starship: Mutiny, Starship: Pirate, Starship: Mercenary) in the series and really enjoyed them, and have had the fourth bookStarship Rebel on the to read pile since receiving it last year. With the concluding two volumes I’ll probably read them back-to-back.

The date is 1970 of the Galactic Era, almost three thousand years from now, and the Republic, created by the human race but not yet dominated by it, finds itself in an all-out war against the Teroni Federation, an alliance of races that resent Man's growing military and economic power.

The rebel starship, the Theodore Roosevelt, under the command of Wilson Cole, is preparing to lead Cole's ragtag armada into the Republic, even though he is outnumbered thousands to one. Cole is convinced that the government has become an arrogant and unfeeling political entity and must be overthrown.

The trick is to avoid armed conflict with the vast array of ships, numbering in the millions, in the Republic's Navy. For a time Cole's forces strike from cover and race off to safety, but he soon sees that is no way to conquer the mightiest political and military machine in the history of the galaxy. He realizes that he must reach Deluros VIII, the headquarters world of the Republic (and of the race of Man), in order to have any effect on the government at all—but Deluros VIII is the best-protected world in the Republic.

But a new threat looms on the horizon. Cole, the Valkyrie, David Copperfield, Sharon Blacksmith, Jacovic, and the rest of the crew of the Teddy R face their greatest challenge yet, and the outcome will determine the fate of the entire galaxy.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

By Blood We Live on Dragonbones and Ashes Lie

John Joseph Adams continues to assemble impressive themed-anthologies, gathering a wide range stories on a specific theme. His latest, By Blood We Live is no different and just as impressive as his previous efforts.
Having edited two definitive themed anthologies for Nightshade (The Living Dead and Wastelands), John Joseph Adams turns his deft and careful hands to one of the most iconic of genre characters – the vampire. Adams provides a nice introduction, wherein he goes over the various incarnations of the vampire over the past couple of hundred years. The stories then begin with an appropriately dark vampiric twist on the Snow White story in Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil Gaiman. Here, Snow White is not white for being pure as much as she is for being undead, Gaiman skillfully twists the classic villain of the stepmother into the struggling heroic character of the piece.

Norman Partridge has received a number of awards and award nominations for his long and short fiction. Do Not Hasten to Bid Me Adieu is a great ‘continuation’ of Dracula, which takes place in Texas and features Quincey Morris following the climactic confrontation between Morris, Jonathan Harker and the Count. Partridge captured the local flavor and put a terrific twist on the classic Stoker novel. One of the standout stories in the anthology

We’ve put up two other reviews in recent days. First, Bridie Roman reviewed the opening volume of one of the modern classics of Epic Fantasy (and one of my all-time favorite series) – Tad Williams’s The Dragonbone Chair, book one of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn.

Dark developments later in the book make for nail-biting stuff as the force of High Kind Elias clash with his brother Josua’s armies in the siege of Naglimund. Not only do the battle scenes have a superb tense atmosphere but also become quite brutal after a deadly pact is made. This story line in the book displays to me just why Memory, Sorrow and Thorn played such a large role in influencing the (now in)famous George R.R. Martin. They are epic, full of unexpected twists and turns and the true harshness of a real battle.

The Dragonbone Chair was first published in 1989; that makes it twenty this year, and it would be quite easy for a novel that old to get lost in the more recent plethora of novels that are currently being raved about. But as a dedicated fantasy fan I feel that this would be a crime. This is a book that to me should be seen as ageless - something that keeps the old traditions of save the world quests and rags-to-riches tales and brings in new ones: epic, dark battles and underhanded politics.

Last but not least, Mark/Hobbit takes a look at Marie Brennan’s follow-up to Midnight Never Come - In Ashes Lie

Without going too deeply into historical details, (but for those who perhaps don’t know), it was a time of revolution and change in England. It was a period of civil war, with those supporting Charles I fighting against those supporting elected Parliament, a choice that split regions, towns, villages and families. Ultimately it led to the death of a King, a time of national unrest when ‘the world was turned upside down’, compounded by the fact that the Civil War was followed by plague and, at its demise, the Great Fire of London in 1666.

All of this is here. Even if it were fiction and not fact, this should make a great tale. After my enjoyment of MNC I was looking forward to In Ashes Lie a great deal. Unfortunately, a number of issues meant that, in the end, the book changed from being an enjoyable one to a frustrating one, and stopped me enjoying this as much as I would’ve liked.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Books in the Mail (W/E 09/12/2009)

Since I can’t possibly read every book I receive for review, the least I can do is mention them here. This way, I’m not ignoring the efforts of the publishers. This time of the month, usually the first or second week is when the Penguin imprints Ace/Roc and DAW) send out the books they plan on publishing the following month. As such, I have a pretty big haul this week.

Doubleblind by Ann Aguirre (Ace Paperback 09/29/2009) – Third in a “romantic science fiction” about a young girl, Jax, who has the ability to jump ships through grimspace

Sirantha Jax isn’t known for diplomatic finesse. As a “Jumper” who navigates ships through grimspace, she’s used to kicking ass first and taking names later—much later. Not exactly the obvious choice to sell the Conglomerate to the Ithtorians, a people whose opinions of humans are as hard as their exoskeletons.

And Ithiss-Tor council meetings aren’t the only place where Ambassador Jax needs to maneuver carefully. Her lover, March, is frozen in permanent “kill” mode, and his hair-trigger threatens to sabotage the talks—not to mention their relationship.

But Jax won’t give up on the man or the mission. With the Outskirts beleaguered by raiders, pirates, and the flesh-eating Morgut, an alliance with Ithiss-Tor may be humanity’s only hope. Which has Jax wondering why a notorious troublemaker like her was given the job.

On the Edge(The Edge #1) by Ilona Andrews (Ace Mass Market Paperback 10/02/2009) – First in a new paranormal romance series by the NY Times Bestselling author.

The Broken is a place where people shop at Wal-Mart and magic is nothing more than a fairy tale.

The Weird is a realm where blueblood aristocrats rule and the strength of your magic can change your destiny.

Rose Drayton lives on the Edge, the place between both worlds. A perilous existence indeed, made even more so by a flood of magic-hungry creatures bent on absolute destruction.

At Empire's Edge by William C. Dietz (Ace Hardcover 10/06/2009) – Dietz spent a lot of time in the military and as such, a lot of his books would be considered Military Science Fiction. This one, however, sounds like something Richard K. Morgan might write.

In a far-distant future, the Uman Empire has spread to the stars and beyond, conquering and colonizing worlds, ruling with a benevolent—but iron—fist. The Pax Umana reigns, and all is well. But on one planet, the remnants of a violent, shape-shifting race called the Sagathis are confined, kept captive by xeno-cops, who have been bio-engineered to be able to see through their guises. Still, sometimes one manages to escape.

Zak Cato is a xeno-cop. He's returning a fugitive Sagathi when things go horribly wrong. Cato— the only survivor after the rest of his men are slaughtered—must now figure out who betrayed them and bring the alien in, whatever the cost.

Xombies: Apocalypse Blues by Walter Greatshell (Ace Paperback 09/29/2009) – This is a reprint of Greatshell’s 2004 novel, Xombies. Why it’s re-titled lies in the minds and hearts of (I assume) the marketing group over at Ace:

Lulu Pangloss has problems. She has no friends, her mom is difficult, and her absentee father is a deadbeat. Things can hardly get any worse...or so she thinks.

Then the world comes to an end.

It starts with Agent X, a plague that turns women into raving, demonic predators--Xombies--who then hunt down and infect anyone they can catch. Guns are useless; armies are helpless.

With civilization collapsing all around her, Lulu hitches a ride with a crew of wary male refugees, and together they flee for the last place on Earth rumored to be safe. But what they find is as unexpected, and as terrifying, as the hell they've left behind.

Zombie Raccoons & Killer Bunnies edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Kerrie Hughes (DAW Books Mass Market Paperback 10/06/2009) – This is DAW’s Monthly Themed Anthology and all I can say looking at this book is WOW. Well that and the Quizno’s Sponge Monkeys.

From a farmer at war with Nature's creatures, to dangerous doings when the henhouse goes on-line, to the hazards of keeping company with a book wyrm, here are ingenious tales that will make readers laugh or cry—or double-check to make sure that their windows and doors are firmly locked against the things that prowl the night.

Hunting Memories (The Vampire Memories #2) by Barb Hendee (Roc Trade Paperback 10/06/2009) – This is the second novel in Barb Hendee’s solo series about, you guessed it, vampires. The Vampire Memories series looks to have more of an urban fantasy (current definition) feel than the Nobel Dead saga she coauthors with her husband.

You are not alone. There are others like you…"

When she read those words, Eleisha Clevon knew she had to respond to Rose de Spenser’s letter and connect with another vampire. Both reluctant predators, they venture outside only when the hunger becomes unbearable, try not to draw attention to themselves—and feel guilty when ending human lives.

But Eleisha has learned a way to draw blood from her victims without killing them. She wants to share this knowledge with like-minded vampires and create a haven where they can exist together—and forge a united front against Julian Ashton, a vampire who has been hunting down and destroying his own kind for the last century. To win Rose to her cause, Eleisha must risk meeting her face-to-face, knowing full well she might be an agent of Julian’s—but never expecting the revelations Rose has to share about Eleisha’s own vampire origins…

The Mermaid’s Madness (Princess Series #2) by Jim C. Hines (DAW Books, Mass Market Paperback 10/06/2009) – I still have Jim’s first book in this series The Stepsister Scheme staring at me from the unread shelf. I plan on reading both of them soonishly. Jim runs a great blog / LiveJournal, particularly the now defunct lol cats book cover features and seems an affable and generous writer.

What would happen if a star writer went back to the darker themes of the original fairy tales for plots, and then crossed the Disney princesses with "Charlie's Angels"? What he'd end up with is The Mermaid's Madness-a whole new take on "The Little Mermaid." And with Jim C. Hines, of Jig the Goblin fame, penning the tale, you can bet it won't be "They lived happily ever after."

Gwenhwyfar: The White Spirit (A Novel of King Arthur) by Mercedes Lackey (DAW Hardcover 10/06/2009) – The extremely prolific author turns her pen to one of the most well worn myths/legends – King Arthur

The bestselling author of the Valdemar novels pens a classic tale about King Arthur's legendary queen.

Gwenhwyfar moves in a world where gods walk among their pagan worshipers, where nebulous visions warn of future perils, and where there are two paths for a woman: the path of the Blessing or the rarer path of the Warrior. Gwenhwyfar chooses the latter, giving up the power that she is born into. Yet the daughter of a King is never truly free to follow her own calling. Acting as the "son" her father never had, when called upon to serve another purpose by the Ladies of the Well, she bows to circumstances to become Arthur's queen—only to find herself facing temptation and treachery, intrigue and betrayal, but also love and redemption.

Unleashed by John Levitt (Ace Paperback 11/24/2009) – Third in an Urban Fantasy series about a man and his ‘dog.’

Mason is an enforcer, keeping magical practitioners on the straight and narrow. His "dog" Louie, is a faithful familiar who's proven over and over that he's a practitioner's best friend. But this time, Louie's in the line of fire when practitioners in San Francisco accidentally unleash a monster into the world.

The Grave Thief by (Book Three of the Twilight Reign) by Tom Lloyd. (Pyr Trade Paperback 09/15/2009) – Third volume in Lloyd’s high fantasy trilogy, which as been released in pretty quick succession here in the US.

Scree has been wiped from the face of the Land in a brutal demonstration of intent. While those responsible scatter to work on the next step in their plan, the stakes are raised - all the way to the heavens - as the Gods themselves enter the fray. Returning home to a nation divided by fanaticism, Lord Isak is haunted both by the consequences of his actions in Scree and by visions of his own impending death. As the full extent of Azaer's schemes become clearer, he realises prophecy and zealotry must play their part in his battle-plans if there is to be any chance of surviving the coming years. As a white-eye, Isak has had to embrace the darker parts of his own soul, but now the savage religious fervour sweeping his nation must also be accepted and turned to purpose, in the name of survival. With the battle lines vague and allegiances uncertain, the time for heartless decisions and ruthless action has come. Two figures oppose Isak and his allies: the greatest warrior in history, who dreams of empire and Godhood, and a newborn baby whose dreams have no limit.

Quatrain by Sharon Shinn (Ace Hardcover 10/06/2009) – I’ve only read Archangel by Shinn more than 10 years ago, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. This book seems like a good primer/introduction to all of her work.

Four original novellas, all set in the fantastical worlds of national bestselling author Sharon Shinn - Flight (Samaria); Blood (Heart of Gold); Gold (Summers at Castle Auburn); and Flame (Twelve Houses).

Vigilante by (Major Ariane Kedros #2) Laura E. Reeve (Roc Mass Market Paperback 10/06/2009) – Like the Jim Hines book I received this week, I have the previous book in this series sitting on the unread shelf staring at me and making me feel guilty because I do want to read this. I think getting the sequel/second book will push me a little bit more.

Amidst an uneasy peace between the Autonomists and the Terrans, Major Ariane Kedros and her partner, Matthew Journey, have discovered alien ruins on a remote planet—ruins that bear evidence to an ancient and highly advanced technology. But their discovery has drawn the interest of high stakes players from every corner of the universe—including that of the rogue leader of a fringe Terran sect. Ari must find a way to stop him, before they all become ancient history...

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Dust, Night, and Gale - Reviews and Thoughts on Three Malazan Novels

It has been Malazan this and Malazan that the past handful of days. Yesterday, Owen posted his insightful review of the penultimate volume in the über-saga, Dust of Dreams

Thus the end begins oddly in places new - such as the fortress of an insane K’chain Che’malle matron, following a line of malnourished and tortured children out of a dark place infected by the Crippled God - and old, the court of blanket-wearing sovereign Tehol the Only. At the court of the king where an Elder God does all the work, we are surprisingly offered a few clear answers. Of the connection between warrens and decks, gods and mortals, between the things we have suspected and the little we know to this point. For its honesty; where whence there was only subterfuge and shadows, it is all the more refreshing. Don’t get used to it.

Dust of Dreams is not like the other books. It starts fast, the disparate fragments of places not yet seen and characters not yet met in the prologue give way to one of the most tense and exciting scenes in the series. Old favourites and new wards face a reading of the Deck of Dragons like no other and isn’t everybody just happy to be a part of it. Plans are laid, the board is set and the shocks have only just begun.

For my part(s), my review of Night of Knives, the first novel entry of co-creator Ian Cameron Esslemont. I thought the book was enjoyable and as a novel-length prologue to the entire series, quite effective.

One of the things that stuck with me is how little page time the three most powerful characters get in the novel. Granted, Laseen doesn’t get much play in the series books written by Erikson, either. Here, she is known as Surly and is the third most powerful person in the Malazan Empire, just under the Emperor and Dancer. Esslemont makes it pretty clear that Dancer and Kellenvad have things much loftier than ruling an empire on their mind. All told, the events of the novel take place in a 24-hour period and Esslement really maintains a frantic tense, pacing throughout the novel.

Lastly, I finished Reaper’s Gale over the weekend and thought it another solid entry in Erikson/Esslemont’s enormous world. Like most of the Malazan novels Erikson has authored, this one was both exhausting and rewarding. I won’t go into a full review here, but I’ll say that I thought the insanity and chaos inherit in the character of Rhulad Sengar paralleld some of the chaos of the series itself.

I also liked just about all the scenes involving Tehol Beddict and his ‘manservant’ Bugg, especially knowing Bugg’s true nature. Icarium was once again an imposing character, but didn’t do quite as much here. Karsa Orlong continues to be one of my favorite characters in the series, if for nothing else because of how his sheer force of will comes across so well on the page. Despite being a violent, sadistic giant, I was still rooting for Karsa. It was nice to see Quick Ben again, and his true power came across subtly, I thought. His speech patterns and interactions with Hedge were a lot fun. My only negative for both Ben and Karsa is that I would have liked to see more of both in this volume. In Ben’s case, his power and

Throughout, Erikson’s (and maybe by proxy Laseen’s) full plan comes to light through Ben and his travels in the warrens as well as the Malazan fleet that arrives in the Letherii Empire.

The pacing was a bit uneven, but that may not be surprising in a book with a page count well over 800 (in US edition and at 900 in the UK edition). At around the 3/4 mark of the book (page 700 or so in the edition I was reading) ,the pacing seemed to come to a halt and I felt as if I was forcing myself to read the book. Fortunately, about 50 or so pages later the pacing picked up again, which led to a satisfying conclusion.

In short, with each book, Steven Erikson / Ian Cameron Esslemont’s Malazan series climbs up the chart of my favorite fantasy series. The books are often chaotic, but that adds to the good ol’ sense-of-wonder and Holy Shit aspect of the series.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Books in the Mail (W/E 09/05/2009)

This week’s Sunday run down is brought to you by Orbit, Tor, and Plume.

Transition by Iain M. Banks (Orbit Hardcover 09/23/2009) – I’ve only read a little bit of Mr. Banks’s output, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. This novel is not part of his Culture saga and is more of a modern/near future SF thriller.

A world that hangs suspended between triumph and catastrophe, between the dismantling of the Wall and the fall of the Twin Towers, frozen in the shadow of suicide terrorism and global financial collapse, such a world requires a firm hand and a guiding light. But does it need the Concern: an all-powerful organization with a malevolent presiding genius, pervasive influence and numberless invisible operatives in possession of extraordinary powers?

On the Concern's books are Temudjin Oh, an un-killable assassin who journeys between the peaks of Nepal, a version of Victorian London and the dark palaces of Venice; and a nameless, faceless torturer known only as the Philosopher. And then there's the renegade Mrs. Mulverhill, who recruits rebels to her side; and Patient 8262, hiding out from a dirty past in a forgotten hospital ward. As these vivid, strange and sensuous worlds circle and collide, the implications of turning traitor to the Concern become horribly apparent, and an unstable universe is set on a dizzying course.

The Quiet War by Paul McAuley (Pyr Trade Paperback 09/152009) – McAuley’s been writing well-received Science Fiction for well over a decade. I read some shorts by him as well as his Confluence trilogy, which was pretty good. This newest is a space opera that sounds intriguing:

Twenty-third century Earth, ravaged by climate change, looks backwards to the holy ideal of a pre-industrial Eden. Political power has been grabbed by a few powerful families and their green saints. Millions of people are imprisoned in teeming cities; millions more labour on Pharaonic projects to rebuild ruined ecosystems. On the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, the Outers, descendants of refugees from Earth's repressive regimes, have constructed a wild variety of self-sufficient cities and settlements: scientific utopias crammed with exuberant creations of the genetic arts; the last outposts of every kind of democratic tradition. The fragile detente between the Outer cities and the dynasties of Earth is threatened by the ambitions of the rising generation of Outers, who want to break free of their cosy, inward-looking pocket paradises, colonise the rest of the Solar System, and drive human evolution in a hundred new directions. On Earth, many demand pre-emptive action against the Outers before it's too late; others want to exploit the talents of their scientists and gene wizards. Amid campaigns for peace and reconciliation, political machinations, crude displays of military might, and espionage by cunningly wrought agents, the two branches of humanity edge towards war . . .

The Dame (Saga of the First King #2) by R.A. Salvatore (Tor Hardcover 08/18/2009) – I read the first of this new series The Ancient last year and was (surprisingly) entertained by it. This here’s the sequel/second book in the series:

The vast road network of Honce, completed a decade before, had brought great optimism to the people of the land. Commerce could travel more freely and so could armies, and those armies, it was hoped, would rid the land at long last of the vicious, bloody cap dwarfs and goblins. For the first time, the many individual kingdoms, the holdings of Honce, would be brought closer together, perhaps even united. For the last few years, those promises had become a nightmare to the folk, as two powerful lairds fought for supremacy of a hoped-for united kingdom. Bransen Garibond, the Highwayman, held little real interest in that fight. To him the warring lairds were two sides of the same coin. Whichever side won, the outcome for the people of Honce would be the same, Bransen believed. A journey north, however, taught Bransen that his views were simplistic at best, and that some things--like honor and true friendship-- might truly matter. In The Dame, Bransen’s road becomes a quest for the truth, of Honce and of himself, a quest to put right over wrong. That path is fraught with confusion and fraud, and a purposeful blurring of morality by those who would seek to use the Highwayman’s extraordinary battle skills and popularity among the commonfolk for their own nefarious ends.

Ice Land by Betsy Tobin (Plume Trade Paperback 08/25/2009) – A Mythic historical fiction which is being compared to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon., with praise from Diana Gabaldon, Kristen Britain, and Publishers Weekly, among others. An excerpt is available here.

Iceland, AD 1000 - Freya knows that her people are doomed. Warned by the Fates of an impending disaster, she must embark on a journey to find a magnificent gold necklace, one said to possess the power to alter the course of history. But even as Freya travels deep into the mountains of Iceland, the country is on the brink of war. The new world order of Christianity is threatening the old ways of Iceland's people, and tangled amidst it all are two star-crossed lovers who destiny draws them together even as their families are determined to tear them apart

Infused with the rich history and mythology of Iceland, Betsy Tobin's sweeping novel is an epic adventure of forbidden love, lust, jealousy, faith and magical wonder set under the shadow of a smoldering volcano..

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The Magicians by Lev Grossman Reviewed

It was about two weeks ago when I mentioned finishing The Magicians by Lev Grossman. With the timing of my reviews and how much this book moved me and completely worked, I took a some time to craft my review which I posted yesterday. I keep saying this about some of the recent reads, but this one really blew me away and is probably, if not a top 5 read, then easily a top 10 read for 2009 for me.

Grossman’s writing is subtle and relaxed on the whole, but like the sex scene between the two male students I mentioned earlier, he will throw a sucker punch in the midst of otherwise well-flowing narrative. In two cases, this comes in the form of Penny, one scene of which is literally a sucker punch from Penny to Quentin. Another scene (not with Penny) involves a standard lecture, with Quentin being bored (as most students tend to get during college lectures) when suddenly the Beast appears shocking everyone including the instructor and killing a student. These “sucker-punch” scenes occur even more explicitly once the Physical Kids finally arrive in Fillory. Grossman shows how magic might work in the real world in an effective manner, with possibly terrifying implications. Perhaps the strongest parallel I can draw here is how well Alan Moore / Dave Gibbons showed the effects of superheroes in the real world in their landmark graphic novel Watchmen. In this sense, Grossman illustrates just how unsafe magic could be, especially in the unpracticed hands of young college students, and even older students and thos who graduated – perhaps the axiom a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing applies. Gone is the safe illusion of magic as Quentin and his friends soon realize. Just like Watchmen, The Magicians is a work I can see myself returning to multiple times in the future.
The Magicians is an ingeniously detailed novel and Grossman should be highly applauded for the subtle details he laid out throughout the novel. The book received high praise even before it was published, with blurbs from George R.R. Martin, Kelly Link, and Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Diaz among others. Many may find the novel as an attempt at emulating Rowling, C.S. Lewis and Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, which is unfortunate because Grossman is his own Beast of a writer. The manner in which he acknowledges the writers who inspired him and laid a foundation for magical stories is smart without being mere imitation. His storytelling skills, ability to create narrative drive, and the organic manner in which he fits it all together is a unique and remarkable work of art.