If the Baby is Ugly….

You know that thing you do, that thing where you justify the reactions others have to your work?

I wrote a book once. Well, actually I wrote several books. None of them sold very well, and I took to saying “It is because my genius is not knowable.”

Have you ever said that? Really, now. You know you have. Maybe not in those words, and maybe not aloud, but you know what I’m talking about. People just don’t get it.

You know what that is? It’s the use of self-affirmation to ease the pain of what you perceive as different from what you expected. We practice this technique quite a bit, but some of where it starts is with the dissonance we feel when what we say may not be what we really mean.

Cognitive dissonance, defined, is “an internal state that results when individuals notice inconsistency between two or more attitudes or between their attitudes and their behavior.”

In English, man!

In simple terms, it’s that slightly uncomfortable feeling you get when the baby is ugly but you say “He’s soooooo cute!”

uglybabyIf the baby is ugly, the baby is ugly. Why do we say it’s not? Because the parents are friends and we don’t want to upset them? Yes, that’s probably the motivation behind the lie.

It’s the same with reviews, you know.

Think about that for a moment: Why say “This book is the greatest ever written!!!!1!” when you know the writing is horrible, the story doesn’t go anywhere, and you would rather watch paint dry than read another chapter?

You know why.

It’s cognitive dissonance and what you’re saying right now (“They are writer friends and I want to help”) is self-affirmation. You’re saying something to cover your butt, to make yourself feel better for leaving that five-star review on Amazon for a book that should be one (or fewer stars).

Who are you helping with that?

Are you disillusioning the writer or are you making yourself feel better by “helping” someone else out who is an independent like you?

If the baby is ugly….

Bruce Blake, who might be known to some here (*wink*), once edited a manuscript of mine. It had errors. There were problems and inconsistencies and “farthers” where there should have been “furthers.” Between his edits and Scott Bury’s (who might also be known to some here (*wink*)) were kind enough to say “you know, this baby is ugly.”

You know what I did with that knowledge? I edited my manuscript, breathed a little, and still published it. The book sold little, and in my head I thought “it is because my genius is not knowable.” So while there was honesty in the reviews, I still thought what others had to say was off the mark and practiced self-affirmation when I should have practiced rewriting draft 52 (or 53…I lost count).

So what is needed in our industry? What is needed, I think, is a bit of honesty. If a manuscript sucks, regardless of how many other published manuscripts an author has or the size of their publishing house, the writer needs to know their baby is ugly.

I wrote a two-star review of a David Morrell book once. It felt good. I didn’t lie.

Will he care? He’s Rambo. Of course not.

But if an up-and-coming writer really wants to improve, if they really want to give the baby plastic surgery so-to-speak, they need to know the truth and we (as readers and writers and reviewers) need to be able to tell them that truth.

Cognitive dissonance is a thing. Self-affirmation is what helps ease the discomfort.

In the words of Bob Newhart: “Stop it.

If the baby is ugly….


Benjamin X. Wretlind ran with scissors when he was five. He now writes. He is the author of A Difficult Mirror, Castles: A Fictional Memoir of a Girl with Scissors, and Sketches from the Spanish Mustang.

He also gets up before 4am to milk (words, not cows).

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Cheesy Fantasy Movies, Part 2

Not long ago, I wrote a post about some pretty awful fantasy movies, and why we love them in spite of their ultimate cheesiness (or, quite possible, because of it).  In that first post I discussed Beastmaster, Willow and Legend.  Now I have three more movies to get off my chest.

Hawk the Slayer

Hawk the Slayer

There’s a good chance you’ve never even heard of this bizarre fantasy flick, but I’m often surprised by how many people have heard of it.  This movie has “the 80s” written all over it, from the flair of the opening credits to the overly synthesized music to the mist-filled cinematography…all that’s missing is Richard Simmons and a soundtrack by Phil Collins, and we’d be all set…

The evil Voltan (Jack Palance, breathing heavily and using his scowl to terrific effect) is the scourge of the land, and when he and his men kidnap the Abbess of a small convent the sisters turn to a band of heroes led by the man called Hawk (John Terry, years before he was Jack’s alcoholic father on Lost), who has cause to hate Voltan (they’re brothers, you see, and Voltan sort of…killed…Dad).  Armed with a cool-looking magical sword (the bottom of the hilt is a hand gripping a glowing orb) and aided by Gort (a “giant” with a hammer), Ranulf (a warrior who manages to get his ass kicked in almost every scene), Crow (an elf, not the wise-cracking robot), and Baldin (a “dwarf” with a whip), Hawk and the others battle Voltan to an excessively Quincy Jones-like soundtrack and (spoiler alert!) ultimately save the day.

Honestly, Hawk the Slayer is so utterly cheesy its hard not to like it.  The film is hokey from the very first frame, and like a lot of the rest of the movies on this list that’s truly where the charm lies.  John Terry is a capable actor, and his ability to keep a straight face in spite of all of the heavy-handed zaniness going on around him actually helps to keep the film grounded.  And what is there not to love about Jack Palance running around with half of his face hidden and acting menacing?

 

Conan the Destroyer

Conan the Destroyer

Conan the Barbarian is considered by many to be among the staples of the genre — a bare bones, well-plotted, efficient sword and sorcery adventure with plenty of blood, babes and mayhem.  It never overextends itself, and never tries to be something it’s not.

Conan the Destroyer…yeah, not so much.

The sequel eschews the linear model of its predecessor and goes for “bigger, badder, more” (the failing, honestly, of most sequels).  This time, legendary warrior Conan (Arnold Schwarzeneggar, The Guhvenator himself) is recruited by the secretly evil queen Taramis (Sarah Douglas, taking time off from kicking Superman’s butt) to help Princess Jehnna (Olivia D’Abo) recover a sacred jewel in exchange for Taramis returning Conan’s lost love from the grave.  Accompanied by far too many other characters — Bombaata (Wilt Chamberlain, without a slam dunk in sight), the captain of Taramis’ guard; Akiro the wizard (Mako, reprising his role from the first film and chewing on the scenery); Malak (Tracey Walter), a bungling and thoroughly annoying thief; and Zula (Grace Jones), a warrior-dame who the producers really wanted to be in the movie — Conan secures the jewel from the tower of the evil wizard Thoth-Amon (Pat Roach) and returns only to learn that Taramis plans to use the treasure to revive the Dreaming God and wreak havoc upon the world.  Oops.

Conan the Destroyer can be enjoyed on a very visceral, corny level.  The action sequences are well done, and there’s plenty of excitement to be found, but as a sequel this film is pretty lacking.  The original, even for as simple and sometimes cheesy as it was, had a soul to the proceedings, a sense of gravitas and conviction in spite of ultimately being about a big warrior running around and smashing things with his sword.  Conan the Destroyer, sadly, is full-on cheese, and while that’s perfectly enjoyable in its own right, the film could have been much better.

Krull

Krull

This, probably my favorite of the “cheesy” fantasy movies, is a highly enjoyable epic fantasy adventure that just happens to really be more sci-fi than fantasy.  Alien invaders called the “Slayers”, minions of “The Beast”, descend in their flying fortress and launch a ruinous attack that slays both of the monarchs of the world of Krull.  When Princess Lyssa (Lysette Anthony) — who prophecy foretells will have a child who will one day rule the galaxy — is kidnapped by the Slayers, it falls to her betrothed, Prince Colwyn (Ken Marshall) and an old sage named Ynyr (Freddie Jones) to rescue her.  Aided by a cyclops (Bernard Bresslaw), a bungling magician (David Battley), and a band of escaped convicts (including Alun Armstrong, Robbie Coltrane and Liam Neeson), Colwyn must find the elusive Black Fortress, lair of The Beast, which changes its location with each new dawn.

The only thing cheesy about Krull is the inherent sense of corniness present in most 80s fantasy flicks, because, all things considered, this is a pretty good movie.  The characters are a bit thin, yes, and The Beast’s efforts to woo Lyssa (who really does little more than run around the Black Fortress and look distraught) grows tiresome, but the battle scenes are well choreographed, the Slayers are sufficiently frightening opponents, and the special effects are, for the most part, pretty decent for a moderately budgeted film (though the scenes involving the Widow of the Web’s lair are, admittedly, pretty awful).  The soundtrack is even good (though it came at that stage in James Horner’s career where he was basically writing the same theme over and over again…if you get the main titles for Krull, Star Trek II and Willow confused, don’t feel bad, because they’re essentially the same).

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That’s it for my list.  What are some of your favorite fantasy cheese fests?

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Steven Montano watches too many movies, and there’s no question they’ve rotted his brain.  He also writes fantasy novels and likes to get lost in the woods.  Find out more at his website.

Book Review: An Unsuitable Princess: A True Fantasy | A Fantastical Memoir

 

by A.M. Justice

USPrincess

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Jane Rosenberg LaForge

Artwork by Mary Ann Strandell

 

Art mirrors life, even for authors of fantasy. Here on the Guild of Dreams, Chantal Boudreau has written a lot about how her interests inform her work (her coffee essay is a favorite); Autumn Birt and Steven Montano have both provided us with photo essays showing their influences in the natural world; and Scott Bury has told us about his inspirations from family members to the change in seasons. I’ve also blogged about my real-life influences, and on the home page of my website, you’ll find some real-world pictures that serve as location shots of Knownearth (they’re there on the homepage, just scroll down). Jane Rosenberg LaForge wrote an entire novel-memoir hybrid in which she traces the key elements of her fantasy to people, places, and events from her youth in 1970s Los Angeles. In the spirit of LaForge’s novel, this blog is a hybrid review-reminiscence.

A mutual friend introduced me to LaForge about a month ago, and we met for lunch before I read her book (which I bought). We commiserated over the challenges of raising children in New York City, and we shared stories of parents and ex’s. LaForge was funny, charming, and wise, and I enjoyed our time together. A few times over lunch, she’d mention a painful family dynamic and then say, “Read the book,” to close the topic. Yet it wasn’t until I did read the book that I realized how much LaForge and I have in common. As children and teens, she and I hovered on the fringes of school society; we both took ballet (never excelling at it); we both failed to tame unruly hair; and we both suffered the indignity of a smarter sibling. We both loved horses (although my mother pulled me from riding lessons after my first fall, so my horse-love was the abstract kind) and depended on friends and parents to ferry us to school dances and parties, thanks to delayed driving lessons. (I was further transportation-impaired because I didn’t learn how to ride a bicycle until the week before I left for college.) We both attended high school in Southern California, although her beaches lined the Pacific, while mine skirted the Colorado River, four hours east in a fast car on Interstate 10.

What really struck home about An Unsuitable Princess, however, is that it’s a book about regret and a plea for forgiveness. Most of my work involves some sort of failure, and the quest for redemption afterward. LaForge’s memoir culminates in an “if only” moment, which sank into the earth of her imagination and blossomed into a lovely story about isolation and rejection and the redemptive power of loyalty and love. We all have those youthful moments when we behaved less than admirably—you can find my real-life regrets catalogued in the essay collection Four Doors Open. LaForge’s real-life regret echoes backward through her fantasy, working magic on the reader, illuminating the depths of a story that, until you reach that pivotal moment in the memoir, seems to be merely a light fantasy about a young man in love with a mute outcast.

Set in an imaginary land resembling Elizabethan England, the fantasy features a nobleman and a blacksmith’s apprentice who both owe their lives to the ministrations of a young witch named Jenny. Both men seek to help her, in defiance of the queen, who ordered Jenny shunned. After Jenny disappears, a rescue mission unravels the mystery of her speechlessness and pariah-status. True to the period in detail and manners, the fantasy is beautifully written in a poetic, dreamy style that still echoes days after I finished the book. The narrative does start slow—it didn’t immediately hook me—but it gains momentum and emotional weight, becoming quite a powerful story by the end. An epistolary chapter—a fictional memoir within the fantasy framed by the real-life memoir—was particularly affecting as a starkly beautiful, heart-wrenching chronicle of the blacksmith’s foot-soldiering in a pointless war. From this point on in the narrative, the courage and heroism of the main characters, their loyalty and love for one another, captured me and and continues to haunt my thoughts.

Like the fictional tale, the true story took a while to grab my interest. Written in a modern, journalistic style, the memoir lacks the color and beauty of the fantasy. I suppose the distinct styles are meant to help the reader stay oriented to the real vs the fantasy world, but I would have enjoyed a more poetic, less prosaic approach to LaForge’s remembrances. Early on, I also resented the interruptions posed by the Laurel Canyon factoids every few paragraphs. The reader can easily skip the memoir (or the fantasy), because the two sections are typeset differently, and I considered doing so at first. However, I grew used to the author’s asides and began to enjoy them, particularly as she left her childhood behind and began chronicling her teens. The last sections, detailing LaForge’s experience working at the original Southern California Renaissance Pleasure Faire, fascinated me—in high school I longed to dress up in Elizabethan costume and work the Faire. (I was in my late twenties when I finally made it to a Faire—the one in Northern California—but I attended as a paying customer and by that age was too self-conscious to dress in garb.) LaForge’s “if only” moment—the regrettable action that fuses fantasy and memoir together into a deeply moving tale—resonated as something I might easily have done. And I might well have translated that event into a tale about someone who acts heroically instead of selfishly (in fact, I do that every time I write a story).

An Unsuitable Princess has a few other flaws. Occasional malapropisms and instances of missing or extra words kicked me out of the story more often than I would like. In compensation, the Kindle and full-color editions include stunning artwork by Mary Ann Strandel that compliments the narrative, while not quite illustrating it.

Overall, I would give An Unsuitable Princess 4 out 5 stars. The fantasy portion is a lovely story, quiet, sad, and uplifting; the memoir is insightful, often funny, and wise, like the author.

An Unsuitable Princess, by Jane Rosenberg LaForge

Kindle, $4.99

Full-color print edition, $44.99

Black and white print edition, $16.99

Photo on 7-25-12 at 12.24 PM #3_2A.M. Justice writes fiction from distant times and places and chronicles journeys in the here and now. A confident driver these days, she nevertheless prefers roaming her Brooklyn neighborhood, looking for inspiration, on her own two feet. You can follow her on Twitter (@AMJusticeWrites) or join the Citizenry of Knownearth on her Facebook page.

Cheesy Fantasy Movies, Part 1

The Lord of the Rings trilogy is pretty awesome.  Game of Thrones, perhaps even better.  For fans of epic fantasy, these efforts represent the culmination of what we love about the genre, everything that pulls us in whenever we pick up a new novel or sit down to play Dungeons & Dragons with our friends — the drama, the politics, the darkness, the sense of danger and wonder and excitement and the discovery of worlds that can only exist in the imagination.

But not every effort to bring epic fantasy to the screen have been nearly so successful.  In fact, it’s safe to say that most of them were pretty awful…and yet we love them anyway.

It’s hard to say why epic fantasy translates so poorly to film, but it seems that much of what feels so sweeping and serious in the personalized experience of reading a novel comes across as a bit hokey when projected to the screen.  My theory (for what it’s worth) is that fantasy films make such an effort to have a broad appeal that they get mired in fantasy stereotypes instead of telling good fantasy stories, and as a result end up feeling hackneyed and cliche.  That, plus they’re often just cheesy as hell.

And that’s not to say these films aren’t enjoyable.  Hell, I’m a fan of every single one of these movies (and many more like them), but I would hesitate to call them good examples of fantasy…or even good cinema, for that matter, but there’s still a level of enjoyment to be culminated from watching these films.  Sometimes you’re just in the mood for fantasy, and you decide that maybe a 243rd consecutive viewing of Peter Jackson’s trilogy might be pushing it…

So, without further ado, here’s a quick rundown of some fantasy films that aren’t especially good…but they are fantasy, and still enjoyable in their own right even taking the cheese factor into account.  I’ll cover 3 movies now, and a few more the next time my number comes up for the Guild.

Beastmaster

Beastmaster

Despite the fact that it starred Marc Singer, Beastmaster actually had a few things going for it.  Sadly, the story wasn’t one of them: the young prince Dar (Singer) is intended to be sacrificed by the evil sorcerer Maax (Rip Torn, long before he started taking semi-respectable roles).  Dar is rescued by villagers and raised as their own, knowing that one day he’ll return and free his kingdom from Maax and the bestial soldiers of the Jun Horde.  Oh, and Dar can telepathically communicate with animals, because…well, because.

Corny as hell but surprisingly engaging, Beastmaster benefits from some well-staged battle sequences and a hammy performance by Torn.  Unfortunately the film is seeped with cheesy dialogue and could have benefited from a more original story, but it found tremendous appeal because the animals were so cool.  And for some reason Beastmaster spawned two sequels and a TV show, so apparently the filmmakers knew what they were doing…

Willow

Willow

Even George Lucas couldn’t quite get it right.  Fun and flashy but incredibly derivative and utterly predictable, Willow‘s title character is a Nelwin (who just happen to be identical to hobbits in almost every way) who becomes entrusted with the care of a young princess prophecy states will bring about the downfall of the evil Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh, sneering with aplomb).  Along the way Willow gains allies in renegade warrior Mad Martigan (Val Kilmer, excellent as always) and Bavmorda’s rebellious daughter Sorsha (Joanne Whalley), who race around with Willow from one action set piece to the next until the day is saved.

I’m not going to pretend like I didn’t enjoy Willow, but I’ve always accepted it for what it is: fluffy, throw-away entertainment, without much of an original idea to be found but still refreshing for its humorous dialogue (the movie is practically a self-parody at times), well-done action sequences and beautiful art direction.

Legend

Legend

Jack (Tom Cruise) lives in the forest, where he occasionally flirts with young Lily (Mia Sara), an innocent maid.  One day Jack takes her to see a unicorn, unwittingly revealing the pure creature’s location to goblins in service to Lord Darkness (Tim Curry, looking nothing like Professor Frankenfurter).  Jack is soon appointed by the faeries of the forest to save the unicorn before it’s sacrificed, which would allow Darkness to reign supreme.

If that all sounds kind of silly…well, it is.  Thankfully, the director behind this silliness is Ridley Scott, whose arresting visual style and fabulous use of shadows and light can make even a largely nonsensical film like Legend an engaging treat.  There are some terrific special effects (the troll is awesome) and a few very well choreographed battles, but overall Legend comes across as a bunch of interesting ideas that never quite found a real story to go with them.

What cheesy fantasy movies do you hate to love?

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Steven Montano watches too many movies, and there’s no question they’ve rotted his brain.  He also writes fantasy novels and likes to get lost in the woods.  Find out more at his website.

Game of Thrones Revisited

Hi Everyone, Bruce here. Thought I’d poke my head in for a second to introduce you to someone you’ve already met…A.M. Justice. She graced us with her presence awhile back as a guest, but I’m pleased to tell you that Amanda has agreed to join the Guild of Dreams as a regular contributor. Watch for her biography with all her links to go up soon. In  the meantime, say hello to A.M. Justice. (Beware…spoilers ahead)

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Last time I appeared here on Guild of Dreams I wrote a humorous piece speculating where the showrunners for HBO’s Game of Thrones might take the series, if they wanted to veer away from the plot of The Song of Ice and Fire. Yet David Benioff and Dan Weiss have always reached the key narrative milestones of that series, even when they’ve taken a different route than George R.R. Martin to get there. This season picks up right after the infamous Red Wedding, when the Stark family’s quest for justice died. (Or did it? The Stark clan isn’t quite done for, with all Rob’s siblings still at large, and you can lay odds that one of the Red Wedding Party will return to haunt the Westeros countryside.) As for my silly forecasts last summer, I think I may have scored a bull’s-eye with Prediction #2. Didn’t Arya and Sandor make the cutest couple when they teamed up to slay an inn-full of ruffians?

Game of Thrones, George MartinBut let’s talk about why Martin’s series is so successful. What accounts for its broad appeal? My husband liked sword and sorcery pulp fiction as a boy (he loved the Conan books), but he never embraced high fantasy and his adult tastes run toward stories where the houses have indoor plumbing. Yet he’s a GOT fan. While the show’s relentless commitment to all men must die may leave him a bit shaken, he tunes in with the same fervor he felt for Breaking Bad. When I asked what draws him to the show, he said, “Well, it’s all about the characters.”

And those are great characters, aren’t they? Well developed, with complex motivations and emotions, those people know how to grab a reader by the collar and not let her go. The books are written in apostolic third person—with each chapter helmed by one of about a dozen different characters. Four or five of those names will make me say, “One more chapter,” when I turn the page to find that character’s point of view, no matter that it’s two o’clock in the morning. Those individuals’ story lines are too compelling to set aside. Plus, I can’t resist noshing on the delicious stew of bloodlines and family dynamics. (I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the mystery of Jon Snow’s parentage, and I’m certain Ned Stark isn’t his father.)

But what I like about Martin’s series is its realism. The world is as fantastical as any created by Tolkien or Jordan or LeGuin, and has some elements that defy explanation. (As a biology geek, I’m baffled by how a forest ecosystem survives north of the Wall, where there’s always snow. Tree seedlings need bare earth to take root.) But the characters are real—complex, three dimensional people with desires and skills and problems that we can relate to because we see them in every day life. While Westeros has its mages and witches, its wraiths and its dragons, there’s no mythic Dark Lord who must be vanquished in The Song of Ice and Fire; their war of power is for the political, not the magical kind.

I’m also fond of Martin’s work because he writes in the gray zone of human morals, and so do I. When I began work on my first novel Blade of Amber, none of the Westeros novels had been released and moral relativism was uncommon in fantasy. However, it’s the norm in everyday life, where few are wholly good or wholly evil. The complexity of the human spirit is what makes us interesting, and it’s our flaws that make us loveable (depending on the flaw, of course). We don’t root for Tyrion Lannister because he is erudite, clever, and suave; we love him because he’s a deeply empathetic man who always tries to do the right thing. Then there’s Tyrion’s brother Jamie, who began the series as a villain but who has evolved into one of my favorite heroes as his character arc has taken him away from his family’s power-seeking. I will always put off sleep for a Jamie chapter. Of course, in The Song of Ice and Fire, no good deed goes unpunished, and the harder Tyrion or Daenerys or Jon try to save those around them, the deeper they descend into hell. I’ve put those three together on purpose; don’t be surprised if they end up astride Daeny’s dragons before the series end (that’s not a spoiler—it’s pure speculation on my part).A Wizard's Lot, A.M. Justice

Reviewers have compared my work to Martin’s, and I’m happy to play in a corner of the same ball park. Knownearth—the planet where my characters live—is a simpler place than Westeros, with fewer cultures, fewer religions, and only one major feud. But my work is all about the characters too. Vic, the protagonist of The Woern Chronicles, is a complex woman with gifts and insecurities that fate hammers into an alloy as strong as Valerian steel. She’s far from invulnerable, though; underneath a badass façade, she’s an emotional wreck, and the power she gains at the end of Blade of Amber isn’t nearly as limitless as it may appear—something that quickly comes to light in A Wizard’s Lot, the second Woern Chronicles novel. Yet because realism is important to me, I’ve made all the residents of Knownearth as three dimensional as the people I meet on the street every day. My work is all about the characters, and a page-turning narrative that I hope makes readers say, “one more chapter,” even if it’s two o’clock in the morning.

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eec1db10808be84e2901e46760195bdbA.M. Justice writes fiction from distant times and places and chronicles journeys in the here and now, when she’s not in the Dark Playground taking Zimbio quizzes (she’s Tyrion, according to the GOT quiz). As the newest member of the Guild of Dreams, she looks forward to sharing her waking dreams with all of you. To see more of what’s on her mind, drop by the KnownEarth Works website, follow her on Twitter, or hang out on her Facebook page.

 

Book Review: Heir to the Luima Legacy by Gabrielle Poplar

By Autumn M. Birt

Because I always do things out of order (working on the house I’m building my recent favorite saying is ‘first things second’), I read book 2 in Gabrielle Poplar’s Luima Legacy Series. And to give Ms. Poplar credit, I wasn’t too terribly lost! There were a few bits I had to take on faith that I’d figure it out eventually, and I did. So kudos to her for writing a book that even though I was a little lost since I started in the middle of a series, it was interesting enough to keep me going!

Which is why I’m here writing about it so that you too can take a look. Maybe in the correct order! 🙂

First, I should at least give you the blurb for the book itself:

Heir to the Lumina LegacySome people advance beyond their wildest aspirations, and other people descend lower than the expectations of their family and friends. Such was the story of Meryl and Nestor.

Meryl became the King of the Luima because of a series of events that revealed his true ancestry. He also found out that he was the first son of Prince Finnegan, heir to the throne of Bahadi. The Prince had another son, Nestor, who had been abducted by King Arpad of Estruchi. Nestor’s uncle and a few nobles determined to maintain Nestor’s position in the Bahadi line of succession declared Meryl to be a bastard King, and they recruited a cult of assassins to remove him. The internal feud in the Bahadi royal family was exploited by King Arpad, who convinced the dissenting Bahadi Lords to side with him in launching a war against the dominant Bahadi kingdom. 

The choices made by Nestor, and the resolutions made by Meryl would determine who would become the Heir to the Luima Legacy.

Yes, this is sword and sorcery with its own unique flavor. There is magic, assassins, battles, political intrigue… if you are a fan of the genre you’ll enjoy this series. After reading book 2 (I still have yet to go back and read book 1, but I will!), this is what I had to say:

First, if you haven’t read book 1, Custodian of the Luima Legacy, start with it to get the full depth of this lovely book and series. Book 2, begins with immediate immersion to the aftermath of events in book 1. Characters are strong and without the background from book 1, the reader will be a little lost. However, if you just have to jump right in, book 2 is a great read and a careful reader will quickly pick up the story if not the details of prior events. You just have to read book 1 for those!

A battle has been won and an heir and powerful sword captured, but the war has not truly begun. The fate of kingdoms grows on the reunion of a father with a lost son amid the threat of a guild of elite assassins. This story is full of building tension which finally breaks late in the book. I can only describe the story as quickly engrossing as you follow the characters through trials in which they must rise to become something greater, something that destiny has called them to be.

Though I would describe the book as sword and sorcery, the powers are very unique. The story line is a refreshing change from rehashed plots of the typical genre. The only drawback I can see is that there tends to be a little too much ‘tell’ versus ‘show’. A character will often think about doing an action and then go and do it, leaving me feeling slightly removed from the subsequent action. The omniscient viewpoint works in the story without too much head hopping, giving greater detail than a third or first person viewpoint would allow. I was never lost on which character was being followed in the story. 

If you are a fan of epic fantasy or sword and sorcery books with a bit of romance set amid the rise and fall of Kingdoms, this is the series for you. I recommend this book for a captivating read full of captivating details and fresh ideas.

Well, if that doesn’t make you at least want to take a peak then you really are a tough audience!

– Autumn is the author of the epic fantasy series the Rise of the Fifth Order. Books 1, Born of Water, and 2, Rule of Fire, are available now. Book 3, Spirit of Life, will be available late 2013. You can also find her goofing off online (when not building her house) on Twitter at @weifarer or on her Facebook page and on Goodreads.

Featuring author Rayne Hall and her dark epic fantasy Storm Dancer

by Autumn M. Birt

There are novels that stand out as being something far from the ordinary. Storm Dancer immediately hit me as something different.

I swear that I actually first saw this book in a stack at my mother-in-laws. I loved the cover and read the back blurb, finding myself intrigued. The story line lingered in my mind long enough that when I ran into Rayne on Twitter, finding Storm Dancer tantalizing me once again, I knew I’d read it.

Storm DancerIf you haven’t already found and fallen in love with Storm Dancer, let me introduce you to the novel (conveniently copying the description):

Demon-possessed siege commander, Dahoud, atones for his atrocities by hiding his identity and protecting women from war’s violence – but can he shield the woman he loves from the evil inside him?

Principled weather magician, Merida, brings rain to a parched desert land. When her magical dance rouses more than storms, she needs to overcome her scruples to escape from danger. 

Thrust together, Dahoud and Merida must fight for freedom and survival. But with hatred and betrayal burning in their hearts, how can they rebuild their fragile trust?

‘Storm Dancer’ is a dark-heroic fantasy. Circa 150,000 words. British spellings. Caution: this book contains some violence and disturbing situations. Not recommended for under-16s.

What drew me to this novel was the setting: a fantasy story set in the desert. Plus, I was intrigued by the main character of Dahoud being both the hero and the villain, a man plagued by inner evil that he seeks to control. As a writer, I had to see how Ms. Hall pulled that off. She does it brilliantly.

The setting of a harsh desert country beset by drought, during a time equivalent to our bronze age, is rich and well written. Neighboring counties are a threat, even when it is assistance they send rather than war. Merida is such a beneficial ambassador, sent to help a land considered primitive by her refined homeland. The plotting of a corrupt government quickly entangles Merida far from home and without aid. She has only her wits and ability to call rain to keep her somewhat safe.

There are many great characters in the novel and each are unique in their failings and strengths. The interweaving stories along with what would seem to be inconsequential details thread together to impact the ending – a feature I admire in a story and author. The twists in the plot left me surprised. I never really knew where the story would go next, which was lovely.

If you read other reviews you will quickly see the mentions that the novel is graphic with both torture and rape. Oddly though, I agree with others in that I think one of the few failings in the novel is that it could have been darker yet. The one time that Dahoud’s djinn wins its battle of lust and conquest, the scene is quickly glossed over. Most of the time, Dahoud wins over his demon with only hints of the time in his life where it had ruled. I would have loved a larger moment or at least a longer after effect of guilt when Dahoud succumbs to his inner evil.

I would have also loved some insight to Merida’s thoughts at the end of the novel, especially when she makes the final choice she does in the story. The ending to me was very believable as she changes during the course of the story, but I would have liked to hear that final epiphany from her.

Lastly, I would have loved a map to visualize the world, though directions and landmarks were consistent enough that I felt familiar with the landscape and cities. But a map to look at while reading would have enhanced my experience.

I will read this novel again in the future. I am a very fast reader, so the story length was great for me (it took more than a day, yeah!). However, it pulled me in so tightly, I raced through it finding it hard to put down. I want to go back without that need to see what the next page or chapter holds and really enjoy the setting and story!

If you are looking for a unique, dark epic fantasy, I highly recommend Storm Dancer. I give it a solid 4.5 out of 5 stars . . . maybe even 4.75. I loved it enough that after posting reviews and recommendations everywhere, I pestered Rayne for an interview. I’m so thrilled that she agreed!

So pull up a chair and meet Rayne Hall! Not only is she an excellent author, she is an extremely nice person and a mentor to many authors. Like Storm Dancer she stands out from the crowd.

A vision of Rayne by artist Fawnheart

A vision of Rayne by artist Fawnheart

Rayne Hall has published more than forty books under different pen names with different publishers in different genres, mostly fantasy, horror and non-fiction. Recent books include Storm Dancer (dark epic fantasy novel), 13 British Horror Stories, Six Scary Tales Vol 1, 2 and 3 (mild horror stories), Six Historical Tales (short stories), Six Quirky Tales (humorous fantasy stories), Writing Fight Scenes, The World-Loss Diet, Writing about Villains and Writing Scary Scenes (instructions for authors).

She holds a college degree in publishing management and a masters degree in creative writing. Currently, she edits the Ten Tales series of multi-author short story anthologies: Bites: Ten Tales of Vampires, Haunted: Ten Tales of Ghosts, Scared: Ten Tales of Horror, Cutlass: Ten Tales of Pirates, Beltane: Ten Tales of Witchcraft, Spells: Ten Tales of Magic, Undead: Ten Tales of Zombies and more.

Rayne has lived in Germany, China, Mongolia and Nepal and  has now settled in a small dilapidated town of former Victorian grandeur on the south coast of England. You can find more about her and her many books at:  https://sites.google.com/site/raynehallsdarkfantasyfiction/

Rayne kindly answered my questions and true to her chosen country of residence, the spellings are in British English (so you can better imagine an accent).

1. What inspired you to write Storm Dancer? I noticed on your bio that you’ve travelled. Did the seeds for the story get planted long ago?

My mind is filled with story ideas… so many ideas, so little time! When two or three ideas click together, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, a story starts to form.  My experiences of travelling and working in foreign countries contributed many of those idea pieces.

The first idea came to me  when I was staying in a ger (yurt) at the edge of the Gobi desert in Mongolia. It was a vague idea at first – two people who hate each other must become allies to survive, and although they have previously betrayed and harmed each other they must now depend on each other and learn to trust.

Storm Dancer is set in a fantasy world loosely based on the cultures of the Bronze Age period and the climate and geography of the Middle East, so my travels in the Near and Middle East and in North Africa inspired many colourful details.  A few elements from Asia – including Mongolia – have also found their way into Storm Dancer.

I also used personal experiences of what it’s like to work in a distant Third World country, cut off from all support, at the mercy of an employer who doesn’t honour the terms of the contract.

My experience of performing and teaching bellydance has found its way into this novel, too, so when Merida learns to bellydance in the harem, and when she entertains in a tavern, those scenes have authenticity.

Further inspiration  came from ancient cultures, especially Egyptians, Romans, Greeks, Persians and Hittites, and from quirky characters and bizarre situations I’ve observed.

Storm Dancer also explores a subject I’ve thought about a lot:  how we’re not responsible for what fate deals us, but we’re responsible for how we deal with it. Dahoud is a troubled hero with a dark past. As a siege commander, he once razed, raped and killed… and he enjoyed it. Now he needs to atone. He has sacrificed everything to build a new identity and a life of peace, and he devotes himself to protecting women from harm. But Dahoud is not alone. Inside him lives a devious demon, a djinn that demands he subdue women with force. It torments him with pains and tempts him with forbidden desires. How much of it is the demon, and how much is the dark psyche? How can he learn to control the evil inside him? How far must he go to redeem himself?

2. How long did it take you to write Storm Dancer or a novel in general? (Does it drive you crazy that something that took you months can be read, by fast readers at least, in 6 hours?)

Storm Dancer took me about ten years to write – longer than any other book – because I rewrote it several times.  When I started to write Storm Dancer, I created Dahoud as a standard swashbuckling hero. I had almost finished the novel when he confessed that he was possessed by a demon. Of course, this changed everything, and I had to rewrite the whole book. During the rewrite, his personality changed, so I had to start yet again. It took several rewrites before I realised just how dark his past was and what a terrible secret he carries inside him, what drove him and what he needed to do to atone.

If a reader chooses to spend time with my novel, whether that’s a few hours or several months, I’m honoured.

3. What has been your favorite moment of being an author?

I’ve loved almost every moment of it.  Highlights include: When the author copies for my first ever book arrived from the publisher – the pristine pages, the smell of printers’ ink, the glossy covers with my name on it. My stories and articles in prestigious magazines. Meeting someone in a non-writing context, and they say, “Are you THE Rayne Hall? You’re one of my favourite authors!” Every time ideas click together and form a story. Sitting in an outdoors coffee shop, listening to birdsong while jotting down notes for my next story. Getting invited to literature festivals and conferences as a speaker. Bookshop staff recognising me and asking me if I would please sign the copies they have in stock. Talking shop with other writers. Getting tweets and email from readers who’ve enjoyed one of my books. It’s all very exciting.

4. Has there ever been a time you nearly gave up writing?

There was a time when I gave up fiction writing for several years, a tough and painful decision. I continued to write features and non-fiction books, though, so it wasn’t a complete break from writing.  Some years later, my circumstances changed, and I started to write again. I chose a new genre and a new pen name, allowed myself to be a beginner once more and wrote with renewed passion.

5. What is your favorite story that you’ve written and favorite one in general?

I can’t choose just one – I have hundreds of favourites among the stories I’ve read. I like dark horror stories with and without fantasy elements, especially horror of the creepy and disturbing sort (not gory stuff). Favourites include The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, Miss Hazeltine’s Miracle by Mort Castle, The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs, The Signalman by Charles Dickens, The Phantom Coach by Amelia Edwards, The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe, The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter, When the Clock Strikes by Tanith Lee… and many others. Among the novels I’ve read over and over is The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.

My favourite among the stories I’ve written?  I like different stories for different reasons. Burning (republished in Six Scary Tales Vol. 1) is perhaps one of my best; it’s subtly disturbing. The Bridge Chamber (republished in Six Scary Tales Vol. 4)  is probably my scariest – it frightens me when I re-read it. The Devil Eats Here pleases me because it almost wrote itself. Scylla and The Pepper Pirates is a tongue-in-cheek fantasy adventure yarn that was fun to write. Take Me To St Roch’s is perhaps typical for what my horror fiction, atmospheric and creepy.

Of my novels, Storm Dancer is my favourite. Definitely. It’s the kind of novel I enjoy reading: exciting, with scary moments and quirky elements, intense, thought-provoking and disturbing.

Okay, if you haven’t gone and found something by Rayne to read yet (I have several on my iPad, including one from her lessons to improve and hone writing techniques!) then I’ll just have to give you something. Rayne let me pick a scene from Storm Dancer to share with you! So here is a scene that got me hooked and I hope it does the same for you. If so, you’ll find Storm Dancer on Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and probably wherever you purchase your favorite e-books. Enjoy – I did!

Excerpt from Storm Dancer by Rayne Hall

At twenty-five, he had a conscience heavier than a brick-carrier’s tray and more curses on his head than a camel had fleas. He had left the legion to cut himself off temptation, to deprive the djinn of fodder. After a siege, rape was legal, a soldier’s right, practically expected of him, part of the job. By returning to war, he would forfeit his victories over his craving. The djinn would again be his master.

Yet he ached to wear the general’s cloak again, to silence sneering bureaucrats, to make women take notice. He lusted for that power the way a heavy drinker, deprived of his solace, ached for a sip of wine. The yearning to wield a sword ached in his arms, his chest throbbed with the urge to command, and his loins flamed with the dark desire. He felt the panting breaths of women and their hot resisting bodies, smelled the scent of female fright and sweating fury.

“Why is the Consort writing to you?” Govan leant forward to grab the document. “You’re out of your depth with royal matters. I’ll read and explain.”

“Why should I want your counsel?” Dahoud tucked the rolled parchment into his belt.

“Don’t get pert, Samili!” Govan barked. “Give me that letter.”

“The Consort summons.” Dahoud rose. “Good afternoon, my Lord. Don’t expect me back soon.”

He strode to the exit, his mind reeling like a spindle. Could he deny that he was the Black Besieger? Refuse a royal order? Lead an army without stimulating the djinn?

On a low stone wall near the entrance gate, a row of whiteseers perched like hungry birds. Whiteseers had glimpses of futures others could not even imagine. One of them slid off the wall and sauntered in his direction. A coating of pale clay covered her sharp-boned triangular face and her long hair, and painted black and blue rings adorned her clay-whitened arms.

“Your hands,” she demanded.

“I need to know what will happen if -”

“Give your copper to a soothsayer,” she snapped. “We white ones only give advice. We can see the future; we can see several futures for everyone, but we won’t tell you all we see.”

“Advice is all I want.”

“That’s what they all say. Yet everyone asks for more. I give one piece of advice, the best I can give to help a client. They always demand that I tell them what I see. Well, I won’t.” Nevertheless, she grabbed the copper ring from Dahoud’s fingers and threaded it on her neck-thong. Her tunic smelled of old sweat and mouldy wool.

She grasped his hands to pinch their flesh, her long nails tickling. Her white paint contrasted with Dahoud’s bronze tan. When she felt the pulse and lifted his hand to her face to listen and sniff, he could have sworn he saw her blanch under the white clay as her closed eyes stared into his past. She sagged forward and stayed in a silent slouch.

At last she straightened, her eyes wide, her mouth open, but no words burst forth. So she had seen what he had done, and worse, what he might do once more.

“I assure you, I’ll never again…”

“I can’t read if you chatter.” She frowned at his hands. “My advice: Get stronger arms.”

He flexed his biceps, startled. “My arms are strong! I do trickriding, I wrestle, I lift weights.” Every night, Dahoud exercised until his muscles screamed, to block out his cravings and punish his body for its desires.

The seer’s mouth curled with contempt, making more clay crumble. “You’re not listening. I didn’t say strong. I said stronger.” She pinched his biceps. “Much stronger.”

“What difference can arm muscles make?”

“I told you to give your copper to a soothsayer.” She ambled off, leaving a cloud of unwashed stink and crumbles of clay.

Dahoud hurried to the stable to ready his horse. He had to persuade the Consort not to send the Black Besieger back to war.

*

At the entrance to the royal audience hall, green-uniformed guards confiscated Dahoud’s dagger-belt. The door thudded shut behind him.

Light seeped through slitted windows, painting stripes on the carpet. Rows of whitewood benches stood empty, as if waiting for spectators to stream in and take their seats. The Consort Kirral sat on an elevated divan, a jewel-encrusted white turban on his head, his moustache shaped into a pair of pointed blades. The steep platform bearing the divan forced visitors to gaze upwards, a technique Dahoud himself had often used to intimidate callers.

“Highness, you summoned me.”

Grape-green eyes peered from under dark bushy brows. Kirral cracked a saltnut between his teeth and spat the empty shell on the carpet at Dahoud’s feet. Dahoud permitted himself no response. Standing as straight as a soldier before his commanding officer, he inhaled deeply of the stale incense and old breath that lay in the air, and waited.

A mural of the Queen, a white full-moon face under an ornamental headdress, dominated the room, reminding audience-seekers that she was the true ruler of Quislak – even if she took little interest in politics. She left the day-to-day government to her Consort, who in turn delegated most work to his head-wife.

“Would you like some saltnuts, young man?” Kirral’s voice had the soft scraping tone of a sword grinding against a whetstone.

To take the nuts from the Consort’s outstretched hand, Dahoud had to walk up to the platform and look up, the way a lapdog accepted morsels. Kirral grinned, and his slippered feet wiggled in anticipation.

If the Consort gained pleasure from humiliating visitors, pride was a waste of time. “Thank you, Highness.”

“The Koskarans ransack our settlements, rob our caravans, slaughter our people.” Kirral twisted a saltnut between his fingers, as if assessing its value. “Are you the man who subdued those savages four years ago?”

“I am.” Dahoud glanced at the statues lining the cedar-panelled walls. He had looted many of those marble deities from temples in conquered lands, including Koskara. Now they queued at floor level, paying homage to Quislak’s nine Mighty Ones, who stood haughtily on a brocaded dais. “If my experience may be of use, I’ll gladly advise the general in charge.”

Kirral cracked another nut. “I want you to squash those rebels to pulp.”

“You need a different man, Highness.”

“I need the Black Besieger, and I will get him.” Kirral stroked the parchment scrolls at his side with a lover’s caress. “My favourite reading matter: personal dossiers. These are from your employers, past and present. You were the youngest general in the Queendom’s history, the first ethnic Samili to rise to that rank. Then you threw your career into the dust.” Kirral’s eyes focused like a hawk’s before the kill. “Why?”

“Personal reasons.”

“Your personal reasons entertain me,” Kirral said. “During a fine game of Siege last night, I asked my good friend Paniour why the Black Besieger quit. I learnt that he had a sudden attack of conscience. Not about battlefield deaths, but the treatment of captives.”

Dahoud stayed silent.

“To fool the world that the Black Besieger no longer existed, you spread rumours about his death. His supposed demise occurred not on the battlefield, but at the hands of an enraged woman. How imaginative.” Kirral cackled like a spotted hyena. “Paniour tells me you imagined yourself possessed by a djinn. A mythical creature from nomad lore.”

Dahoud knew better than to insist on the gruesome truth of demonic possession. “It was a figure of speech.”

Kirral’s bushy brows rose to his turban rim and stayed there. “For two years, all traces of you vanished as if you had indeed died. What did you do before Govan took you on?”

“Labour.” The kind of work a Samili could get: digging latrines, dragging a builder’s brick-loads like a sweating donkey, stirring a dyer’s pots of boiling piss.

“Watching you would have been educational. A leopard may dress as a rabbit, but he will find the garments too small.”

Dahoud said nothing.

— Autumn is the author of the epic fantasy novel Born of Water and its Novel Companion and, most recently, the compilation of adventure travel stories Danger Peligros! All are available at Amazon, Smashwords, and other retailers of e-novels. Her next novel, Rule of Fire, will be available late this spring. You can also find her stalking her favorite authors online on Twitter at @weifarer or on her Facebook page.

Book Review: Intangible by J. Meyers

I wasn’t sure at first which book to do for a review when Bruce announced this round’s theme. I knew it would be a Young Adult one since that’s mostly what I read. I bounced between a few before I decided to do one that I have already reviewed on my blog and Goodreads account but I wanted to spotlight for new readers: Intangible by J. Meyers.

Twins Sera and Luke Raine have a well-kept secret—she heals with a touch of her hand, he sees the future. All their lives they’ve helped those in need on the sly. They’ve always thought of their abilities as being a gift.

Then Luke has a vision that Sera is killed. That gift they’ve always cherished begins to feel an awful lot like a curse. Because the thing about Luke’s ability? He’s always right. And he can’t do anything about it.

I read this book before it was released, back in January of this year. So far, it’s still one of my favorite reads this year. First of all, the author creates intriguing characters with dynamic personalities. She bounces around in POV, and each one is as interesting as the last. Luke and Sera are both likable and funny; Marc who’s gotten himself into some trouble; Jonas is a powerful, wise vampire. I found myself rooting for and enjoying each character, even those who were more ambivalent than others.

Along with great characterization, the author builds a fantasy world that the reader falls into without effort. The various powers and magical creatures drive the story but don’t overpower the characterization. Meyers plays with a familiar myth but is still able to put a new spin on it. We also see familiar creatures like vampires and fey, but because of their unique characters, they don’t feel like overdone caricatures.

The pacing is spot on, and the story builds with new subplots and mysteries. Towards the middle, I got just a tad impatient to see how Luke’s vision was going to play out. But the end is not a let-down — just as soon as you think the characters have made it, the author throws them another curve ball that makes the climax truly an on-the-edge-of-your-seat experience.

This young adult urban fantasy will appeal to readers of Cassandra Clare and Jennifer L. Armentrout. The sequel, Imaginable, should be here early 2013, and it’s a book I’m eagerly awaiting!

Book Report: The Bas Lag Trilogy

I’ve mentioned before that I have difficulty singling out my favorite novels, since by and large the books I like are usually the middle part of a series.  It can be difficult to recommend the second or third book in an ongoing sci-fi/fantasy saga, since often the most enjoyable part about those books is experiencing how the author takes an already grand idea and builds on it.

So, rather than do my “book report” on a single book that has helped shape the way I write, I’ll draw attention to an entire series, the brilliant genesis of “New Weird”: the Bas-Lag trilogy, by China Mieville.

Bas-Lag is an entirely unique setting that is also strangely familiar.  Mieville’s world has smatterings of Lovecraftian horror, steampunk, high fantasy and industrial sci-fi, without really fully embracing any of those.  There are strange primitive sciences that study the nature of chaos and vast automaton intellects; giant mosquito-people who harbor ancient secrets of sea-life from alternate worlds; vampires and hidden necropolises; horrifying Grindylow and mages who create time golems; organic artifacts that render people out-of-phase with physical dimensions.  There are intelligent hands that take control of other creatures, giant inch-worm centaurs, mantis-headed humanoids and demon emissaries who work with the government.

Bas-Lag is an endlessly inventive place, a world suffused with darkness, dread, and a relentlessly macabre sense of humor.  But don’t mistake Mieville for Pratchett: even Bas-Lag’s most absurd denizens and concepts are deadly, and while some humor is offered up now and again Mieville plays things straight, twisting the reader’s expectations at every turn.

Mieville’s ability to construct worlds is unparalleled.  Rarely have I encountered such a masterfully crafted setting, a place as defined by its vagaries as it is by solid details.  Mieville gets tremendous mileage out of what he doesn’t show us, out of what he doesn’t explain.  He invites his readers to craft the world with him, to fill in the details.  Oft times the possibilities are too great for us to even imagine, and therein lies the strength of the setting.

Mieville also writes with tremendous visual poetry.  His prose is elegant even when at its most brutal, beautiful in both is staccato rhythm and rich detail.  His work is a masterpiece of prosaic landscaping.

The Bas-Lag series is not a traditional trilogy.  Each book is an entirely self-contained story, with characters only tangentially connected between them.  A character mentioned only in passing in Perdido Street Station is the protagonist of The Scar; characters and places that bear only minor importance in the first two volumes come to the forefront in Iron Council.  Each novel is unique in the type of story it tells, even while all three are unquestionably linked by their style and setting.

My favorite in the series remains The Scar, for its characters, it pacing, and its ability to continually raise the stakes without becoming preposterous.  The new setting introduced in The Scar is entirely unique, and the plot unfolds in a more or less logical fashion in spite of the incessantly outlandish elements of the world it takes place in.

When I was getting back into writing a few years ago, the Bas-Lag novels were hugely influential on me.  In a time when I felt like I’d read every type of story, Mieville crafted this brilliant saga that dared to be unique, that challenged lovers of dark fantasy to experience something that hadn’t been seen before.

I’m a better writer for having read these novels.

Perdido Street Station: Chaos theorist Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin has a problem.  In addition to helping a grounded Garuda somehow regain the ability to fly, Isaac may or may not be inadvertently responsible for the release of a deadly plague of slake-moths infecting the dreams of the citizens of New Crobuzon.  Now the tyrannical government is looking for answers, and Isaac will have to recruit a team of questionable characters to help him put an end to the dream plague before all is lost.

The Scar: Bellis Coldwine, on the run from New Crobuzon’s draconian authority, finds herself a captive of the piratical floating city of Armada.  The Lovers – Armada’s mysterious leaders – and their powerful henchman Uther Doul have devised a plan to make Armada a lasting presence on the seas.  And even as forces within Armada threaten to sabotage the plan and the mysterious Grindylow track the city across the oceans, the Lovers push ahead in their dark quest for glory.  They will lead Armada to the ends of the world to achieve their goal…and maybe to the edge of reality itself…

Iron Council: Decades have passed.  New Crobuzon is in chaos.  War with the shadowy city-state of Tesh has taken its toll on morale, and revolution is in the air.  In the midst of the fighting is Judah Low, whose connections with the renegade entity called Iron Council have him on the run.  While forces conspire from within to overthrow the government and Tesh makes moves to bring about the city’s destruction, Judah will travel across the wastelands to reunite with the Council, which may be the last beacon of hope for the city’s oppressed citizens.

*****

Steven Montano is the author of Blood Skies, an apocalyptic military fantasy series, and a full-time accountant.  Somehow he hasn’t lost his mind yet, but the day is still young.

Check out his work at http://bloodskies.com/.  You can also follow him on Twitter or check out his author page at Amazon.com.

Book Review: Wysard by Caroyln Kephart

I must be hard to please. When Bruce “assigned” the topic of a book review, I thought “not a problem.” I’m a really fast reader, polishing off most books within two days despite a full time job and regular life. So I hopped up to Amazon and Smashwords to see if I could find a free or cheap book with few reviews (i.e. someone like me just starting out on Amazon and in need of some publicity). I read blurbs and reviews and . . . nothing caught my eye. Nada. Goes to show how difficult it is for writing an alluring descriptive paragraph to draw in readers! And I’m a writer, so I was cutting people some slack knowing just how difficult that task is.

I woke up later that night remember one phrase used to describe one of the many books I’d passed up: lyrical. I liked the sound of that. I’d be thrilled if someone used the world lyrical or bardic to describe something I wrote. Of course, I couldn’t remember WHICH book that was, but it didn’t take me long to find it: Wysard by Carolyn Kephart.

This book is Part 1 of the Ryel Saga. Unlike Bruce, I’m not tackling the whole saga in this review. I’m not THAT fast of a reader! The word that caught my attention, lyrical, was directed specifically toward Ms. Kephart’s descriptions and the feelings they could evoke. I was excited to get started.

What I didn’t expect was that lyrical would mean not only the use of beautiful words, but also complicated phrasing utilizing words not found in the common epic fantasy. You have to pay attention when you read this novel, otherwise the narrative could be considered cumbersome. I quickly decided this was a book suited for long days on the beach when the language could wrap around you like the sea sliding along your calves . . . or afternoons next to the woodstove, bundled into a favorite chair. Neither of which are where I could spend time reading at the moment, but I pressed on. I couldn’t let Bruce down!

The story centers on Ryel and I’ll give Ms. Kephart credit: he is not a farm boy. He is from a nomadic clan living on the Steppes. It follows the realization of his gift of magic, his training in the remote city of Markel, one of four cities devoted to the study of magic. There are many little twists to make this tale unique, such as that magic usually comes to one late in life and not young like Ryel. From his training in Markel, Ryel, now in his 20’s,  is lured out of his sheltered home to first save a loved one and then onward to protect others tormented by his enemy (because all good stories need a good enemy!).

The language, though beautiful, sets the pace for the novel and it is slow. The time in Markel is especially slow as no direct action takes place. Actually for a lot of the novel, Ryel seems bound to move unwillingly from one place to another whereupon you are thrust into a maze of flashbacks wrought in lovely detail. I found myself sighing on more than one occasion wishing I wasn’t in a flashback but actually going through the backstory that was being described.

I’ll mention one other “lovely detail” that eventually set my teeth on edge: 99% of the people in the novel are drop dead gorgeous, no matter the age. So many people are fit, trim, beautiful (often in culturally distinct ways too, which was a nice touch) that man . . . I want to live there (assuming I get the same nice treatment in description!).

There are moments of drama and action though, usually brought about by Ryel making a poor choice. He gets himself into big enough problems that his ENEMY needs to save him because the time to destroy him is quite not right. It is an interesting plot twist (though it happens more than once) and perhaps is to convey that Ryel is the underdog in the fight, more than a little unmatched to his enemy. But at the same time, Ryel is considered one of the greatest wysards in his world. It is a little disconcerting to have Ryel be a Lord Adept but also constantly behind in regards to information compared to his peers and ability to get himself out of just about any problem.

And that becomes the crux to me. Ryel completely is outmatched or does something so stupid that you want to take him by his shoulders and shake him until his teeth rattle (happily, a few characters do slap him around). You see, I want to shake Ryel – not Ms. Kephart. I got totally involved in Ryel’s story and life, feeling the affection he develops to some characters, his innocent startelement when something goes wrong, his anger and hope. I want to see him succeed and worry about the odds he is facing.

Few novels are going to win over a reader from start to finish without some moment of “why the heck?!” Knowing this was Book 1 to a series, the real telling moment is if after reaching the end I want to read Book 2. And the answer is yes. Maybe Ryel will finally find some common sense!

Autumn is the author of the epic fantasy novel Born of Water and its Novel Companion, both available at Amazon, Smashwords, and other retailers of e-novels.