Last to Rise by Francis Knight – Book Review

Last to Rise by Francis Knight Book Review

Last to Rise CoverFantasy-Noir. That was all I needed to hear before I hit the “buy” button on amazon for this series. Delving into the subgenres of fantasy has been a fun and rewarding experience as I come across books that aren’t the traditional “knight saving a princess.” These books are even, in many cases, leagues better than those types of books. Last to Rise is the end to what has grown to be one of my favorites in recent times. While I’m sad to see it go, Francis Knight ends the book in a picture-perfect way that left me smiling in approval.

The towering vertical city of Mahala is on the brink of war with its neighboring countries. It might be his worst nightmare, but Rojan and the few remaining pain mages have been drafted in to help. The city needs power in whatever form they can get it — and fast. With alchemists readying a prototype electricity generator, and factories producing guns faster than ever, the city’s best advantage is still the mages. Tapping their power is a risky plan, but with food in the city running out, and a battle brimming that no one is ready for, risky is the best they’ve got…

The run down city that built up instead of out, Mahala is one of the hallmarks of the series. Our final installment has us running up and down the many levels, and subsequent social standing, of the city giving us a true look at the current state of the inhabitants as the siege rages on outside. While I know what the author was going for when she introduced the “phantom bacon” smell I was a little put off by the fact that seemingly no one else noticed but Rojan. In a city full of starving people the greasy deliciousness that is bacon should have been more of a thing amongst the populace. I did however enjoy the reveal of what the “phantom bacon” smell actually was though and it was a weird piece that had me grinning with the thought process that must have gone behind it. Little touches like this are where the majority of faults can be found in the book. Each of these are small enough details that they can be overlooked without too much hassle on the part of the reader so they can enjoy the overall story. Most of the characters return in standard form over the course of the story. Pasha remains fiercely devoted to Jake, Lise remains spunky and immersed in developing new tech, and Perak juggles the cardinals and a corrupt government while enemies try to break down the gates. Jake takes a side role and Erlat, the prostitute with a heart for Rojan, takes her place in a spot closer to center stage and keeps the looming threat of the Black from consuming Rojan’s sanity. Rojan returns in fine form for the conclusion. This pessimistic hero constantly faced the impending battle outside the city and never gave up. While this is standard amongst fantasy heroes it shines all the brighter in Last to Rise as the theme of sacrifice plays a heavy role in the book, from the magic system, to the character motivations, to the city itself. Knight is smart to keep her world from falling prey to the idea of redeeming a dystopia. Instead she grounds her finale in a realistic, for the world, ending that left me a little speechless at the end. Pain and sacrifice are very real and very important to a book with pain mages and darkness that looms around Mahala. I’m glad to see Knight stay true to that idea and away from any rainbows and butterflies on the final pages.

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Breach Zone by Myke Cole – Book Review

Breach Zone by Myke Cole
Book Review

BreachZone_Final-1I’m a traditionalist when it comes to my fantasy. I love the idea of knights and castles, djenn and ifrit, even the muskets and magic emerging recently. I never thought I could get into the idea of a military fantasy. Luckily for me Myke Cole came along and changed my mind. Except to call his Shadow Ops series, and the third book Breach Zone, only a military fantasy would be a huge disservice. It’s so much more than that.

It’s a story about love, hard decisions, identity, and so much more. Myke Cole has switched the main protagonist in each book. The perspective shifts to what was once a secondary, or unknown, character, giving a broader scope of the world as it’s seen through fresh eyes. Instead of growing bored with a character the bond can begin anew. I’ve grown connected not to a handful of characters shallowly but a range of characters in depth.

Scylla, the villain of Breach Zone is a tragic character, twisted by circumstance to be the enemy. Control Point and Fortress Frontier made Scylla out to be the worst of the worst. She is a crazed psychopath who uses her power of decay to kill and destroy. Breach Zone gives us another look at this woman, a woman named Grace.

Harlequin, the SOC aeromancer, is our guide through the third book in the Shadow Ops world. Cole has done something special in the structure of this book in giving us two stories, one set in the present the other the past, and interweaving them until they climax at the finale. It’s a tricky move and could’ve easily backfired if the stories weren’t properly balanced. Instead, I thought they were paced exceptionally. Teasing the origins of Grace/Scylla and matching those thoughts to the woman we thought we knew all along while she invades Manhattan.

Breach Zone MapBreach Zone is set almost entirely on the island of Manhattan in New York City and it’s apparent that this is Myke’s home. The Breach to the Source is on Wall St, gangs are hiding out in China Town and Tribeca, and the HQ for the defense is at Battery Park. Each was imagined so faithfully that on a recent visit to NYC, I couldn’t help but picture Gahe, Roc’s and Goblins swarming over the skyscrapers only to do battle with aeromancers and other SOC sorcerers.

Myke Cole was the author that got me to step away from “traditional” fantasy and really explore the subgenres. It’s military fantasy imagined with all the intricacies that come with magic reappearing in a modern world filled with tanks, drones, and soldiers. He’s pushing the boundaries of fantasy both in his writing structure and the level of depth and emotional connection to his characters. This is a series filled with trials and personal journeys. It’s a series that must be read. Myke Cole knows how to tell a complex story in a richly imagined world and for that I thank him and politely shout for more.

Django Wexler – Author Interview

Earlier in the month I had conducted an interview with debut author Django Wexler over at Fantasy-Faction. For those of my followers that don’t check that site very often, I bring to you the full interview for your viewing pleasure. Without much other time wasted, I bring to you..

Django Wexler!Django 1

  • First things first, if you were kidnapped by an alien overlord what would you say about yourself to convince him/her/it to spare your life? Assuming of course they had active translators.

I would suggest that my extensive knowledge of Earth history and politics (lying outrageously) would make me an excellent choice for an advisor to help subjugate the rest of my species. Then I would try “accidentally” sneezing on him/her/it and hope that H.G. Wells was right.

  • That being said, what can you say about The Thousand Names and The Shadow Campaign series that couldn’t be found in the standard book blurb?

The series has a very particular mix of magic and mundane that I personally find very appealing. I did a lot of tweaking the magic system until it felt right; the idea is that magic should be there, and important, and be part of the core of the story, but at the same time I wanted the military stuff to matter, so the magicians couldn’t be too powerful. Some series, like The Malazan Book of the Fallen, are all about pyrotechnic battles between god-like wizards—I love that stuff, but that’s not the way I wanted to go for The Shadow Campaigns, since it would make the mundane fighting kind of an afterthought.

  • What is your normal writing session like? Do you have any specific rituals or just sit in the chair and start typing?

I have a couch in my bedroom/office with a specific place I like to sit while writing. I usually write on a laptop, which actually sits in my lap—for some reason that’s the posture I’ve gotten used to. Being away from my desktop helps me get away from email, social media, etc. I also have a gallery of plushies on the table across from me to cheer me on!

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That said, I have managed to get some good writing done on vacation from time to time. All I really seem to need is my laptop and a comfortable place to sit, and maybe a pair of headphones.

  • Going forward with that, do you have a tight outline that shows you each step you’re going to take while you write or do you let the story live and breathe on its own, seeing where it will take you?

I used to be much more of a “discovery” writer, and hated outlines, but writing The Shadow Campaignshas forced me to get a bit more disciplined. It’s big enough that it becomes very difficult to just “wing it,” and I ended up doing pretty detailed outlines for The Thousand NamesThe Shadow Throne (the second book), and quite a bit of the rest of the series. In the process, I’ve learned to enjoy working from an outline a lot more than I used to.

I think the key is to view the outline as a roadmap, rather than a straightjacket. It helps avoid “potholes,” where you get to a point in the story and realize you don’t really have a way to get the plot from point A to point B—this is easy to gloss over in a vague sketch, but becomes more apparent in a scene-by-scene outline. Finding these traps in advance, while rewriting is still a matter of changing a few lines, is alot easier than running into them once you’ve already written a hundred thousand words.

  • Do you have any hidden gems of resources that you cite as a source of inspiration? Whether that’d be a book series, television show, history channel, or some other source?

I’ve written before about using real-world history as an inspiration. I don’t know if that counts as a “hidden gem,” but the idea for The Thousand Names came pretty much directly from my reading of military histories, like Chandler’s Campaigns of Napoleon.

Often, when I read history, I find myself imagining the characters (particularly when painted by a skilled historian) in their emotional or dramatic context. I read about a particular moment, scene, or event, and think, “Oh, man, that sounds really dramatic/emotional/intense/whatever, I want to write something like that!” By the time I get around to actually putting it in a story, the outlines of the original inspiration are completely unrecognizable, but it’s the emotional resonance I’m after.

  • After reading the prequel short story over at io9, it seems pretty safe to say that you’ve “lived” in this world for a while and have more stories than what we’ll get in the main books. Is there any chance we’ll see any more short stories like this?

I would definitely love to do some! It depends on various boring real-world factors like whether people want to read them and how much spare time I have. I also have plans for some in-universe “non-fiction” for history nerds (that is, people like me) where I can discuss Vordanai history, military organization, etc.

  • The Thousand Names is being described as gunpowder and even military fantasy. What drew you to writing in this particular style/subgenre? Are each of The Shadow Campaign books going to have a heavy military focus or will the stories branch out as we go along?

Military fantasy is probably an apt description. It’s a subgenre I’ve always liked—people like Glen Cook, S.M. Stirling, David Drake, and Bernard Cornwell are some of my favorite writers. With a title like The Shadow Campaigns, I think it’s fair to say we can expect a fair bit of campaigning to go on.

There’s a lot more to it than that, though. In the second book, The Shadow Throne, we go back to Vordan and dive into the politics surrounding the succession to the ailing king. And there’s supernatural action afoot as well. Hopefully it will have something for everyone!

  • The use of guns and gunpowder in fantasy is a relatively rare occurrence, compared to the frequency of swords and bows. What drew you to set your world in an age of technological advancement and what did that mean for your worldbuilding?

It has always seemed a little strange to me that, with all of real-life history to draw from for archetypes, the tropes of traditional fantasy focus on a very narrow area—basically Western Europe in the 13th and 14th centuries. After I read A Song of Ice and Fire, which can be taken as George R. R. Martin’s attempt to put some realism back in fantasy, I got really excited about the idea of doing a pseudo-historical piece. But I definitely didn’t want to do the knights-and-castles world that he and others had already thoroughly explored.

Once I decided I wanted it to have a military theme, the Napoleonic period was the obvious choice. Not only was I originally inspired by books like The Campaigns of Napoleon, it was just a really interesting period of history, especially militarily. Napoleon’s re-introduction of grand tactics to the stagnant battlefields of the 1700s seemed like it would make for a good story.

Worldbuilding-wise, I think it helped me get away from a lot of over-used fantasy tropes, since youdefinitely can’t just crib from Tolkien once you’ve left that basic milieu behind. There’s an almost unconscious tendency to reach for the old standards, and starting in a different place makes it harder to be lazy without realizing it.

(A warning: once you start thinking outside the knights-and-castles box, it can become addictive! My books-to-write pile has stories set in analogues of the U.S. Civil War, WWI, WWII, and on and on…)

  • Bill Gates or some other ludicrously rich person offers to fund an adaptation of your world. Which would you prefer, an HBO series such as Game of Thrones (which seems the popular choice over a feature-length film) or a video game produced from a major studio?

The TV series would be fantastic with unlimited money behind it; I imagine all those marching armies and charging horsemen would cost a fortune. I would love to see it, though I suspect it’s unlikely. I’m notagainst the idea of a feature film, either, but there does seem to be widespread agreement these days that trying to compress six hundred pages of novel into two hours of movie rarely works out very well.

A video game, though—that’s an interesting proposition. You could go a couple of different ways with it. I could see a high-concept RPG with lots of character interaction, maybe along the lines of Mass Effect in a fantasy universe. Or, as a war game, you could put together something like the Total War franchise orCrusader Kings II. (To be honest, you could probably build a pretty good mod for The Thousand Nameson an engine like Empire: Total War. If anyone wants to do this, I’d love to see it!)

  • Finally, those same aliens from question one come back, only this time they’ve also traveled from the future. What do you hope they say about your series as it stands 5-10 years from now?

Well, first of all, that it’s finished! I didn’t quite realize, when I was pitching the series, quite what a massive undertaking it would be. I had a moment where I suddenly thought, “Wow, I’ve committed to writing something like a million words over the next five years for this…” It can be a little terrifying! (But fantastically exciting, too, of course.)

Obviously I’d like for it to be well-received, too. I also sincerely hope that people point to this period as a time when fantasy broadened out a little bit, retired some of the ancient genre tropes, and explored some new ground. A lot of other authors I know are doing just that, and it’s fun to be a part of it!

I’d like to personally thank Django for taking the time to talk with me, and all of you. The first book in The Shadow Campaign series, The Thousand Names, is already out. The Shadow Throne, book two in the series is set to come out July 2014. As always you can learn more on Django’s website or follow him on Twitter.

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Francis Knight – Author Interview

Fade-to-Black

I had the great pleasure of conducting an interview with the talented Francis Knight, author of the Rojan Dizon Trillogy – Fade to Black, Before the Fall set to be released on June 18, and Last to Rise scheduled to be released November 26, 2013.

If you remember my review of Fade to Black I applauded her ability to translate what I loved about film noir into a written form. That combined with characters you can’t help butfall in love with for their wit and charm, an original setting, with an engaging plot left me eager for more.

So naturally I sent a request and before I knew it I had received a copy of Before the Fall for a review. Once I finished I had to have some burning questions answered. So without further ado, I give you Francis Knight!

  • Anyone can search Google to get your author bio. What’s something new and interesting that you can tell us about yourself?

I’ve got three tattoos – two dragons and a Rohirrim flag. I’m kind of hankering for another one, but I can’t decide what I want.

  • Would you mind giving us some information on the development of theRojan Dizon books – inspiration, writing process, or any quirky pre-writing rituals?

My usual process is ‘start with a character in a situation’, a vague idea of the tone/atmosphere I’m going for and then I develop by writing to see what happens. For the Rojan books, I originally envisaged a sort of future dystopia, but after feed back from my writers group it became apparent I’m pretty shoddy at future tech, so I decided to go for dark, Bladerunner style fantasy. The rest turned up as I was writing. And my only ritual is ‘Tea!’

  • Rojan is one of the most interesting characters I’ve had the pleasure to read. Where did he come from? 

Rojan turned up pretty much fully formed – a part of the setting in essence. He wouldn’t be who he is without the city and what’s happened to it, and what it’s done to the people he knows and loves. He’s the cynical, sarcastic part of me unleashed and stripped of hope. Which did make him fun to write!

  • Besides the trilogy of books focusing on Rojan do you have any other stories to be told in this world?

Certainly! Frankly, I have more ideas for stories than I could reasonably write in the next ten years, though not all on the same world. I’ve got plans for a few other cities on Rojan’s world though…

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  • Faith and religion feature heavily in your books, especially the role of the deacons and archdeacon in the government. Why did you choose to place such a strong focus on the beliefs of the city and what does that do for the plot? 

Religion and faith are large parts of the fantasy genre (in much the same way that tech is part of Sci Fi – a story can live without it, but it’s a common theme). But I wondered about the more personal aspects of living in a theocracy – especially if you don’t believe in the same things everyone else does. Rojan’s lack of faith is a huge part of him, and a reaction to the same things that made him such a cynic elsewhere. For the plot – well it can go many ways! It always can. But it informed the setting, the backstory of the city, which then informs what people are doing now, what they want and how they go about it, which becomes the plot. As with any setting, all the aspects have to work together to make a convincing whole, and that’s, and people’s reaction to their setting, is what affects the plot.

  • Your world has an interesting blend of technology and magic. What made you decide to include some modern amenities like cars and guns while still having a strong and present magic system?

I was interested in how magic and technology could co-exist. If not everyone can do magic, but tech can do some of the things that magic can. Or if one can do things the other can’t. How does it affect the balance of power? Mages might feel tech is a threat and suppress it, or vice versa. They could of course live happily together, but that’s for another story!

  • That being said, why do you think so many fantasy authors are hesitant to create worlds that feature technological advancement as well as magic 

Well, I can’t speak for anyone else, but what daunted me about it was because of the difference it makes to the balance of power. Swords and wizards, there’s been many books about that, and the balance of power that brings, and its variations. We know it, it’s comfortable (and there’s nothing wrong with that!). But once you change one thing, it has a ripple effect – it can affect everything! That said, there are many authors who play around with magic and tech.

  • What drew you to the dark, gritty aura around your Rojan Dizon books? I’ve read it elsewhere that films such as Blade Runner and Sin City appealed to and inspired you, why is that?

I’ve always had a soft spot for dark atmospheres when I read or watch a film, I don’t know why. I thought it was about time I tried to see if I could make one for myself. A challenge.

  • Before-The-Fall-J3-2-662x1024Fade to Black ends with great change for the city of Mahala. How are the things Rojan experienced in Under going to change him for Book 2, Before the Fall?

Well, the change really started in Fade to Black, but we’ll see more of that as the books go on. Rojan was pretty self absorbed to begin with, but he’s forced to confront parts of his own and other people’s natures. What he experienced Under, and what he woke up to about himself, has a profound affect on that confrontation, and how he deals with what it shows him.

  • Mahala is a beautifully crafted city that reaches up instead of out. The Ministry expends a lot of effort to ensure that the outside world essentially doesn’t exist. Yet we see a Storad fighting in the Death Matches during Fade to Black. Any chance we’ll see more of the neighboring nations in Books 2 or 3?

I think it’s safe to say that Mahala is going to have to acknowledge that there is, in fact, an outside. The neighbours will be sticking their oar in plenty, so it’ll be hard to hide! Rojan may even get to leave the city….