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Monday, May 31, 2010

GIVEAWAY: Autographed Copy of Necromancer by Michael Scott




In honor of Michael Scott's Blog Tour visit, Fantasy Book Critic is lucky enough to offer 1 autographed copy of The Necromancer by Michael Scott, and a second winner will get a surprise gift.

The Necromancer is the fourth book in the Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flammel series.

THE NECROMANCER picks up with Josh and Sophie Newman finally home in San Francisco, though it’s anything but a relaxing homecoming. The twins are more confused than ever, and Dr. John Dee is still pursuing them. The most disturbing issue they face is whether or not they can trust Nicholas Flamel. Michael Scott’s passion for history and mythology shines as he brilliantly weaves legendary figures into his signature fast-paced plot. Fans of the series will be spellbound as they read of these renowned historical characters on their quest to obtain the last two pages of the coveted Codex—and ultimately save the world.

Rules To Enter Giveaway:

1. This Giveaway is open to the US only. If a friend is willing to accept the book and send it to you that's fine, mailing address must be in the US.

2. Only one entry per person. Duplicate entries will result in all entries being deleted.

3. Send an email with the subject "NECROMANCER" to fbcgiveaway@(NOSPAM)gmail.com (Remember to remove the NO SPAM). Please include your name and mailing address.

4. Giveaway starts at 12:01 PM EST May 31, 2010 and will end at 12:01 PM EST June 8, 2010. All entries sent after the closing date will be deleted.

5. Good luck to all who enter the contest!

Author Guest Blog Post: Michael Scott "An Age of Magic"


Visit Michael Scott's Official Facebook Page Here
Quest for The Codex (learn about the book and enter contests) website Here




Fantasy Book Critic is very excited to be a part of Michael Scott's Blog Tour, in honor of the release of The Necromancer, the fourth book in his series.

Michael Scott is the author of the popular YA series, The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flammel. This internationally-known series introduces readers to legendary historical and mythological figures—weaving history, mystery and magic together seamlessly. Foreign rights for the series have been licensed in 36 countries and the first three books, The Alchemyst, The Magician, and The Sorceress, were all New York Times bestsellers. The series has now sold more than 1 million copies.

For more information on The Necromancer, the whole series, to play a fun game and to enter a fun contest visit Michael Scott's website for the book here.

If you enjoy what Michael Scott has to say here, he will be visiting two other blogs on his blog tour. He will be at Mundie Moms on June 1st and Cleaverly Inked on June 2nd.


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An Age of Magic by Michael Scott

Have you ever stopped to consider that we are living in an age of magic?

In the early 1960’s, Arthur C Clarke, the great science fiction writer wrote, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from Magic…”

Think about it for a moment, and now consider the world we live in: we are surrounded by “magic”. Every day we use and take for granted technology that would have been incomprehensible to our parents, inconceivable to our grandparents and unimaginable to our great-grandparents.

In myth, legend and fantasy, magicians generate light: we can do that. They can talk to their minions in crystal balls and glass mirrors – we can do that too. Wizards have access to vast bodies of ancient lore – we have that too. And we can fly too. Sadly, we can also destroy the world – just like every dark magician.

Technology. Magic.

Every day, we access entire libraries of knowledge. When I was growing up, an Encyclopedia Britannica occupied four shelves of the bookcase. It was out of date the moment it arrived, each book was printed in a tiny eye-watering font and reading it took a genuine effort. Now, the encyclopedia comes on a single DVD and is filled with animations, pictures, online links and is updated regularly.

In my pocket I have a 120 gigabyte mp3 player. It holds about 30,000 songs or 25,000 photos. The first gramophone discs were10 inches across and made of brittle shellac. They were heavy, delicate and could only be played on cumbersome players. Even when the size was standardized in the 1940’s, single discs (usually with only two or three songs on them) had a seven inch diameter. So I have the equivalent of 10,000 single discs on in my pocket. Today, we all have the ability to listen to more music in a single day than our parents would have heard in their entire lifetimes.

We communicate with people on the other side of the world instantaneously, send and receive files in real time and see images across the world, from the moon, the depths of the ocean.

The latest generation of computers are extraordinarily fast and sophisticated, on average doubling in power every 2 years and in truth we have no idea where this technology is taking us.

Diseases which would have killed our grandparents have, in many cases, been conquered. The advances in medicine are truly magical.

Magic hasn’t gone away, it just rebranded itself. And yet, we take all of this magic – sorry, advanced technology – for granted. And that is such a shame.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Spotlight on June Books

This month Robert Thompson provided most of the book titles with additions by Cindy Hannikman, Liviu Suciu and Mihir Wanchoo. We are featuring 54 books. This month there were considerably more new sff releases but we tried to limit ourselves to a reasonable number and we chose the books most in tune with what's reviewed here.

The release dates are US unless marked otherwise and the books are first edition unless noted differently. The dates are on a best known basis so they are not guaranteed; same about the edition information. Since information sometimes is out of date even in the Amazon/Book Depository links we use for listings, books get delayed or sometimes even released earlier, we would truly appreciate if you would send us an email about any listing with incorrect information.

Sometimes a cover image is not available at the time of the post and also sometimes covers change unexpectedly so while we generally use the Amazon one when available and cross check with Google Images, the ultimate bookstore cover may be different.

*******************************************************
"Tomb of the Fathers" by Eleanor Arnason, Release Date: June 1, 2010.
“Who Fears Death” by Nnedi Okorafor. Release Date: June 1, 2010.
“Is Anybody Out There?” edited by Nick Gevers & Marty Halpern. June 1, 2010.
“Distant Thunders” by Taylor Anderson. Release Date: June 1, 2010.
“Lightborn” by Alison Sinclair. Release Date: June 1, 2010.
“The Time Weaver” by Shana Abe. Release Date: June 1, 2010.

*******************************************************“Redemption in Indigo” by Karen Lord. Release Date: June 1, 2010.
“The Shadow Hunt” by Katherine Langrish. Release Date: June 1, 2010.
Stone Spring” by Stephen Baxter. UK Release Date: June 3, 2010.
“The Queen of Sinister” by Mark Chadbourn. Release Date: June 3, 2010 (US Debut).
“The Office of Shadow” by Matthew Sturges. Release Date: June 3, 2010.
“City of Ruin” by Mark Charan Newton. UK Release Date: June 4, 2010.

*******************************************************“Procession of the Dead” by Darren Shan. Release Date: June 4, 2010 (US Debut).
“Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl” by Daniel Pinkwater. Release Date: June 7, 2010. “Moonshadow: Rise of the Ninja” by Simon Higgins. Release Date: June 7, 2010.
“The Passage” by Justin Cronin. Release Date: June 8, 2010.
“Metatropolis” edited by John Scalzi. Release Date: June 8, 2010.
“Dragon Soul” by Jaida Jones & Danielle Bennett. Release Date: June 8, 2010.

*******************************************************“Dog Blood” by David Moody. Release Date: June 8, 2010.
“Shadow’s Son” by Jon Sprunk. Release Date: June 8, 2010.
“Book of Shadows” by Alexandra Sokoloff. Release Date: June 8, 2010.
“The Double Human” by James O'Neal. Release Date: June 8, 2010.
“The Bloodstained Man” by Christopher Rowley. Release Date: June 8, 2010.
“Close Contact” by Katherine Allred. Release Date: June 8, 2010.

*******************************************************“The Anvil of the World” by Kage Baker. Release Date: June 8, 2010 (Reprint).
“So Cold the River” by Michael Koryta. Release Date: June 9, 2010.
“Magic Below Stairs” by Caroline Stevermer. Release Date: June 10, 2010.
"The Blood of Alexandria" by Richard Blake. UK Release Date: June 10, 2010.
“Naamah’s Curse” by Jacqueline Carey. Release Date: June 14, 2010.
"Spies of the Balkans" by Alan Furst. Release Date: June 15, 2010.

*******************************************************“Stories” edited by Neil Gaiman & Al Sarrantonio. Release Date: June 15, 2010.
“The Left Hand of God” by Paul Hoffman. Release Date: June 15, 2010 (US Debut).
“Lost Souls” by Dean Koontz. Release Date: June 15, 2010.
“Lanceheim” by Tim Davys. Release Date: June 15, 2010.
“Zendegi” by Greg Egan. Release Date: June 15, 2010.
“Crossing Over” by Anna Kendall. UK Release Date: June 17, 2010.

*******************************************************“Veteran” by Gavin Smith. UK Release Date: June 17, 2010.
“Blood and Iron” by Tony Ballantyne. UK Release Date: June 18, 2010.
“Blonde Bombshell” by Tom Holt. Release Date: June 18, 2010.
“Swords & Dark Magic” edited by Jonathan Strahan & Lou Anders. June 22, 2010.
“Mission of Honor” by David Weber. Release Date: June 22, 2010.
“The Palace of Impossible Dreams” by Jennifer Fallon. Release Date: June 22, 2010.

*******************************************************“The Map of All Things” by Kevin J. Anderson. Release Date: June 22, 2010.
“The Omega Point” by Whitley Strieber. Release Date: June 22, 2010.
“Ancestor” by Scott Sigler. Release Date: June 22, 2010.
“Nomansland” by Lesley Hauge. Release Date: June 22, 2010.
“13 To Life” by Shannon Delany. Release Date: June 22, 2010.
“Kraken” by China Mieville. Release Date: June 29, 2010 (US debut).

*******************************************************"The Thousands Autumns of Jacob de Zoet" by David Mitchell. June 29, 2010 (US debut).
Nights of Villjamur” by Mark Charan Newton. Release Date: June 29, 2010 (US Debut).
“The King’s Bastard” by Rowena Cory Daniells. Release Date: June 29, 2010.
“Wizard Squared” by K.E. Mills. Release Date: June 29, 2010.
“Imaginalis” by J.M. DeMatteis. Release Date: June 29, 2010.
The Web of Titan” by Dom Testa. Release Date: June 29, 2010.
Saturday, May 29, 2010

"Monster Slayers" by Lukas Ritter (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)


Visit Jeff Sampson's Official Site Here
The companion game for Monster Slayers Here
Order Monster Slayers from Amazon Here


Introduction: Monster Slayers is a companion novel to A Practical Guide to Monsters, which was a New York Times Bestseller. When I heard that there was a companion novel to the widely popular Practical Guide books by Mirrorstone, I was interested to see how it would work out. What was produced was an amazing, action packed children's story. Lukus Ritter is the pen name for Jeff Sampson.

Overview: Evin has always dreamed of being a hero. He practices with his sword and has imaginary quests in which he in the end is the hero. One day while he and his friend, Jorick are out, the village is burn to the ground and the villagers are kidnapped by a gang of dog monsters. It is up to Evin and Jorick to find where the villagers have been taken and try and free all the villagers.

While hunting for clues, the two young boys are sent to a wizards tower in hopes of finding an ancient wizard who can help guide them and teach them what they need to know about monsters. Instead, Evin and Jorick meet a young elf wizard named Betilivatis. Betilvatis has studied the ancient book, A Practical Guide to Monsters, and is willing to help the two find the villagers and defeat the monsters that have attacked their town.

The three adventurers track through a world filled with various monsters in order to try and find the villagers. It quickly appears to Evin that not everything is as it seems. Can Betilvatis be trusted? Why does it appear that the only think Evin does remember is the kidnapping and the villagers and nothing before that? Something bigger is going on in the world that Evin knows.

Format: Monster Slayers is a children's fantasy/adventure novel. It is a companion novel to the A Practical Guide To Monsters, but that does not have to be read or even looked at to enjoy the story. It stands at 256 pages. It was published by Mirrorstone on May 11, 2010.

Analysis: Monster Slayers has everything that a children's novel could want. It's packed with lots of quick action sequences, and interesting monsters that will attract younger readers. It's always great to find children's books that encourage children to read, especially boys, and Monster Slayers, is that book.

The characters involved in Monster Slayers are those that will appeal to younger readers. The personalities behind the characters aren't overly complex, the bad guys are pretty bad, and the heroes are heroes. There is the typical hot headed side kick, and the helpful wise elf. Throughout the novel the characters grow enough to engage the younger readers, but adults will quickly find that the characters are bit predictable in actions and dialogue. Though to children I don't think they'd even notice this aspect.

The pace of the book is fairly quick. The chapters are really short and easy to manage for children. It wouldn't be overwhelming or too long for a child. This novel is just the right length.

There is a bit of a plot twist that happened about 3/4th of the way through the book. It was a unique twist for a children's story, and I don't believe even the adults would have guessed what would have happened.

Monster Slayers is very much a children's book. Those that can appreciate a good children's story will enjoy this, but it is clearly intended for a younger audience. However, for the audience that it is intended for this is an amazing book. There are sword fighting action, and monster appearances that will attract any fantasy reader. It's really an amazing way to introduce children to fantasy books. This book is very similar to the style of the Forgotten Realms or Dragonlance books only for an audience of 8-10 year olds. I can easily see these books sparking interest in those book in later years, and can be used as a stepping stone to those books in later years.

Overall, I enjoyed Monster Slayers when looking at it for what it is intended, a children's fantasy/action adventure novel. Those looking for a fun novel for children will enjoy reading along with the kids.

NOTE: There is a very fun companion game to this novel (Found Here), which I tried out. It promotes math skills, writing and team work. It's a very similar game to Dungeon and Dragons only it isn't as complex and can be really really fun! I really believe this is an amazing way to get kids involved with a game that many fantasy fans at one point loved (or still love) to play! The companion game is free to download and just requires a printer and scissors. I really enjoy where Wizards of the Coast for Young Readers is taking this. It inspires reading, and the game is educational in a very fun way.

Friday, May 28, 2010

"Shadow's Son" by Jon Sprunk (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu and Cindy Hannikman)


Official Jon Sprunk Website
Order Shadow's Son HERE

INTRODUCTION
:"In the holy city of Othir, treachery and corruption lurk at the end of every street, just the place for a freelance assassin with no loyalties and few scruples. Caim makes his living on the edge of a blade, but when a routine job goes south, he is thrust into the middle of an insidious plot. Pitted against crooked lawmen, rival killers, and sorcery from the Other Side, his only allies are Josephine, the socialite daughter of his last victim, and Kit, a guardian spirit no one else can see. But in this fight for his life, Caim only trusts his knives and his instincts, but they won’t be enough when his quest for justice leads him from Othir’s hazardous back alleys to its shining corridors of power. To unmask a conspiracy at the heart of the empire, he must claim his birthright as the Shadow’s Son…"

There was something intrinsically appealing about the blurb above that made me include it in my
Anticipated 2010 Books Post as well as giving it a high priority as reading order goes. On opening it, I got hooked from the first paragraphs below and I read it non-stop in one sitting since it's a fast, page turning novel.

FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: "Shadow's Son" stands at close to 300 pages divided into thirty two numbered chapters and follows mostly Caim and Josephine. The setup is a traditionally corrupt Imperial capital, though now there is a religious Council leading the state after the last Emperor's overthrow. There is dark magic and suitably menacing practitioners of such, as well as Kit a mysterious "guardian" spirit of Caim's who tends to be just a bit peeved when Caim manifests any interest in a girl.

Trusted but strange boss, rivals, enemies, unlikely allies and quite a few other tropes of adventure fantasy starring a killer for hire as main lead - we encounter all in "Shadow's Son" which is a series debut that manages to stand above the crowd by its superb execution.

ANALYSIS: Liviu:
"A killer stalked in the shadows. Hidden within the gloom shrouding the hall’s lofty ceiling, he crept across the rafters to the flicker of the torch fires below. As unseen as the wind, silent as Death itself.
Festive music rose from the chamber beneath him.

The flower of northern Nimea, two hundred lords and ladies, filled the great hall of Ostergoth Keep. The sharp crack of a whip cut through the din. The centerpiece of the evening was an aged hillman, stripped to the waist and bound to a wooden frame. Livid welts oozing blood crisscrossed his shoulders and back. While Duke Reinard’s guests gorged on fine victuals, his torturer performed for their entertainment."


The first lines of the novel should give you a clear taste of its style since for me they were the kind that get and keep me reading without being able to put the book down unless I really must. And
"Shadow's Son" continues in this addictive way till the end without letting the pace slack even for a moment. While there is nothing extremely original about the world building, plot or action sequences, that does not matter since the execution is pitch perfect: the city of Othir comes to life, the plot is carefully conceived and carried out to its conclusion, while Caim's violent encounters seem vivid and easy to imagine.

There is no particular subtlety in most of the characters either - the villains are villainous so to speak and for some there is a bit over the top "Caim seemingly kills them again and again" only to reappear again and again, while the twists and turns are mostly predictable once you get in the flow of the novel, but
"Shadow's Son" is written so well that nothing else really mattered for me. Caim and Josephine are characters you get to care and root for easily and that was another major part of my enjoyment of the book.

"Shadow's Son" concludes its main thread and can be read as a standalone, while of course the hook for the next installment is set. An A+ for the style and the series became another get/read asap, confirming for once the "good vibes" I had from the original announcement.

Cindy:

Shadow's Son is attention grabbing, fast paced, and an overall stand out fantasy novel.

From the moment I picked up the book it was virtually impossible to put down.
The writing and set up of the novel/chapters really played major factors in keeping this a fast paced novel.

The novel is set up at just about 300 pages and it's a perfect novel to keep any readers attention. Jon Sprunk knows just how to describe a scene, character interaction, or important plot element without dragging it out. There is certainly no fluff element in this novel. There is enough description to give a reader an idea of what the world and characters are but there is no time wasted with detailing every single element in this novel.

Another benefit of the set up of the novel is the set up of the chapters. Each chapter is a reasonable length, while ending on a note that made me want to read more.
I found myself engrossed enough that before I knew it I had read 4-5 chapters, it really was impossible to put down.

All characters involved with Shadow's Son are amazingly detailed and enjoyable. They really strike a cord with a reader and Sprunk's writing causes readers to want to enjoy and know what is happening to the readers. For myself, while I enjoyed both Caim and Josephine, the character that I really loved was Kit, and would love to see more of her in future novels.

The fight scenes that are present within Shadow's Son are detailed and action packed without being too detailed or overly long. They appeared at just the right time to amp up my enthusiasm in the book and weren't overly done for effect.

Shadow's Son takes fantasy to it's original roots with a great storyline, quick paced plot flow, some really great fight scenes and enjoyable characters. While there isn't anything overly complex, as in readers aren't going to find overly detailed magic, intricate political systems, and a million different cities to understand, there is an element that this is an amazing fantasy novel with.

Jon Sprunk shows that not all fantasy novels need to be doorstoppers to be good. Shadow's Son is easily one of my favorite books of 2010 and I look forward to seeing what Sprunk can add to this trilogy.
Thursday, May 27, 2010

"Tooth and Nail" by Craig DiLouie (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Read a chapter excerpt here
Visit the Official Site for Tooth and Nail here
Order Tooth and Nail from Amazon here


AUTHOR INFORMATION: Craig DiLouie is the author of four nonfiction and three fiction books. He is a freelance marketing consultant and technical writer living in Calgary, Alberta.

PLOT SUMMARY: As a new plague related to the rabies virus infects millions of people, America recalls its military forces from around the world to safeguard hospitals and other vital buildings. Many of the victims become rabid and violent but are easily controlled-that is, until so many are infected that they begin to run amok, spreading slaughter and disease. They are the Mad dogs and are leaving civilization in tatters.

Lieutenant Todd Bowman got his unit through the horrors of combat in Iraq. Now he must lead his men across New York through a storm of violence to secure a research facility that may hold a cure. To succeed in this mission to help save what's left of society, the men of Second Platoon will face a terrifying battle of survival against the very people they have sworn to protect-people turned into a fearless, endless horde armed solely with tooth and nail.
FORMAT/INFO: Tooth and Nail is 247 pages divided into twelve chapters. Narration is via Third person and features many characters chiefly being Todd Bowman, Dr. Valeriya Petrova, PFC John Mooney, Sergeant Ruiz and many others. This book has a self-contained plot line.

April 1, 2010 marks the Trade paperback publication of Tooth and Nail via Schmidt Haus Books.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS:
Tooth and Nail from its blurb quintessentially seems to be a zombie military novel and whilst I went in with those thoughts, the actual book turned out to be a bit more than that.


For one the zombies in this book are scientifically explained. It turns out that something called Mad Dog or Lyssavirus is infecting people in the United States of America and turning them into slobbering angry creatures whose sole instinct/purpose is to bite and eat the other non-infected people. Such is the tremendous assault of the virus that the government has recalled all of its troops from all of its foreign bases and one such group is the second platoon which has been stationed in New York City in one of the interim Mad dog patient hospital camps.

The tale beings by introducing us to Private Mooney who is being acclimatized to this sudden trip home. However home (NYC) seems to be more different than he can remember. The novel then shows the various scenarios of all the characters as they see the people infected with the virus and also some of the more violent confrontations they have with the Mad Dogs.

Thus begins the story as the second platoon receives word about Dr. Valeriya Petrova who seems to have made a breakthrough with the virus and has created a pure sample which can be utilized to create a vaccine. However the lab which she is working in is locked out and is surrounded by Mad dogs both within and without. The journey begins when the soldiers of the second platoon which will see them go through various horrors in order to get Dr. Petrova and the possible cure.

There were a couple of issues that arose during my reading of this novel. Primarily being that the author has written this book with constant POV switches in between lines and paragraphs. This broke up the flow of the story because I was following a certain character it would switch to someone else and then back again and this goes on through out the entire book. This was not only confusing but made it hard for me to follow the story and what character was doing what. This style distracted me enough to prevent me from enjoying the story properly.

Secondly the story didn’t have a proper conclusion. It picks from this vantage point wherein the virus has already spread and infected large numbers of people and then ends on another point just after they reach Dr. Petrova but the reader will only be able to fill in as to what might have happened next from his/her imagination.

Tooth and Nail isn't all filled with issues, there are plenty of positives of the novel. This story is very gritty and gruesome as it is told from the eyes of the soldiers in the front and it pulls no punches as the reader sees the fear, the tension and the all pervasive feeling of doom. This reminded me a bit about Glen Cook’s Black company books if they ever had a zombie problem. The book is very realistic in its approach to the life of the foot soldier and kudos must be given to the author for revealing it to be such. The body count is also high as no character is truly safe as would be the case in a real-life scenario.

In the end I can say that while this book was a good one, the plot and structural issues threw me a bit off and therefore did not allow me to enjoy the book as much as I could have imagined. Check this one if you are a fan of Glen Cook’s Black Company books or you like gritty military zombie fiction.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Interview with Phillip Margolin Author of Supreme Justice


Visit Phillip Margolin's Official Website Here


Phillip Margolin is an ex-criminal defense attorney from the New York School of Law. He has had nearly a quarter century of experience working as defense attorney in Portland, Oregon and has all sorts of criminal cases appear before the United States Supreme Court, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, The Oregon Supreme Court and The Oregon Court of Appeals. He was the first Oregon attorney to use the Battered Women's Syndrome to defend a abused woman. Two of his books and a short story have been made into movies.

He is the author of Supreme Justice (Read FBC's review here) and Executive Privilege, along with a dozen other novels and short stories. All of his novels have been New York Times Best Sellers.

Fantasy Book Critic's Mihir Wanchoo was lucky enough to conduct an interview with Phillip Margolin.

A big thank you goes out to Phillip Margolin for taking the time to answer our questions.

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You debuted in 1978 with the publication of Heartstone. It’s been nearly 22 years since then. How do you view this journey from the debut up until now?

The journey has been bizarre, unexpected and thoroughly enjoyable. I wrote my first novel, Heartstone in 1978 and had some minor success when it was nominated for an Edgar Award. My second book, The Last Innocent Man was published in 1981, but I didn’t publish my third for 12 years. In between I did have a movie made of The Last Innocent Man and got a chance to be in it, so that was very exciting. When I finished writing my third book, Gone, But Not Forgotten I had very modest expectations. I was just hoping that my agent could find a publisher for it. The next thing I knew it was an international bestseller and it had been on the New York Times Bestseller List for 10 weeks, getting as high as number 3. All of a sudden I was a bestselling author. Since then every one of my books has been a New York Times bestseller, including my first two when they were reissued as a paperback. I never thought that I would get published, let alone have the type of success I have had with 14 bestselling novels.

What point of time during your professional career did you decide to become a writer? What made you choose to write in the thriller/mystery genre?

I decided to become a professional writer when my third book became a bestseller. Before then, writing had just simply been a hobby. My main interest in life had always been being a criminal defense lawyer and I was very happy doing that. The choice of thriller/mystery genre partially came from the type of books that I like to read and have been reading since I was in elementary school – Perry Mason mysteries, Ellery Queen mysteries. Also I was a criminal defense lawyer for 25 years, so they say write what you know and I handled 30 homicide cases, including several death penalty cases and argued in front of the Supreme Court so I have a wealth of background that helps me make my books believable.

All your stories have been set in Portland, Oregon, is there a particular reason for it to be so. What is particularly fascinating about this city?

The city in my personal opinion is the best place in the United States to live. It is beautiful, it is sophisticated, it is really easy to get around; so why not set my books in the city. Also, by setting it in my hometown, I don’t have to do a lot of research, I can just look outside the window if I want to set a scene.

Supreme Justice will be releasing this month and it features the same cast as Executive Privilege. What made you take this step as previously the only sequels you had done were the Amanda Jaffe series. Can this book be read as a stand alone or should the readers acquaint themselves with Executive Privilege first?

I did a sequel to Executive Privilege, which was intended to be a stand alone, because I loved the characters and it made sense to follow Brad to the U.S. Supreme Court which is where Supreme Justice is set. Also I had never written a sequel. The Amanda/Frank Jaffe novels feature the same characters, but they don’t necessarily go in order and they can be read alone. Supreme Justice can be read without reading Executive Privilege, but it will be more fun for the reader to read Executive Privilege first because it gives a little bit more background about what happened to the characters before Supreme Justice starts. Supreme Justice starts roughly six months after Executive Privilege ends.

To any reader who hasn’t read one of your books, what would you say to them to give one of your books a try?

I love to read thrillers and mysteries and love to get fooled, I like books where there are twists and turns and surprises. I try to keep my books moving at 100 miles per hour from start to finish and the books are loaded with surprises. They all have surprise endings that hopefully fool the reader, so the readers have the fun of trying to figure out whodunit. But in addition to that I try to put into the books moral and ethical problems for my main characters and I think it’s fun for my readers to try to figure out what they would do if they were an attorney faced with this moral dilemma. So the books combine non-stop action, credible characters, lots of twists and turns, a surprise ending and then the added bonus of the ethical and moral dilemmas that I give to my characters.

Who are your favorite characters from your books and why?

My favorite heroine is Betsy Tannenbaum from Gone, But Not Forgotten because she is modeled after my wife who passed away in 2007. When I was writing the book I had never written a book with a main character who was a female and it made me really nervous because I wasn’t sure I could write a convincing female character that would carry an entire book. So I thought to myself, who is the toughest guy you know. Betsy’s a lawyer and my wife was an attorney and very attractive and very smart so I thought I’ll just imagine Doreen in every scene that Betsy is in and just try to write the scene the way I think she would react if she was in it. I think about Doreen whenever I reread the book and Betsy is a pretty compelling, pretty strong female character.

I also like Amanda and Frank Jaffe from the Jaffe novels. It’s fun to write about a father/daughter criminal defense team. My favorite bad guy has got to be Martin Darius from Gone, But Not Forgotten. He is a very, very creepy, scary character and I have a little bit of affection for Martin Breach too, the psychopathic crime lord who appears occasionally in the Jaffe books. I shouldn’t leave out Dana Cutler and Brad Miller who are in Executive Privilege and Supreme Justice. Dana is tough as nails, a former policewoman, she is very comfortable with a gun. She can be very violent and she is very bright, very smart. Brad Miller is sort of the opposite. He is an average joe who keeps on getting thrust into these national cases involving Presidents who might be serial killers and assassination attempts on Supreme Court Justices so he is totally unfit to deal with action situations. Dana is the flip side she is sort of an action junky.

What are your influences—in thrillers, in mystery and in the so-called mainstream literature – and who are the authors that have influenced you the most?

I actually don’t have any influences per se. I write my own style and I never try to imitate anyone. But I did grow up with Earl Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason books. That was my inspiration to go to law school and practice criminal law. The influence that Ellery Queen had on me and later Ross McDonald is that they had books that had clues in them and if you could figure out the clues, you can solve the mystery. Not all of my books can be solved with clues, but many of them do have a clue seeded somewhere in the book that would help you figure out who actually did it. So I guess in thrillers and mysteries I’d say Ellery Queen and Earl Stanley Gardner, the Perry Mason and Ellery Queen mysteries which I started reading in elementary school.
Among your books, The Last Innocent Man and Gone, But Not Forgotten were made into an HBO film and TV series respectively. What was your involvement in both the projects and also your thoughts on Angie’s Delight which was made into a short film?

With Angie’s Delight, I thought they did a great job. It’s on my website you can actually see it. I’ve only written four short stories. I have a hard time writing them and I thought they did a terrific job turning the short story into a little film. I had no involvement whatsoever in Gone, But Not Forgotten. I think it’s a pretty good movie. I give it a B+. There are some things I would have changed or done a little different, but basically I thought they did a very strong job with it, but I really had no involvement. The Last Innocent Man I had a lot of involvement. I was in it. I had two lines. I was the jury foreman in the big murder case. I was consulted on the trial scenes and anything to do with the lawyer. I got to take Ed Harris, the star, over to my law office and talk to him a little bit about what defense lawyers do. So it was a wonderful experience. The producer let me listen to the sound equipment. I was involved with some story conferences. I got a chance to see Dailies. I was always welcome on the set even when they weren’t filming something I was in. So I would say The Last Innocent Man, and Ron Silverman, the producer and Ed Harris, the cast were very nice to me, Roger Spottiswoode, the director was great. That was just a fabulous experience.

Your first book was published in 1978, the second one in 1981 and the third one in 1993. However after 1993 you have written books every 1-2 years. What was the reason for such vast periods between each of the earlier three books and a visible difference in the latter period.

I always wanted to be a criminal defense lawyer not a writer. I never thought I could be a writer and Heartstone was published by sort of a fluke and then The Last Innocent Man was published. I was very young, I was in my mid-30’s and the same year in 1978 when Heartstone was published I argued in the United States Supreme Court and in between the publication of my first and second book I started doing major murder cases, I was the first lawyer to use the battered woman’s syndrome to defend a battered wife who killed an abusive spouse. I represented one of the lead defendants in the largest federal drug conspiracy case in Oregon history. So in between the publication of Heartstone and The Last Innocent Man I started doing all of the things that I’d always wanted to do since I started reading those Perry Mason novels. So I just put the writing on the back burner and concentrated on my first love which was the law. Then in 1991 I got an idea at a dinner party for my third book and much to my shock it became an international bestseller. By that time I’d been practicing for 25 years and decided to see what a change in career would be like and started writing full-time in 1996.

You have once stated that “you never start writing until I have figured out who the bad guy is and how the bad guy is caught.” How do you go about the story details with your intricately plotted novels then and could you tell us more about your writing style and daily schedule?

I kept my law office and I come down to my law office at 7:30 in the morning. I’m not practicing anymore. I haven’t practiced since 1996. I get to my office at about 7:30, I do the crossword in the New York Times, get a Grande non-fat caramel latte at the Nordstrom coffee bar, check my emails and then get to work. I usually work until about 10:30 or 11:00 and then workout a couple of times a week and then come back in the afternoon and do some more work on either that or some of the non-profits that I’m involved with. The first thing I do is when I’m plotting out a book is think for as much as it takes me to get some general idea of the plot and characters in my head, but that can be quite a long time. Executive Privilege, I got the idea in 1995, but didn’t start writing until 2005 when I’d figured out the ending. Fugitive, my most recent book before Supreme Justice, I started doing drafts of that in the 1980’s. I didn’t like them, put them away and then came back to them much later. I liked the idea, but the execution back then was pretty bad. So it will sometimes take me many, many years between getting the idea and starting to write. I won’t start to write until I get the ending. I think the ending where you tie up everything is the most important part of a book. Then I do a very extensive outline. My outlines are between 25 and 60 pages and they usually take me a month to three months to write. Once I’ve got the outline written everything is pretty easy, I just take each paragraph and turn it into a chapter and then spend months and months and months rewriting for quality.

The Amanda Jaffe series has a great protagonist but what makes the book even more enticing for me are the side characters that are present in each book, especially the sociopath Martin Breach who has a thing for garish clothes. It is particularly fascinating reading about him. How did the character of Martin Breach develop? How about other side characters? Are these characters influenced by real-life incidents?

With the exception of my wife Doreen who was the inspiration for Betsy Tannenbaum, the characters come out of my sick imagination. I’ll just get the idea for the book and then I’ll start thinking who would be the characters that would work well here. And as I’m thinking about the book more and more and spending all day long on the outline and the plots, characters just sort of pop into my head. So some of my characters look like real people, but their actual characteristics are just stuff that I makeup as I go along.

In The Associate, the main character Daniel Ames was an amalgamation of the names of your children Daniel and Ami? Are there any other characters that you have modeled (loosely or otherwise) upon real-life family or friends?

As I said before, the only one is Betsy Tannenbaum in Gone, But Not Forgotten, who is modeled after my late wife Doreen.

One of my favorite authors, David Gemmell had an interesting take on some of his characters “When authors talk of great characters, what they really mean is easy. Some characters are tough to write. The author has to constantly stop and work out what they will say or do. With the great characters, this problem disappears. Their dialogue flows instantly, their actions likewise. A friend of mine calls them Rick’s Bar characters, from the film Casablanca. Some characters you have to build, like a sculptor carving them from rock. Others just walk out of Rick’s bar fully formed and needing no work at all.” Do you have any such characters that fit the description of Rick’s bar characters as given by David Gemmell?

The question is whether I have any characters that are easy to write. I don’t know how to answer that question because the characters in my books are developed as I write the book. I’m not a character driven writer. I’m a plot driven writer. So as I go through the book I keep on building the characters. They are neither easy nor hard they are just whoever I invent to fill in the spaces where characters are needed in the plot.

On your website you have a section wherein you give your picks in books and movies so which movies have recently impressed you the most? What are you currently reading? What titles and movies are you most looking forward to?

I just finished reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel which won the Booker Prize and I think the New York Book Critics. I thought it was fabulous. It’s about Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII’s attempts to get rid of his wife Katherine who is the Queen of England so that he could make Anne Boleyn his Queen. It’s beautifully written. I found the story really moved. I don’t know a lot about English history so for me a lot of this stuff was pretty new. I saw “The Ghost Writer” recently. I thought that was very good, the new Roman Polanski thriller and I’ve read the book and I thought they did a very good job with the movie.

Have you decided on what you are going to write next and if yes then what could you reveal about your next book at this point?

I’m thinking about working on a sequel to Supreme Justice to complete the Washington D.C. trilogy. Executive Privilege has to do with the executive branch. The question is is the President of the United States a serial killer. At the end of the book Brad gets a job as a Clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court. Supreme Justice is set there. I need to set a book in the Senate to complete the trilogy.

This is a question most writers dislike to answer, but fans are ever more curious to know, you have often given examples of multiple ideas collating into a single plot (e.g. The Associate) or your previous courtroom experiences (e.g. The Burning Man) so could you elaborate on where you get your inspiration for your books?

I give talks on that. The inspiration comes from all over. Heartstone and The Burning Man are both based on real cases. The Burning Man is based on a murder case that I actually tried in the mid-80’s. It is heavily fictionalized as is Heartstone. That is based on a case I was not involved in, but it is a famous Oregon case that I fictionalized. Gone, But Not Forgotten, The Last Innocent Man and some of the other books are based on moral or ethical dilemmas that criminal defense lawyers face. For instance, everyone always asks me how I can represent somebody if I know they are guilty and I used the novel The Last Innocent Man to discuss that issue. Sometimes the inspiration just comes out of thin air. I was walking down the street in Seattle during a book tour when the phrase “the courthouse athletic club” popped into my head and I thought wow that would be a pretty cool title for a book and so I spent a couple of years trying to figure out what a book with that title would be like and it ended up being about a conspiracy between courthouse figures, judges, lawyers and police officers who were involved in a criminal conspiracy. That’s one of the Amanda Jaffe books.

You are also the President and Chairman of the Board of Chess for Success, could you elucidate about your role and your thoughts on chess and the unique role your organization plays in bringing children and chess together?

I’d love to answer that question because my real passion is the Chess for Success program in Portland, Oregon. We are now in 87 Title I elementary schools in 17 school districts in the State of Oregon and we have one or two schools over in Washington so we are in two states now. This program is incredibly successful. We got an award from Portland Monthly as the non-profit that does the most with the least. The reason for that is that the U.S. Congress funded a two year study of our program that was conducted by the Northwest Regional Education Lab, a very well-respected educational testing group and they concluded that 93% of our students who are in the poorest schools and are not supposed to be achieving like this, met or exceeded the math standards compared to 88.6% of children who are in the school, but were not in the program. 91% of our kids met or exceeded the reading standards compared to about 86%. Both of these are statistically significant differences. But what makes the program so unique is that it only costs $75 per child per year. Nationally the average cost of an after school program for one child is $1,000 ours is $75 and that is intentional. We developed a system that really enables us to help these kids academically for very little money and the program doesn’t cost anything to any of these kids. We bear all the cost of this program. What we do is we pay a school teacher at the school to run an after school chess club twice a week. Most of our teachers don’t know a lot about chess so we have lesson plans and in-service training to bring them up to speed. It’s not a chess program. It’s an educational program that uses chess to trick kids into learning study skills. If you play chess properly, you sit with your feet on the floor, you can’t be talking and moving around, you have to focus unemotionally and objectively on the problem on the board which is what move to make next. After a certain number of moves in a game of chess the actual possibilities are astronomical. Now, in real life there are usually only a few possibilities that make sense, but with a lot of kid games like Candy Land or something like that you spin the dial or you throw some dice and you don’t have to think about how many moves to make or where to move. With the game of chess there may be several very viable moves that aren’t necessarily exciting. The benefits may not come until several moves down the line. The child has to sit quietly and think and can’t rush the answer and then he has to recheck his conclusion once he decides what the right move is. Now this is what an elementary school student has to do to read a book with comprehension, solve math problems, take a test successfully, anything that you encounter in school or life that involves problem-solving your chance of getting the right answer goes way up if you sit quietly with your feet on the floor, focus all of your attention on the problem and slowly and methodically go through all of the possibilities. So basically what we are doing is we are using the game of chess to trick kids into learning these very valuable study skills that translate into the classroom.

Thank you very much for your time, in the end the readers would like to know your thoughts on your growth as a writer? What still challenges you? And lastly, what would you like to accomplish as a writer?

I’m totally self-taught. I had one writing class when I was in college. I got a C+ in that. I just started writing because I could never figure out how a person could write 400 pages of anything. So, I basically have been learning on the job. If I didn’t have a lot of terrific, strong editors, my books probably would never have gotten published because I didn’t know what I was doing. And over the years slowly, but surely I started to learn my craft and it hasn’t been easy, but it’s been fun, I love doing it. Writing for me is like the biggest joy in the world. I would like to be a competent writer eventually. I still feel like I don’t know what I’m doing at times. When I was asked to write the sequel to Executive Privilege, I’d never written a sequel before and this is an example. There are three main characters in Executive Privilege. I thought if each one of them was in the book for 60 pages they’d have to be in 60 pages in the sequel. My agent said no, no, no, you can have new characters, you can have some of the people from the first book who aren’t in as much and I said oh, I didn’t know that. It sounds pretty stupid but like I say I didn’t have any formal training and so I’m still learning as I go. One day I would like to feel like okay I got through the whole book and I sort of know what I’m doing so that’s my goal and the other thing is to just keep on writing. I love writing. It is just so much fun. I would like to keep thinking up really neat story ideas that people love to read and just keep on going. There’s no reason to stop while I can still do it.


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

"City of Ruin" by Mark Newton (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Mark C. Newton Website
Read an Extract from City of Ruin
Order City of Ruin
Read FBC Review of Nights of Villjamur
Read FBC Interview with Mark Newton

INTRODUCTION: City of Ruin is the second novel in the Legends of the Red Sun series - currently projected at four volumes - and it follows Nights of Villjamur which I reviewed last year. In that review linked above, I talked at length about the setting of the novel, the essential characteristics of the world created by the author - old, multiple disappeared civilizations, forgotten science as magic, incoming ice age, island based imperial setting so less centralization and homogeneity, several extant races including the main two: humans and the longer lived rumel - as well as about the principal characters, some of whom lead City of Ruin too.

While City of Ruin shifts the action to Villiren which is another important city of the Empire that stands directly into the path of the alien invaders from the first novel, the essential characteristics above remain true, so I will refer everyone to the review above for more details.

As I mentioned in the review of Nights of Villjamur, I had the honor of corresponding with the author for a while and I have received and read a final draft of City of Ruin twice - typos and all, which did not diminish my enjoyment one bit - as well as the final version which I reread at leisure. Also and not really deserving it, I have been honored to be included into the acknowledgments page of the novel, so as usual the objectivity disclaimers apply.

However knowing the author even only through email conversations as here, is always a two-edged-sword. While I expected to really enjoy the highly awaited City of Ruin, I was also apprehensive since there have been enough instances of anticipated books that worked less well for me. Happily City of Ruin exceeded the already high expectations I had mainly because the author started going quite deeply into sense of wonder and new weird territory, while keeping enough of the traditional fantasy modes to ground the novel too.

FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: "City of Ruin" stands at about 470 pages divided into 55 numbered chapters. There is a map of Villiren and a Prologue that starts things on a very intriguing note. Several of the main POV's like Brynd, Jerryd and Randur carry over from Nights of Villjamur, while in Villiren we also meet gang leader Malum, his estranged wife Beami and her former childhood friend Lupus, currently a soldier in the Night Guard detached to defend Villiren under Brynd's command.

There is also an assorted cast of secondary characters like Lutto the Portreeve of Villiren - mayor or governor if you wish, though he is independent of Villjamur to a large extent - assistant investigator Nanzi, Jurro the Dawnir, Villjamur "scientist" Doctor Voland and of course Maryssa, Rika and Eir, with several more that I leave the reader to discover.

Starting essentially where "Nights of Villjamur" ends and with the main thread being the defense of Villiren, "City of Ruin" is in many ways a standalone novel with a clear ending, while of course building more towards the big picture. At the boundary between epic and new weird fantasy, "City of Ruin" (A++) is stranger and with more surprises and twists than "Nights of Villjamur" making me quite eager to see where the author will go next.

ANALYSIS:

"City of Ruin" continued the interlinked multi-pov style of Nights of Villjamur and the transition between characters and threads was smooth and I felt the author got the balance quite well, spending the right amount time in each fragment.

Though I missed a little Randur - and of course Rika and Eir who accompany him in their desperate flight from the usurper - since he was quite a favorite character for me and City of Ruin takes a while to get to him setting the main Villiren story first. But when we get to the travel narrative of the three which is the only part of the novel set outside the city, the wait pays off and that part became another favorite of the novel with twists, turns and sense of wonder galore.

In Villiren proper, the sense of decay, the quiet desperation and the tense wait for the seemingly imminent attack by implacable enemies is presented almost flawlessly and constitutes an amazing piece of world building. While there is a tendency towards extremes in portraying characters like Malum - a sadic bully with an excuse - or the Portreeve - a corrupt, stop-at-nothing and the author really means it, for preserving his personal power and fortune - Brynd, Jeryd and especially Beami counterbalance that well and who knows, as desperate war comes to Villiren there may even be redemption for some.

The novel delves more into the mysteries of the world with more amazing artifacts of power and quite a lot of strangeness. We also get to see the reasons Brynd's Night Guard is the elite military of the Empire. Since total war comes to Villiren and casual brutality is a fact of life in the Empire, do not get overtly fond of anyone since any character, from the main ones to secondary but interesting ones, may die.

City of Ruin also has a rich and diverse content, from romance, including as befits the new weird sub-genre, one of the strangest such, to intrigue, mysteries and of course brutal battles since the title is apt for sure. The novel builds up relentlessly and then in the last hundred pages or so it becomes all "heart-stopping" action, so much so that even after knowing how it ends and I was still enthralled by that sequence. The last chapter has one of the most poignant endings I've read recently while the previous two chapters set up the next installment in the series.

With this novel Mr. Newton shows that Nights of Villjamur was no fluke and he is entering the rank of premier fantasists working today.

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