Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone – Book Review

Book Review

Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone

Two Serpents Rise Book CoverIn a genre that is dominated by the gritty and dark following the recent popularity of Game of Thrones, Max Gladstone delivers an impressive tale with an ultimate message of hope. Yes, there are problems in the world and they may seem unbeatable, but there is always a chance for a happy ending if someone is willing to stand up and go to work.

The second installment in the Craft Sequence continues the trend established by Three Parts Dead and introduces the reader to a richly detailed world that layers magic and history with our modern era. Except this time, Gladstone brings us to Dresediel Lex, a desert city with trappings that evoke the Aztec Empire’s culture (including flying feathered serpents).

Though, as I said, not all is well in the world. It hasn’t been that long since the Gods War, a time where magical Craftspeople and Gods did battle for control over the fate of the world. It seems that Dresediel Lex was hit especially hard because without the Gods to interfere and provide divinely filtered water, just how do you slake the thirst of a rapidly expanding population?

Oh, and you have to manage all of this while battling a priest (turned terrorist) of the old order who wants nothing more than to bring back the Gods and continue sacrificing blood and hearts to the twin serpents that slumber deep beneath the earth. Sounds easy, right?

There’s a lot of Two Serpents Rise that is reminiscent of the noir genre. There is a threaded mystery that begins with a dead body, a gambling hero who recently quit smoking and the Manic Pixie Dream Girl – a trope that is often found in the various “-punk” subgenres.

While the framework of these characters draw heavily from established archetypes, that isn’t to say there’s no depth or originality to be found. The hero, Caleb, loves his city and would do anything to keep it running, a task that he’s quickly realizing is untenable unless some serious changes are made at Red King Consolidated, his place of employment and the only thing keeping the city from drying up. All of this is wrapped up in the issues with his father, the aforementioned priest/terrorist, and their conflicting ideologies.

Kopil, the Red King, starts as an imposing skeleton clad in a red robe, more mythic figure than individual. The triple click of his skeletal bones inspires fear in all under his employ as he walks. He has fought and killed deities in the Gods War and saved the city. But Kopil isn’t only an imposing force of might and magic. His motivations are rooted in a much more human emotion than you might expect from a skeleton.

Even the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is more than the trope label I assigned to her. Mal begins as a thrill-seeking opportunist that quickly catches Caleb’s attention and doesn’t let go. Yet, there’s more to this girl than it first seems and she’s ready to do anything for what she believes in. As Caleb tracks her through the city and they begin a relationship her true personality is carefully revealed was worldly issues are revealed.

Dresediel Lex is running out of time. Whether it be from the attacks from those faithful to the Gods, inevitable drought due to overpopulation or some other threat from outside, it doesn’t seem like the city will last long. Gladstone doesn’t solve every single problem. This isn’t any fairy-tale, Disney ending. But neither will it be a hopeless battle of despair. Give Two Serpents Rise a shot and see just how Caleb goes to work to to save his city and restore hope to a world still suffering from a past war.

Book Synopsis:

In Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone, shadow demons plague the city reservoir, and Red King Consolidated has sent in Caleb Altemoc—casual gambler and professional risk manager—to cleanse the water for the sixteen million people of Dresediel Lex. At the scene of the crime, Caleb finds an alluring and clever cliff runner, Crazy Mal, who easily outpaces him.

But Caleb has more than the demon infestation, Mal, or job security to worry about when he discovers that his father—the last priest of the old gods and leader of the True Quechal terrorists—has broken into his home and is wanted in connection to the attacks on the water supply.

From the beginning, Caleb and Mal are bound by lust, Craft, and chance, as both play a dangerous game where gods and people are pawns. They sleep on water, they dance in fire…and all the while the Twin Serpents slumbering beneath the earth are stirring, and they are hungry.

– – – This review was originally posted at Fantasy-Faction – – –

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Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone – Book Review

Book Review

Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone

Three Parts Dead Book CoverMax Gladstone’s Three Parts Dead is fantasy of a different flavor. Instead of taking our world and adding magic (such as Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files or Myke Cole’s Shadow Ops), this is a world born of magic that has progressed to a point that mirrors our modern age. It’s a story of magical corporations and necromancer lawyers.

I bet I’ve got your attention now.

As a first-year associate of the necromantic firm Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao, it’s up to Tara Abernathy to solve the murder of a dead God and bring him back to life. If she doesn’t, the city of Alt Coulomb will crumble into chaos. Her only chance is to win in court against opposing counsel.

It may seem like a stretch, a fantasy book based on lawyers rather than warriors, but that’s its true beauty. Gladstone managed to write a beautifully clever story. And he did it in a way that made the idea of fantasy lawyers interesting. It’s a novel that tackles important ideas of faith, politics and the privileged while keeping the excitement of magical duels with shadow and nightmare.

It’s unfortunate how uncommon strong female leads are. Fortunately, Gladstone decided to give us two strong female leads in his debut novel. Tara is a prodigal daughter who was graduated from the Hidden Schools just so they could cast her out, from a thousand feet in the air. She’s talented in the use of the Craft and has a sharp, ready whit that’s fun and likable. Her mentor, Elayne Kevarian on the other hand is the cool, detached master of her trade that is always five steps ahead and radiates power and elegance.

Our trio of protagonists is rounded out with the chain-smoking priest Abelard. The last person to be with the God, Kos Everburning, before his death, he’s understandably going through a crisis of faith. It’s through Abelard and his questions that we come to understand the ramifications of the death of his God. To Tara, it’s a client, to Abelard; it’s his purpose in life. Some of the most interesting pieces of prose are in watching this man deal with that loss.

There are a couple of antagonists throughout the book but it was the primary enemy that really caught my eye. It’s a villain you’re trained to hate from the moment you understand his history with the heroines. He’s the crazy yet charming villain we all find ourselves eerily drawn to.

The narrative requires a small buy-in of your time. That is, you’ll have to work a little bit to follow the influx of characters. Gladstone never goes so low as to info dump but he does dive straight into the world and expect you to figure it out and follow along. You shouldn’t worry it will ever be too much though, as the prose includes a healthy dose of fun and freedom that makes it much easier to swallow.

And it’s those moments of fun that strongly resonate. One such moment was the casual mention of Tara cackling loudly as she raised the dead early in the book. It’s a little diamond of self-aware prose that made me fall in love with Tara as a character and Gladstone as an author. That’s without getting into the vampire pirates or the gargoyles that have been exiled from the city yet still leave claw marks in the buildings that are poems to their Goddess.

Gladstone struck gold when he wrote this secondary-world fantasy that explores modern society. It features all of the things we love about fantasy in a world that is familiar yet strange. In this book you’ll find echoes of your own life, just with more starlight-fueled magic.

Book Synopsis:

A god has died, and it’s up to Tara, first-year associate in the international necromantic firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao, to bring Him back to life before His city falls apart.

Her client is Kos, recently deceased fire god of the city of Alt Coulumb. Without Him, the metropolis’s steam generators will shut down, its trains will cease running, and its four million citizens will riot.

Tara’s job: resurrect Kos before chaos sets in. Her only help: Abelard, a chain-smoking priest of the dead god, who’s having an understandable crisis of faith.

When Tara and Abelard discover that Kos was murdered, they have to make a case in Alt Coulumb’s courts—and their quest for the truth endangers their partnership, their lives, and Alt Coulumb’s slim hope of survival.

Set in a phenomenally built world in which justice is a collective force bestowed on a few, craftsmen fly on lightning bolts, and gargoyles can rule cities, Three Parts Dead introduces readers to an ethical landscape in which the line between right and wrong blurs.

– – – This review was originally posted at Fantasy-Faction – – –

Servant of the Crown by Brian McClellan – Novella Review

Book Review

Servant of the Crown by Brian McClellan

Servant_of_the_Crown_01Brian McClellan does something a little different with his Powder Mage universe. Instead of relying solely on his publishing deal for full-length works, he also produces short fiction that  adds meaning to the novels. As of this post, he’s released five such stories, the latest being Servant of the Crown, a story in which we finally discover how he met his fated other half, Erika.

Captain Tamas is a member of the Adran military, a commoner who worked his way through the ranks to get as far as he has, with ambitions to go higher. McClellan wastes no time in painting us a very vivid picture of Tamas’ hatred for the nobility. The clashing ideals and personalities between Tamas and the entitled nobles forms the crux of the novella.

Soon the King himself becomes involved along with one of the privileged sorceresses of the royal cabal, which leaves Tamas to be nothing more than a pawn on a chessboard he barely understands.

The only help Tamas receives is from a young Kez noblewoman, a girl named Erika who is a powder mage herself, albeit one who has been forced to hide her powers from a country that despises her kind. Last seen in the short story Forsworn, Erika has become enamored with the idea of Tamas’ rise to power in the military and his advocacy for powder mages.

McClellan’s writing is as tight as ever and still manages to contain the intensity of a summer blockbuster into writing. While the explosions and impossible shots are still a treat to read the true delight came in the banter between Tamas and Erika. Their chemistry is strong and their dialogue is some of the most genuine representations of early couples I’ve had the pleasure to read.

There are numerous ways to experience Servant of the Crown, but I’d recommend the direct method and getting it from the source? Check out Brian’s books and collection of short stories here.

 

Synopsis:

Captain Tamas is an ambitious young officer in the Adran army. As a commoner, he is one of very few without noble blood to hold a rank. When he challenges the son of a duke over an insult, the subsequent duel lands him in hot water with the nobility and the royal cabal of Privileged sorcerers. Tamas is soon drawn into a conflict that goes to the very highest office in the land, and his only ally is the most unlikely of people; a young noblewoman named Erika, who needs Tamas to teach her how to wield her powers as a powder mage.

Occurs about thirty-five years before the events in Promise of Blood.

The Crimson Campaign by Brian McClellan – Book Review

Book Review

The Crimson Campaign by Brian McClellan

91WXPFBCv+L._SL1500_Brian McClellan authored one of my favorite debuts of 2013. His first novel Promise of Blood was filled with everything I want in an original work of fiction. Now, the second book, The Crimson Campaign has hit shelves.

Each successive book by a new author is a risk. “Will the audience like it?” “Can it live up to the first?” “What if the author hits a sophomore slump?” Luckily for us, McClellan not only matched the spark of his first book, but he surpassed it as well.

The dialogue is tighter, the action scenes more intense and the drama has never been more real.

The Crimson Campaign is an addictive blend of a summer blockbuster and a military history. Only this time there’s an angry god, powder mages and gifted detective with nothing to lose.

All of the characters we came to enjoy from The Promise of Blood are back, some with an expanded role. Bo, a relatively minor character from the first book, is full of the confidence and snark you’d expect from a member of the Royal Cabal. His self-assured attitude and gifted ability to manipulate the Else (sorcery) made Bo a breakout character in this new volume and one of my favorites.

Meanwhile, Tamas and Taniel are facing their own problems as the Kez continue their war against Adro. Tamas is trapped behind enemy lines with only a small unit of soldiers. Cut off from anyone who could help, he is forced to manipulate the situation to his own advantage while he is pursued relentlessly. In the first book we only got a glimpse at why this man rose to the rank of field marshal. Finally, the famed tactician is shown to us. He rises to MacGyver levels of ingenuity to slow those dogging his heels.

Taniel, however, is facing his own problems. Tamas’ disappearance has left him in a precarious position as the new leaders of the military begin to question whether or not Taniel deserves to be a captain when he can’t follow orders. Oh, and he’s got a crazed, one-eyed god hunting him for revenge.

The plot is filled with constant action and excitement as McClellan deftly wields the mythology and characters of the world he’s created into something truly great. There will always be stories that are transparently flat, no more depth than what’s necessary to finish the plot. McClellan, like many great authors, has instead added layer upon layer to his books (and short stories) to create a world that thrums with the beat of its own heart.

McClellan has burst onto the fantasy scene with the explosive power of a powder keg. His books are among those that will be remembered for the genuine characters, tense conflict and inspired world where gunpowder fuels magic and white-gloved sorcerers vie for power. Simply put, it’s brilliant.

Book Synopsis:

When invasion looms…

Tamas’s invasion of Kez ends in disaster when a Kez counter-offensive leaves him cut off behind enemy lines with only a fraction of his army, no supplies, and no hope of reinforcements. Drastically outnumbered and pursued by the enemy’s best, he must lead his men on a reckless march through northern Kez to safety, and back over the mountains so that he can defend his country from an angry god, Kresimir.

But the threats are closer to home…

In Adro, Inspector Adamat wants only to rescue his wife. To do so he must track down and confront the evil Lord Vetas. He has questions for Vetas concerning his enigmatic master, but the answers will lead Adamat on a darker journey.

Who will lead the charge?

Tamas’s generals bicker among themselves, the brigades lose ground every day beneath the Kez onslaught, and Kresimir wants the head of the man who shot him in the eye. With Tamas and his powder cabal presumed dead, Taniel Two-shot finds himself as the last line of defense against Kresimir’s advancing army.

In a rich, distinctive world that mixes magic with technology, who could stand against mages that control gunpowder and bullets? THE CRIMSON CAMPAIGN is the epic sequel to Brian McClellan’s Promise of Blood.

Forsworn by Brian McClellan – Novella Review

Forsworn by Brian McClellan
Book Review

Forsworn-1.5-mbFor $0.99 Brian McClellan has been practically giving away short stories set in the same world as his Powder Mage Trilogy. Now, he has a new story up on his website, a novella this time for $2.99. Forsworn has the quality of story, depth of characters, and an increased page count that makes it all well worth it. Do yourself a favor and dive back into the world of powder mages, sorcerers, and gunpowder firearms. I promise, you won’t regret it.

This novella focuses on Erika ja Leora and a young girl named Norinne, both Powder Mages living in Kez, where such sorcery is punishable by death. While I keep yearning for a Tamas, Taniel, or Ka-poel story, McClellan is smart to keep such characters as cameos only. These short bits of writing are a wonderful exploration of new characters and the occasional reaction to the main characters is more powerful than any one story focused on Tamas or the others.

Once again, McClellan manages to write a wonderfully described world in the time of gunpowder and muskets. While the bulk of this book is set in a noble’s estate and in a carriage, it’s written in a way that feels more cinematic than many writers out there today. I could clearly picture the small practice yard used for fencing or the carriage making it’s way along a mountainside pass covered in snow. It was all realized with masterful writing that reaffirmed my initial opinion after reading Promise of Blood nearly a year ago – Brian McClellan is a writer of great visual skill.

The worldbuilding and history is setup in bits and pieces, as the novella length allows. The idea of powder mages being branded and the first look at the air rifles used in the books is a wonderful addition that makes the world feel real. This is tied directly into McClellan’s ability to stage and foreshadow his writing with a grace that isn’t seen as often as it should be amongst new writers. One particular bit of worldbuilidng concerning families who discover their children have the skill to be powder mages sent shivers down my spine later in the book, as I feared the worst. The fact that as I was reading the epilogue I was so emotionally invested as to shout at my ereader should be a marker for the author’s accomplished skills.

With the news that The Crimson Campaign, book two in the Powder Mage Trilogy, was pushed back to a new May release date, it’s comforting to see McClellan publish these short stories and novellas to keep us held over. It’s a brilliant marketing technique. The cheap price will give new initiates a chance to explore the world and Brian’s writing without feeling too guilty if they don’t like it. Fans of the first book are able to explore the world and the characters in more depth while they wait for the new book.

It’s a technique I hope more authors will take note of and adopt. Especially those authors, who shall not be named, who take 1+ years between books.

I haven’t had a chance to reread Promise of Blood since it came out last January. But these short stories have kept the world of Powder Mages and Privileged in my imagination. Be sure to pick up Forsworn and get immersed once more into the world of muskets and magic that Brian has so painstakingly created.

You can pick up Forsworn for your E-Reader of choice at his shop here.

– – –

Summary:

Erika ja Leora is a powder mage in northern Kez, a place where that particular sorcery is punishable by death. She is only protected by her family name and her position as heir to a duchy.

When she decides to help a young commoner—a powder mage marked for death, fugitive from the law—she puts her life and family reputation at risk and sets off to deliver her new ward to the safety of Adro while playing cat and mouse with the king’s own mage hunters and their captain, Duke Nikslaus.

Perfect Shadow by Brent Weeks – Book Review

Perfect Shadow By Brent Weeks

PerfectShadow_cvr300dpiPerfect Shadow is a look into the 700-year-old immortal wetboy we grew to love and admire from Brent Weeks’ Night Angel Trilogy, Acaelus Thorne, a man soon to be remade into Durzo Blint. This novella gives us a glimpse at the man before he became bitter and disillusioned by the mission given to him by his friend, his king, Jorsin Alkestes all those centuries ago.

This book was released long after Night Angel Trilogy first appeared and features spoilers for those books. It’s debatable whether those spoilers are enough to deter you from reading this before Way of Shadows, but it’s enough to merit a mention and as such proceed with caution: Here, there be spoilers.

– – –

Durzo Blint is a man that has lived many lives over many centuries. Often he would be a hero, other times, a simple man trying to live a normal, quiet life. He fellin love and had many wives, sometimes even children. It’s not the callus love of loneliness but rather a true kind of love that is probably the reason he’s still alive nearly seven centuries later.

Its the brutal death of the pregnant wife and young daughter that drives Gaelan Starfire away from his farm and eventually to Cenaria to meet Gwinvere Kirena, the Mistress of Pleasure.

In Cenaria he trains with Scarred Wrable in the ways of the wetboy, eventually killing the other wetboys employees by the Sa’Kage and installing “Momma K” as the new head of the criminal empire. Sharp-eyed readers will see subtle allusions to characters and places from the Night Angel Trilogy – including the butcher Hu Gibbett.

It’s a solid novella that isn’t constrained by telling its multiple narratives in chronological order, instead trusting the reader to be able to follow along.

“I’ve turned my back on my king. Fire pursues me, but emptiness can’t be threatened. Emptiness holds nothing dear. Emptiness knows no fear.”

Concurrently with the thread line involving Durzo Blint’s introduction to the world of the Sa’Kage of Cenaria and the wetboys that inhabit it we get a chance to see Durzo swindle a man from the Society of the Second Sun in order to steal his ka’kari, the red, and its subsequent banishment into the heart of Mt. Tenji, a soon-to-be re-active volcano. It’s at this moment that we also get a glimpse into the far past, the moment Jorsin Alkestes used Curoch to seal the krul around Black Burrow and burn every living thing for miles around.

It’s a poignant look filled with deep, philosophical thoughts concerning the origins and the man we’ve grown to know intimately in the time of the original trilogy and a stark reminder that immortality can weigh heavily on the soul.

“One shadow was different. One shadow stood, defiant, one fist raised, edges perfect, outline crisp – Acaelus’s shadow. The others were dim, washed out. Bleached by a flood of light that had continued even after the men who had cast them were burned away. But through all the fire, one man had stood.”

– – –

Book Synopsis:

shortfiction2“I got a bit of prophecy,” the old assassin said. “Not enough to be useful, you know. Just glimpses. My wife dead, things like that to keep me up late at night. I had this vision that I was going to be killed by forty men, all at once. But now that you’re here, I see they’re all you. Durzo Blint.”

Durzo Blint? Gaelan had never even heard the name.

***

Gaelan Starfire is a farmer, happy to be a husband and a father; a careful, quiet, simple man. He’s also an immortal, peerless in the arts of war. Over the centuries, he’s worn many faces to hide his gift, but he is a man ill-fit for obscurity, and all too often he’s become a hero, his very names passing into legend: Acaelus Thorne, Yric the Black, Hrothan Steelbender, Tal Drakkan, Rebus Nimble. But when Gaelan must take a job hunting down the world’s finest assassins for the beautiful courtesan-and-crimelord Gwinvere Kirena, what he finds may destroy everything he’s ever believed in.

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson – Book Review

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
An ‘Epic’ Review

In a world filled only with supervillains and no superheroes it’s up to the average citizen to rise up and administer justice. That’s the basic premise of Brandon Sanderson’s latest novel, Steelheart. His penchant for interesting worldbuilding and cinematic writing has paid off yet again.

Steelheart is a story about an average teenager named David. David has to live in a new world, a world that has been burdened with the rise of superpowered individuals. But there are no superheroes in this world, only villains. It’s David’s goal to join the Reckoners, a group of average citizens that banded together to assassinate “Epics,” the term for those with powers. David has seen Steelheart bleed, an experience that was supposed to be impossible. He wants to use that knowledge to join the Reckoners and get revenge for the death of his father.

“The only thing you can see up there is Calamity, which looks kind of like a bright red star or comet. Calamity began to shine one year before men started turning into Epics… Of course, nobody knows why the Epics started appearing, or what their connection is to Calamity either.”

91WYnaA6QNL._SL1500_There have been attempts over the years to write a prose story based on superhumans, normally the domain of comic books. It’s a subject that misses more often than it hits with authors spending too much time trying to replicate the comic into prose, ignoring the fact that for those stories the art is an essential piece to the narrative.

Sanderson, perhaps due to his experience writing prose, has not fallen into the same trap. Steelheart is a novel that recognizes its content and doesn’t try to be something it isn’t. This may have something to do with Sanderson’s proclivity to create balanced and well-thought magic systems. Or perhaps it’s due to the non-superpowered David and the Reckoners. Without powers it frees the main POV to not be bogged down in the typical pitfalls authors encounter when trying to replicate the artistic descriptions in prose.

“Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It’s a phrase you may be familiar with and it is at the heart of Calamity and the superpowered individuals that now roam the world. David’s father was a man that believed with the arrival of supervillains the heroes couldn’t be far behind. He was a man that hoped for a brighter tomorrow. But the idea that the only evil individuals are granted powers, or perhaps that powers make those individuals evil, is at the heart of the book. It is a secret that is never fully answered and one we’ll have to wait till the sequels to discover.

The book takes place in Newcago, or more specifically Chicago that has been transformed. The ruler of Chicago,

Steelheart, possesses a power that allows him to send out a wave of transformation energy that turned everything in the city to solid steel, including a portion of the lake.

“When the Great Transfersion caused the better part of the Old City to be turned into solid steel, that included the soil and rock, dozens – maybe hundreds – of feet down into the ground. During the early years of his reign, Steelheart pretended to be benevolent – if ruthless – dictator. His Diggers had cut out several levels of under-streets, complete with buildings, and people flowed to Newcago for work.”

Stelheart

As in other books set in an alternate-world Earth, Sanderson has managed to take a standard setting and give it a fantastical element. He keeps the familiarity of the setting but changes enough to make it a new and interesting place for the readers to discover. Tunnels had to be built under the city to provide housing in steel encrusted buildings and electricity is still somewhat an issue as everything shorted out when the transformation struck.

Sanderson’s return to the YA market is filled with his signature worldbuilding and a fast-paced, high action cinematic style that is easy to lose yourself in. Already Sanderson can’t get enough of his reimagined America and a sequel is well on its way for a 2014 release. Pick up Steelheart now and get caught up before the sequel, Firefight, releases.

The Sorcery Code – Cover Reveal

The Sorcery Code by Dima Zales
Cover Reveal

Dima Zales is a full-time science fiction and fantasy author residing in Palm Coast, Florida. Prior to becoming a writer, he worked in the software development industry in New York as both a programmer and an executive. From high-frequency trading software for big banks to mobile apps for popular magazines, Dima has done it all. In 2013, he left the software industry in order to concentrate on his writing career.

In addition to his own works, Dima has collaborated on a number of romance novels with his wife, Anna Zaires. The Krinar Chronicles, an erotic science fiction series, has been a bestseller in its categories and has been recognized by the likes of Marie Claire and Woman’s Day. If you like erotic romance with a unique plot, please feel free to check it out, especially since the first book in the series (Close Liaisons) is available for free everywhere. Keep in mind, though, Dima Zales’s books are going to be much more PG 13 . . . at least that’s the plan for now.

Anna Zaires is the love of his life and a huge inspiration in every aspect of his writing. She definitely adds her magic touch to anything Dima creates, and the books would not be the same without her. Dima’s fans are strongly encouraged to learn more about Anna and her work at http://www.annazaires.com.

Now, Dima has a new series and it begins with The Sorcery Code. And I’m pleased to be a part of the cover reveal for this upcoming novel.

The Sorcery Code_1600x2400

There is a newsletter on Zales’ website where you can sign up and receive a notification on important updates and the release date of the book.

— Book Synopsis —

Once a respected member of the Sorcerer Council and now an outcast, Blaise has spent the last year of his life working on a special magical object. The goal is to allow anyone to do magic, not just the sorcerer elite. The outcome of his quest is unlike anything he could’ve ever imagined – because, instead of an object, he creates Her.

She is Gala, and she is anything but inanimate. Born in the Spell Realm, she is beautiful and highly intelligent – and nobody knows what she’s capable of.

Augusta, a powerful sorceress, sees Blaise’s deed for the ultimate hubris that it is. She still cares for Blaise and wants to save him before he has to pay the ultimate price . . . thanks to the abomination he created.

If that caught your interest be sure to check out the excerpt below:

There was a naked woman on the floor of Blaise’s study.

A beautiful naked woman.

Stunned, Blaise stared at the gorgeous creature who just appeared out of thin air. She was looking around with a bewildered expression on her face, apparently as shocked to be there as he was to be seeing her. Her wavy blond hair streamed down her back, partially covering a body that appeared to be perfection itself. Blaise tried not to think about that body and to focus on the situation instead.

A woman. A She, not an It. Blaise could hardly believe it. Could it be? Could this girl be the Object?

She was sitting with her legs folded underneath her, propping herself up with one slim arm. There was something awkward about that pose, as though she didn’t know what to do with her own limbs. In general, despite the curves that marked her a fully grown woman, there was a child-like innocence in the way she sat there, completely unselfconscious and totally unaware of her own appeal.

Clearing his throat, Blaise tried to think of what to say. In his wildest dreams, he could’ve never imagined this kind of outcome to the project that had consumed his entire life for the past several months.

Hearing the sound, she turned her head to look at him, and Blaise found himself staring into a pair of unusually clear blue eyes.

She blinked, then cocked her head to the side, studying him with visible curiosity. Blaise wondered what she was seeing. He hadn’t seen the light of day in weeks, and he wouldn’t be surprised if he looked like a mad sorcerer at this point. There was probably a week’s worth of stubble covering his face, and he knew his dark hair was unbrushed and sticking out in every direction. If he’d known he would be facing a beautiful woman today, he would’ve done a grooming spell in the morning.

“Who am I?” she asked, startling Blaise. Her voice was soft and feminine, as alluring as the rest of her. “What is this place?”

“You don’t know?” Blaise was glad he finally managed to string together a semi-coherent sentence. “You don’t know who you are or where you are?”

She shook her head. “No.”

Blaise swallowed. “I see.”

“What am I?” she asked again, staring at him with those incredible eyes.

“Well,” Blaise said slowly, “if you’re not some cruel prankster or a figment of my imagination, then it’s somewhat difficult to explain . . .”

She was watching his mouth as he spoke, and when he stopped, she looked up again, meeting his gaze. “It’s strange,” she said, “hearing words like that in real time. These are the first real words I’ve heard.”

Blaise felt a chill go down his spine. Getting up from his chair, he began to pace, trying to keep his eyes off her nude body. He had been expecting something to appear. A magical object, a thing. He just hadn’t known what form that thing would take. A mirror, perhaps, or a lamp. Maybe even something as unusual as the Life Capture Sphere that sat on his desk like a large round diamond.

But a person? A female person at that?

To be fair, he had been trying to make the object intelligent, to ensure it would have the ability to comprehend human language and convert it into the code. Maybe he shouldn’t be so surprised that the intelligence he invoked took on a human shape.

A beautiful, feminine, sensual shape.

Focus, Blaise, focus.

“Why are you walking like that?” She slowly got to her feet, her movements uncertain and strangely clumsy. “Should I be walking too? Is that how people talk to each other?”

Blaise stopped in front of her, doing his best to keep his eyes above her neck. “I’m sorry. I’m not accustomed to naked women in my study.”

She ran her hands down her body, as though trying to feel it for the first time. Whatever her intent, Blaise found the gesture extremely erotic.

“Is something wrong with the way I look?” she asked. It was such a typically feminine concern that Blaise had to stifle a smile.

“Quite the opposite,” he assured her. “You look unimaginably good.” So good, in fact, that he was having trouble concentrating on anything but her delicate curves. She was of medium height, and so perfectly proportioned that she could’ve been used as a sculptor’s template.

“Why do I look this way?” A small frown creased her smooth forehead. “What am I?” That last part seemed to be puzzling her the most.

Blaise took a deep breath, trying to calm his racing pulse. “I think I can try to venture a guess, but before I do, I want to give you some clothing. Please wait here – I’ll be right back.”

And without waiting for her answer, he hurried out of the room.

– – –

A City Stained Red by Sam Sykes – Cover Reveal

A City Stained Red by Sam Sykes
Cover Reveal

Sam Sykes is a man with a unique sense of humor and personality. Anyone who follows the author on twitter knows this first hand, whether it’s through his pictures of capybaras, his pugs, or his interactions with other authors. But don’t let this fool you, Sam Sykes is an extraordinary author whose prose ranks high in the fantasy genre, especially amongst the sword and sorcery subgenres. His Aeon’s Gate Trilogy – Tome of the Undergates, Black Halo, Skybound Sea – is well-thought out and thrilling story that is honestly just a fun read.

But Sykes is not a man to sit idly by on one successful trilogy. No. He’s been hard at work on a new trilogy, Bring Down Heaven. He’s kept most of the details rather scant for the new series, that is until the cover reveal of the first book The City Stained Red, which debuted on the Gollancz blog  this past September.

city-stained-red-viz-01_Page_1

The City Stained Red is the first chapter in my new trilogy, Bring Down Heaven. Set against the city of Cier’Djaal, economic powerhouse of the world whose horse-sized spiders produce the silk that every nation craves, it is a tale of collapse.

It is the story of how the morals of a society collapse before pragmatism, revolutionary cultists crowing the name of their god in hell as they throw themselves at the organized dynasty of assassins and thieves that have run the city since it began.

It is the story of how the ideas of harmony collapse before ideas of independence, with several races, human and monstrous, set upon a tiny spit of land and given just so many resources to share it and seeing how long it takes for one of them to pick up a knife.

It is the story of how gods collapse before mortals, when god cannot save a man languishing in the shadow of his wealthy neighbors and he finds himself putting aside prayer and picking up a blade.

It is the story of how things change between six people when they find themselves standing at the center of a field full of corpses and wondering just how the hell it happened that they can’t let go of the sword in their hands.

Maybe that explains it.

But that isn’t all. If you head over to the Gollancz page that debuted the cover you can treat yourselves to 3 pages of beautiful comic book artwork that may help you understand the series a little better. If not, you can at least enjoy the ninjas, apemen, and whatever that demon thing is on page 3.

Hope’s End by Brian McClellan – Short Story Review

Hope’s End – A Powder Mage Review
by Brian McClellan

rsz_1371-1Brian McClellan is one of the biggest debut authors of 2013. His first novel, Promise of Blood, was a success. His writing is cinematic and holds such a strong visual component it really felt like the written word equivalent of seeing a summer blockbuster. Not only that but Brian turned out to be an incredibly nice guy, as this interview showed.

He’s also taken a different route than one normally sees amongst authors, releasing short stories set in the Powder Mage world periodically until the release of book two, The Crimson Campaign coming this February. Maybe this is a sign of the changing times and the power of the internet, but color me excited if this catches on amongst other authors. I can never get enough of the worlds I love and I’m sure everyone else here feels the same.

It was in June that Brian released The Girl of Hrusch AvenuePowder Mage short story that focuses on Vlora as a little girl. For $.99 on Amazon, I said that Girl of Hrusch Avenue was the perfect toe-dipping piece to decide if Promise of Blood was worth your time. (Spoiler Alert: It totally is and you should get it now if you haven’t already.)

But now he’s back with another short story. This one, titled Hope’s Endis a little bit different. It focuses on Captain Hopes-End_01Verundish, a female officer in the Adran military serving under General Tamas (years before the events of Promise). In the midst of a siege against the Gurlish stronghold of Darjah, Verundish must make a difficult decision to ensure the two people she loves most are taken care of.

Hope’s End is by no means the most lengthy of works, coming in right around 8,000 words. Yet what Brian manages to accomplish in that space is exciting and compelling. It’s hard not to feel a connection to Captain Verundish as she contemplates one dark decision after another, all to keep her daughter safe.

General Tamas, of course, is a treat to see, especially as it’s set in a time before his promotion to Field Marshall and the events of the first book. Unlike Promise of Blood Tamas as a General is still limited by his superior officers, forced to follow the orders of Field Marshall Beravich even when it conflicts with his own sense.

I won’t go too much further into the plot, 8,000 words and $.99 should be enough to get you to do that for yourself, but I will say the story is well worth it. It contains all of the elements of a longform novel distilled into the smaller space. The emotional hooks are there from the beginning and the rousing battle in the finale stirs your blood in excitement as you hope for success and dread the worst possible outcome.

Hope’s End is out now, either through services such as Amazon or at Brian McClellan’s own webpage.

Captain Verundish has two problems. On campaign with the Adran army and far from her homeland, she is helpless when the young daughter she left at home is threatened. To make matters worse, General Tamas has put her lover in command of a Hope’s End—the first charge through a breach straight into the teeth of enemy cannon and sorcery. To save the people she loves, Verundish will have to come up with a deadly solution…