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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?