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The September Report

The September Report published on 2 Comments on The September Report

I’m no stranger to reading a ton of books a month. I can get pretty obsessive, so I’ll get a craving for a certain author, and the next thing I know, I’m mainlining their backlist. This can lead to reading several different books a day, foot twitching all the while. It was even worse during the dark days of my fan fiction addiction – I could read 100,000 words a day of stories derived not from the massive pool of accumulated culture, but from a single author’s vision.

This September was very much like that time in my life. I inhaled books. Truly, stronger and headier a high than fanfiction.

THE DEAFENING SILENCE IN HEAVEN

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Sniegoski has done something powerful with this latest installment of his angel’s adventures. Within the first twenty pages, Remy is so close to death that he’s seeing visions of his dead wife, and a certain someone finds out his secret. The first twenty pages! The pace does not let up from there, merely shifts into an alternate world in which something truly terrible has happened, Marlowe shows little of his love for Remy, and Heaven has been sullied. I can’t help but think that Sniegoski has been layering in these alternate world possibilities for a while; despite the jarring dimension-shift, the narrative is entirely coherent. As with all installments in the series, Remy is the heart and soul of it. He is at once vulnerable and strong, sweet and sad, and he carries those traits far from home.

This novel deserves a full review. The reason it is not getting one is not because of time (I would make time), but because I need to reread the entire series. There is so much I’ve forgotten (I’d forgotten all about Francis’s new job, for example) that I simply can’t have a discussion that compares two different timelines when I can’t even remember the main story arc. I can say this: the alternate reality is masterfully done. This, the final novel in the Remy Chandler series (for the present, at least), is a glorious finale to a series I really, really need to reread.

SUNSET MANTLE

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This is a novella that is part of Tor.com Publishing’s elite line-up, and it deserves to be there. Sunset Mantle is a story of honor and war (there are two large battles in 107 pages), and the main character Cete embraces a sort of stoicism that you’d expect from a warrior-priest: he loves the law, he loves his God, and he is willing to sacrifice all not just for his honor, but for his employer’s. The story moves marches from an uncertain beginning to a shocking end, and never slows down for more than a paragraph or two. Alter S. Reiss has a talent for creating and maintaining tension, writing characters who are more than what they seem, and for writing a complete story that makes people beg for more. The world-building he’s done requires a sequel.

FANGS FOR THE MEMORIES

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Molly Harper is one of the cleverest and funniest writers of paranormal romance. Her stories are always just a little bit off the beaten track; she is unafraid to put her characters into unusual situations and extrapolate a fun plot from there. “Fangs for the Memories” is no different. She’s gone back in time within her series to when two of her most endearing side characters, Andrea and Dick Cheney, fall in love.

The best part about the novella is seeing the world through Andrea’s eyes. Harper has real talent for painstakingly creating characters that are so real it’s hard to believe they don’t breathe. But there is so much of Andrea that we didn’t know, and it was revealed slowly and thoughtfully as she fell in love with Dick Cheney, who is not a traditionally romantic hero (but so funny, so very funny).

The series this story belongs to is representative of the best writing coming out of paranormal romance these days: emotional, funny, affecting, and heavy on plot. Even if this is not a genre in which you traditionally read, I think you should give it a try.

ALANNA: THE FIRST ADVENTURE

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A couple of weeks ago, Tamora Pierce took part in one of Reddit’s infamous AMAs. A lot of good information was shared: Alanna and George had a fourth child later in their lives, Numair’s book has become so gigantic that it is now a trilogy (the first volume will come out Spring 2017), and after that is over she will be going back in four hundred years in time to the shattering of the Empire of which Tortall, Galla, Tusaine, Scanra, and others were a part.

I’ve been a fan of the Alanna books since before I even hit double digits. Before Robin Hobb, before JK Rowling, before Jim Butcher, I was hooked on any and every Tortallan adventure. The AMA inspired me to pick up Alanna and read the series all over again. My finding is this: Alanna: The First Adventure holds up after all these years. It’s engaging, intense, thoughtfully crafted, and every other compliment I could give it. I know a lot of people for whom these books were the gateway to a lifelong love of fantasy. If you haven’t read them, buy them immediately. Buy them for your children, your nieces and nephews, and your friends’s kids.

Thanks for reading!

Author Interview: Seth Skorkowsky

Author Interview: Seth Skorkowsky published on 3 Comments on Author Interview: Seth Skorkowsky

Seth Skorkowsky’s debut novel, Dämoren, an urban fantasy featuring nasty monsters, modern-day knights, and a sentient pistol, was released in 2014 by Ragnarok Publications. Since then he has proven to be an incredibly prolific writer. Not only did he publish Hounacier, the second in his critically-acclaimed Valducan series, but he’s also released two hefty collections of stories featuring his hero, the Black Raven.

He graciously agreed to an interview with galleywampus, to celebrate the publication of The Sea of Quills.

J Wilbanks: Hi, Seth! Thanks for joining us.

Seth Skorkowsky: Thank you very much for having me.

JW: First things first – you have a new book out this week! You must be pretty excited. What can you tell us about it?

SS: I’m very excited. Sea of Quills is my second collection of stories following a thief called the Black Raven. They’re a pulpy throwback to the old fantasy tales where each story is a self-contained adventure. I regularly refer to it as a mixture of James Bond and the Gray Mouser.

JW: I read that you first envisioned this character back in 2008. What gave you the impetus to drag him out of your mind and expose him on the page after all that time?

SS: In 2008 I published my first Black Raven story, The Porvov Switch, in Flashing Swords Magazine. They picked up a total of six Black Raven stories, but went under after printing three of them. At the time we’d discussed makingthe first collection, Mountain of Daggers, and they advised me to get the total count up to 90,000 words. After Flashing Swords folded, I started work with Rogue Blades for it. Then a very large publishing house expressed interest, and it spent two years waiting on a decision before I retracted my submission to look elsewhere. All in all, the process was over five years of frustration before Ragnarok picked it up. By that time, I had twenty stories and had split the collection into two volumes.

JW: You’ve written The Sea of Quills (and its predecessor) to be a series of interrelated short stories. I love that format, and it reminds me of the shared-worlds of the 80s and 90s, like Liavek. But it’s not a commonly seen format. What led to you creating it this way?

SS: I love short fiction. So my original plan was to publish them like the old Conan or Fafhrd & Gray Mouser tales where they appear in different magazines and anthologies and eventually being brought together into the collection. It didn’t quite work out that way.

JW: Which of the stories are you most proud of in Sea of Quills? Which was the hardest to write? Which one is your wife’s favorite?

SS: I’m the most proud of The Noble Hunter. Some of the scenes in that one were floating around in my head for years before I found a good place to use them. It was also the hardest to write because I had to balance everything with its companion story, City Beneath the Kaisers, which I wrote at the same time. My wife’s favorite is Temptation’s Proposal. We both love masquerade balls (even our wedding was one) so she likes the setting and the villain in it is her favorite.

JW: The world you’ve built in Mountain of Daggers and Sea of Quills is rich with untold stories. Can we expect more?

SS: Definitely. I have plans for several specific adventures and hope to keep Black Raven stories as something I continue to write for years to come.

JW: You have another series, also published by Ragnarok. The first two in the series are already out. When can we expect the third book?

SS: The third novel is Ibenus. Currently I’m 75% through the first draft. The plan is to finish it up and have it ready for Ragnarok by the end of the year. Publication should hopefully be mid-2016, but that’s really an educated guess until I have it turned in. In the meantime, I have a pair of Valducan short stories coming out with Emby Press and Bloodshot Books that will take place before Dämoren and expand some on the world and the weapons.

JW: I love that you’re writing a female lead character! Is the process of building her character different from how you created your male characters?

SS: Yes and no. The biggest difference between Victoria and the heroes in the previous books is that we get to experience her growth with her. Dämoren and Hounacier both begin years in the past and then fast-forward to the present, bypassing the transition from everyday person to demon-slaying knight. Victoria’s journey begins after the events in Hounacier and we get to ride along with it.

JW: Thanks for being so forth-coming about your yet-to-be-written Ibenus! We’re very excited to read it. We love the Valducan series – it is a series, right? You plan to write more Valducan after Ibenus, yes? We have to have more, Seth!

SS: It is a series. I have some ideas for the fourth book, and began sprinkling seeds for it in Hounacier. Once I’m finished with Ibenus, I’ll have to see if I have enough to go ahead and start it, or possibly continue work on a different project that’s been mulling around.

JW: Okay, now for a fun question, just because I’m nosy. List three things you would NOT do for 10 billion dollars.

SS: 1: I would not leave my wife. Whatever escapades I can do with $10 billion would be no fun without her.
2: I would not give up gaming. It’s too much of my life to live without it.
3: I would never cut off my own legs and serve them at a formal dinner no matter who might attend it.

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Sea of Quills is available to read today!

Review: Crucible of Souls by Mitchell Hogan

Review: Crucible of Souls by Mitchell Hogan published on

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Crucible of Souls by Mitchell Hogan has an interesting story. It was originally published in Australia through Createspace, won the 2013 Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Novel (an award also won in the past by excellent authors like Juliet Marillier, Garth Nix, and Sara Douglass) and was finally picked up by Harper Voyager for publication in 2015. Tale is that book two is with Harper Voyager and prepping for release on February 2nd, 2016. Further tale is that book three is also in Harper Voyager’s hands. We have our fingers crossed that we get a copy of Blood of Innocents (Book 2 of the Sorcery Ascendant Sequence) before February.

Review

In a lot of ways, Crucible of Souls is a traditional Bildungsroman. Caldan’s parents are murdered when he was a baby, (a pattern carrying forward from even earlier in his ancestry), and he was taken in by monks and taught the ways of sorcery. The monastery is very much his home and he has found a niche in it. However, as he gets older, it becomes apparent that there is no place for a young man with no family connections to trickle money into the monastery, and he is told that he will need to leave. When he is involved in a tragedy, Caldan is forced to leave earlier than he expected and quickly finds himself a little mouse in the big city. But he is not an entirely defenseless mouse. He just needs some training.

Caldan develops his understanding of the world as he works on survival, and eventually, an apprenticeship. He finds that, in addition to his decent and improving swordsmanship, Dominion play, and crafting abilities, he has a knack for making connections between ideas. There is also another ability happening in the background, however, that makes him much more capable and important than even he knows.

One aspect of this novel that I really enjoyed was the crafting. I liked how the system of magic involved in crafting magic-infused objects is developed and how Caldan learns from his mistakes and continues to make better craftings. He is good at crafting with paper, which is not particularly typical, and can make all kinds of nifty things using it. He also figures out some neat tricks for making mobile, longer-lasting automatons that engage in some important scenes.

We follow several other characters (all POV is limited third-person): Aidan, a special type of soldier who is finding himself in increasingly morally questionable situations; Vasile, a judge who can automatically detect if a person is lying, and who follows this skill into trouble; and Amerdan, a sinister, gifted serial-killer who might be linked to Caldan in some way (and is involved in a small but memorable scene involving pigs).

Behind all of this, there is a rising threat to the kingdom. We get bits and pieces of information until toward the end, when all hell breaks loose.

There are some minor pacing issues in this book, but certainly fewer than most other authors’ first large-scale fantasy epics I’ve read in the past. The author does an excellent job of giving us only so much information, and generally only when we need it; I am okay with the fact that we don’t know exactly how or why Caldan is who he is by the end of book one. We’ll get there.

Crucible of Souls was released on September 22, 2015 by Harper Voyager. Buy it at Amazon
(or wherever you like to buy books).

Review: Fool’s Quest, by Robin Hobb

Review: Fool’s Quest, by Robin Hobb published on 3 Comments on Review: Fool’s Quest, by Robin Hobb

Fool's Quest Cover

Robin Hobb has been one of my favorite authors from the time she was publishing the Liveship Trader books. Fitz and the Fool are as much friends of mine as it is possible for fictional characters can be (it is a one-sided relationship, alas). I have run an entire gamut of emotions while reading their adventures (especially during Fool’s Fate, I sobbed during the final third of the novel), and while I thought Fool’s Fate had a perfect ending — I realized, during Fool’s Quest, that while Robin Hobb may have given a trilogy a perfect ending, she had set the stage for the third trilogy back during the first, and I’d been too stupid to realize it. I am amazed by her ability to drop hints — she knew where she was going, there is no doubt.

Fool’s Quest is the best book she has written. When it comes to her, there is no such thing as “middle book syndrome”; no one gets fatigued of the characters; the stakes are high for all the characters (even Fitz, since there is another POV character who could take the series to its end); some things end; others begin. There is a give and take to the story that is evident in all of her books: grim, terrible things happen in this book that goes beyond what she has written before, and yet, there is light, too. She has achieved a balance. She knows her characters so well.

I can’t wait for spring 2017 and the closing chapter of what is one of the most ambitious and meticulously crafted series I have ever read.

Assassin’s Fate will surely be the best book she has ever written.

Between the Covers, or, How I Spent the Last Days of My Summer Vacation: volume 1.1

Between the Covers, or, How I Spent the Last Days of My Summer Vacation: volume 1.1 published on

This is the first post, in what will likely be a weekly post for Galleywampus on Fridays, and I want to take a minute to thank Chris and Janelle for inviting me on board. Thanks for having me guys!

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Twelve Kings in Sharakhai by Bradley P. Beaulieu (Out new this week)

So I have a confession.

There are some books I love and I just want to burble about as I spill all the spoilers. It’s a terrible secret I know. But there are also the other books I love. The ones where I want to sit back and watch someone read them. To watch THAT SCENE happen and have them look up in horror-love that the author just did that to them. It’s the sort of sadistic joy that makes me both a little ashamed and yet, curiously happy.

I never said I was a nice man, did I?

Fortunately, “Twelve Kings” falls more into the first category. I want to tell you everything about Ceda, and her world. I want to whisper ‘I love when **SPOILER REDACTED** happens!’ to you and I want to see you go ‘OH! That sounds amazing!’ And I want my enthusiasm to make you love this book too. This book doesn’t rely on doing something shocking, it relies on excellent storytelling and believable characters in a world that is both like, and very unlike our own. This is the book where Beaulieu has finally passed out of his journeyman status and shows his control over the story (and those mouth-filling and tongue-twisting nominatives he loves).

I think this is a great book for fans of high fantasy that steps outside the traditional milieu. If you’re looking for the next Terry Brooks or Raymond Feist, this isn’t it. But if you liked the rich complex worlds of ‘The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms’ or Joe Abercrombie, then there’s a lot here for you.

And when-

Oh but that would be telling. Go read it for yourself, fall in love, and come back and talk to me about it. I’ll be here, reading the new Salman Rushdie for next week’s column.

Also read:

I also read the charming ‘Sorcerer of the Crown’ by Zen Cho this week, and it was delightful. I didn’t really feel connected to the characters all that much, but they were charming and, when appropriate, very witty. It kept me up long past my bedtime so I could finish it. An excellent choice for fans of Gail Carriger and Patricia Wrede’s Sorcery and Cecelia.

Books of Tuesday Next

These are the books I’m excited about coming out this next Tuesday:

Forgotten Gem

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This week’s forgotten gem is Patricia McKillip’s delightful ‘The Changeling Sea’. YA, before YA was really even a thing. It’s got all the things that make me love McKillip so very much:

•Unforgettable characters
•A well-contained plot
•And the prose! Oh the prose!

Somehow she strings words together so beautifully. My pal Moses commented on Facebook yesterday that he was reading it, and just the memory was enough to make me grab my copy and reread it myself.

Review: Twelve Kings in Sharakhai

Review: Twelve Kings in Sharakhai published on

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I probably won’t give a deep summary of many of the books I review. Ultimately, if you want to know the general concepts, you can read the back of the book at your favorite book-seller, the summary on Goodreads, or the blurb on your favorite book retailer’s website.

I will note here that the book is about a young woman, Çeda, who lives a complex life: orphan, former gutter-wren, apothecary’s assistant, gladiator, cold-blooded killer, lifelong friend, vengeful would-be assassin. She’s a fighter: always was, always will be, never really had a choice, after her mother is murdered and strung up for all to see. Çeda spends about 0% of the book moaning about her difficulties, though, and spends much of the book plotting (and working toward) the murder of the 12 near-immortal, god-blessing-infused Kings of/in Sharakhai.The Kings were directly responsible for her mother’s death, you see.

These Kings each have a different power given to them by a god. But there is also, intended or unintended,  a curse attached to each. One King, for example, who can see the future, can only see the other Kings’ futures as a crown that could signify any of the other Kings, and he cannot see his own future at all. He is haunted by this blindspot, and it has caused him terrible grief. The Kings are god-like, cruel, and over 400-years old. Despite this cruelty, we do see their motivations and follow one of these kings via POV.

The book is languid in spilling it’s secrets, told in third-person prose that shifts to several different characters. The sequential flashbacks give us glimpses at how Çeda became the young woman we meet in chapter one, and also gives a more complete understanding of her relationships, like the one with her caretaker and with her best friend..

One aspect that I loved about this book–one of many–is that romantic love is not a plot point here. Love is important, present, celebrated. But this is by no means a romance novel. It is a fantasy novel with realistic, never-forced emotional truths.

This novel fits some common fantasy thematic elements, a few common fantasy tropes, uses some signals that an avid fantasy reader will pick up. Some of the secrets that Çeda unearths are guessed early on, but the book doesn’t rely on the big reveal as an emotional punch to us–the emotional punch is for Çeda. The language is thoughtful and measured. The plot speed is slow, but I count this a strength. Beaulieu does not rush anything here. We learn about the desert’s mythology, Sharakhai’s history, the political machinations and subplots, in such a way that we don’t realize that we are lacking information until we receive it. In some books, the background is never fleshed out–we are given the inked sketch and assume that is all we’ll get. In Twelve Kings in Sharakhai, the color is added over time, creating a complete piece of art.

The desert is a character all its own, here. Beautiful shifting sands, boats and ships and, essentially, surfboards using special wood glide over the sands, making Sharakhai both a city separated from the world by a sea and a city with little access to water and the easy food of a sea-faring city. It’s a brilliant concept, perfectly executed.

If you take the kink and sex out of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart, add some gladiator sport, provide an authentic desertscape, and tamp down the poetic language just tad, you’ve got Bradley P. Beaulieu’s Twelve Kings in Sharakhai. This was, by far, the best “epic fantasy” work I’ve read in years.

Twelve Kings in Sharakhai by Bradley P. Beaulieu was published by DAW on September 1, 2015.

 

 

 

 

 

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