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Friday, August 31, 2007

Winners of the Kim Harrison + David Anthony Durham Giveaways!

Congratulations to Anne Delery (Louisiana) who was randomly selected to win a whole SET of Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan novels including “Dead Witch Walking”, “The Good, The Bad, and The Undead”, “Every Which Way But Dead”, “A Fistful of Charms” and the author’s latest release, “For A Few Demons More” all thanks to EOS Books!!!

Congratulations also to Denise Kivett (Indiana), Linda Peters (Canada), Annette Taylor (Illinois), Tamara Litke (South Dakota) and Robert Fantom (New York) who all won a SIGNED copy of David Anthony Durham’sAcacia” thanks to Colleen and Doubleday Books.

Just a reminder that I’m still waiting to hear back from Linda Denisen who won the Lois McMaster Bujold giveaway and Mary McCoy who won a copy of Charlie Huston’sThe Shotgun Rule”. If you read this, please email me ASAP. Also, the GIVEAWAY for Douglas Clegg’s The Vampyricon Trilogy ends on Tuesday, September 4, 2007 – 11:59AM PST. So don’t miss out! Finally, new giveaways will start next week :D

"The Innocent Mage" by Karen Miller

Official Karen Miller Website
Order “The Innocent MageHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE


In the UK Orbit is the largest Science Fiction and Fantasy publisher, responsible for bringing readers such authors as Robert Jordan, Terry Brooks, Orson Scott Card, Laurell K. Hamilton, Tad Williams, J.V. Jones, Christopher Moore, R. Scott Bakker, Iain M. Banks, et cetera. Starting September 2007, Orbit is making its US debut thanks to Hachette Book Group USA, and are bringing with them a diverse blend of fantasy, science fiction and urban fantasy. Among the eleven launch titles, three books really caught my eye: Brian Ruckley’s debut novel “Winterbirth”, “The Electric Church” by Jeff Somers, and Karen Miller’sThe Innocent Mage” which was the first Orbit US release that I had the pleasure of reviewing.

In a world ravaged by dark magics, a powerful mage named Barl sought sanctuary for her people and sacrificed herself in creating the Wall, a magical barrier that would protect the Kingdom of Lur from the reaches of the evil Morg. For over six hundred years, the two peoples of Lur—the Doranen and the magickless Olken—have lived in relative peace & prosperity with one another, but according to Prophecy, the Final Days are drawing near and only the Innocent Mage will be able to “save the world from blood and death”. Enter Asher, an Olken fisherman, youngest of seven sons, who travels to the city of Dorana in search of an honest income to help support his father and instead, ends up befriending the Crown Prince of Lur and becoming a valuable asset to the throne…and the unwilling pawn of Prophecy

Okay, so the overall plot is nothing to marvel at. In fact, it’s pretty generic stuff and if you follow any kind of fantasy at all, then you’re probably pretty familiar with a lot of the archetypes that Ms. Miller employs, including prophecy, an ancient evil, a Hero destined to save the world, a mysterious group known as the Circle whose job is to serve Prophecy, Monarch politics, Asher being a nobody and then becoming rich & famous, Asher falling in love with someone who can’t love him back because of duty, a hidden library full of ancient texts, recognizable magic concepts, and so on. Fortunately, it’s not all run-of-the-mill clichés. There’s Barl’s First Law, a cardinal rule that states no Olken may practice magic under penalty of death, which is just one of the variables behind the tension/prejudice between the two peoples that comes into play throughout the book. Then there’s another rule where the ruling family can only have one heir, but because Prince Gar is “magickless”, an exception is made and he now has a sister, which causes some complications for the family especially towards the end of “The Innocent Mage”. There are a few other fresh ideas as well, but those are the ones that stood out the most.

As far as the cast, you have fisherman-turned-Assistant Olken Administrator Asher, Prince Gar and his family—King Borne, Queen Dana, Princess Fane—, Jervale’s Heir Dathne, her soul-sworn Matt, the Master Magician Durm, Gar’s Private Secretary Darran and his assistant Willer, none of which are that complex or original. In other words, the good guys are likeable and have few flaws, while the antagonists are easy to dislike. That said, the characterization is actually the strength of the book. Ms. Miller spends a lot of time developing her characters, is quite good with dialogue and conveying one’s thoughts & emotions, and has a knack for distinguishing each personality. In particular, Asher is a short-tempered, forthcoming individual best characterized by his distinctive accent. While the lingo/slang can get a bit annoying, I was impressed with the effort that Ms. Miller put into this and thankfully the accent becomes less of an issue as the book progresses. My only real complaint was the haphazard manner in which the narratives were presented. Aside from Asher and Dathne, it’s not readily established who the main characters are and who the supporting cast is, and there are long stretches where certain characters just seem to disappear. Also, a few narratives like that of Darran & Willer seemed to bear no importance whatsoever to the story, unless the two happen to play an important role in the second part of the duology ;).

Overall, Karen Miller’sThe Innocent Mage” has its share of drawbacks: The story and characters are not that creative. The book is on the long side and is notably lacking in the action department. The worldbuilding is a bit sparse despite the obvious time & effort Ms. Miller took in establishing the Kingdom of Lur. And the novel as a whole likes to play it too safe never venturing beyond PG territory. Specifically, there were a lot of prospective conflicts involving certain characters in the book like Darran, Willer, Conroyd Jarralt, etc., that never reach their potential. Despite all of this, I happened to like “The Innocent Mage” and thought it was a fairly enjoyable fantasy. In addition to the characters, I was most impressed with Ms. Miller’s writing, which may have not been that stylish, but was engaging, and for the most part, technically proficient. I also really liked the jaw-dropping, cliffhanger ending. Thankfully, we only have to wait a month to find out what happens in “The Awakened Mage” (October 1, 2007) and to see how the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker Duology is concluded. In the end, if fantasy’s your thing and you don’t mind treading over familiar ground, then Karen Miller’sThe Innocent Mage” is definitely worth a look and might be better than you expected…

FYI: Karen Miller is based out of Australia and actually debuted the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker Duology in 2005 before it was released earlier this year in the UK and now the US. Ms. Miller’s other books include the Stargate SG-1 tie-in novel “Alliances” (2006) and “Empress of Mijak” (June 2007), the opening chapter in the author’s new Godbreaker trilogy, which sounds very promising, but unfortunately, is only available to Australian/New Zealand readers at the moment. Hopefully this will change soon :)
Wednesday, August 29, 2007

"The Nightmare Factory"

If you’ve been following Fantasy Book Critic for a little while, then you might know that I am a fan and supporter of comic books. Up to this point, I haven’t actually reviewed any comic books, but when I recently received a graphic novel from HarperCollins, I decided to make an exception.

So what is a graphic novel? Basically, it’s a format that uses a combination of writing & artwork to tell a story, or in more general terms, it’s a comic book, but longer and usually self-contained, although short-story anthologies and collections of previously published issues of a comic book series also apply. To me, it’s basically a comic book wrapped up in better packaging. So why start reviewing them now? I may be mistaken, but it seems like more and more book publishers are starting to accept the graphic novel as a legitimate form of literature. For instance, you have HarperCollins publishing the graphic novel that I’ll be reviewing shortly, Hachette Book Group USA who recently launched their
graphic novel/manga imprint Yen Press and have a graphic novel called “Shooting War” that is coming out in November, and Del Rey whose upcoming graphic novels include original stories based on Terry Brooks’ Shannara series and Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas. In short, I believe the graphic novel is only going to grow in popularity, not counting the already successful Manga properties out there, and I think you’ll be seeing a lot more graphic novels produced in the years to come, especially as more publishers & creators get into the game…

Returning to the topic at hand, “The Nightmare Factory” is the third release from the Fox Atomic Comics / HarperCollins partnership that began in July 2006, and features adaptations of four stories from award-winning horror writer Thomas Ligotti:

The Last Feast of Harlequin”. Written by Stuart Moore—novelist/comic book writer (Firestorm, Michael Chabon Presents: The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist). Art by Colleen Doran (The Sandman, The Book of Lost Souls). Basically, what starts out as an anthropologist’s curiosity for a town’s local traditions, becomes something much darker involving cults, sacrifice and metamorphosis. Of the four stories, I thought this one was the weakest, because it was kind of slow-moving, but the Lovecraftian payoff at the end was nice :)

Dream of a Mannikin”. Written by Stuart Moore. Art by Ben Templesmith (30 Days of Night, Fell, Hatter M). This story revolves around a psychiatrist, his patient, and her dreams which represent mannequins in either a literal or metaphorical sense… The shortest of the four, this strange little tale had my head spinning and Mr. Templesmith’s artwork, as usual, is quite stylish.

Dr. Locrian’s Asylum”. Written by Joe Harris—filmmaker/comic book writer whose credits include “Darkness Falls”, “Tooth Fairy”, “The Tripper” and Spider-Man/X-Men comics. Art by Ted McKeever (DC’s Elseworlds, The Matrix Comics). Featuring a sanitarium and its dark legacy, a town faces madness and destruction when they decide to remove a remnant of their past… Fast-paced and intriguing, backed by haunting artwork, “Dr. Locrian’s Asylum” only stumbles at the end, where events felt a bit rushed and too ambiguous even for my tastes.

Teatro Grottesco”. Written by Joe Harris. Art by Michael Gaydos (Alias/The Pulse, Snakewoman). Probably the most bizarre of the four, the plot has something to do with artists and a mysterious troupe known as the ‘Teatro Grottesco’. While I’m still not sure what happened, the art by Michael Gaydos is breathtaking, and probably my favorite in the whole book.

Having never read any Thomas Ligotti, I don’t know how faithful the adaptations are, so I can only assume that certain aspects of the originals may have been lost in the translation, while others were more profoundly conveyed by the artwork which is the experience I’ve had with other comic book adaptations. Aside from that, I wish the graphic novel had been a little longer—112 pages seemed a bit on the short side—and, as capable as Stuart Moore & Joe Harris were writing-wise, it would have been nice if a couple of other writers had been brought on board to apply their own unique style to the source material… (For an 8-page preview of "The Nightmare Factory" check out IGN's exclusive look HERE. Age verification is required since the graphic novel is suggest for mature audiences)

Overall, “The Nightmare Factory” is a winning combination of diverse comic book talent and masterful storytelling that will appeal to readers who appreciate horror of the more cerebral variety. Fans of H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allen Poe and of course Thomas Ligotti should take note…

FYI: As mentioned above, “The Nightmare Factory” is the third graphic novel from Fox Atomic Comics / HarperCollins, following their release of “28 Days Later: The Aftermath” (April 2007) and “The Hills Have Eyes: The Beginning” (July 2007). I’m not sure what they have in store for readers next, but if “The Nightmare Factory” is any indication of the high-quality material that they’re producing, you can bet that I’ll be waiting in line for the next release!

“In addition to the upcoming graphic novel, “The Nightmare Factory” brand also exists as an online series of horror-themed short films produced by Fox Atomic. Each is tied into a specific contest, whereby half-completed nightmares are posted on
foxatomic.com and visitors are asked to complete them. Fans then vote for the top ten stories and the studio selects one winner. Eight such films have been completed to date, with three currently in progress in support of Twentieth Century Fox’s upcoming theatrical release Death Sentence (Opens August 31). Even more “Nightmare Factory” interactive activities are planned for Halloween 2007. Information is available at www.foxatomic.com. Fox Atomic Comics also have a blog HERE and a Myspace page HERE.”

Winners of the Steven Erikson + Lian Hearn Giveaways!

Congratulations to Jak Jakubowski (Tennessee) who was randomly selected to win a whole SET of Steven Erikson’s Malazan Books of the Fallen, including “Gardens of the Moon”, “Deadhouse Gates”, "Memories of Ice”, “House of Chains”, “Midnight Tides”, “The Bonehunters”, and “Reaper’s Gale” thanks to Transworld!!!

Congratulations also to Gustav Nylund (Sweden) who was randomly selected to win a whole SET of Lian Hearn’s Tales of the Otori including “Across the Nightingale Floor”, “Grass For His Pillow”, “Brilliance of the Moon”, “The Harsh Cry of the Heron” and “Heaven’s Net Is Wide” thanks to Pan MacMillan!!!

I have both of the winners’ information and emails have been sent to the publishers :D Also, the winners of Charlie Huston’sThe Shotgun Rule” were drawn yesterday and emails sent out so be sure to check your inboxes!!!

Finally, the giveaways for David Anthony Durham’sAcacia” and Lois McMaster Bujold’sThe Sharing Knife” Duology end TODAY at 11:59AM PST. Good luck to all participants!!!
Tuesday, August 28, 2007

New Book Releases, Giveaways, Covers, etc.

While researching for the September installment of Monthly Spotlights, which will go live this weekend by the way, I realized that I overlooked a few books that were due for release today. So, without further ado:

Death and the Devil” by Frank Schätzing. Release Date: August 28, 2007. A popular and best-selling German author, Frank Schätzing is best known for “The Swarm” (2004), which was translated into English and optioned as a major motion picture in 2006. “Death and the Devil” is actually the author’s first novel and is making its English debut courtesy of William Morrow. Expect an epic tale of political struggle, conspiracy, unlikely alliances, and murder in a richly detailed Cologne in the year 1260…
Official Frank Schätzing Website
Order “Death and the DevilHERE

One For Sorrow” by Christopher Barzak. Release Date: August 28, 2007. Author of numerous short stories—have appeared in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror, Strange Horizons, Nerve, Realms of Fantasy, et cetera—and a teacher of writing at Youngstown State University, Christopher Barzak’s debut novel “One For Sorrow” mixes a ghost tale, love story, coming-of-age and thriller elements into a package that is “as timeless as The Catcher in the Rye and as hauntingly lyrical as The Lovely Bones…”
Official Christopher Barzak Blog
Order “One For SorrowHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE

Ilario: The Stone Golem” by Mary Gentle. Release Date: August 28, 2007. Since debuting in 1977 with “A Hawk In Silver”, Ms. Gentle has established herself as “one of the most important and idiosyncratic contemporary British speculative fiction writers”. Set in the First History universe which includes “Ash: A Secret History”, Ms. Gentle once again pushes the boundaries with “The Stone Golem”, the story of hermaphrodite Ilario in a fascinating alternate medieval world that began in “The Lion’s Eye”…
Official EOS Books Website
Order “Ilario: The Stone GolemHERE

Moving on, it has been brought to my attention that I failed to mention the winners for a number of giveaways from last month. So, congratulations to the following:

Nathan Hall (Florida) who won a whole SET of Neal Asher’s books thanks to Pan MacMillan.

Michael Bell (Missouri), Travis Dunn (Oklahoma), SL Smith (United Kingdom), Serenity Carlisle (Florida) and Kurt Herbel (Virginia) who won a copy of Scott Lynch’sRed Seas Under Red Skies” thanks to Bantam Spectra.

Jesse Dixon (South Carolina), Sanjay Srinivas (Texas) and Josiane Mills (Nevada) who won a SET of Sean Williams' The Books of the Cataclysm including “The Crooked Letter”, “The Blood Debt” and “The Hanging Mountains” thanks to Pyr Books.

Charles Franz (Virginia), Joey Edwards (Kentucky), Andre Kern (NY), Richard Novak (Illinois) and Natalie Gaffar (Nebraska) who won a copy of Mike Carey’sThe Devil You Know” thanks to Hachette Book Group USA.

Charles Nelson (Canada), Dennis Forbes (Tennessee), Cheryl Quinn (Massachusetts), Laura McLendon (Alabama) and Laura Shangraw (Vermont) who won a copy of Nicholas Christopher’sThe Bestiary” thanks to Random House.

Michelle Harvey (Florida), Jimmy Coleman (Alabama), Gloria Dornin (Virginia), Sarah Ulfers (Minnesota), Lisa Richardson (Oregon), Lewis Levine (Massachusetts), Janet Wetzel (Iowa), Patricia German (South Dakota), Shannon Elpers (Kansas), Phyllis Jackson (California), Rachel Haas (Minnesota), Dremain Moore (DC), Mitch Davis (Texas), David Rosenfeld (New Jersey), Philip Weiss (Washington), Tamalynn Dixon (Arkansas), Libero Della Piana (NY), Gabe Nickelson (Texas), Katrina Kidder (Ohio) and William Siravo (Pennsylvania) who each won an advance, uncorrected proof of Joe Abercrombie’s "The Blade Itself" thanks to Pyr Books.

In case anyone is wondering, here is how I run the giveaways and choose the winners:

1) At the specified deadline, the form for the giveaway is disabled.
2) I use a random number generator to select the winners.
3) Emails are sent out to the winners declaring they’ve won and requesting their mailing information. If a winner doesn’t respond within seven days from the time I sent the email, they forfeit the prize and a new winner is selected. I’ll try to email a warning a two, but seven days is the max.
4) Once I have all of the winners’ information, I forward it to the publishers who will then mail out the prizes.

As far as listing the winners’ on Fantasy Book Critic, I won’t post anything until ALL of the winners have responded. So, the reason why it took me so long to mention the above winners is because of my recent move, but also because some winners never responded and I had to select new ones. You may wonder why I just don’t have participants submit their whole mailing address. Part of the reason is that in the past, I’ve had trouble with users submitting false addresses or providing inaccurate information, especially with international residents, which resulted in packages lost or returned. So that’s why I prefer contacting the winners personally and confirming their mailing information. I may change this format in the future if winners continuously fail to respond to their messages, but for now I’ll keep it as it is unless anyone else has a better suggestion...

Anyways, staying on the subject of giveaways, just a reminder that the current batch of giveaways start ending this week with the deadline for Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen HERE, Lian Hearn’s Tales of the Otori HERE and Charlie Huston’sThe Shotgun RuleHERE all ending TODAY at 11:59AM PST. The giveaways for SIGNED Copies of David Anthony Durham’sAcaciaHERE and Lois McMaster Bujold’sThe Sharing Knife” Duology HERE end TOMORROW (Wednesday, August 29, 2007) at 11:59AM PST and Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan GIVEAWAY ends on Friday, August 29, 2007 at 11:59AM PST. For Douglas Clegg’sThe Vampyricon TrilogyGIVEAWAY you have until Tuesday, September 4, 2007 at 11:59AM PST to enter.

As far as new giveaways, I have a few starting out next week, but you’ll have to wait until then to find out which ones ;)

Finally, in news, I’m way behind on a lot of stuff, but a couple of things really jumped out at me, and even though you probably know all about it already, please indulge me :)

First off, if you haven’t heard yet, Dabel Brothers split from their publishing deal with Marvel Comics. I don’t know the specifics behind the divorce, so I won’t speculate. All I’ll say is that Dabel Brothers was successful before Marvel and that they’ll be successful after Marvel, and if their latest announcement is any indication, the company is off to a great start. Basically, Dabel Brothers is adapting Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein trilogy with the first issue set to hit in early 2008. As a fan of Mr. Koontz, I think this is pretty cool news and I can’t wait to check the comic book out and whatever else the Dabel Brothers have up their sleeve ;) Thanks to Newsarama and The Fantasy Review for the heads up.

P.S. The accompanying cover is actually for Dean Koontz’s next novel “The Darkest Evening of the Year”, which comes out November 27, 2007.

Lastly, just wanted to share some covers with you that have been circulating online. First, we have the cover to Patrick Rothfuss’ sequel “The Wise Man’s Fear”, which is due out sometime in 2008. I know that Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist and A Dribble of Ink have already posted the image, but it’s such a nice cover I had to add it to the site :)

Next, thanks to The Gravel Pit, I came across the cover for Greg Keyes’The Born Queen”, which is slated for a March 25, 2008 release and concludes The Kingdoms of Thorn & Bone series. While the series isn’t the most original fantasy epic out there, I have to admit that it’s been a fun and enjoyable ride so far, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how it ends.

And lastly, here’s the cover for Clive Barker’sMister B. Gone”, which comes out October 23, 2007 for UK readers and October 30, 2007 for the US. There’s nothing really special about the cover, but I just wanted to take this opportunity to talk about the book some since I’m such a huge fan of Clive Barker and it’s been years since I last read one of his books. While it’s on the short side (224 pages), my expectations are high :)
Monday, August 27, 2007

"The Shotgun Rule" by Charlie Huston

Official Charlie Huston Website
Order “The Shotgun RuleHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE

Up until now, my main exposure to Charlie Huston had been through the excellent 2006 relaunch for the Marvel comic book character Moon Knight drawn by David Finch (Ultimate X-Men, The New Avengers). The greatest accolades however, have been reserved for the author’s novel fiction including the Henry Thompson trilogy (Caught Stealing, Six Bad Things, A Dangerous Man) and the Joe Pitt vampire series (Already Dead, No Dominion), which have established the writer as a modern day master of the hard-boiled crime noir. Having heard so many wonderful comments about Charlie Huston’s books, I couldn’t wait to delve into the author’s latest novel “The Shotgun Rule”, a standalone thriller which ended up being even better than advertised.

Somewhat reminiscent of Stand By Me or American Graffiti, “The Shotgun Rule” is part coming-of-age tale following the escapades of four teenage friends who are enjoying the summer before their senior year of high school. While George, Paul, Hector and George’s younger brother Andy are hardly your ideal role models—booze & drugs are as much a part of their daily diet as fruits & vegetables, swear words make up the majority of their vocabulary, and picking a fight is as second nature as riding a bike—they’re saints compared to the dreaded Arroyo brothers. Where the book starts venturing into noir-esque Quentin Tarantino territory, is when the four boys decide to take a little revenge against the Arroyos, triggering a series of unfortunate coincidences which gets the friends into shit that is way over their heads. Whether or not the friends can find a way out of the mess depends on one of their fathers whose past has come back to haunt him, reminding me a bit of David Cronenberg’sA History of Violence”. What follows is a viscerally arresting tale of friendship, family, and redemption…

Reading the Moon Knight comic book series, you definitely get a glimpse of Charlie Huston’s talent and writing style, but trust me, it’s nothing compared to reading one of his actual books. The first thing that caught my attention was the in-your-face, no-holds-barred dialogue which would make Mr. Tarantino proud. Next, the characters are haunting and compelling with Andy, a young prodigy who daydreams about killing people all the time and is good at hiding in plain sight, and Geezer, an overweight drug dealer who likes using big words but can never remember them on his own, are two of my favorites. Then there’s the musical references—Suicidal Tendencies, Metallica, Ozzy, et cetera—and other pop culture elements that faithfully capture “The Shotgun Rule’s” early 80s, California-suburban setting. Finally, Mr. Huston really knows how to tell a story, and “The Shotgun Rule” kept me glued to all 256 of its pages right up until the book’s intensely satisfying conclusion.

In summary, “The Shotgun Rule” will no doubt end up being one of my favorite releases of 2007, ranking right up there with Warren Ellis’Crooked Little Vein” for its boldness & entertainment value. Like “Crooked Little Vein” however, “The Shotgun Rule” isn’t for everyone and readers who can’t stomach graphic violence and language may want to avoid the book. For those who can, “The Shotgun Rule” comes highly recommended and if Charlie Huston isn’t on your ‘must-read’ list yet, then he needs to be…
Friday, August 24, 2007

"The Elves of Cintra" by Terry Brooks

Official Terry Brooks Website
Order “The Elves of CintraHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE
Click HERE To Watch an Interview with Terry Brooks


Growing up, my love for fantasy literature can be largely attributed to a select few authors including J.R.R. Tolkien, Lloyd Alexander, Robert Jordan and the subject of this review, Terry Brooks. Ever since the original Shannara trilogy, I’ve been a Terry Brooks addict and over the years, the author has continued to impress me with his numerous Shannara sequels, the Magic Kingdom of Landover series which is a personal favorite, and the excellent urban fantasy trilogy the Word and the Void. Last year, Mr. Brooks took readers by surprise with “Armageddon’s Children”, which was set in a post-apocalyptic Earth where the author’s worlds of Shannara and the Word and the Void collided with one another, laying the groundwork for the Genesis of Shannara series, which revolves around a gypsy morph whose purpose is to save the human race by leading the people of the Word to the Promised Land, a haven that will shelter them until the outside madness & destruction are complete and the world has had time to heal itself…

Immediately picking up after the cliffhanger events at the end of “Armageddon’s Children”, “The Elves of Cintra” continues the storylines that were established in the previous book including the fate of Hawk & Tessa, Logan Tom leading the Ghosts away from the city of Seattle, and Angel Perez and the tatterdemalion Ailie reaching the haven of the Elves and joining forces with Kirisin who is in search of the Loden Elftsone that will save the Ellcrys, and in turn, the Elves. Among the various subplots in play, there’s a demon disguised as a prominent elf, a rogue Knight of the Word, a scene that satisfyingly ties in with The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara trilogy, and a final showdown between Angel & the demon Delloreen, not to mention familiar themes of destiny, regret, family, forgiveness, responsibility, survival and growing up. Overall, the story in “The Elves of Cintra” is vintage Terry Brooks—fast pacing, multiple viewpoints, short chapters, mini-cliffhangers, succinct length (384 pages), et cetera—and is a worthy follow-up to “Armageddon’s Children”. To be honest though, I didn’t think it was quite as strong as its predecessor. Obviously Elves play a much more prominent role in the story this time around, and as fascinating as it is to see the worlds of the Word/Void and Shannara crossing over, I have to admit that the whole concept of Elfstones, Ellcrys and so forth, seems a little played out. I guess that’s why I enjoyed the parts that featured Logan and the Ghosts so much more, because they offered something different from what you might normally see in a Terry Brooks adventure. The only other problem I had was with the ending. If you’ve been reading the author’s books for a while now, then you know that cliffhangers are a major part of his repertoire, and since “The Elves of the Cintra” is the middle volume in a trilogy sequence, I was expecting quite a humdinger. Instead, Mr. Brooks does a good job of wrapping up events in a bearable manner for those who hate wait to between releases, but I thought the finale was disappointingly anticlimactic. Of course, that’s not going to stop me from looking forward to the next book in the series :D

Moving on, like any Terry Brooks novel, “The Elves of Cintra” features a large cast of characters, comprised of a mix of young heroes/heroines, experienced veterans, enigmatic mystics, nasty villains, and an animal or two ;) For me, this kind of format has its advantages and disadvantages. From one perspective, the many different voices offer great diversity and help the story to move along at a fast clip. On the other hand, in-depth character analysis can be a bit lacking, but fortunately Mr. Brooks handles this problem area better than most. Looking at “The Elves of Cintra” specifically, the biggest issue I had was that some of the characters seemed too much like previous Terry Brooks characters. For instance, Logan could be John Ross reincarnated, Angel is indistinguishable, Hawk is the prototypical boy ‘destined for greatness’, and Kirisin, Simralin, et cetera, are just like any other elves that the author has already written. Thankfully you have the Ghosts, a group of street kids who each have their own distinctive personality & talent and work well together as a family. They’re easily my favorites in the book and it was particularly nice to get to know more about Fixit, Bear and Candle. Unfortunately, some of the characters from the first book that I enjoyed reading about—Hawk, Tessa, Findo Gask—are not as prominent in “The Elves of Cintra”. The villains in particular have been a bit disappointing, especially compared to some of the more memorable ones Mr. Brooks has come up with in the past, but I’m hoping that will be remedied in book three. Another issue I had was with the character deaths. Because of the large cast, it’s sometimes difficult to connect with everyone in the book, especially the minor role players, and a couple of the casualties in “The Elves of Cintra” lacked any real emotional impact and seemed more like plot devices than something I should care about. Finally, of the new characters introduced, Catalya is by far the most intriguing and I definitely look forward to reading more about her. As a whole, the characterization in “The Elves of Cintra” is solid as usual, but I have seen better from Mr. Brooks.

As someone who has read and enjoyed the Shannara books and the Word and the Void trilogy, the Genesis of Shannara series has been a particularly fun and rewarding experience. In fact, I think anyone who calls themselves a fan of Mr. Brooks would be hard-pressed not to enjoy the new trilogy. For readers new to Terry Brooks, I think the Genesis of Shannara would be accessible to you since it’s basically serving as the ultimate prequel to the Shannara series. Sure, you might miss out on a few references to the Word and the VoidJohn Ross, Nest Freemark, Two Bears, feeders, the Lady, Hopewell—and the ShannaraKing of the Silver River, Elves/Faerie, Ellcrys, Blue Elfstones, the Forbidding, Arborlon, the Elven Home Guard, shades, et cetera—but as a series, the books stand well on their own. In the end, even though I felt “The Elves of Cintra” was not as strong as “Armageddon’s Children”, the trilogy as a whole is shaping up to be one of the author’s most accomplished works and I can’t wait to see how it ends and what the author has in store for his readers following the Genesis of Shannara. What impresses me the most about the trilogy is that even after thirty years of writing, Terry Brooks is still producing high-quality fantasy at a prodigious rate, and in fact, has gotten even better. So thank you Mr. Brooks for all of the wonderful books that you’ve given us and may your career continue to be a long and successful one…

FYI: While waiting for the concluding volume to the Genesis of Shannara trilogy, readers can look forward to the "Dark Wraith of Shannara", an original graphic novel being published by Del Rey. The story, which takes place a few years after the events of “The Wishsong of Shannara” and stars siblings Jair & Brin Ohmsford, the young girl Kimber Boh, Cogline the Druid, and the Croton Witch, was created by Terry Brooks with Robert Place Napton (Saint Angel, Deity, Battlestar Galactica) writing and Edwin David (Battle of the Planets, ShadowChasers) drawing. The graphic novel is set for a March 25, 2008 release date and you can preorder it HERE.

Catching Up

As you may or may not know, over the last three weeks I’ve been busy moving into our new home. While we’ve been living at the new place since Saturday and are basically unpacked, we still have a lot to do, and I’ve fallen quite behind with Fantasy Book Critic. Fortunately, there are plenty of other wonderful blogs out there who are picking up the slack, many of whom have been covering books that have been on my review pile. While I plan on getting to the releases mentioned below, I’m not sure when that might be, so in the meantime, I highly recommend visiting these other blogs, which I think will keep you busy:

The Blade Itself” by Joe Abercrombie. US Release Date: September 6, 2007. A Dribble of Ink interviews Joe Abercrombie HERE and reviews “The Blade ItselfHERE. Bookie Monster also REVIEWS the book as does The Gravel Pit HERE, while Fantasy Debut examines the opening chapters HERE.

Winterbirth” by Brian Ruckley. US Release Date: September 10, 2007. The Book Swede has a two-part interview with Brian Ruckley HERE + HERE and is also giving away six copies of the book HERE, with the deadline this Monday. UK residents only unfortunately. Further reviews are brought to you courtesy of The Fantasy Review and A Dribble of Ink.

Power Play” by Joseph Finder. Release Date: August 21, 2007. Bookie Monster has both interviewed Joseph Finder HERE and reviewed “Power PlayHERE.

The Princes of the Golden Cage” by Nathalie Mallet. Release Date: August 15, 2007. The Fantasy Review loved “The Princes of the Golden CageHERE and also interviewed Ms. Mallet HERE, while the book is the featured debut over at Fantasy Debut.

Queen of the Orcs: King’s Property” by Morgan Howell. Release Date: July 31, 2007. Fantasy Debut looks at “King’s Property”, whose sequels are coming out in the next couple of months—“Clan Daughter” on August 28, 2007 and “Royal Destiny” on September 25, 2007.

I’m sure I probably overlooked a few and I apologize profusely. Anyways, check those out and hopefully I’ll be getting back in the swing of things in the next couple of weeks. I must confess though, I am a HUUUGGGEEE football fan, and I can already anticipate my entire weekends dedicated to nothing but the pigskin :D So, updates may or may not go back to normal, but I’ll try my best to stay on top of things ;) Of course, if my Kansas City Chiefs start sucking it up, I may have to focus on books just to keep my disappointment at bay…
Thursday, August 23, 2007

Interview with Douglas Clegg


Official The Vampyricon Trilogy Website
Fantasy Book Critic’s GIVEAWAY For The Vampyricon Trilogy

With Douglas Clegg’sThe Queen of Wolves” coming out on September 4, 2007, completing the excellent Vampyricon Trilogy, I thought it was the perfect time to interview the author and happily Mr. Clegg obliged. So whether you’re a diehard fan of the writer or new to Douglas Clegg, I hope you’ll enjoy the following piece which talks about The Vampyricon Trilogy, vampires in general, the author’s reinvented Arthurian series, e-publishing, TV commercials and much more. As always, much thanks to Mr. Clegg for his time & effort, and to all of the readers…

Q: For someone who may not be familiar with your work, how would you describe your writing style and what story of yours would you recommend first picking up and why?

Douglas: I suppose I'm a storyteller versus stylist. If I were to pick up one novel of mine, it would be three of them – “The Priest of Blood”, “The Hour Before Dark”, and “Neverland”. I believe these are three individual examples of what I do best as a writer.

If I had to pick one short story, it would probably be "Where Flies Are Born," one of the first short stories I ever submitted for publication, a very short tale, and one that I'm still happy with the way it turned out.

Q: You’re primarily a writer of horror fiction. Is it just me or does the genre not get the same kind of respect—aside from a few big names like Stephen King, John Saul, etc—that other speculative fiction does like fantasy or science fiction? Personally, I find this a little strange, especially considering how popular horror is in other formats like movies, but I was just wondering what your thoughts are on this topic?

Douglas: I never think about genre when I write. To me, it's all fiction -- and whether it's classified as paranormal, supernatural, fantasy, horror, or suspense, I tend to write what I believe is from my inner sense of the outer world.

I've never actually cared about literary respect, although literary parties can be fun in a very post-modern ironic way. My goal as a writer is to write the stories that come to me, and not really concern myself with how a genre might be respected.

Q: Very well said :D So. Focusing on your books, “The Queen of Wolves” comes out on September 4, 2007 and completes your Vampyricon Trilogy. Are you satisfied with the way the series turned out? How has the trilogy evolved, if at all, from when you first conceived it? And finally, will we get to see any future stories set in the same universe?

Douglas: To take your questions here one at a time -- I am never completely satisfied with anything I do, from the way I walk the dog to the way I make toast. So, satisfaction isn't a term I'm familiar with -- but I am happy with the demands the trilogy put on me while writing it. All three books of The Vampyricon – “The Priest of Blood”, “The Lady of Serpents”, and “The Queen of Wolves” -- demanded a lot from me over the years it took to work on them and make them come alive.

I do feel the story went exactly where it needed to go, and didn't follow a formula or an expectation or anticipation of genre. I loved living alongside Aleric as he grew up, was murdered, returned as a vampire -- and faced a destiny as a savior of the undead.

Regarding the evolution of The Vampyricon -- it began in my head when I was ten years old climbing the steps of the Pyramid of the Sun in Mexico; it further developed in travels in Spain and France when I was a teenager and then in my early 20s. When I was about 30, I had the title “The Priest of Blood”, and I began writing bits of it. It wasn't until a few years ago that I just let it take over my life, finished each book, and so it evolved as I lived much of my life.

I doubt I could've written the majority of it had I not experienced the illnesses and deaths of my parents -- they died within a year of each other -- which was a stormy and difficult time. Yet, somehow, this enormous creative knot came untangled for me in the midst of this -- and The Vampyricon was born.

There may be other Vampyricon tales to be told. I'm not ruling this out. Because this particular tale takes place in the mists of the medieval era, I can certainly explore the Medhyic vampyres prior to Aleric's life, and there's a hint in “The Queen of Wolves” that there may be wars to come in the future, as well.

Still, “The Queen of Wolves” puts a period on Aleric's main quest and struggle -- and The Vampyricon Trilogy is a complete tale with this third novel.

Q: Vampires and horror are practically synonymous with one another. Why do you think the idea of vampires are so appealing, what attracted you to write about them, and what did you hope to accomplish with your Vampyricon Trilogy?

Douglas: I have never seen the vampire as an object of horror. Whether in movies like Near Dark, novels like “Dracula” or “Interview with the Vampire”, or even “Salem's Lot” -- the erotic threat, the sense of being overpowered by a great force within a creature that cannot easily be killed, and the seduction of the prey all seem to be part of what the vampire's allure is for me.

Additionally, the idea of being eternally young, having been resurrected from the grave -- being the beautiful monster, basically, is an additional glamour of vampyrism in fiction.

The vampyric mythology I created in The Vampyricon is closer to classical myth than to old stories of graves and corpses -- I wanted my vampyres to be beautiful harpies, threatening gorgons, and heroes of a lost world. They're brutal, but no more brutal than the mortal world around them. Because Aleric, the Falconer, is close to his mortal life in these novels, he retains more humanity than many of the other vampyres -- and his loves for his tribe, his friends, and his lovers intensify that range of human responses for him. He is unique among his tribe -- he has talents and abilities far beyond them -- and he must seek out the key to the mystery of who he has become in order to fulfull his sense of destiny.

What did I hope to accomplish? To bring this story alive, to live within it as I wrote it, to experience this world that I created, first-hand. Aleric is a romantic, fallen hero who must take the brutality thrown at him and find his path within it -- I suspect all of us have that. The world is a rough place to all -- and yet, what we must do is create from this brutal place a paradise, or at least some place where we can feel beauty or good or right exists. Each of us hears the call of our own path, and either we follow it through the murk of life, or we end up in a prison of our own making. Seeking our destiny is a risk; but not seeking it is, I believe, a greater risk. All of this came out for me in writing The Vampyricon.

Frankly, when I began these novels in earnest, I was escaping the idea of my parents' deaths -- and the vampire, by rising from the ashes of death like a phoenix, had the power that I wished we all had.

Q: I believe The Vampyricon was the first trilogy that you wrote. What did you feel was the hardest and easiest aspects about writing in that format?

Douglas: It was like writing any other novel -- I see The Vampyricon as one novel, divided into three. Perhaps the hardest part with the first two novels was simply where to stop and say, "This is the first book," and "This is the second book."

Q: You also have another trilogy started, which reinvents the Arthurian legend and stars Mordred (Volume One: Mordred, Bastard Son-available now). First off, what’s the progress report with the second and third volumes of the trilogy?

Douglas: The publisher of the first book and I did not come to terms on the second or third, so right now, it's in limbo. I hope to get back to Mordred, because I believe the second book will be a bit stronger than the first, but I do have to wait to see where publishers are on this stuff. We just sold rights to a wonderful Czech publisher, so I'm looking forward to seeing that edition.

Q: That’s a real shame. It sounds like a pretty interesting story and hopefully you’ll be able to complete it. I am wondering though what inspired you to retell the legend of King Arthur as you did, especially focusing on Mordred?

Douglas: I'm not sure I'd characterize Mordred as a genuine hero in my novel -- but as a rebel of sorts who performs heroic action (as all rebels do).

He is the outcast bastard son of a powerful father, and he bears the burden of a mother whose family was destroyed by his father's family -- and whose crown was taken. That's the story in "Mordred, Bastard Son", and I very much look forward to further books of his life.

Mordred is the person who defines the other side of the Arthurian legend, and it's through his eyes that we see this world.

The main controversy that arose with this first book is simply that I decided that Mordred was gay, and very pagan -- and apparently, not everyone likes revisionism with their legends. Interestingly, I get the most fan mail for this novel than for any of my others -- and mostly from women readers. I look forward to writing about him again.

Q: Are there any other projects that you’re working on that you could shed some light on?

Douglas: I don't really love talking about what's next until everything is done and in. Right now, I hope readers will discover The Vampyricon and its three books. Sometime this winter, a novelette called “Mr. Darkness” will be out from Cemetery Dance Publications in hardcover. But at this point, that's all I'm willing to say.

Q: Fair enough. So, how do you feel that you’ve improved as a writer since your first book was published in 1989? Are there any areas that you’d like to get stronger in?

Douglas: I don't think about writing this way. I apply myself to research, I read a lot, write a lot, travel a bit and live a bit -- and just focus on getting the world of the story down on paper. After that, I edit it down before sending it in to my publisher to make sure the story is exactly what I mean it to be, and each sentence adds to the effect of the tale.

Q: Your novel “Bad Karma” was made into a film and another book “The Hour Before Dark” was optioned. How did it feel to see one of your books made into a movie, and what’s the report on “The Hour Before Dark”?

Douglas: Having books turned into movies is a lot of fun -- there's the money, which is nothing to sneeze at, and then there's that moment when you get to sit down with popcorn and soda pop and watch the movie. Right now, I have no report on “The Hour Before Dark” -- it's still in development -- but it looks like the movie of my book, “The Attraction”, is moving toward production. I can't really report on any of this -- most of it is up to the movie companies to announce when there's news.

But it is fun, even if the movie is worlds away from the book from which it is drawn.

Q: Do you have any other works that are generating interest or have been optioned for film, or any other adaptation for that matter including comic books, animation, videogames, et cetera, and if so, can you give us any details?

Douglas: I don't speculate on this stuff until contracts are signed -- I'm pretty good at keeping tight-lipped about future prospects.

Q: Well, I was hoping you might reveal something but how about we just fantasize for a bit. If you could have your choice of anything, what would be your dream adaptation?

Douglas: I never think about this stuff. I'm so involved in whatever my next novel or story might be, that I don't go to a dream of what might happen but may never come to pass.

Q: As a writer you’ve already been branching out some with different genres and formats (novel, short story/novella), but is there a particular medium such as comic books, television, movie scripts, videogames or a specific genre that you’d like to someday tackle? If so, what and why?

Douglas: I've written two screenplays, but I wouldn't say I'm itching to write them. I love writing fiction. I've done it since I was eight years old, and I'll probably do it in the nursing home in thirty years with puree dribbling down my chin.

Q: One of your more interesting accomplishments was your book “Naomi” (1999), which was the “world's first publisher-sponsored eserial novel”. Can you tell us how that first came about, how the book has impacted your career as a writer, and where you see the future of e-publishing?

Douglas: I feel as if I've told this story many times, but it bears repeating: I just decided to do this. I had no real expectations for it at first. I just wanted to write the book, and I wanted it to be an event. I hired a friend to set up a rudimentary website for me, and my then-publisher, Leisure Books, was kind enough to sponsor it so that I'd be paid something while I gave the e-serial away free to those who subscribed to my newsletter.

It changed my career because, well, readers discovered my work through the serial, and it made news around the world -- from here to India and beyond. I've done other e-serials since “Naomi”, and each time, I've enjoyed doing it.

I think e-publishing has five years before it becomes as close to mass market paperback publishing as it may get. Right now, it's a growing method of publishing -- and possibly more successful in nonfiction than fiction, for reasons that are obvious to anyone who has ever used the Internet to do research. But I believe that by or before 2012, people will be downloading books either online or at the local bookmart.

Q: Speaking of publishing, you’ve worked with a lot of different publishers, both large and small as well as the aforementioned e-publishing. What do you feel are the positives/negatives between indie publishers, the larger companies and e-publishing, and what would be your ideal publishing situation?

Douglas: I love how I'm published. Everything in life has a positive and a negative side. My business is writing fiction and seeing that it's published; I leave the publishing side of things to the publishers and their very smart editors and sales people. I've been very fortunate with just about every publisher I've had, and it would be absurd of me to complain given how well I've been treated.

Q: The Internet in general seems to be very important to you. You’re website is consistently updated, you have a LiveJournal and a Myspace, and you’re very responsive to your readers. How much of an impact has the Internet had on your success as a writer and how important do you think the Internet will be in the future for publishers/authors in promoting their books?

Douglas: The Internet is where many readers go, therefore, it's where I go to meet them.

I try to keep my website as inviting as possible, and I do what I can to make it somewhat interactive between my Myspace page, my blog, and my free newsletter.

I've gotten to know many of the people who read my fiction, and some have become very good friends. I like people who read. I don't really enjoy the company of people who don't read fiction.

Until something replaces it, the Internet is basically what TV was in the late '40s (although we might be in the early '50s by now). I go to it for news, for gossip, for communication, moreso than the phone. I listen to music, I watch videos, I buy books and CDs and even fingernail clippers over it. For people like me who don't love shopping, it's fantastic -- I can comparison shop in 20 minutes, get the best deal, and never put my shoes on.

So this is _the_ medium for the early 21st century. It's where we are, where we meet, where we interact, where we buy and where we sell and where we give away, too. That means it's incredibly important for promoting fiction -- which is just a matter of presenting the world of the book to those who might be interested in it.

Q: On the subject of promotion, you have a couple of 30-second TV commercials that will air on the SciFi channel, Spike TV, the History channel, Adult Swim/Cartoon Network, AMC, and Hallmark. Personally, I think the commercials are a great idea (and they look great as well!). How did the commercials first come together? Will be seeing more of this from other publishers/authors?

Douglas: I wish I could take credit for everything smart that happens around my books. There are publicists and marketing and sales people who do a lot of this. Sheila English, who is CEO of COSProductions.com came up with the concept of book trailers years ago, and began a business of making them -- and making them beautifully. She also buys media time for them on behalf of her clients, so I was the recipient of that. It is all her and her creative team. I think more books need to be advertised on television -- in fact, I think television and the internet are the primary places where books should be promoted, outside of bookstores.

Weren't the special effects very cool in the recent book trailer? I want to live in that world. Those were done by Michael Miller and Jacob Henderson, who are the effects wizards at COSProductions.com. The whole concept was from them and from Sheila English. I love it.

Q: You’ve been the recipient of a number of awards including the Bram Stoker, the International Horror Guild Award and the Shocker. Which one are you most proud of and why?

Douglas: Awards are a recognition at a particular moment in a career or life, usually for specific work. I was very honored to receive these awards -- the Bram Stoker is a peer-based award, the International Horror Guild Award is a jury-based award, and the Shocker is a completely popular vote from readers. All of them were honors, mainly because they also had nominated writers and books that, in my opinion, were terrific and, also in my opinion, won those awards, too, just by the nomination.

I can't say I'm most proud of any one of them -- they all were honors that meant something to me at particular times with particular works.

Q: So what books have been grabbing your attention lately? What about up-and-coming writers?

Douglas: I read across all genres. Right now I'm reading M.J. Rose's "The Reincarnationist" -- a big explosive thriller dealing with past lives and murder. It's excellent. I also got around to reading Tess Gerritsen's novel, "The Mephisto Club" -- which I loved. Otherwise, I've been reading a lot of nonfiction this week. When I go into a bookstore, I basically leave with twenty or more books, usually from fantasy, horror, mystery, paranormal, and, well, general fiction. I just like good books no matter the genre.

I would say that Craig Davidson and Derek Nikitas are two of my favorite up-and-coming writers. Craig wrote the fantastic novel, "The Fighter", and Derek's novel, "Pyres", is just brilliant and fascinating. "Pyres" is hands-down the best debut novel I've read this year.

Q: Anything else you’d like to share?

Douglas: Well, as I do whenever I can, I like to encourage people to consider rescuing an animal from the local shelter or rescue group or Humane Society if they're looking for pets. All my pets since I've been an adult have been rescues of one kind or another. Thank you for your questions.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007

"The Book of Joby" by Mark J. Ferrari

Official Mark J. Ferrari Website
Order “The Book of JobyHERE
Read Excerpts HERE


Despite a great love for fantasy literature (J.R.R. Tolkien’sThe Hobbit”, Ursula K. Le Guin, Orson Scott Card, Lois McMaster Bujold, John Crowley, T.H. White, et cetera) and writing, Mark J. Ferrari instead pursued a career as a professional artist, doing freelance illustration for such clients as Lucasfilm, Lucas Arts Games, Industrial Light & Magic, Electronic Arts, Tor, Ace, New American Library, The Science Fiction Book Club and so on. After seventeen years working as a fantasy illustrator, Mr. Ferrari decided it was time to embrace his other passion as a writer, completing his marvelous first novel “The Book of Joby”, which, with apologies to Patrick Rothfuss’The Name of the Wind” and David Anthony Durham’sAcacia”, could be the fantasy debut of the year…

While the Old Testament’s Book of Job has been modernized before—Robert A. Heinlein'sJob: A Comedy of Justice”, James Morrow’sBlameless In Abaddon”, David Adam Richard’sMercy Among the Children”—it’s a story that never gets old, and Mark J. Ferrari’sThe Book of Joby”, not only does the original justice, but it adds its own spin to the mythos. For those unfamiliar with the classic tale, Job was a prosperous and righteous man whose faithfulness in God was tested by Satan who stripped Job of his wealth, family and health. In Mr. Ferrari’s debut, the story takes place in a contemporary setting, but follows a similar outline—God and Lucifer make a bet on the virtue of humankind with Joby the unfortunate candidate; Lucifer and his minions are given free reign, short of death that is, in trying to force Joby to renounce God, and proceed in making Joby’s life a living hell. Of course the author has taken some liberties with the story, such as God and Lucifer being quite active in the affairs of man, even going so far as disguising themselves as everyday people and ‘shooting the breeze’ in restaurants or bars. The bet itself is apparently a common occurrence, having taken place over ten thousand times before, but this one is a little bit different as the stakes have been considerably raised. In short, if Lucifer were to win the wager, then all of creation would be remade according to his instructions. The biggest departure from the original tale however, is the strong Arthurian theme that runs throughout “The Book of Joby” and the way King Arthur, Lancelot, Guinevere, Mordred, Merlin and the Holy Grail are integrated into the whole “Heaven vs. Hell” plot is quite clever and entertaining. Throw in a charming coming-of-age tale, a heartbreaking love triangle, archangels, demons, a magical hidden town, stimulating philosophical/moral explorations of faithfulness, justice & free will, and a compelling portrayal of the human spirit and you have the basic recipe for Mark J. Ferrari’s fine debut.

As interesting as the story is though, I have to say that I was most impressed with the writing, in particular the characterization and Mr. Ferrari’s prose. While the book is obviously Joby’s tale, the viewpoints rotate between a bunch of different characters—Joby, Ben, Laura, Lucifer, Gabriel, Solomon, Hawk, Michael, etc—and the author does a wonderful job of distinguishing each personality. Dialogue is especially sharp, most notably the witty banter with the interactions between God & Lucifer having the best repartee in the book. Also well done are the different emotional states that Joby & company go through, including happiness, compassion, love, despair, rage and so forth, which are all vividly captured. In fact, don’t be surprised if you find yourself bursting out in laughter one moment, and fighting back tears the next. “The Book of Joby” after all, is quite an emotional roller coaster made all the more potent by the author’s gift for conveying what his characters are feeling. As far as the prose, Mark J. Ferrari reminds me of a cross between Neil Gaiman, Philip Pullman and J.K. Rowling with some Guy Gavriel Kay mixed in, but to be honest, I’m not sure that’s an accurate description. Basically, the author’s style is quite accessible, but mature, and seems to shift from being whimsical to humorous to solemn with surprising dexterity. On top of all that, “The Book of Joby” possesses a fairly swift rhythm, and despite weighing in at almost 640 pages, it’s easy to finish the novel in a short amount of time.

In conclusion, I had been looking forward to “The Book of Joby” ever since I first read about the novel, and as much as I was anticipating it, the book far exceeded my every expectation. It’s a shame though that the novel hasn’t enjoyed nearly as much fanfare as some of the other fantasy debuts that have come out this year, because “The Book of Joby” definitely deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Patrick Rothfuss’The Name of the Wind” and David Anthony Durham’sAcacia”. In fact, I strongly believe that Mark J. Ferrari’s debut has the potential to be very successful, especially in the long run considering its wide-ranging appeal and accessibility. Apart from a few choice cuss words, I would give “The Book of Joby” a PG-rating and feel that young readers will enjoy the novel just as much as adults. Best of all though, “The Book of Joby” is a fantasy epic that is resolved all in one book! While it’s sad to think that Joby’s adventures are over, I’m very satisfied with the way “The Book of Joby” ended and I’ve already set my sights on Mr. Ferrari’s next fantasy, which will be another standalone novel. Until then, let me once again say how great a novel “The Book of Joby” is, and I truly hope that readers will give the book a chance since it’s one of the more surprising and delightful fantasies that I’ve had the pleasure of reading in years…
Friday, August 17, 2007

"The Well of Ascension" by Brandon Sanderson

Official Brandon Sanderson Website
Order “The Well of AscensionHERE

A couple of years ago author Brandon Sanderson impressed me with his debut novel “Elantris”, a standalone fantasy that flashed a lot of promise and had me looking forward to his next offering “Mistborn: The Final Empire”. Without a doubt, Mr. Sanderson turned it up several notches in the opening chapter of his Mistborn Trilogy, delivering one of my favorite books of 2006.

What immediately grabbed my attention in “Mistborn: The Final Empire” was the magic system Allomancy/Feruchemy, which is by far one of the most innovative concepts that I’ve ever seen in fantasy. By definition, Allomancy is “a mystical hereditary power involving the burning of metals inside the body to gain special abilities” while Feruchemy uses metals outside the body to store attributes. In other words, by using a certain metal (iron, steel, pewter, tin, etc.) an Allomancer or Feruchemist can enhance abilities such as increased strength, speed, sight, hearing and other extraordinary powers. Those who can use Allomancy are divided into two groups—Mistings who are born with only one ability (Coinshot, Thugs, Soother, Tineye) and the much rarer Mistborn who can burn all of the metals, while Feruchemy is limited to the Terris Keepers who mainly use their power to store & safeguard knowledge. Suffice it to say that the Mistborn, and to some extent Feruchemists, are extremely powerful individuals, and the highlight of the book is seeing them in action, especially in battle, which reminded me of something you might see in a comic book, videogame or animation. Secondly, the world of Mistborn is a pretty fascinating place to explore. Essentially, the Lord Ruler has reigned over the Final Empire for a thousand years, replacing “individual kingdoms, cultures, religions & languages” with a social class that is divided between nobles and skaa (peasants basically), all governed by the frightening Steel Ministry, which consists of Obligators & Steel Inquisitors who are a different form of Mistborn. And because of the ever-present Mist, the Final Empire is a depressing world where such concepts as a blue sky and green plants are foreign. Finally, the story is an intriguing one, based on such questions as, “What if the hero of prophecy fails? What kind of world results when the Dark Lord is in charge?” Incorporated into that is some good ol’ fashioned caper fun—think Scott Lynch’s The Gentleman Bastard novels or the Ocean’s 13 films—with revolution and religion also playing an important role. In short, I absolutely loved “Mistborn: The Final Empire” and was left breathless in anticipation for its follow-up “The Well of Ascension”. As much as I enjoyed reading the sequel though, I have to admit that I was somewhat let down by “The Well of Ascension”, partly because I had such high expectations for the book and partly because of the so-called “middle-volume syndrome”.

The Well of Ascension” is set a year after “Mistborn: The Final Empire” and once again takes place in the city of Luthadel which is located in the heart of the Central Dominance. The main storyline deals with Elend Venture, an idealistic young noble who has taken the throne and is facing numerous threats both within and without the walls of Luthadel, including assassins, a parliamentary council that doesn’t want Elend as king, and not one, not two, but three armies intent on conquering the city. Meanwhile, Vin has her own hands full trying to protect Elend without any of the precious Atium left, learning about a 12th alloy called Duralumin (previously it was thought that there were only ten allomantic metals), dealing with the mysterious Mistborn called Watcher (as well as an ominous mist-spirit), figuring out which of her friends might be a kandra spy, and having her love for Elend tested to the breaking point. Other subplots include the Mist starting to appear during daytime and killing people, and solving the thousand-year mysteries behind the Hero of Ages, the Well of Ascension, and the Deepness

As you can see, there’s a lot going on in “The Well of Ascension”, but thankfully I never had any problems staying on top of things since Mr. Sanderson has such a good grasp on the material. Of the actual story though, I thought the book was a little hit or miss. On the positive side, Allomancy once again steals the show, as does Feruchemy, and we get to learn more about kandra and koloss, two highly unique species, the former of which can ingest a creature’s dead body, using their own flesh to create an almost perfect duplicate. Furthermore, I liked how the author played around with a bunch of standard fantasy truisms including prophecy, “mythological saviors/monsters”, and in particular, what happens after you defeat the evil ruler which, as “The Well of Ascension” demonstrates, is much more difficult than actually beating the bad guy. Unfortunately, the book isn’t cliché-free. There’s a love triangle between Vin, Elend and an unnamed third party that is pretty formulaic, a character that is revealed to be related to one of the main characters, and the whole “imposter in our midst” subplot was fairly transparent, at least for me since I figured out who it was early on. Also, I really missed the caper elements that were prevalent in “Mistborn: The Final Empire”, getting instead a heavy dose of politicking which I didn’t find nearly as compelling. Still, despite whatever issues I may have had with the story, when you combine complex plotting and high-flying action with themes of love, trust & faith, as well as shocking revelations and unexpected betrayals, it makes for undeniably entertaining reading.

Character-wise, “The Well of Ascension” once again follows Vin who continues to develop her Mistborn powers, while still dealing with issues of trust, friendship, and now love. Replacing Kelsier from the first book is Elend, who’s not as captivating as Kelsier was, but it is fun to see Elend evolve from a timid, scholarly type into a commanding, authoritative figure. Sazed, a Terris Keeper facing matters of faith & his own problems with love, provides the third narrative and is my favorite character, partly because of his Feruchemy abilities and partly because of his personality. OreSeur, a kandra contracted to serve Vin is one of the more interesting secondary characters, while the remaining viewpoints rotate between Straff VentureElend’s father and one of the book’s chief villains—, the Soother Breeze, and the mysterious Watcher. Sadly, Kelsier’s ‘crew’ (Ham, Clubs, Spook, and especially Dockson) are relegated to minor roles in “The Well of Ascension”, which was disappointing since they were such an entertaining part of “Mistborn: The Final Empire”. Moreover, I wish that Marsh, Kelsier’s brother who infiltrated the Steel Ministry, and Inquisitors in general, had been in the book more, but I think that will be remedied in the final chapter of the Mistborn Trilogy. As a whole, the characterization was a bit lacking, particularly when characters start dying off since I didn’t seem to care about who lived or died.

Regarding the “middle-volume syndrome”, let me first clarify that “The Well of Ascension”, like its predecessor, stands well on its own even though the books are obviously connected. Despite that, “The Well of Ascension” does suffer from a few middle-volume maladies, such as leaving questions unanswered—How and where did Kelsier discover the eleventh alloy Malatium?—, spending too much time on setting up events for the third book in the trilogy, and ending “The Well of Ascension” on a cliffhanger note. Truthfully though, these were minor issues for me, and for the most part Brandon Sanderson does a good job of addressing this problem area, which is common in a lot of trilogies.

In the end, I had very high hopes for “The Well of Ascension”, and while the book did not live up to my expectations, it doesn’t mean that it wasn’t worth the time and effort. Sure, characterization is an area that Brandon Sanderson needs to work on, the pacing of the book was uneven—particularly when the story got bogged down with government politics—, and the plot suffered from a few clichés, but as long as the author’s fertile imagination remains in play (Allomancers, Feruchemy, kandra, koloss, etc.) and he’s making an effort to break down conventional fantasy trappings, then it’s easy to overlook such imperfections. Of course, if Mr. Sanderson’s flaws ever catch up with his strengths, then the author will definitely be a force to reckon with. For now, Brandon Sanderson is still a work-in-progress, but he’s easily one of the most exciting new voices in fantasy and I think his next few releases, which includes “Alcatraz Versus The Evil Librarians” (October 2007-Scholastic), the conclusion to the Mistborn Trilogy (“The Hero of Ages”-Summer 2008), and “Warbreaker” (Spring 2009), will go a long way in determining just how much of an impact the author will have in the genre…

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