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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Winners of the Carrie Vaughn/Kitty Norville and Jeffrey Overstreet/Auralia's Colors giveaways!!!

Congratulations to John Tessier (California) and Anita Yancey (Georgia) who were both randomly selected to win the Carrie Vaughn GRAND PRIZE featuring a complete SET of the Kitty Norville books including copies of “Kitty and the Midnight Hour”, “Kitty Goes to Washington”, “Kitty Takes a Holiday”, and the newly released “Kitty and the Silver Bullet”, thanks to Hachette Book Group USA!!! Additionally, Jin Lam (Washington), Troy Knutson (Tennessee) and Esther Silber (New York) were all randomly selected to win a COPY of Carrie Vaughn’sKitty and the Silver Bullet”!

Congratulations also to Michael Carter (Canada), Melissa Coles (Indiana), Carole Dando (Florida), Chris Hyland (UK), and John MacDonald (Pennsylvania) who were all randomly selected to win a COPY of
Jeffrey Overstreet’s wonderful debut novel “Auralia’s Colors” (Reviewed HERE) thanks to WaterBrook Press!
Wednesday, January 30, 2008

"The Dragon's Nine Sons" by Chris Roberson

Order “The Dragon’s Nine SonsHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE

Chris Roberson is the author of numerous short stories and novels, many of which are either connected like his Bonaventure-Carmody adventures, or take place in the same universe. In this case, “The Dragon’s Nine Sons” is a novel of the Celestial Empire, an alternate history Earth where Imperial China has become the dominant power, though not without resistance, specifically from the Aztec-inspired Mexic Dominion. Having not read any of Mr. Roberson’s previous Celestial Empire stories—for a complete checklist click HERE—I was somewhat confused at first, but thanks to an in-depth Chronology and other extras found at the end of the book, I was able to piece together a little bit of the bloody history that exists between the two empires including the First Mexic War at the end of the 19th century.

In Mr. Roberson’s new book, the Dragon Throne and the Mexica have taken their battle to the stars and are in the twelfth year of the Second Mexic War as they fight over the red planet Fire Star. I’m still not sure what was so special about the planet, but from this backdrop readers are introduced to narrators Captain Zhuan Jie and Bannerman Yao Guanzhong who, along with seven other lawbreakers enlisted in the Celestial Empire’s military, are given a choice between disciplinary action—which in most cases meant execution—or embarking on a special mission for the Dragon Throne. Obviously they opted for the second choice, which basically involved the nine reprobates piloting a captured Mexic vessel onto the secret—and recently discovered—Mexica military base Xolotl, where they were to detonate a fission bomb at the asteroid’s core. In other words, it was a suicide mission—and that’s only if they don’t kill each other first…

Offering criminals a second chance to redeem them selves, using an enemy’s own equipment such as vehicles & uniforms to infiltrate the opposition, and trying to blow up a space station are all fairly common plot devices, but there are several reasons why “The Dragon’s Nine Sons” never felt like a generic retread. First and foremost, it’s the setting. While I felt that I missed out on a lot of little details surrounding the history of the Mexica & Celestial Empires, just the fact that Mr. Roberson explores how such ancient cultures as the Aztecs and Imperial China would function in a futuristic time period was pure genius and really gave the book a distinctive flavor. Take for instance the Mexica space vessels which are all equipped with ‘hemoglobin-sensing trigger mechanisms’ and require blood rites—human sacrifices—in order to operate, or the Mexica’s combat suits which are stylized in the visages of ferocious beasts.

Secondly, I thought Chris Roberson did a pretty good job with the characters, specifically the nine criminals. Granted, none of the reprobates are really that original, but by learning of the reasons behind each of their transgressions—Zhuan defied a direct order because he’s a coward at heart; Fukuda murdered out of guilt, Nguyen out of anger, and Dea out of play-acting; Yao asked the wrong questions because his honor was greater than his duty to protocol; et cetera—it really humanized the characters, which in turn made the story that much more effective especially when their past mistakes shaped their future decisions and the outcome of the entire mission. Additionally, I also liked the situation that the author put the reprobates in—forcing a group of murderers, thieves, gamblers, smugglers & insubordinates to work together in a life or death situation—and the resulting interplay.

Lastly, as was the case with the other Chris Roberson novel that I read last year, “Set the Seas on Fire” (Reviewed
HERE), I was impressed with the author’s fluent prose and his ability to tell a story with a skillful blend of style, passion, and ingenuity.

In short, I came in thinking that Chris Roberson’s new book was going to be good and “The Dragon’s Nine Sons” doesn’t disappoint. Sure, I had some minor quibbles along the way like how the reprobates’ stories were told which were kind of goofy at times, the coincidences toward the end that really stretched my skepticism, how predictable some of the characters’ actions were, and the lack of background information regarding the Mexic/Celestial Empires and Fire Star. But like I said before, they were just minor issues and didn’t take away from how interesting, inventive and exciting Chris Roberson’s science fiction novel was. Basically, I was quite satisfied with my introduction to the Celestial Empire and plan on revisiting the universe as often as I can. Luckily, the next Celestial Empire novel—“Iron Jaw & Hummingbird” (Viking Press)—is coming out later this year, followed by “Three Unbroken” in 2009 (
Solaris Books) which is actually being SERIALIZED for free right now…
Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Winners of the Gail Z. Martin/The Blood King Prize Pack!!!

Congratulations to Mark Stewart (New Jersey) and Sue Wontroba (UK) who were both randomly selected to win a PRIZE PACK featuring SIGNED + LIMITED Advance Review Copies of Gail Z. Martin’sThe Summoner” and the author’s new book “The Blood King”, as well as finished copies of both titles and Soulcatchers, all thanks to Solaris Books and Ms. Martin herself :) If you want a copy of “The Blood King” (Reviewed HERE) for yourself, remember that the book is out today!

Also, just a reminder that the giveaways for a SET of Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty Norville books (Enter
HERE) and a COPY of Jeffrey Overstreet’sAuralia’s Colors” (Enter HERE) end tomorrow and Thursday, so don’t miss the deadline! Finally, the next batch of giveaways should start next week :D

Solaris Books signs author Conrad A. Williams!

I’ve been waiting to announce this :) Perhaps one of my favorite new authors that I’ve come across since starting Fantasy Book Critic:

OFFICIAL PRESS RELEASE:
Solaris Books is proud and terrified to announce a new acquisition from critically acclaimed writer Conrad A. Williams.

Decay Inevitable” is one of the grittiest modern fantasies ever written, and a masterful dark thriller.

Sean Redman is a failed policeman who cannot escape the job. Will Lacey is a husband who witnesses the birth of a monster. Cheke is a killing machine programmed to erase every trace of an experiment gone horribly wrong… Decay Inevitable is a novel charting the grim territories of the shadow line that trembles at the very end of life. These are badlands of horrifying dreams and demons where a black market in unspeakable goods thrives. A race is on to unearth the secrets of the soul…secrets woven into the fabric of death itself.

Conrad A. Williams said: “I’m thrilled to be kicking off my career as Conrad A. Williams with Solaris. They are a knowledgeable, hungry, professional unit and I hope to be writing for them long into the future.”

Solaris Assistant Editor Mark Newton added: “I’ve read many of Conrad’s works and they have all blown my mind. Solaris want to take his writing to a much wider readership, and blow many more minds in the process.”

Conrad A. Williams was born in 1969 and has been in print since 1988. He has sold around 80 short stories to a diverse range of publications and anthologies. Writing as Conrad Williams, he is the author of three novels, including “The Unblemished”, which won the International Horror Guild Award for Best Novel in 2007 and will be re-published as a mass market release through Virgin Books in April 2008. He is also a past recipient of the Littlewood Arc Prize and the British Fantasy Award. Conrad lives in Manchester, England.

Solaris will publish “Decay Inevitable” in early 2009 in both the UK and US. Read the full press release HERE.

PRESS RELEASE – John Jarrold signs TWO-BOOK deal with Macmillan/Tor UK for Mark Charan Newton!

UK – January 28, 2008. Literary agent John Jarrold (Ian Cameron Esslemont, Stephen Hunt) has concluded a two-book World Rights Deal for new UK fantasy author Mark Charan Newton with Peter Lavery of Macmillan/Tor UK.

The first book is titled “Nights of Villjamur”, and will be published in early 2009: An impending Ice Age looms over an Empire and its many storylines including the death of an Emperor and his daughter’s return to claim the throne; a crime noir plot that involves the city’s Councilors and high-profile murders; and a cocky womanizer pretending to be a dance tutor… Will appeal to readers of both George R. R. Martin and Scott Lynch.

Thanks to Mark, I had the very special privilege of reading the prologue and the first three chapters to “Nights of Villjamur” and I have a feeling this is going to be a good one :) The darker, grittier tone reminded me of Steven Erikson’s Malazan novels, while the setting seemed to be influenced by Norse history. The chapters are brisk and entice the reader with a strong blend of action & intrigue, interesting characters, and a world that features Cultists, relics, the half-man/half-vulture garudas, and the non-human rumels. In short, I’ve only scratched the service of what “Nights of Villjamur” has to offer, but the outlook is quite promising…

“I’m delighted for Mark,” said
John Jarrold. “He was one of my first clients when I started up the agency back in 2004, and this is really the fulfillment of a great deal of thought and hard work on his part. And this is the first deal I’ve done with Peter Lavery, who I have known for twenty years—and who is one of the UK’s best and most respected editors in any form of publishing.”

Mark Charan Newton is 26 years old, and lives in Nottingham. He previously worked as an SF buyer in an Ottakar bookstore. Book reviewers might also recognize Mark from Solaris Books where he works as an assistant editor. Additionally, Mark’s debut novel “The Reef” (Preorder HERE) is scheduled for publication this March/April through Pendragon Press, which I’m looking forward to reviewing :)
Monday, January 28, 2008

"The Red Wolf Conspiracy" by Robert V.S. Redick

Official Robert V.S. Redick Website
Official The Red Wolf Conspiracy Website
Order “The Red Wolf Conspiracy
HERE (UK Release Only)
Read An Excerpt
HERE
Read Reviews of “The Red Wolf Conspiracy” via
The Wertzone + Sandstorm Reviews
Read The Book Swede’s INTERVIEW with Robert V.S. Redick

Looking back, 2007 was a pretty good year for speculative fiction debuts. I mean you had Patrick Rothfuss’The Name of the Wind”, Mark J. Ferrari’sThe Book of Joby”, Wayne Barlowe’sGod’s Demon”, Jeffrey Overstreet’sAuralia’s Colors”, Alex Bledsoe’sThe Sword-Edged Blonde”, Matthew Jarpe’sRadio Freefall”, the American release of Joe Abercrombie’sThe Blade Itself”, and—even though they’re not technically debuts—you could also throw in David Anthony Durham’sAcacia” and Stephen Hunt’sThe Court of the Air”. Like I said, pretty good and I didn’t even list all of the titles that impressed me, which makes you wonder just how in the world 2008 is going to be able to surpass or even duplicate last year’s success. Obviously it’s way too early to be talking about such comparisons, but at least the New Year is off to a strong start with a number of striking debuts already including Felix Gilman’sThunderer” (was actually published at the end of 2007, but I’m counting it as a 2008 release ;), Philip Palmer’sDebatable Space” and Robert V.S. Redick’sThe Red Wolf Conspiracy”. Of the three, “The Red Wolf Conspiracy” has received the most advance publicity and for good reason—the book is a potential bestseller.

So what defines a bestseller? Well, the number of copies sold is definitely one measuring stick, as is a book’s level of popularity, but for a debut novel to achieve any plateau of success hype, visibility and advertising are all important factors. Of the latter, Mr. Redick has already benefited from a strong marketing push by the publisher with his novel named as
Waterstone Books’ Science Fiction & Fantasy Book of the Month for February 2008 and chosen as one of the UK Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Club’sCosmic Five” debut titles for 2008. “The Red Wolf Conspiracy” is also being promoted for “fans of Philip Pullman and Scott Lynch” which is impressive company to be in, but also a little misleading. For instance, while “The Red Wolf Conspiracy” may feature a nautical setting, an elaborate plot at the center of the story, and cover art by Edward Miller—who also did the paintings for the Subterranean Press editions of “The Lies of Locke Lamora” and “Red Seas Under Red Skies”—the book is not nearly as flamboyant, witty or vulgar as Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastard novels. Additionally, Mr. Redick’s debut doesn’t offer the theological or thematic analyses that you can find in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, although they have a lot more in common such as youthful protagonists, sentient animals, connected worlds, and the fact that young readers will be able to enjoy the book as much as adults.

One thing that “The Red Wolf Conspiracy” does share with
Scott Lynch’s novels though, is a fully realized world that is brought to life with amazing clarity and imagination. In fact, the worldbuilding was probably my favorite part of the book. Between meeting the different peoples (Flikkermen, Noonfirth) and creatures (Slevran, sea-murths, augrongs) of Alifros; to learning of the conflict between Arqual & Mzithrin, the conquering of Ormael, and the history of the Great Ship Chathrand; and marveling at the legends of Erithusmé, the Black Casket, and the Nilstone; not to mention all of the seemingly insignificant details that add depth and texture to Alifros; the backdrop for “The Red Wolf Conspiracy” is a wondrous creation that I enjoyed exploring as much as I did recently the worlds of Scott Lynch, Steven Erikson, and Brandon Sanderson. Of course, the problem with the worldbuilding in this case is that the actual story takes a backseat for about the first hundred pages or so when the author is concentrating on establishing the setting and introducing the lineup. It’s not until the Chathrand is launched that the plot starts to move forward because that’s where a large part of the novel takes place, which concerned me at first. You see, I’m not really a fan of nautical stories. Never have been. Fortunately, the Great Ship is not your normal sea vessel—Chathrand is the last of its kind, six hundred years old, constructed by both shipwrights & mages from materials that no longer exist, and so huge that you have to use a telescope to inspect the masts and giant creatures to handle the anchor—and even though Mr. Redick seems to intimately understand how a ship runs, he doesn’t bore us with all of the little details. Instead, the author rewards readers with an entertaining, fast-paced saga of high-seas adventure that is part fantasy quest, part political intrigue, and part coming-of-age tale.

More specifically, the story centers on the Chathrand which has been enlisted as part of a peacekeeping mission between Arqual & Mzithrin, but is actually a front for a much more sinister agenda that involves war, prophecy, the resurrection of a Mad King, and a mythical Red Wolf that harbors an ancient evil… Drawn into this web of lies and deceit is an eclectic cast of characters including young protagonists Pazel Pathkendle, an aspiring scholar-turned-orphan-turned-tarboy who is blessed—or cursed—with a magical Gift for languages, and Thasha Isiq, a boyish Ambassador’s daughter and the chosen treaty-bride between the two countries which is the key to the success or failure of the mission. Unfortunately, aside from Pazel’s ability to instantly read & speak any foreign tongue—which I have to admit is a pretty intriguing power to be saving the world with—and the prejudice that Pathkendle faces as an Ormaeli native, the hero & heroine of “The Red Wolf Conspiracy” are fairly stereotypical right down to their inevitable attraction of one another. Clichés also extend to the veteran spymaster Sander Ott, Dr. Ignus Chadfallow who seems to be everywhere, the noble Hercól—an ex-spy masquerading as Thasha’s dance tutor, Lady Syrarys, Pazel’s friend Neeps, an evil sorcerer, and various others from the supporting cast. Thankfully, Mr. Redick does a good job of canceling out the conventional with the not so conventional, particularly the use of self-aware or ‘woken’ animals that are integral to the story like the moon falcon Niriviel, a maimed black rat named Felthrup (one of my favorites!) who holds all the answers to the conspiracy, another rat in Master Mugstur who is a religious fanatic and wants to murder Captain Rose, and Sniraga the red cat. There’s also a race of inches-tall people called Ixchel or ‘crawlies’ that have their own agenda, the quite mad Captain Nilus Rotheby Rose, and let’s not forget about Ramachni the shape-shifting mage from another world.

As far as the novel’s structure, “The Red Wolf Conspiracy” opens with a ‘Special Notice’ from The Etherhorde Mariner which speculates on the disappearance of the Chathrand. From here, the story is told in a standard third-person narrative through the multiple viewpoints of humans, woken animals and ixchel alike, while interjected with occasional excerpts from the Quartermaster’s secret journal, letters addressed from Captain Rose to his father, and an intercepted correspondence from Dr. Chadfallow to Thasha’s father Eberzam. Personally, I really liked these breaks from the normal narrative; they added variety and some interesting insights. However, I was a bit puzzled by the ‘Editors’ Footnotes’ that appear at times throughout the novel, which seemed out of place…

Let me be straightforward here. I really liked “The Red Wolf Conspiracy”.
Robert V.S. Redick’s debut was fun to read, intelligently crafted, highly imaginative, and undeniably charming and I can’t wait to see what happens on The Chathrand Voyage in the rest of the trilogy—“The Rats and the Ruling Sea” (Volume II) and “The Night of the Swarm” (Volume III). In short, “The Red Wolf Conspiracy” should do very well for its UK publisher Gollancz, and will probably sell even better whenever it’s released here in North America. That said, the novel didn’t quite ‘wow’ me as much as some of the more recent debuts that I’ve read by Scott Lynch, Mark J. Ferrari, Stephen Hunt, Joe Abercrombie, or Felix Gilman. There were two things actually that bothered me and in my mind prevented Mr. Redick’s novel from attaining greatness. One, the beginning and middle part of the novel is much, much stronger than the last third, particularly the final 80-100 pages. I’m not sure what happened, but once the action picked up and the characters started converging with one another, the novel just seemed to regress—the story became more juvenile especially the confrontations between the heroes and the villains; the dialogue seemed significantly worse; and it just felt like I was reading a different book from the one that I started with. The other thing that irritated me was the author’s decision to reveal early on the plot’s major secrets to the reader, but not the actual characters. Personally, if I had been left in the dark regarding all of the various double-crosses, shared histories and other twists that the story had to offer, I think I would have enjoyed the book even better. Regardless, I believe that Robert V.S. Redick’s novel will be one of the better fantasy debuts of 2008, and a lot of readers are going to want to discover for them selves the truth behind “The Red Wolf Conspiracy”…
Saturday, January 26, 2008

NEWS ROUNDUP: "The Court of the Air" shortlisted for film festival, Dabel Brothers bringing Patricia Briggs to comics, and more...

OFFICIAL PRESS RELEASE: London & Berlin – 24th January 2008. Ten novels (written in a wide variety of languages) have been selected for presentation by the world's main publishers on February 12th, 2008 at the Berlin International Film Festival—the world's largest film festival with 200,000 movie and TV professionals attending. One fantasy and science fiction book made the cut, Stephen Hunt's epic fantasy tale, “The Court of the Air”.

Organized by the
Berlin International Film Festival in cooperation with the Frankfurt Book Fair for the third time, the Breakfast & Books section of the film fair enables representatives from publishing houses, literary agents and producers to meet for a pitching session, followed by breakfast together. Producers interested in the film rights can discuss matters on location with right holders.

Renowned publishers from around the globe, such as
HarperCollins, Random House, Diogenes, Grasset & Fasquelle, and Suhrkamp, will present ten titles, which have been picked on the strength of their potential for the screen.

The selection for 2008 covers a range of themes and genre—from terrorism thriller to fantasy, from coming-of-age parable to period drama—to help ensure there will be something for every producer and every budget.

The only genre fantasy and science fiction novel to be short-listed is
Stephen Hunt'sThe Court of the Air”, an epic fantasy adventure set in a society with parallels to 18th/19th century England.

HarperCollins has historically enjoyed a great deal of success with fantasy movie adaptations of its works over the last few years, including films such as Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy and two Narnia movies (the Prince Caspian film is forthcoming).

Last year, Peter Jackson optioned
HarperCollins' author Naomi Novik's fantasy novel “His Majesty's Dragon” (Temeraire in the UK) for one of his next genre movies, and Jackson is shortly beginning work on a film of the HarperCollins' novel “The Hobbit”.

The Guardian said of “The Court of the Air”, “The characters are convincing and colourful, but the real achievement is the setting, a hellish take on Victorian London where grim, steam-driven machines work beside citizens with magical powers. The Court of the Air is aimed at young adults, but the depth and complexity of Hunt's vision makes it compulsive reading for all ages.”

The Times called Hunt's novel, “An inventive, ambitious work, full of wonders and marvels.” while SFX magazine said of it, “Hunt can take his place alongside such eminent Magratheans as J.R.R. Tolkien, Mervyn Peake and China Mieville. Creating a fully-realized other-world which feels new and different, yet cohesive and believable is half the battle in a fantasy novel, and it is a battle Hunt wins with honors...Hunt's world is so rich and colorful it keeps you engrossed...It's a confident audacious novel.”

Since autumn 2005, the
Berlinale (aka the Berlin International Film Festival) and the Frankfurt Book Fair, two of Germany's largest cultural and economic affairs, have collaborated on creating a forum for film producers and publishers at both these huge events, and in doing so to promote contacts and long-term synergies between the worlds of literature and film.

The novels short-listed from the many thousands of submitted works are:

01.The Court of the Air” by
Stephen Hunt (Great Britain)
02.The Girl with the Nine Fingers” by Laia Fàbregas (Netherlands)
03.Baptism” by Max Kinnings (Great Britain)
04.The Weekend (Das Wochenende)” by Bernhard Schlink (Switzerland)
05.My Traitor” by Sorj Chalandon (France)
06.The Lady from Buenos Aires” by John Lantigua (Germany)
07.Catalina” by Markus Orths (Germany)
08.Zephyr” by Albert Ostermeier (Germany)
09.Through Thick and Thin” by Shirley Corlett (Germany)
10.The Messenger” by Markus Zusak (Germany)

The Court of the Air” was released in the UK in April 2007, and will be making its US debut June 10, 2008 thanks to
Tor Books. For more information on Stephen Hunt, check out his website HERE, and you can read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of “The Court of the AirHERE. For UK readers, Mr. Hunt’s next novel—“The Kingdom Beyond the Waves”—which is set in the same world as “The Court of the Air”, hits bookstores on May 6, 2008. Personally, I think “The Court of the Air” would make an extraordinary film, and I hope it gets picked up :)

OFFICIAL PRESS RELEASE: New York City – January 25, 2008. The
Dabel Brothers are already well-known for their comic book and graphic novel adaptations of great paranormal thriller novels such as 2007's bestselling Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter in Guilty Pleasures and their eagerly anticipated May 2008 release, Dean Koontz's Frankenstein: Prodigal Son.

But now that they've signed white-hot New York Times-bestselling paranormal fantasy writer
Patricia Briggs to bring the world of her stunning Mercedes “Mercy” Thompson books to comics, the Dabel Brothers are fully prepared to top themselves once again with a brand new original story written by Briggs exclusively for comics!

The Mercedes Thompson series began in 2006 with the publication of “Moon Called”. Mercedes “Mercy” Thompson is a Volkswagen mechanic (she’s heard all the jokes, thank you). She’s also a coyote shapeshifter, an observer of the supernatural community, but not part of it: the perfect intermediary between the things that go bump in the night . . . and the things that bump back.

The second and third books in the series, “Blood Bound” and the #1 New York Times-bestseller “Iron Kissed”, have only helped to cement Briggs as one of the rising stars in the realm of paranormal fantasy, and the
Dabel Brothers expect their comic book series, a prequel to the novels entitled “Mercedes Thompson: Homecoming”, to drive her legions of fans straight to the comic book stores when the first issue debuts in the second half of 2008.

According to Briggs, the comic book series will focus on shapeshifter Mercedes Thompson fresh out of college when she's offered a job as a mechanic. . . by a nine-year-old boy. When she takes the job, she finds herself in a mess of trouble. Vampires, werewolves and an ancient fae are all out to get her. What’s a poor coyote to do?

“My first exposure to werewolves goes back to the old
Marvel comic Werewolf by Night, which I read when I was still in grade school,” said Patricia Briggs. “The image of the werewolf as a good guy, a tormented hero who could be dangerous to anyone around him, stuck with me all these years and manifested itself in the Mercedes Thompson series. To have Mercedes and her world become a comic book is almost karmic—having the Dabel Brothers producing them is nothing less than fabulous good luck.”

“We could not be more thrilled to have
Patricia Briggs onboard,” said Ernst Dabel, President of Dabel Brothers Publishing. “She's going to fit in very well in our lineup, and we fully expect that the Mercedes Thompson: Homecoming books are going to be every bit as popular as the Anita Blake comics were last year!”

Mercedes Thompson: Homecoming” will be a 4-part comic book miniseries and is slated for release in the second half of 2008. The series will be collected in hardcover and distributed by
Del Rey in 2009. You can read the full press release HERE with more details to be made available in coming months.

Patricia Briggs’ Mercedes Thompson novels are published through Ace Books, which can be ordered HERE. As a fan of urban fantasy, Briggs’ novels have been on my radar for a while now, but I have to admit this is pretty cool news. So I think I’m going to have to pick up the books and see what all the fuss is about :)

In other news, Subterranean Press is putting together an original anthology that explores the darker side of fantasy:

Fantasy comes in all shades, from gentle tales of elves and fairies, to the blackest of horrors. Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy tends toward the darker edges, where the fantastic mixes with the horrific. With all original tales by a number of SubPress favorites, and writers new to our stable, we’ve aimed to illuminate these shadowed corners, to bring into the light the creatures that venture forth from the sea, those that alter our reality to suit their sinister needs, and others who head into territory so bleak it’s best left undescribed.

Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy” will be available in three unique editions, and will feature stories by Joe R. Lansdale, Poppy Z. Brite, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Mike Carey, Kage Baker, Tim Powers, and Mike Resnick among others, and will also be accompanied by an exclusive chapbook of one of Joe Hill’s signature tales, “Thumbprint,” thus far only available in the excellent UK magazine, Postscripts. “Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy” can be preordered
HERE, which is tentatively due out in Summer 2008. I can’t wait!

Lastly, in case you missed the new banner up top,
Jeffrey Thomas’Deadstock” is now available HERE as a free download thanks to Solaris Books. It’s a pretty cool novel (Reviewed HERE), so give it a try and look out for Mr. Thomas’ new novel “Blue War”—out on February 26, 2008—which I plan on reviewing in the near future…
Friday, January 25, 2008

"After the War" by Tim Lebbon

Order “After the WarHERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s REVIEW of “Dusk/Dawn

In my mind, one of the best things about reading fantasy and science fiction is getting to discover other worlds, and for me it doesn’t get much better than Tim Lebbon’s Noreela. Established in the author’s “Dusk/Dawn” duology (Reviewed HERE), Noreela is a fascinating, post-apocalyptic world where machines once operated fueled by magic; where drugs can turn a person into a sex god or allow your spirit to travel from your body; where dangerous creatures like the Nax, Tumblers & Mimics roam the land; and where stories are just begging to be told. Fortunately for readers, the “Dusk/Dawn” duology was only the beginning. Not only can you find a couple of Noreela short stories out there—Chanting The Violet Dog Down, Forever—but the author has also completed two standalone prequel novels in “Fallen” and “The Island” which will see release later in 2008 + 2009 respectively. In the meantime, Subterranean Press and Mr. Lebbon has given his fans a nice treat with “After the War”, a limited edition (numbered to 1000), signed hardcover that features two novellas set in the unforgettable land of Noreela

1)Vale of Blood Roses”. This tale takes place not long after the end of the
Cataclysmic War, so about three hundred years before “Dusk”, and concerns an ex-soldier who receives an unwanted reminder of his bloody past that was best left forgotten. From here, the story cuts between the present and the events fifteen years before when Jakk and three of his fellow soldiers ventured into an impossible valley where machines still worked, blood roses bloomed, and the residents worshipped some thing they called the heart and mind. Now, because of their actions that fateful day, revenge has come stalking and Jakk must find the valley again if he wants to save his family… Much like his “Dusk/Dawn” duology, “Vale of Blood Roses” is a tale of dark fantasy that straddles the boundaries of horror and is at once chilling, mysterious—Where does the vale come from? Why are the machines still working? What is the purpose of the blood roses? What is the heart and mind?—and poignant examining how war & killing can change a person, living with the choices we make, and how we can never run away from our sins. In short, I loved “Vale of Blood Roses”. It was intense, sated my appetites for both horror & fantasy, was wickedly imaginative, and the somewhat ambiguous ending had me envisioning all sorts of nasty things for poor Jakk ;)

2)The Bajuman”. Originally serialized on his
Noreela website in 2006, this novella offers a different side of Tim Lebbon. In a nutshell, “The Bajuman” is a cross between detective noir and fantasy, which reminded me of Alex Bledsoe’sThe Sword-Edged Blonde” (Reviewed HERE). For instance, both novels feature ‘private investigators’ existing in a fantasy setting, both are told in a first-person perspective, and both of the protagonists live above a tavern! Of course there are some obvious differences like the fact that Korrin, our hero, is a Bajuman—a group of people who are shunned by the rest of the world for something that supposedly happened five hundred years ago. Besides the prejudice and a darker brand of humor, you also have Noreela City. Between a brothel that doubles as a depository for information that is stolen from the minds of its clients, an underground city that is home to the lawless, and many other unique distinctions, Noreela City is quite unlike any other place you’ve been to and really gives the novella a dynamic edge. As far as the case, it’s a different spin on kidnapping as Korrin is hired to find a fodder—descendants of an old humanoid race once bred for food who are now considered a forbidden delicacy—before he is eaten. As expected with this type of story, there’s much more to the case than initial appearances and to complicate matters, Korrin is forced to work with a mercenary who might be the most dangerous threat of all… Because of all the noir-esque fantasy and science fiction that I’ve read recently, I found “The Bajuman” to be a bit formulaic at times, but I thought Korrin offered some really interesting traits as a character, the story was entertaining, and there’s a lot of potential here for an ongoing series which I would definitely be interested in :)

Overall, “After the War” isn’t going to set the world on fire with its two novellas, but as a fan of Mr. Lebbon’sDusk/Dawn” duology and specifically the world of
Noreela, I really enjoyed myself which is about all anyone can ask for. At the same time, if you’ve never read anything by the author, then I give “After the War” a glowing recommendation. Not only is it a great introduction to the haunting world of Noreela, but it’s also a tantalizing glimpse into the macabre mind of Tim Lebbon
Thursday, January 24, 2008

Interview with Gail Z. Martin (Updated! Added one more answer to the end :)

Official Gail Z. Martin Website
Order “The Blood KingHERE
Read Excerpts HERE + HERE
Watch the Book Trailer Video HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Reviews of “The Summoner” + “The Blood King

One of the more surprising stories last year was the success of Gail Z. Martin’s debut novel “The Summoner”, which was a launch title for new speculative fiction publisher Solaris Books. Whether or not the author can do it again with her sequel “The Blood King” remains to be seen, but with the novel’s release date just around the corner I thought now would be the perfect time to give readers a chance to learn a bit more about Ms. Martin. So, Gail has graciously agreed to answer some questions for me and I thought the interview turned out very well. Not only do we get to learn more about the author’s ‘day job’ and what she has in store for the promotion of “The Blood King”, but Ms. Martin also shares her thoughts on fantasy tropes, the future of publishing, and even gives us a glimpse of the third book in her Chronicles of the Necromancer series:

Q: “The Blood King”, which completes the story that began in last year’s “The Summoner”, is due out from
Solaris Books on January 29, 2008. Now, for those that may not know, you actually own your own marketing firm in DreamSpinner Communications and you were very active in the promotion of your debut novel “The Summoner”. What did you learn from your experience with “The Summoner” about promoting a book, and what tactics do you hope to employ this time around with “The Blood King”?

Gail: Wow, I learned a lot. I was very glad that I had a 20 year background in corporate marketing, because even with the great promotion that
Solaris Books did, it’s hard to get the word out about a new book from a new imprint and a new author! I let Solaris handle paid advertising, and I focused on making personal connections—with readers, other authors, booksellers and reviewers/website owners. I’m also glad to be an extrovert, so the marketing piece wasn’t traumatic for me as I understand it is for some writers. I really enjoy doing signings and events.

Since things seemed to work well with “The Summoner”, I’m going to repeat most of what I did. The one exception is making a week-long tour. It was a great experience and I’m glad I did it, but I’ve discovered that it actually makes better use of time and money for me to sign at Renaissance festivals instead. (My touring and event appearances come out of my own pocket at this point.) I’m booked heavily into NC bookstores for “The Blood King”, plus some SF/F conventions and Renaissance festivals. And I may do other book signings when I travel for vacation, holidays, etc. But probably not a tour like last time, although I never say never. The online events, like the Hawthorn Moon, also went very well. This year I’d like to do something for the Hawthorne Moon again with my online partners, and also create a new event, probably a blog tour, around Halloween.

Q: Sounds like you have a lot planned for “The Blood King”, which is good! Staying on this subject, the Internet remains an important tool for authors and publishers in promoting books, but from my experience in the music industry it just seems like a lot more could be done online. I am seeing more book trailers and a greater use of audio files nowadays, but in your opinion, how else can authors & publishers use the Internet to help promote books online?

Gail: I think you’re right. Book trailers and videoblogging are so much less expensive than live tours. I’m working on getting a videoblog up soon. I already blog and participate in social networking (MySpace, BookMarket.ning.com, The Yack, The Herscher Project, Shelfari and BookTours.com). I don’t get as much time to hang out online as I’d like, but I get there. Web audio is great to share personal comments and readings. I do a podcast called Ghost in the Machine with other SF/F authors, and it’s a lot of fun—I’ve got some great people already booked for 2008 and more coming. Web radio has been very kind to me. There are some great programs out there that focus just on SF/F and the paranormal, and they’ve been fun to be a guest on. I also really value creating relationships with sites like yours. It just makes sense to partner with the people who are already reaching folks who are interested in SF/F. As soon as we get the artwork for “Dark Haven” (Volume III in the Chronicles of the Necromancer), I’m planning to do another trailer.

Q: Whether it’s the Internet, videogame systems, mp3 players, home entertainment systems, computers or whatnot, technology is becoming more advanced every day. What does that mean for the printed word and what are your thoughts on ePublishing and e-Readers like the Kindle?

Gail: No doubt about it—people 20 and younger have gone Borg. I have two teens and a tween, and I keep looking for the USB port in the back of their necks because they are constantly online. I’ve approached
Solaris about Kindle and making “The Summoner” available in that format, and it’s under consideration. I think the printed word will always be around. The real question is—printed on what? I’m not worried about the future of books. Anyone who says movies killed vaudeville hasn’t taken a close look at YouTube, teen movies and cartoons. Live theatre is also still with us—not too changed from the days of the ancient Greeks. The town crier is now on CNN. It’s just that we’ve created more delivery channels. And we’ve been trained to receive information differently. Does a newspaper have to be printed on paper pulp to be a real newspaper? I don’t think so. In my marketing business, I’ve already created one e-book and expect to have five others on marketing topics done by the end of the year. I think the internet has done as much for publishing as the Guttenberg press. Together with digital printing and blogging, it’s made it possible for so many people to find their voice without a middleman. And I think we’ll find and refine ways to deliver books and information products profitably in more formats. That doesn’t scare me. I think Solaris is also doing some exciting things with ebooks and downloads for some of the other authors.

Q: A lot of great points! It will be really interesting to see what the future holds for books and publishing… Going back to “The Blood King”, you actually made a lot of changes from the advance reviewers’ copy to the finished version, such as adding a couple of chapters, moving stuff around and putting in more details. Was this a decision you made on your own or an editor’s suggestion, and could you talk a bit more about the changes you made and what they add to the book?

Gail: We didn’t have the luxury with “The Summoner” to have as many eyes on the manuscript as might have been nice. By the time we did “The Blood King”,
Solaris had more people in the loop. So that was a big help. As far as the changes/additions—it’s a combination of things. One of the hard parts as a writer is to make sure that the images are as clear to the reader as they are in your own mind. My husband helps a lot reading the manuscript before I turn it in, but I’ve probably read it twelve times by then and he’s probably read it at least six, so we’re jaded. Some of the new stuff came from Mark and Christian at Solaris asking for more details, more of what characters were thinking, to make the picture real. From my perspective, it’s not really “new” stuff—it all “happened,” but some details weren’t focused on the first time around. For example, if you point a videocamera in one direction, there is still stuff going on behind you, it’s just not in your picture. Mark and Christian gave me permission to widen the lens angle, so to speak, and include more that I already knew was going on. That’s really nice when it happens.

Q: For some authors, it’s easier writing their second novel, while for others it’s more difficult. How was it for you, and did you learn anything from writing “The Summoner” that helped you in completing “The Blood King”?

Gail: Oddly enough, even though my word count increased with “The Blood King” and with books three and four per the contract, I think I’ve learned to write more tightly. That means making every word count, so that I get to say more, but say it succinctly. I worked with some great proofreaders/copyeditors on “The Blood King” who picked up a lot of the important things I have difficulty focusing on, like the finer points of punctuation.

Q: Some of the criticism aimed at your debut focused on the number of fantasy clichés and somewhat weak characterization. Do you ever pay attention to readers/reviewers’ remarks and use that input when writing? Specifically, did you try to address any of these issues with “The Blood King”?

Gail: One thing I’ve learned is just how subjective an activity reading really is. It all depends on what you want. I think a lot of readers like to enter somewhat familiar territory when they read fantasy. It makes it accessible. I don’t believe that just because something is familiar it’s necessarily clichéd.

I think that ‘cliché’ is largely in the eye of the beholder. Every genre has certain stylistic conventions that make it a genre. Working with those stylistic conventions is what makes a book a genre book—I don’t think their presence automatically makes them a cliché. Characterization is also very subjective. Most people aren’t comfortable meeting a new person who barfs up their whole life story when they’re just introduced. We get to know people over time, and they reveal themselves by their actions. I think that in fiction (as in real life), we’re often quick to stereotype people at first meeting. You know—“he’s a CPA, so he must be boring” or “she’s a teacher, so she’s probably a bookworm.” Then when you get to know the person, you find out that the CPA rides a Harley and the teacher plays roller derby. “The Summoner” wasn’t written to be a stand-alone novel—it’s a gateway to a new universe. You’ll learn a lot more about the characters in “The Blood King”—and they learn a lot about themselves. That happens in each of the books, just like it does in real life. So….sure, I read the reviews and the comments. I try to look at them objectively and learn what I can. But no book is going to please everyone. I also think that what a book means to you has as much to do with where you are in your life when you read it as it does with the book itself. I’ve read books at certain points in my life that were transformational, yet when I re-read them years later, they didn’t have the same impact. I’d changed. If a book doesn’t resonate with someone, it may just mean that it’s not the right time in their life for them to be open to it. It doesn’t make it a bad book, it means it’s just not right, right now. On the other hand, it’s a glorious thing when a book does resonate and lights up the sky. I’m thrilled to have made that connection with a lot of readers.

Q: Excellent response :) So on the flipside, “The Summoner” featured excellent pacing, was passionately written, and won a lot of readers for its accessibility, charm and excitement. For you, what do you feel are the keys to writing a great fantasy novel?

Gail: Well, playing off what I just said, I can only tell you what makes the sky light up for me when I read a book—that’s not a universal truth by any means. A great book for me leaves me with a sense of sadness when I’m done because the characters have become real to me. The Harry Potter series did that for me. I’m quite sure, if I were still in middle school, that as a kid I’ve had taken J.K. Rolling up on her invitation to write fan fiction based on the further adventures of Harry and company. The Last Herald Mage series by Mercedes Lackey had the same kind of impact on me. It’s like losing a friend. I like a setting that makes me start asking, “what if?” Action is good, but not at the expense of characters that have depth and meaningful relationships. And I’ve always been partial to an element of romance in my adventure reading. Make no mistake—the adventure is primary. But I think a touch of romance humanizes the characters and creates an emotional dynamic that is often missing in pure adventure books/movies. I also like to get the sense that the author was having a good time, really delighting in his/her world and characters. I think that last piece especially comes across in “The Summoner” from comments I’ve gotten. The world and the characters are very real to me, and I love introducing them to other people. Welcome to my world!

Q: One of the best things about “The Summoner” was the outstanding cover artwork provided by
Michael Komarck who also did the artwork for “The Blood King”. How did you get hooked up with Michael and what do you think of the illustration he did for “The Blood King”?

Gail: I am absolutely thrilled to have Michael as my illustrator. As with the vast majority of traditionally published books, the publisher picks the artist and commissions the art. I never saw either piece until they were finished—in fact, I had no communication at all with Michael until the cover was done with “The Summoner”. I did get asked to supply the descriptions for the cover characters on “Dark Haven” and book four. I think Michael’s art is fantastic. And as a new author with a new imprint, I am humbly aware of just how much a great cover contributes to people picking up the book. When you’re Stephen King, you can have an all-black cover and the book will sell. When no one’s ever heard of you before, you’d better have an awesome cover!

Q: While “The Blood King” completes the story arc that began in “The Summoner”, you’re already hard at work on book number three which is set in the same world and you hope to have the manuscript done by spring 2008. Is there anything you can tell us about book three and the next story arc?

Gail: The title for book three is “Dark Haven” (at least for now—who knows?). So it will deal much more with the vayash moru, but it will also deal with the ramifications of Jared’s reign in Margolan and throughout the Winter Kingdoms. There are moments in history after which nothing is ever the same. In those moments, the world as we know it becomes fragile, and with a nudge that might have at other times had minimal impact, the whole house of cards falls. What happens in “The Summoner” and “The Blood King” changes things forever. “Dark Haven” is the beginning of dealing with the “day after.” I’m all the way through the first draft of “Dark Haven”, and working on the clean up.

Q: In another interview you mentioned that you’ve given
Solaris eight or nine different story arcs and that you “hope to be playing in this sandbox for a long time.” What is it about the Winter Kingdoms that compels you to keep returning to the world and writing novel after novel?

Gail: The characters and the world are very real to me. They’ve been with me, knocking around in my brain, long enough that I know them very well. So I’m emotionally committed to telling their stories. I guess it only stands to reason that when I get to build the world, it’s full of things that fascinate me—magic, ghosts, vampires, haunted houses. I’ve loved this stuff for as long as I can remember. So for me, it’s like making my own theme park—I get to design the rides and then ride them!

Q: Aside from the many different Chronicles you have in mind, do you have any other story ideas that you’d one day like to write and could possibly talk about?

Gail: In my “day job,” I do a lot of writing. I’ve got one e-book out on marketing tips and I’m working on several other e-books on marketing, some in collaboration and some on my own. I do have a couple more “mainstream” books in development. One is in draft and one is in outline. They’re stories that mean a great deal to me, but it’s not the right time to tell them. Because of that, I can’t really give you more details. They might be my Oprah books! :)

Q: What about trying your hand at a different medium like a movie or television script, comic books, videogames, et cetera?

Gail: In my marketing world, I’ve written menus, video scripts, phone message responses, annual reports—you name it. So I’m pretty adaptable. I’m not overly driven to explore other aspects in fiction right now, but maybe the day will come. I think it could be fun. I’m certainly open to opportunities.

Q: Speaking of which, has anyone approached you about adapting the Chronicles of the Necromancer?

Gail: Not yet, but who knows?

Q: How would you adapt “The Summoner/The Blood King”?

Gail: I think it could be fun to do the books as manga, and as a Japanese anime video. I am just in awe of the art of manga/anime when it’s done well. Tris has the hair for it. :)

Q: That would be interesting :) So in speculative fiction, authors, especially female writers, seem to get little respect from the more ‘literary’ side of fiction. Have you had to deal with any such problems and what are your thoughts on the subject?

Gail: I came up through corporate America in the 1980s, so being a woman in an all-guys club really doesn’t faze me. I think fantasy has generally been more welcoming to female authors than hard SF, probably because most hard SF writers came from engineering and the physical sciences, which until very recently tended to be all guys. That’s changing, and it’s probably also going to change the SF genre. It’s always nice to win awards and get glowing reviews, but they’re not the reasons I write. I write because I’m in love with the stories. To worry about respect from the literary side of fiction would mean that I’ve ceded them authority to decide categorically what a book is worth. I think they’re entitled to their opinions, but it doesn’t make their opinions unequivocal truth.

Q: Are there any preconceived notions that you’d like to dispel about being a female speculative fiction author?

Gail: Like what? I guess I don’t have any particular notions about female speculative writers, so I’m not really sure what you’re asking. I think that in the U.S. particularly, and probably elsewhere, there is a huge ambivalence about what women are supposed to be, especially intelligent women. There’s the Ugly Betty/Velma Dinkley stereotype, with a culture that pays way more attention to what women wear than to what they contribute. I grew up with some extremely limiting stereotypes about what would happen to women who succeeded too much, earned too much, got too much education, were different or spoke out. Fortunately, I got over them. So if you’re politely asking am I “normal”—yeah, as much as I choose to be. Married, three kids, pets, house in the suburbs, respectable day job, PTA member, soccer mom. Why wouldn’t I be?

I have run into more stereotypes about fantasy writers in general than about fantasy + gender. There are some people who oddly believe that if you write about something you must actually be like that in real life, which would make every crime writer a cop or a murderer. There are folks who will make amazing assumptions about your religious beliefs (or lack thereof) and the status of your immortal soul. Oh well. And there’s our culture, which thinks it’s way more cool to be able to throw a football than to write a book. I did a radio interview last year and the host kept trying to get me to talk about how “weird” SF conventions were. I asked him if he’d ever been to a Big Ten college football game or a NASCAR race—the frizzy wigs, the body paint, the costumes, the tailgate craziness. It would be nice if we’d let people have fun in their own way without needing to judge.

Q: Sorry I wasn’t more clear about the question, but I think you handled yourself very well :) Moving on, last year was tough for writers of speculative fiction. Several authors passed away including Robert Jordan, Madeline L’Engle, Lloyd Alexander, Leigh Eddings, Fred Saberhagen, Alice Borchardt, and Kurt Vonnegut Jr. while Terry Pratchett was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. As a fan of the genre, did any of this affect you and is there anything you would like to say?

Gail: It’s always sad when there’s an end of an era. Writers speak out of the times in which they live, and their passing is a signal that the times have passed as well. Writers have a greater degree of immortality than most people, because their voices live on in their work. They’re never really gone. On the other hand, there are new writers finding their voice, and they’ll speak of this time, our time. Those iconic writers were once new writers, too. Some of today’s new writers will eventually become icons. As Bruce Springsteen says, “If you’re not busy being born, you can feel the dyin’.” I think we honor the legacy of the past when we build on what they’ve left for us and steer it to new and exciting places.

Q: Looking back on 2007, what would you say was the highlight of the year for you?

Gail: Walking into a bookstore and finding my book on the shelf for the first time was pretty much as good as it gets.

Q: Lastly, what are your New Year’s resolutions for 2008?

Gail: To finish “Dark Haven” before I have to turn it in April 1st, and to get a good head start on book four.

NOTE: One question I didn’t ask Gail about in the interview was the concept of death, which plays such an important role in the author’s Chronicles of Necromancer novels. Looking at other interviews, I thought the subject had already been covered pretty thoroughly, but Gail proved me wrong and I just wanted to share what she had to say:

Gail: No one's ever really thrown a hard ball yet on the real questions around Summoning. What we believe about death has an amazing influence on what we believe about life. If we fear death, we will ultimately sell out any values to hold on to life at any cost. The less we believe in something after life, the more mortal toys matter to us. Americans believe death is optional—that if you have enough money or good enough science you won't have to die. Our culture hides death like something shameful—they don't even use a hearse to take a body away, they use an unmarked panel van to avoid depressing the neighbors. We outsource the handling of death to professionals at funeral homes instead of holding the wake at home. (By the way, to counter the old practice of holding the wake in the front-room parlor, clever marketers renamed the room the 'living room.'—no lie). Is death something to be scared of by definition, or just another transition? And if age is a state of mind, why isn't death in the eye of the beholder? Maybe you're only as dead as you feel. My mother told me when she was 80 that she would look in the mirror and wonder who the old lady was, because inside she felt the same as she did when she was 16. Will we look across the room and wonder who the stiff is because we don't feel any different because we're dead?

On a related subject, I love old cemeteries. I have always loved to read the old stones and let them tell me their stories. I read the inscriptions, look at the type of monument and the dates and wonder—who was this person? What did they accomplish? Who loved them? What was their heartbreak? How did they die? Whom did they left behind? Our stories die with us. Sometimes, the clues are tantalizing. In my hometown there is an old cemetery—over 100 years. The rhododendrons are amazing in the late spring. There are six identical headstones for six unrelated teenage girls who all died on the same date back in the early 1900s. I even called the cemetery to find out if anyone knew the story and it's been lost. Was it a fire? An outbreak of disease? A boating accident on a warm summer day? Someday, I'm going to write a story for them.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008

"The Blood King" by Gail Z. Martin

Official Gail Z. Martin Website
Order “The Blood KingHERE
Read Excerpts HERE + HERE
Watch the Book Trailer Video HERE

Last January, Solaris Books debuted with two titles—“The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction” and Gail Z. Martin’sThe Summoner”. Since then, “The Summoner” has gone on to become one of Solaris Books’ most successful releases and the publisher hopes to recapture that magic in 2008 with “The Blood King” (Release Date: January 29, 2008), which completes the story arc that began in Ms. Martin’s debut.

Now for me, I enjoyed reading “The Summoner” despite the fact that it was a highly conventional, family-friendly epic fantasy tale that didn’t really offer anything fresh or thought-provoking which I covered in my review
HERE. That said, the book was entertaining enough that I came back for seconds and “The Blood King” delivered about what I was expecting it to which is one of those good news/bad news scenarios…

The good new is if you were a fan of “The Summoner” then you’re going to like “The Blood King” since it offers more of the same. Meaning, more fast-paced sword-and-sorcery action, more adventure, more ghosts & vampires, more romance, more heroism, more near-death escapes, and more fantasy tropes ;) Specifically, the story picks up one day after the end of “The Summoner” and starts with Martris Drayke and friends as they put together a plan to overthrow Tris’ evil half-brother Jared the Usurper, regain the throne of Margolan, and stop the fire mage Foor Arontala from raising the Obsidian King. Basically, the plan consists of Tris mastering his Summoner skills with the help of the Sisterhood; Ban Soterius raising an army of Margolan refugees and defectors; convincing the vayash moru to help in their cause, and Kiara & Vahanian learning how to rockclimb so they can infiltrate the palace of Shekerishet; all before the rising of the Hawthorne Moon which is when the Obsidian King can be released.

Of this storyline, I personally enjoyed Tris’ training because we get to learn more about a Summoner and their abilities which offered some interesting elements like the Court of Spirits, using ghosts as a weapon, resolving otherwise unsettled conflicts, etc. I also enjoyed meeting the Blood Council and digging a little deeper into the world of the vayash moru, although in reality they are basically just your typical vampires. Regarding other subplots, Vahanian’s history comes back to haunt him in more ways than one, Tris has to deal with the unwanted responsibilities of both his power and a prince, Carina must let go of her past, potential romances blossom, traitors abound as do assassins, and secrets are revealed about Bava K’aa and Tris’ heritage. Along the way, we’ll also run into plenty of old friends as well as some new faces…

While “The Blood King” is essentially cut from the same cloth as “The Summoner”—similar tone, prose, pacing and whatnot—I have to commend Ms. Martin for her improved characterization. Even though the story once again alternates between multiple viewpoints including Tris, Vahanian, Soterius and Carina, the author demonstrates much better balance this time around between all of the POVs while also offering deeper character analyses. Sure, it’s still not anywhere close to the level of Robin Hobb or Jacqueline Carey, but the improvements are noticeable. I’d also like to mention the symmetry between the two books. Where “The Summoner” was mainly about Tris and company escaping from Margolan, “The Blood King” finds the heroes returning on a similar path back to Margolan and the palace of Shekerishet, which is where everything started and where the first story arc concludes. Not groundbreaking I know, but I just thought it was a nice touch :)

Now for the bad news. Essentially, “The Blood King” is just more of the same. As predictable and clichéd as “The Summoner” was, there was at least a lot of potential for Ms. Martin to surprise her readers in “The Blood King”. Unfortunately, the author never breaks away from convention and the novel ended almost exactly the way I thought it would, which was disappointing. Besides that, I just had a few nitpicks. For one, the ‘Battle Trials’ reminded me a lot of Luke Skywalker’s training with Yoda from The Empire Strikes Back. Also, we never actually get to see Tris complete his training. I kept expecting to read about some ‘ultimate challenge’ that Tris had to pass in order to know that he was ready to face Arontala, but instead we were just left hanging in that part of the story. Thirdly, there was a scene that takes place late in the book between Ban and his family, which I found annoying. Mainly, why was he never worried about his family before or didn’t think to use Tris’ power to see how they were doing? Lastly, the tone of the novel was just too light-hearted in areas. I mean, there are some really terrible things happening under Jared’s tyrannical rule which could make for some powerful reading, as well as the dramatic inner struggles that some of the characters are dealing with, but because of the cheery optimism you never really take it seriously…

Overall I had about the same experience reading “The Blood King” as I did “The Summoner”. The book had its issues like Gail Z. Martin’s debut, but the author showed improvement in a couple of areas, and of course it was nice to see the story come to a conclusion even if I knew what was going to happen in advance :) Plus, the next story arc should be interesting, especially if it deals with the vayash moru like the title “Dark Haven” suggests. In short, I’d recommend “The Blood King” to anyone who enjoyed “The Summoner”, but would warn newcomers that the Chronicles of the Necromancer is not for readers who like their fantasy dark, challenging and unpredictable…

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