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Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Cover Reveal: Girls Can't be Knights by Lee French

One of my fellow authors on Myrddin, Lee French, releases her latest YA fantasy book soon. I'm really pleased to be doing a cover reveal for the book, and hope to get a copy for review soon.

The book champions strong female characters in a contemporary fantasy with ghostly knights. 

Left with only a locket after the death of her father, Claire is hopeless – until she meets Justin, an actual knight. Things get complicated when a ghost tries to devour her soul.

Sixteenyearold Claire has a hard time trusting anyone as a result of years in the foster care system, but things change when she forms a new friendship. Justin, a Spirit Knight, rides in on an actual horse and transforms her outlook on the world, while also saving her life from restless ghosts. But one question remains – how does she bear the knights’ mark on her soul? Everyone knows girls can’t be knights.

“’Girls Can’t Be Knights’ is a story of camaraderie and friendship,” Lee says.  “It’s a story about finding your place in the world with people who understand you, but it’s also about finding inner strength and being whoever you want – even a girl who’s a knight.”

“Girls Can’t Be Knights” is another in the long line of books in Lee French’s impressive career, which includes nine books, one trilogy, one epic fantasy series and a short story. Her works are popular among fantasy and paranormal readers, with many rereading books several times after purchase.

From the back cover:

Portland has a ghost problem.
Sixteenyearold Claire wants her father back. His death left her only memories and an empty locket. After six difficult years in foster care, her vocabulary no longer includes "hope" and "trust".

Everything changes when Justin rides his magical horse into her path and takes her under his wing. Like the rest of the elite men who serve as Spirit Knights, he hunts restless ghosts that devour the living.

When an evil spirit threatens Claire's life, she'll need Justin's help to survive. And how could she bear the Knights' mark on her soul? Everybody knows Girls Can't Be Knights.

About Lee French:

Lee French lives in Olympia, WA, and is the author of several books, most notably the Maze Beset Trilogy, The Greatest Sin series (coauthored with Erik Kort), and assorted tales in her fantasy setting, Ilauris. She is an avid gamer and active member of the MythWeavers online RPG community, where she is known for her fondness for Angry Ninja Squirrels of Doom. In addition to spending much time there, she also trains yearround for the oneweek of glorious madness that is RAGBRAI, has a nice flower garden with one dragon and absolutely no lawn gnomes, and tries in vain every year to grow vegetables that don’t get devoured by neighborhood wildlife.

She is an active member of the Northwest Independent Writer’s Association and the Olympia Writer’s Coop, as well as serving as the coMunicipal Liaison for the NaNoWriMo Olympia Region.

More on the book at a later date, including the release schedule! 

Monday, 18 May 2015

Gardens of the Moon and Me

I've just finished reading Stephen Erikson's Gardens of the Moon for the second time, and I must say the re-reading was of great benefit.

GotM is the first of ten books set in the world of the Malazan Empire. The setting was derived from a shared fantasy world developed by Erikson and his mate Esslemont during their role-playing years (think for DnD then GURPS) and is a wonderfully intricate and realised world. The scope is awesome: the race of T'lan Imass are 300,000 years old, magical pre- humans preserved by magic; there are ancient non-human races (Tiste Andii, like talk blue kick ass elves ); and a vast history, which given Erikson's background in anthropology are intelligently done.

The book begins part of the way into a story. Prior to the start (and touched on in the prologue ) the Malazan Empire undergoes a coup wherein a former assassin overthrows the old Emperor ( a sorcerer). This change is still in process creating an unstable atmosphere and uncertainty as you read as to characters allegiances.

Although a sticking point for some readers, I like the way that Erikson drops you into it with the characters, the magic, the history and so forth. It's difficult to follow at times (although much easier second time around ) but I appreciate Erikson's desire not to patronise his readership.

Interestingly, although much fuss was made of it, the plot itself isn't too complex. It's constrained slightly by the fact the author wrote it initially as a screen play, making it feel rather odd in its flow at times. There are several key plot lines with essentially four key groups- the Bridgeburners ( an elite unit of soldiers, who felt very cool and very Eighties action movie); the dudes from the Phoenix Inn ( the best being Rallick, an assassin, and Kruppe, a thief and Mage); Paron (a new noble captain) and Lorn (the adjunct to the empire). They all interweave credibly, and the narrative is then made bonkers by about a dozen sub-plots and evolving story arcs.
Some of this is at the expense of character development. Erikson creates great characters, and awesome heroes and anti- heroes ( like Anomander Drake ). He pulls in half a dozen gods and wannabe gods called Ascendants, but in doing so limits his developing characters to a few (such Paron and Crocus). Is that a problem? A little, as sometimes you feel the characters are incidental to plot when development is stagnant or limited.

I'd first read Gardens of the Moon, and it's next two sequels, Deadhouse Gates and Memories of Ice during my early days of writing Darkness Rising. Along with Song of Ice and Fire, The Lies of Locke Lamora, The Dying Earth, and The Painted Man - all books I read at the time- they played a key influence on how I created the world behind my work. Erikson's books showed me that it was ok to create a complex world, with a long history, and not have to info dump everything in the first ten pages (such as the tendency for fantasy authors to have creation myth prologues). His mature characters and plot lines, where not as intricate and adult as George RR Martin, were a big influence - as was the excellent magic system (the manipulation of mystical sub-dimensions called Warrens). I took a lot of inspiration from the first three books, and for that reason more than any, I want to continue the series to its end.

Strangely reading it again has started poking my brain to create a new series, with a more adult tone. I created Darkness Rising with a desire to write a series with interesting characters, punchy modern dialogue, with full-on almost comic-book action and a nod to role-playing games. With the new series I'd like to try moral ambiguity, a more subtle magical system, and a few hints of classic speculative fiction (Jack Vance and Zelazny). So, second Nu-Knights book first, edit DR6, then... a new trilogy.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

A series without fear: reflections on Daredevil

I've just finished watching the new Netflix series, Daredevil, and thought it'd be good to review and share some thoughts on it. Take this as a (minor) spoiler alert, so don't read on if your worried about any reveals.

Attempts to get DD onto the screen have had a chequered past. Although a popular character, especially following the seminal Miller era (early 80s) his first TV appearance was during The Trial of the Incredible Hulk ( 1989 ). I remember watching this and liking DDs different costume (actually similar to one in TV series).

The next attempt was Ben Affleck's version in 2003, directed by Mark Stephen Johnson (who also did Elektra and Ghost Rider). Although panned, I did quite enjoy a lot of it- Jennifer Garner's Elektra was cool, Colin Farrell was funny as Bullseye, and Michael Clarke Duncan's Kingpin was very good.
But fans generally disliked it, and indeed capturing the comic's balance of noir, religion, superhero dudes, and realism is a tricky business.

And the new Daredevil seems to be getting it right. It comes with good geek pedigree: Drew Goddard (Buffy, Angel, Alias, Lost, Cabin in the Woods) kicked it off then handed over to Steven DeKnight (Buffy, Smallville, Angel, Dollshouse and-er-Spartacus). The writers have quite clearly taken the noir style of the seminal Miller era Daredevil- the original run in which Elektra was developed and DD starting chucking folk off buildings; the Born Again run; and the Mini-series Man Without Fear. It's fair to say Frank Miller's work lends itself to films (Sin City, 300) and the writers create a conflicted, unsettling almost anti- hero in Daredevil.

To say it is violent is an understatement. It's probably secondary only to Watchmen (and I suppose Kick Ass) in its visceral violence. Mostly the violence is fair enough- the fist fights are bone crunchingly spot on, lots of martial arts ( that fit with the origin in which his sensei, Stick, teaches him) and bloodied faces. There are times when it veers into the excessive: a murder with a bowling ball in part 3; the Kingpin, well, in about a dozen places (crushing someone's head repeatedly in a car door; hammering to death; battering a minion etc); knife through throat; impaling own head on spikes; fair bit of blood spatter.

Has it gone too far in its pitch to the more mature audience? Tricky. Certainly in places it fits with the mood and plot, but I'm not certain it's vital to the overall series. We didn't need the sound of a crushing skull and blood running in streams from the underside of a car to know what the Kingpin had done. And Vincent d' Onofrio is good enough to create a sense of tension and dread when he's on screen without the gore.
And Vincent really is the star of the series. His acting is incredible and the build up of Fisk's story and characterisation is great- powerful scenes, palpable tension, a surprisingly awkward and sweet start to his romance with Vanessa. Just fab. They'll do well to maintain the quality with the other sub plots in series 2.

The evolution of the story, the origin and childhood scenes, the developments with Foggy are also excellently written. I can honestly say it didn't bore me at all. The episode with Stick felt a slight speed bump in the series, but it was needed to embellish the origin and set up plots for series 2 (I assume with The Hand, and Elektra).

The tie ins with the rest of the Marvel Universe are subtle, in a similar vein to SHIELD, with references to the attack on New York in Avengers1, and jokes about guys in tin suits, or with big hammers. 
And the costume? I sort of got used to the ninja get up, but if they make it more like the film's suit then I'll be happier.

So, all in all, definitely recommended. An excellent series and representation of the comic. Plenty of plot strands for series 2, and linked series such as Jessica Jones, Power Man, Iron Fist etc. hopefully they'll be a bit more accessible for the younger viewers, with less violence, but I suspect not. And, what the hey, maybe it was time for superheroes for grown ups?

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Huw the Bard

My current reading speed is that of a five year old, what with extra work to fund the ongoing house patch up, and my addiction to painting plastic crack (warhammer minatures).

So it is with a satisfied grin that I have completed the excellent Huw the Bard by Connie Jasperson. Connie, as you may recall, is a writer and editor involved in Myrddin Publishing- in fact she edited books 3 and 5 of the Prism series. She is a major fantasy buff, and her clear intuition of the genre comes across in her work.

Huw the Bard is a prequel to Connie's The Last Good Knight, a book I hold in particular affection as it was one of the first Indie books I read several years ago when I first heard of self-publishing.

It follows the journey of Huw Olwyn, a bard fleeing the massacre of his fellows/family, as he escapes northward admidst political upheavals. The journey acts as a framework on which Jasperson fleshes out the history of Huw's world, and matures his character. The detail of the fantasy world is, as expected, very intricate and well constructed. The regional politics, the clans, how that sits with the feudal system and magic has enough detail to satisfy the reader without intruding on the flow.

The narrative is very cleverly done. I found it's style quite unique, almost as if the prose was part of a ballad that Huw was recounting. The humour is well done, and balances well with some fairly intense scenes of violence and sexual content. The fact these aspects are handled in a very sensitive and empathic way are a testament to Jasperson's skill as a writer. Personally I struggle with such scenes, and given one is a particularly harrowing marital rape, it is dealt with very adeptly. I do worry that such scenes have crept into modern fantasy works more since Game of Thrones, yet this aspect of the book is particularly key to Huw's maturation and vindication.

Inevitably the appearance of the various key characters in The Last Good Knight pepper the book, and help drive Huw's journey north. The encounters with monsters and creatures in the latter part of the book contrasts with the threats of evil nobles and their cronies in the earlier sections- and this progress in the story brought to mind elements of role playing games, and authors such as Jack Vance and Moorcock. A fitting pedigree for this excellent book to join.

Ultimately the book is a great introduction to the world, and a good fantasy read very different to many 'fantasy by numbers' currently out there now.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Da Secret Waaaggghhhh.

The ongoing addiction to plastic crack has meant that Charlie and I have six armies on the go in 40k. This means great variety to the games, and a great motivation to paint as when I get bored with one style is change to another.

The most recent pair are Space Wolves and Orks, via the Stormclaw box set I got for my birthday. Space Wolves are fab- I love the Viking ethos and the detail of the miniatures. But Orks are my fave at present- the style of the figures, the bonkers codex, and the flexibility during modelling and painting all appeal.

So here's the progress so far. The colour schemes of the main tribes didn't appeal, as they repeated colours from the other armies (yellow from Eldar, red/blue from Chaos) or was not to my taste (black for Goffs). So I did my own- purple and red, with a few chequers as I got more confident with it. 

Now purple to Orks is a colour of sneakiness, after all you've never seen a Purple Ork. Red is for speed- because it... Just is. So I present the fledgling Ork Tribe- Da Secret Waaagghh. An off-shoot of the Goff clan, so focused on big Choppas and Klaws, replete with huge Nobz, and a huge warboss.

Da Big Boss, Morgok Goregargler, leads the tribe. Formed from the remnants of a Goff horde slaughtered by Krom Dragongaze's Space Wolves, Morgok decided that his Orks needed to combine sheer strength and brutality with cunning. By painting their armour purple it would allow them to sneak close enough to the enemy to unleash a mighty Waaagghh and rip them to shreds. This purple was good enough to let them run down the middle of a battlefield without problem- at least in Morgok's twisted brain it was...


Morgok wears mega armour, with a massive Power Klaw and big shoota built in. He usually leads his trusted Nobz into the fray, laughing at the bolter rounds skittering off his armour. 

Although convinced of the might of Orks, Morgok's hatred of the Imperium has meant he has allied with Chaos Marines a number of times in the past.

Gort Da Shredda

Morgok's trusted lieutenant is Gort , a massive warboss with a huge buzz saw grafted into his cybork power klaw. Gort's love of pain means he shuns mega armour and sees each bolter hole in his green flesh as a medal to be proud of. His faithful attack squig, NumNum, drags him across the battlefield with zeal.

Morgok's Mutilators 

The elite Nobz are the backbone of Da Secret Waaagghh, whether kicking the Boyz into shape, or as a distinct unit charging by Da Big Boss's side. They carry a mix of Big Choppas and Klaws. Currently I have eight, one having a combi-flamer for fun, and the Boss Nob (yet to paint, has a Waaagghh banner for Da win).

Da Boyz

I've got 36 of these dudes now, and have made it through 9 so far- a quarter done!!
They are mainly Slugga Boyz, with some shootas and big shootas. Gonna foot slog them across the field with a mighty Waaagghh!!

Da Kanz

The only heavy support so far, the Killa Kans, I really enjoyed painting. I think the clunky home made style is v Orky, even if they're not so robust in games as Dreadnoughts.

The Kans are piloted by the Mucuz brothers, three Grots who are convinced they are triplets. Not renowned for their bravery, they prefer to hang back and fire at a safe distance.

Scuzbucket's Stormboyz

My fave unit so far, the Stormboyz roar through the air in clouds of smoke and fuel. Led by the fearsome Nob, Scuzbucket, whose power klaw has an affinity for Space Marines, they are the main strike force for Da  Secret Waaagghh.

And Da Rest

Left to paint (not including 20+ Boyz) are a Runtbot (probably proxy a Kan or DeffDread), a Commisar, a Deffkopta, Boss Zagstruck, and 10 Gretchin with their runtherd. I'll post those as I do them, although I might have an Ork break and paint Tau and Wolves next.

Next steps for the army are Lootas and maybe some Ork planes and more Deffkoptas. Also, a Mek and Nob Bikers... Gaaahhh, damn that plastic crack...

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Review: Heart Search 3- Betrayal

Heart Search 3- Betrayal

I received an ARC of Carlie Cullen's HS3-Betrayal to review, having read and reviewed the first two books in the trilogy.
One nice thing about trilogies is the opportunity to watch story arcs unfold over a longer period than a single book gives you, and Carlie exploits this to its full advantage.

In brief, in books one and two we were introduced to a paranormal world running in parallel to our own, with covens of vampires living a nocturnal existence alongside our lives. New vampires- neophytes- are created from inoculation of venom into a human's system. Vampires have the usual enhanced senses and  physical prowess, and also latent abilities (sometimes several) which resemble superpowers in many places. The ruling caste are the Commissioners, the oldest of the kind, who the covens owe allegiance to.

At the end of book two, when Remy found Joshua ( who had turned in bk1 at the outset), she became a vampire and took her twins to live with Josh and best friend Jakki, in a neighbouring mansion to the main coven. During these events, Josh had found a bomb planted at the mansion, placed by Liam- a neophyte created in a reckless moment by one of the coven.

Book three takes these two plot strands forward. Remy is getting used to life with Josh and the twins, but struggling with her new identity, the remnants of her old life ( being very close to her twin) and Josh's altering dominant persona. Liam's plans to attack the coven are facilitated by a traitor, whose identity is kept secret until the final chapters.

This disquiet and distrust makes the book very enjoyable, as you try and second guess who the traitor is (codenamed Phoenix) and the tension strains relationships, and also puts a previously minor character into a hostage situation.

Of the three key characters, Jakki shines the most for me. Her personality, her independence and challenge to rigid tradition in the coven, and her precognitive ability make her great to read. Remy, whose story I loved in books 1and 2 wasn't as strong for me this time, although the struggle with her past life is a key element. I do like the way her chapters continue to be written from a 1st person POV as in previous books- it gives a more personal style to her story.

Finally, Josh is a tricky character to take to. He's clearly awesome at everything, but the prior rise to dominance in the coven has created an arrogance and irritability that I didn't like. His manner of speaking to his men is midjudged, and his relationship with Remy complicated.
The book raised some intriguing ideas with me. I like the formality of the coven, the way they address one another and interact. It can make dialogues drag out too much, but it complements Carlie's very detailed prose. Their disregard of human life as a food source is disturbing in places, and leads to some very dark humour as they kill their victims. The involvement of the half -vampire toddlers in the proceedings treads the line between inspired and bonkers, and their acceptance of feeding on prey touches the edge of disturbing.

Yet why shouldn't it be disturbing? The current spate of Vampire teeny paranormal series dance around the darkness of the subject. These aren't clean nice model vamps, these are predators who munch their way through half of Essex by the end of the book. They swear, they fight, they murder, and they have sex. In fact the sex scenes in the book pull no punches- with graphic detail that would push this book into Adult category (and make HBO keen on filming it!!!).

The end comes with great pace and excitement, with twists and surprises galore. The conclusion felt a little rushed, and there were some loose strands that didn't resolve to my satisfaction. I think Erika's ordeal and it's consequences could have been explored, as well as Josh and Uppteon's dagger. Yet these are small points in an otherwise excellent conclusion to the trilogy, and I do wonder (and hope) one day Carlie will return to the paranormal world she has created.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Red Seas under Red Skies

Just read the second of Scott Lynch's Gentleman Bastard series. 

What can I say? Still head and shoulders above many in the fantasy genre, but didn't quite excite me like Book 1 did.

The plot is sound enough- Locke and Jean are running a scam, which then seemingly gets turned on its head. They get dragged into the politics of their new found city, and then lumbered with a strange nautical mission. 

I won't say any more, as spoilers are a pain, but I think my issue with the book was pacing. The first part is fine- enough hooks, with well inserted flashbacks. Usual banter, which could've benefitted from a tighter edit.

The second part really limped along, though. Not enough scamming and conniving for my taste. The period on the sea, and the characters they met didn't seem well realised enough.

The third part, picks up, but was rushed. Clever realisation of the scams, nice twist, but felt jarring after the mediocre momentum of the middle.

Lynch is a great writer, but he lost his way a bit here. Few too many Deux et Machina aspects with alchemy, excesses of banter, and misjudged pace- yet, as I said, still superior to most in the genre.

Definitely reading the third book...