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.

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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.

Brandon Sanderson – Author Interview

Hello! Most of you probably know the name Brandon Sanderson, a New York Times Bestselling Author, author of over a dozen stories, as well as the man chosen to finish Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time saga. I had a chance to interview Brandon right before the release of his latest novel, Steelheart. I hope you all enjoy what he has to say!

The following is a transcription from audio Mr. Sanderson recorded specifically for this post.

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  • Brandon-Sanderson-author-photo-776x1024Welcome Brandon Sanderson! I’m very excited for this chance to send along some interview questions and can’t wait to hear what you have to say. So, diving right into it, what is the biggest factor in your output of writing and how do you manage to keep track of so many works as well as the bits of inspiration that don’t have a home in a particular series yet?

I use a personal wiki and my own bizarre mental methodology. Here’s something else about the way I work: new projects excite me. In fact, I’m often dangling the new project in front of myself as incentive to finish my current project. It’s part of what I like about my job, always being able to do something new. It keeps me productive as a writer.

  • You’ve had a large amount of success for your novels, so much so that a lot of your work has had the option of being produced in other mediums. A potential Mistborn movie, an option for a television series based on Legion (both of which are up in the air still I believe?) and the Mistborn: Birthright video game developed by Little Orbit. How do you think these other mediums could help and/or hurt the overall narrative flow of these worlds you’ve crafted?

That’s a good question I’ve also wondered about. The larger your continuity gets, the more difficult these things are. At the same time, I think it’s worth it because there are certain types of stories you can explore in these other mediums that you can’t explore as well in a novel. It’s something I definitely want to dabble in, but I worry about the continuity becoming unwieldy.

  • Speaking of the Mistborn video game, you agreed to the deal on the condition that you would be able to write the script for the game. How has that process differed from your work on your novels and has it sparked any interest in writing for other mediums, such as video games, television, etc., more often?

We’ve been working with the developer, and they haven’t gotten to the point where it’s time for me to write the script yet. The process might be different. It might not be. I’ve noticed a lot of writers will script the video game and then immediately write the novel. I want to tell this story within the medium of video games, so my goal will not be to write the video game and then write the novelization of the video game. We’ll see if that happens or not, though.

  • Having a part in completing Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series must have propelled your craft considerably given the complexity of the series and the importance of getting it right. Not to mention the attention from fans everywhere that have been waiting for the conclusion of this series since it debuted in 1990. Now that The Wheel of Time is finished do you feel caught in Robert Jordan’s, and the entire series, shadow?

I mention this a little bit in a video I recorded for Google Play. But no, I haven’t felt caught in his shadow so far, though I don’t b9e6d7fb4bd5ab5cfab43160935e0ecbreally mind if I am. Even if I’d never been involved with finishing The Wheel of Time, I’d still be caught in Robert Jordan’s shadow because he was the dominant writer in the field during the era when I was learning and growing as a writer and becoming the novelist I am today. It’s less a matter of being caught and more a matter of standing on his shoulders, especially now that I was able to work on his project.

I wrote in my eulogy of Robert Jordan how in my writing I’ve sometimes chosen to react against The Wheel of Time just because I felt that The Wheel of Time had done what it did so well. I’ll probably continue to do that, but it’s not a matter of escaping his shadow. I just want to tell stories. It’s not an ego thing for me. I get to write the stories. People read them and seem to like them. That’s awesome! I don’t really worry about the rest.

  • Your writing includes the big cosmere-related novels as well as shorter pieces of work to break it up during the year. The Emperor’s Soul was one such project, which recently won the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Novella. These shorter pieces are a great way to break things up and as you’ve said recharge your creative batteries. Other than Steelheart which is releasing soon, what is the next shorter piece you’re working on?

The next shorter piece I’m working on is a short novelette or novella called Sixth of the Dusk, which is a writing exercise I’m doing with the Writing Excuses team for my podcast. We all brainstormed with one another on-air last year, and then I wrote a story based on that. Then we workshopped it on-air, and that episode should go up fairly soon. Then I’ll do a last revision of it and put it up for people to buy, though I’m not sure yet when that will happen. I screen-captured myself writing the story, so I’ll probably post that video for free. That’s a fun sort of experiment to let aspiring writers see the process of brainstorming, the first draft, and the last draft.

The next thing that’s being released is my novella in George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois’s Dangerous Women anthology. I’m very proud of this story, called Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell. Getting invited to one of George and Gardner’s anthologies is a huge honor. They pick dream teams for every one of their anthologies, so getting asked was awesome. As for novels, the next major project of mine is Words of Radiance, coming out in March.

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  • Your work in the cosmere as well as the introduction of a big multi-volume epic, the Stormlight Archive, is a tremendous undertaking of time and effort. Have you ever been worried that you may have bitten off more than you can chew, that is either in its structure and length or for health and personal reasons, such as Robert Jordan who unfortunately passed away before the conclusion of The Wheel of Time?

No, I don’t really. I say that with a smile because I’m an epic fantasy writer. I dream big! Sure, every runner before they start their first marathon probably wonders, “Am I actually going to be able to finish this thing?” But at the same time, this is what I’ve dreamed of doing for my entire career, so I don’t think I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. I hope the fans will stick around with me for it, but Steven Erikson proved that you could do a ten-book series in a reasonable amount of time. He’s kind of a model and example for the rest of us in getting his large Malazan series finished, and he did a great job of it. So, he proves it can be done. I just have to step up and get to work.

  • The majority of your body of work rests in the fantasy genre and has given you an appropriate amount of success based on the incredible work you’ve done so far. You have dabbled in the realm of science fiction, including your short story “Firstborn”, and you have plans to extend the Mistborn universe into science fiction with a third trilogy, after a trilogy set in modern times. Do you have any plans, even in the distant future, for a standalone or series set entirely in the realm of science fiction, a space opera or something similar?

Yes, I’m definitely going to do some science fiction and space opera. I’m holding off on doing any longer works right now because the longer books I want to write are actually in worlds connected to my fantasy series. There are several of those I want to do. I will eventually get to them, but it’s going to take a little bit of time before I’m in the right place to do these stories. There are some great space operas in the cosmere that I want to tell.

  • The “Sanderson Laws” have become rather popular amongst the fantasy community. Have you given any consideration into expanding and crafting more “laws” to help aspiring genre writers design their settings?

Yes. I’ve actually got three or four that I’m working on. Keep in mind, I call them “Sanderson’s Laws” because these are my laws to myself. They are the ways I approach writing magic systems. They are not rules you need to follow, but reading them might help you understand at least how one person approaches magic systems. Sanderson’s Third Law should go up sometime this week.

  • 91WYnaA6QNL._SL1500_Steelheart is your latest published work. It’s a young adult novel that features a hero that is normal, without any extraordinary powers. Joel, the protagonist of The Rithmatist was also unable to use the magic of that world. What are the benefits of writing a story from the viewpoint of someone removed from such an important part of the setting and why did you choose to do this?

Basically this is me reacting against myself. The biggest benefit for me is that I get to try something different. Whenever I notice a theme—something I feel like I’m doing a little too often—I will say, “How can I approach this from a different perspective and try a different type of story?” I did this for two very different reasons in those two books.

In The Rithmatist it helps cement Joel as an outsider. It helps that feeling of distance. He desperately wants to be in, but through a quirk of birth, he is not in, and that’s part of the story. For David in Steelheart, it’s less about being an outsider and more about the story being more interesting for me because it’s about a normal person fighting back against basically a supervillain, and what you do when you don’t have the power to bring someone like that down. That makes an interesting conflict for me. So I’m approaching it from two different directions, but it is me trying to explore something that I haven’t done as much.

  • Thank you for giving me this chance to interview you and before we go is there anything else you might like to say or add?

Thank you very much for the interview. I hope people look into Steelheart. I’ve been posting a lot of cool stuff about it, specifically about the tour. So if you don’t mind throwing in a link to the Steelhunt to let people know what I’m doing, I would appreciate it.

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We’d like to thank Mr. Sanderson again for taking the time to talk with us. His lastest novel, Steelheart, is out now. You can learn more about it on his website or you can follow him on Twitter.

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.

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Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed – Book Review

1Saladin Ahmed’s first foray into novel territory is the sharply written sword & sorcery fantasy with a distinct Arabian/Middle Eastern flair. While Arabian fantasy is certainly no stranger to the mainstream Saladin manages to write a rousing epic in such a distinct setting and style that marks him out amidst the European castles and medieval armor of knights that permeate the genre.

Doctor Adoulla Makhslood is the one of the last of an ancient order of ghul-hunters. Mages tasked with powerful holy invocations and spells meant to do battle against the forces of the Traitorous Angel and the numerous ghul-raisers and dark creatures that afflict the Crescent Moon Kingdoms. Far from the usual fair of fantasy, Adoulla is old, fat, and ornery, who reads as such an honest and real character that you can’t help but be charmed by his rude gestures and grouchy wit.

Assistant/Partner to Adoulla is Raseed bas Raseed, a member of the Order of Dervishes who was sent to the Doctor to gain real-world application and experience as he trains to be a more devout holy warrior. The by-the-book dervish is often uptight and naïve in the actual workings of the city-streets, much to the amusement and chagrin of Adoulla. Yet conflict stirs deep within Raseed as romance blooms and he discovers his devotion to the Khalif and to the Holy Scripture may be too rigid for reality and the difficult decisions that need to be made.

Rounding out our trio is Zamia Banu Laith Badawi, the last survivor of the Badawi band of tribesmen that roam the deserts. One of the “instruments of God’s Ministering Angels’,” Zamia is able to shift into a golden lioness with silvery claws and teeth and incredible power against the ghuls and foul magics of the Traitorous Angel. She is sworn to avenge her band and destroy the evil force that brutally murdered her family, and joins the Doctor to complete this task.

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The plot of the servants of the Traitorous Angel as they seek to gain control of ancient death-magics is only one facet to this story. Meanwhile, in their city of Dhamaswaat the Falcon Prince, Pharaad Az Hammaz, is a Robin Hood-type benefactor of the poor and thief to the rich and eternal enemy to the corrupt and evil Khalif of all the Crescent Moon Kingdoms, Jabbari akh-Khaddari.

The story is interspersed with encounters and news of the Falcon Prince as he sows discord and seeks to upset the established order and bring wealth and medicine to the poorest of families in the city. His final plan, to invade the palace and depose the Khalif runs parallel to the plans of Adoulla and co. as they seek to stop the evil magus Orshado from unleashing the death and war magic.

It’s clear in his writing that Saladin takes enormous pride in his heritage and the cultures of the Middle East. So much so that his writing is overflowing with the feel of that wonderful culture. Through his writing Saladin was able to take me to the Crescent Moon Kingdoms, and instead of it being a strange culture that I had to learn – much as with other fantasy novels set in exotic locales – Saladin managed to make me feel as though I belonged/had lived in this city and that Dhamaswaat was real.

throneFor anyone that is looking for a brief respite…no, for anyone that is a fan of fantasy you should read this novel and continue Saladin’s career as he delves deeper into the Crescent Moon Kingdoms. Fantasy should not be limited to the vague European-stereotypes that are so often cast upon the genre. Our world is rich and vast in culture and possibilities, if only more authors would tap those resources instead of the same old, worn point in history we’re so used to.

 

 

From Saladin Ahmed, finalist for the Nebula and Campbell Awards, comes one of the year’s most anticipated fantasy debuts, THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON, a fantasy adventure with all the magic of The Arabian Nights.

The Crescent Moon Kingdoms, land of djenn and ghuls, holy warriors and heretics, Khalifs and killers, is at the boiling point of a power struggle between the iron-fisted Khalif and the mysterious master thief known as the Falcon Prince.  In the midst of this brewing rebellion a series of brutal supernatural murders strikes at the heart of the Kingdoms. It is up to a handful of heroes to learn the truth behind these killings:

Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, “The last real ghul hunter in the great city of Dhamsawaat,” just wants a quiet cup of tea.  Three score and more years old, he has grown weary of hunting monsters and saving lives, and is more than ready to retire from his dangerous and demanding vocation. But when an old flame’s family is murdered, Adoulla is drawn back to the hunter’s path.

Raseed bas Raseed, Adoulla’s young assistant, a hidebound holy warrior whose prowess is matched only by his piety, is eager to deliver God’s justice. But even as Raseed’s sword is tested by ghuls and manjackals, his soul is tested when he and Adoulla cross paths with the tribeswoman Zamia.

Zamia Badawi, Protector of the Band, has been gifted with the near-mythical power of the Lion-Shape, but shunned by her people for daring to take up a man’s title. She lives only to avenge her father’s death. Until she learns that Adoulla and his allies also hunt her father’s killer. Until she meets Raseed.

When they learn that the murders and the Falcon Prince’s brewing revolution are connected, the companions must race against time–and struggle against their own misgivings–to save the life of a vicious despot.  In so doing they discover a plot for the Throne of the Crescent Moon that threatens to turn Dhamsawaat, and the world itself, into a blood-soaked ruin.

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Kinslayer by Jay Kristoff – ARC Book Review

Kinslayer by Jay Kristoff – ARC Book Review

Kinslayer FINAL

Kinslayer is Jay Kristoff’s latest installment in his Lotus War series. The story picks up not long after the end of Stormdancer, Shogun Yoritomo is dead at the hands of our hero Yukiko, the empire is in turmoil as to who will be the successor, and the Kage still lurk in the shadows – intent on toppling the regime of the Guild.

Stormdancer set the stage for Yukiko to become a Stormdancer, a hero out of legend that works in tandem with an arashitora, a tiger/eagle hybrid that commands thunder and the skies with fearsome pride. Kinslayer delivers those promises in spades, as Yukiko is raised to celebrity status amongst the citizens from her travels across the empire and speeches to the lowborn and commoners to rise above the fist of the Guild and the old regime and begin life anew.

Everything isn’t perfect for Yukiko however, as the Kenning, the ability that allows her to communicate telepathically with animals, has grown to dangerous levels. She can’t hear Buruu, her arashitora partner, without intense migraines and blood dripping from her nose and ears. To that end they set off to the North, on the hunt for a mysterious order that may provide answers. But they find more than they bargained for in foreign waters.

Kin, the young Guildsman who ran away from the order, returns to the Kage and pledges himself to the cause. Joining him is Ayane, a female Guildsmember with a hub of metallic spider legs implanted against her spine. The two former Guildsmembers face distrust and oftentimes violence against the prejudiced Kage. No one in the Kage are willing to look past Kin and Ayane’s former lives and see their true intentions.

Kin’s sections were the most compelling as the reader is forced to watch Kin and Ayane endure punishment after punishment. It’s an interesting examination of what lengths someone is willing to endure to help a just and righteous cause. At what point is it too much to bear?

Along with Yukiko and Kin we’re introduced to three new characters: Yoshi, Jurou, and Hana. Three lowborn in Kigen City that struggle with their station in life after Yukiko upset the balance and established order.

Yoshi and Jurou are lovers and work together; with the help of Yoritomo’s ironthrower (handgun) they recovered after his death and Yoshi’s Kenning, to rob members of the Yakuza. With their stolen cash they plan on leaving the city and living the life they think they deserve with Yohsi’s sister Hana.

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Hana, meanwhile, has already volunteered to join the city cell of the Kage. She’s busy using her job as a chamber pot maid at the palace to keep tabs on Aisha, the late Shogun’s sister and only surviving link to the imperial bloodline, and Michi, one of Aisha’s maidservants and secret member of the Kage held prisoner in the palace.

We’re also given brief passages concerning Hiro, the green-eyed samurai who was lover and betrayer to Yukiko. The Guild has raised him above his station to be the next Shogun and have pledged their full support and might behind him.

This book delivers on all of the promises made from Stormdancer. We get a better understanding of the world, and culture, outside of the Shima Islands. We watch society slowly crumble as the Kage seek to end the Guild while Hiro and the Guild do everything to clench to the fading powerbase.

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Anyone who follows Jay’s blog or his twitter is well aware of his unique brand of humor and some of my favorite sections are where this humor was allowed to shine through,while still remaining faithful to the world. It’s a wonderful breath of fresh air and had me pause my reading to enjoy the change in tone a simple line or paragraph would bring.

Kinslayer will be released on September 17, 2013, which gives everyone who hasn’t had the chance to read Stormdancer yet plenty of time to get caught up. A wonderful blend of steampunk, in a Japanese setting, with mythic creatures should be enough to catch everyone’s interest.

Kinslayer is Book Two in Jay Kristoff’s critically acclaimed Lotus War series that began with Stormdancer, featuring an unforgettable heroine and a stunningly original Japanese dystopian steampunk world

A SHATTERED EMPIRE
The mad Shōgun Yoritomo has been assassinated by the Stormdancer Yukiko, and the threat of civil war looms over the Shima Imperium. The toxic blood lotus flower continues to ravage the land, the deadlands splitting wider by the day. The machine-worshippers of the Lotus Guild conspire to renew the nation’s broken dynasty and crush the growing rebellion simultaneously – by endorsing a new Shōgun who desires nothing more than to see Yukiko dead.

A DARK LEGACY
Yukiko and the mighty thunder tiger Buruu have been cast in the role of heroes by the Kagé rebellion. But Yukiko herself is blinded by rage over her father’s death, and her ability to hear the thoughts of beasts is swelling beyond her power to control. Along with Buruu, Yukiko’s anchor is Kin, the rebel Guildsman who helped her escape from Yoritomo’s clutches. But Kin has his own secrets, and is haunted by visions of a future he’d rather die than see realized.

A GATHERING STORM
Kagé assassins lurk within the Shōgun’s palace, plotting to end the new dynasty before it begins. A waif from Kigen’s gutters begins a friendship that could undo the entire empire. A new enemy gathers its strength, readying to push the fracturing Shima imperium into a war it cannot hope to survive. And across raging oceans, amongst islands of black glass, Yukiko and Buruu will face foes no katana or talon can defeat.

The ghosts of a blood-stained past.

Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence – Book Review

Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence – Book Review

And so ends one of the great modern fantasy trilogies.

81ga4vDHBgL._SL1500_Mark Lawrence exploded onto the fantasy scene in the summer of 2011 with the introduction of Jorg in Prince of Thorns, the first in his Broken Empire Trilogy. Few would argue that Jorg is anything but a cruel individual, fueled only by anger and the burning desire for revenge – and willing to go to any extreme, no matter how horrific, to further his ambition. Yet we can’t get enough of him.

Emperor of Thorns is a story told in two parts. One follows Jorg in the present as he makes his way with a small retinue to Vyene, the heart of the empire. It is there, with the other gathered Kings and Czars and other rulers of the Broken Empire, that Congression will be held and a vote will be passed in order to attempt to establish a new Emperor and reforge the Broken Empire.

Running parallel to this are glimpses 5 years into the past. A time following the events of the second book, King of ThornsA time where Jorg sets off across the Empire, from Afrique to Vyene, in order to learn more about the Builders and what they did so long ago that changed the world and ignited a thousand suns.

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The reader is also given brief chapters from Chella the necromancer, set in the present. The first point-of-view away from the first person Jorg we’ve lived inside for so long. These chapters offer a glimpse into the machinations of the Dead King as he bids Chella to follow Jorg to Vyene and influence the outcome of Congression to his favor.

Lawrence has crafted a world filled with magic, whether it’s the Necromancers under the leadership of the Dead King, the wind-sworn or  dream-sworn, able to command the aspects to which they’ve been gifted. And yet this magic is the result of the manipulations of reality by those long gone, the Builders. Only ruins and hints of their technology still exists yet the Builders themselves remain in the ghosts of their machines, subtly guiding and manipulating events to suit their own needs. A captivating blend of magic and modern technology set in a world of swords and Kings.

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Map for “Emperor of Thorns” depicting the Broken Empire

Say one thing for Jorg say that he has grown in his time as King. Perhaps the sharp edges that depicted Jorg and defined him through his connection to the thorns in the briar patch have been dulled. Make no mistake, he is still as likely to break your nose as shake your hand and would not hesitate to kill a defenseless woman or an entire village if it suited his needs. But there seems to always be an underlying motive behind each of his actions, a for the greater good mentality.

His Builder-ghost guide Fexler has given him secret knowledge unknown to anyone else in the story. Truths and secrets that would affect the way of thinking of the populace at a fundamental level. Perhaps it’s this knowledge, or the birth of his son, that has turned Jorg from villain to anti-hero.

As with any great fantasy series Lawrence has crafted a depth into his world that hides mysteries atop one another like some kind of neapolitan ice cream cake – including the identity of the Dead King. A revelation that made sense once revealed yet completely catches the reader off guard.

The last 20 pages or so are filled with a meta quality that has deeper philosophical underpinnings than the rest of this “grimdark” novel. It’s an odd tonal shift, especially considering the events of the previous 400 pages yet it didn’t feel out of place. Instead it was more reminiscent of a sigh of content relief, a breath of fresh air after the harsh realities of the Broken Empire trilogy.

It should go without saying but I loved this novel and this series as a whole. Mark Lawrence deserves his place as one of the titans of modern fantasy. While the darker nature of the Broken Empire may not appeal to all readers of fantasy it should at least be tried. Soon you’ll find yourself enamored by Jorg’s charm and the insight into his head due to the 1st person narration.

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Keep an eye out for Prince of Fools (2014) the first in the The Red Queen’s War series, set in the same world as the Broken Empire yet without our [hero] Jorg.

King Jorg Ancrath is twenty now—and king of seven nations. 

His goal—revenge against his father—has not yet been realized, and the demons that haunt him have only grown stronger. Yet no matter how tortured his path, he intends to take the next step in his upward climb.

For there is only one power worth wielding…absolute power. 

Jorg would be emperor. It is a position not to be gained by the sword but rather by vote. And never in living memory has anyone secured a majority of the vote, leaving the Broken Empire long without a leader. Jorg has plans to change that—one way or the other. He’s uncovered even more of the lost technology of the land, and he won’t hesitate to use it.

But he soon finds an adversary standing in his way, a necromancer unlike any he has ever faced—a figure hated and feared even more than himself: the Dead King.

The boy who would rule all may have finally met his match…

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson – Cover Reveal

Words of Radiance: Book II of the Stormlight Archive
by Brandon Sanderson – Cover Reveal

On Monday, Tor revealed the cover artwork for Brandon Sanderson’s upcoming novel Words of Radiance the second book in the Stormlight Archive series. It’s no secret that Sanderson is one of my favorite authors that are currently writing and The Stormlight Archive is shaping up to be the hallmark fantasy series of this time.

This cover is another gorgeous piece done by Michael Whelan, the man some consider to be the hallmark of fantasy novel paintings. His mastery of color and depth lends a certain weight to each piece that draws you into the scene almost as surely as the words on the pages.

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There’s always something deeply fascinating about seeing the workspace of an artist and Whelan proves no different. There’s a lot I would give to spend an hour just perusing the area and examining the random paint drops on the floor or the random bits of reference photos pinned around the space.

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If you’d like to see more, Tor.com has an excellent post detailing Michael Whelan’s process over here. It’s definitely worth a look to see the different stages that’ve gone into the painting as well as a ton more artwork.

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The Thousand Names – Book Review

The Thousand Names by Django Wexler – Book Review

*Be sure to scroll down to see a mini-review of the short story, Penitent Damned,
Django released on io9 here.*

9780451465108_large_The_Thousand_NamesThe Thousand Names by newcomer Django Wexler is a gritty, soldiers’ novel that focuses more with life on campaign than traditional quest elements most often seen in fantasy. While a welcome departure from some of the tropes of fantasy it can at times feel more like a historical novel.

The story starts a little slow and doesn’t really start to pick up until around page 100. Despite this, Wexler has crafted a compelling narrative with characters that are quick to fall in love with. Those 100 pages, as well as the following 400, go by at a smooth pace and never really fails at keeping the reader’s attention because you can’t help but want more from both Winter and Marcus as their stories unfold.

The worldbuilding is interesting as Wexler chose to base his world on a time period that features the invention of guns and black powder. Combined with the varied faiths, racial distinctions as the soldiers lead a campaign on foreign soil, the glimpsed at magic system, and more, created a realistic and believable world that seems closer to a living breathing entity. There seems to be such depth to the world that if given this book as a child and told it was a historical account from our own world, I’m not entirely sure I wouldn’t believe it – despite the unfamiliar names and magic system that makes an appearance toward the end.

The story is told through the eyes of two characters, the first of which is Winter Ihernglass. Winter is a soldier in the Colonials, a force on the Khandar continent, who fled to the military to escape her past. Oh, and did I mention Winter is also a woman? In a tale similar to Mulan, Winter has found the best place to hide is in the military, where a woman is the last thing anyone would expect to see.

Things get interesting quick for Winter as she is quickly promoted to command and must use the skills she’s learned the few years in the military to lead and inspire her troops to continue marching and end a rebellion that’s brewed in the desert. I was always more excited to read her sections over Marcus as her character was relatable and easy to enjoy. Coupled with Wexler’s ability to blend enough mysteries concerning her backstory, it was easy to get drawn into the down-on-her-luck soldier as she’s forced to embrace command.

Opposite to Winter is Captain Marcus d’Ivoire, a commander of one of the Colonial garrisons. Despite wishes to the contrary he is soon put in a place of second-in-command to the new Colonel as he aims to end the rebellion and help restore the deposed Prince to his throne.

A soldier-type through and through, Marcus proved to be an interesting flip to Winter’s passages and while interesting always felt a little more stilted by comparison. The true shining moment in his chapters were the interactions with the new Colonel, Janus bet Vhalnich. A Napoleon Bonaparte inspired character whose tactical ingenuity, genius and oftentimes eccentric personality made him easily lovable and one of my favorite characters to read.

It takes a little while for any type of magic to make an appearance, yet Wexler manages to capture the audience’s attention in other manners, whether it be the powder smoke of battle or compelling characters that are forced to deal with surprising wrenches in the plan. When magic does finally get introduced it is very mysterious and mostly hidden, letting the readers imagination run a little wild with the tantalizing taste we’re given.

The narrative arc runs the risk of at times being slightly predictable but not in any way that was detrimental to the overall enjoyment of the events as they transpired. The end sets the stage wonderfully for The Shadow Throne with a return to the Vordanai continent as mysteries and secrets are revealed.

Captain Marcus d’Ivoire, commander of one of the Vordanai empire’s colonial garrisons, was resigned to serving out his days in a sleepy, remote outpost. But that was before a rebellion upended his life. And once the powder smoke settled, he was left in charge of a demoralized force clinging tenuously to a small fortress at the edge of the desert.

To flee from her past, Winter Ihernglass masqueraded as a man and enlisted as a ranker in the Vordanai Colonials, hoping only to avoid notice. But when chance sees her promoted to command, she must win the hearts of her men and lead them into battle against impossible odds.

The fates of both these soldiers and all the men they lead depend on the newly arrived Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich, who has been sent by the ailing king to restore order. His military genius seems to know no bounds, and under his command, Marcus and Winter can feel the tide turning. But their allegiance will be tested as they begin to suspect that the enigmatic Janus’s ambitions extend beyond the battlefield and into the realm of the supernatural—a realm with the power to ignite a meteoric rise, reshape the known world, and change the lives of everyone in its path.

* * *

Penitent Damned by Django Wexler – Short Story Review

For anyone that missed the link at the top of the page, be sure to go here and read this amazing short-story set in the world of The Shadow Campaign Trilogy.

The Penitent Damned is a wonderful short story that sets the stage for the events to come in The Thousand Names. I originally read this before reading the novel but have to admit I think it’s more enjoyable if read after Thousand Names.

This story follows Alex, an apprentice under the master thief Metzing, as they return to a city they swore off forever for one incredible job. Only Vordan City is also the home of Duke Orlanko and his secret police the Concordat.

Unlike The Thousand Names, this short story doesn’t waste any time in showcasing the magic of the world and some of the mysteries that are only glimpsed at in the novel.

It’s a wonderful story that brings depth to the worldbuilding and a taste of what’s to come as the series progresses. Alex is a fun character with an interesting set of skills and I hope that she will be making a future appearance in the series.

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..

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  • 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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Breach Zone by Myke Cole – Cover Reveal

On Wednesday Myke Cole, author of the Control Point Series – Shadow Ops, Breach Zone, and Breach Zone, revealed the cover for his upcoming novel Breach Zone. Another gorgeous piece done by Michael Kormarck, Breach Zone  is in my opinion the best of the three. Giving us a wonderful look at Harlequin, lightning arcing between his hands while destruction looms in the background. Cole has already said Breach Zone will be an explosive installment in his trilogy as war comes to New York City from the Source.

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I know the adage as well as anyone, “You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover,” but I think this is one case that we’ll all be pleasantly surprised by what’s waiting for us behind this cover come January 28, 2014.

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In the wake of a bloody battle at Forward Operating Base Frontier and a scandalous presidential impeachment, Lieutenant Colonel Jan Thorsson, call sign “Harlequin,” becomes a national hero and a pariah to the military that is the only family he’s ever known.

In the fight for Latent equality, Oscar Britton is positioned to lead a rebellion in exile, but a powerful rival beats him to the punch: Scylla, a walking weapon who will stop at nothing to end the human-sanctioned apartheid against her kind.

When Scylla’s inhuman forces invade New York City, the Supernatural Operations Corps are the only soldiers equipped to prevent a massacre. In order to redeem himself with the military, Harlequin will be forced to face off with this havoc-wreaking woman from his past, warped by her power into something evil…

Elsewhere on N.Schmiedicker:

Control Point Review
Fortress Frontier Review
Interview with Myke Cole