Guest Post: “The World behind The Heart of Stone” by Ben Galley

Ben Galley is an author who’s been on my radar for a while now, ever since his book Bloodrush was chosen as one of the top ten finalists in last year’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off competition. This spring, he has a new novel coming out called The Heart of Stone, a grimdark fantasy featuring war, magic, and a battle golem made of stone. Today we are thrilled to welcome Ben himself to The BiblioSanctum to talk about his process of creating the world behind his new book (which will be released at the end of this month!) We hope you will enjoy this awesome guest post which he has so kindly written for us, and let us know what you think of The Heart of Stone!

THE WORLD BEHIND THE HEART OF STONE
by Ben Galley

A wise man once said: “Books are a finer world within the world.” I think Mr Alexander Smith was spot on. Every time I pick up a new book, I am just as excited to discover the world as I am the characters that live within it. I hold Tolkien responsible this. He, along with other authors like Lewis, Pullman and Donaldson taught me about the endless possibilities of world-building, and left me with an addiction for creating fictional worlds. I thought I’d talk about this obsession, as well as how I constructed the world for my new standalone novel – The Heart of Stone.

To me, the world is as every bit as important as its characters. It’s not merely the canvas for the story, or a set for a play, but a character in itself. Sometimes multiple characters. It can be just as deadly as any dark lord, or as intricate as any plot. It even sets the rules the characters can live by or fight against.

Whenever I’m planning out a new book, my first job is to build the world. I say job because it comes with responsibility, but at the same time it’s an absolute pleasure. Perhaps it’s the feeling of being a small god, tinkering with a new creation, but for me it’s not work, it’s fun. When I was creating the world for The Heart of Stone, I drew the maps before even deciding on a name for the main character – the golem Task. Authors plan and write in all sorts of different ways, but for me it’s the first port of call. It sets the mood, the tone, and even defines certain aspects of the genre I’m writing in.

For The Heart of Stone, a book about war, I decided I needed a fractious world. One with a bloody and bitter history. While it’s still a fantasy book, there is an underlying theme of real-world struggles, and so I created The Realm.

The Realm is a world split between south and north, with the desert lands (The Harmony) faced off against the north (The Accord). Despite these pacts, each country vies with its neighbours, and if they don’t, they insulate themselves behind walled borders. There’s even a patch of the world divided up between states called the Duelling Dozen, where the reigns of kings and queens are measured in days rather than decades. Even the natural world has a heartless element to it, with the addition of a gigantic whirlpool in the ocean. The God’s Rent is miles wide, forged by long-lost gods thousands a years before, and dictates the Realm’s weather and seas. It’s also responsible for war itself, forcing the south into drought while the north gets all the rain, and creating a very good reason for another war.

For a standalone, the world is possibly too vast. I’ll be the first to admit it, and say that’s largely because of my obsession for world-building. It’s like a tube of Pringles. Once I start, I can’t stop, even if it’s for my own knowledge rather than the reader’s. However, the main story arc is largely confined to one area of The Realm – Hartlund. It’s a far-flung island in the midst of a long civil war. It’s this war that my protagonist Task is forced to fight in, and so most of the world-building was done there. I made it a grim and cold place, I have to admit, but most war zones are.

Another aspect of my world is its implied era, which defines a lot of Hartlund. Being a Brit, I thought I’d look to my own country’s long history or war for inspiration. I took a lot from the English Civil War, where royalty fought against government for nine rancorous years, countryman against countryman. That inspiration led me to build my own post-Renaissance world, and stray into the realm of gunpowder fantasy.

There was an element of necessity in this, as I needed battle scenes that were not only different from the medieval, magical worlds of previous books, but also ones that worked with a golem. Arrows, swords and catapults were not enough of a threat to a stone war-machine, but cannon and muskets were. It’s the first time I’ve dabbled in this sort of era. I’ve come close with the 19th century world of my Scarlet Star Trilogy, but that was more steampunk than “powderpunk”. It was a hell of a lot of fun to write, especially when you have a golem that has a penchant for throwing cannons across battlefields.

I did draw a lot of parallels from that period of history, primarily because I needed it to be somewhat familiar to a reader, and not too fantastical or otherworldly. Of course, I couldn’t help myself in other areas. I would say The Heart of Stone is definitely more low fantasy than it is high fantasy. There may not be a whiff of elves or goblins in sight, but it is still very much a fantasy novel. Hartlund is populated with odd animals, with half-mammalian, half-reptilian steeds and other beasts. There are roamwillows – carnivorous trees that traipse across battlefields. There is magic, albeit a lost or banned art, and mostly a magic of the mind, verging on physic or telekinetic powers. And there is the magic of golems, which is practically a mystery to everyone but a golem. And even then, Task isn’t quite sure how he works.

And that’s a brief introduction to the inspiration and construction of my latest world, and why world-building is such an obsession for me. It’s been a pleasure writing about it, and thanks again to BilbioSanctum for having me on the blog! If you’d like to know more about The Heart of Stone, all the links and info can be found at www.bengalley.com/heart-of-stone. It’s out on the 30th of March this year.

Thanks for reading.

Ben

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ben Galley is an award-winning fantasy author from the UK. He is the author of the epic Emaneska Series, the weird-west Scarlet Star Trilogy and the brand new standalone The Heart of Stone.

When he’s not dreaming up lies to tell his readers, Ben works as a self-publishing consultant, helping fellow authors to self-publish and sell their books at www.shelfhelp.info.

Ben can be found being loquacious and attempting to be witty on Twitter (@BenGalley), Facebook (@BenGalleyAuthor) or at his website www.bengalley.com.

#SPFBO Review: Larcout by K.A. Krantz

SPFBO Banner

Phase 2 of The Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off 2016 is officially underway! For the six-month period from November 1, 2016 to the end of May 2017, we will be reviewing the ten finalists chosen by the blogger judges from the first phase of the competition. For full details and the list of books, see our SPFBO 2016 page.

Larcout by K.A. Krantz

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Fire Born, Blood Blessed Book #1

Publisher: K.A. Krantz (2015)

Author InfoKAKrantz.com

Wendy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Vadrigyn Le Sri is of the Morsam — the halfbreed children of the goddess of fire. Fire and venom run through her veins, screaming for death, but Vadrigyn is not some monster without reason. She is certain that the only way to escape her prison world where kill or be killed is the only motto is to prove to the male gods that she is more than the fire in her blood. They give her the chance to prove herself by plucking her out of Agenwold and tossing her into the Jewelled Nation of Larcout. Here, battles are fought with magic and the mind, which Vadrigyn must learn to master if she is to unravel the mystery of her mother’s decades old crime and the current politics of which she is the key to everyone’s undoing.

I immediately fell for Vadrigyn upon meeting her. She is a gruff warrior woman raised to take nothing for granted. Thrown into the fancy world of high court, she stands out like a sore thumb, or in her case, the poisonous Dorgof parasites that extend from her palms. Everything about her is fierce and animalistic, from her wild hair to her fanged teeth and appetite for munching on precious stones, but Krantz balances this with Vadrigyn’s intelligence and the ferocity of her desire for change. She is out of place in both the world she is torn from and the world she is dropped into, but she makes no apologies for any of the myriad of things that make her different, including her parentage, even when her mother’s crimes and Vadrigyn’s apparent weaknesses are constantly thrown in her face.

Her instruction and mentorship in her new world is undertaken by her cousins, who feel they must band together to protect each other from the Le Sri shame brought down by Vadrigyin’s mother, and Le Zyrn, a high ranking man in the grand political scheme. Many others seek to use her for or against the throne, and it is Vadrigyn’s job to learn how to decipher this puzzle, and prove herself to the gods.

This is where the book started to teeter on the edge of boredom for me as Vadrigyn meets a plethora of potential friends and foes, many of whom are somewhat difficult to tell apart, and few of whom endeared themselves to me. While Vadrigyn remained an interesting character throughout, she did not necessarily change or grow in a way that the reader is allowed to see. Despite the story being told from her point of view, there is very little emotional depth in her character, though it could be argued that emotional depth is simply not her way. Vadrigyn is refreshingly open and calls everything as she sees it and we are privy to that through her thoughts, even when she does manage to hold her tongue in front of the blood-beings she must protect and protect herself from. In the middle of the book, Vadrigyn unwittingly begins to play the role of Nancy Drew, pointing out what ought to have been obvious to everyone else, but for the convenient fact that mind altering abilities are at play. The entire middle section could use some tightening up in order to address the lull that occurs while everyone takes the time to catch up to Vadrigyn’s revelations.

Both the magic and political system prove to be creative strong point in Krantz’s story, once the pieces start to fit together, and the overall prose is well written, save for a penchant for splitting off sentences from a paragraph for the sake of emphasis. Topped with an unusual heroine, this is a solid entry in the fantasy genre.

Waiting on Wednesday 03/15/17

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine that lets us feature upcoming releases that we can’t wait to get our hands on!

Mogsy’s Pick

Thrawn by Timothy Zahn (April 11, 2017 by Del Rey)

I’m going to start with what I suspect will be a very unpopular opinion here, but to tell the truth, I’ve never really cared for the Thrawn trilogy books. I think they’re overrated, honestly. Thrawn, however, is still one of the best characters to come out of Star Wars universe, like EVER, so you can bet I will still be reading this one come hell or high water. As you know the original series has now been classified “Legends” along with much of the old Expanded Universe, but Thrawn was canonically reintroduced in the current season Star Wars Rebels and this book is supposed to cover the story of his rise to power. According to Timothy Zahn, we’ll get to see how his character became so respected in the Empire and why he is such a brilliant tactician, and perhaps some of it too will fit nicely with the original trilogy so I expect there will also be plenty of Easter eggs for fans.

Book Review: The Return by Joseph Helmreich

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

the-returnThe Return by Joseph Helmreich

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (March 14, 2017)

Length: 256 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Based on its topics, The Return is what I would describe as hard science fiction—lots of heavy emphasis on technical details, especially surrounding the fields of astronomy and quantum physics. The result is a lot of complex and advanced scientific theory going over my head and plenty more technobabble I’m sure I didn’t quite grasp. So why did I enjoy this book much? Well, for one thing it was thoroughly addicting. Combining an altogether engaging sci-fi premise with the fast-paced intensity of a breathless thriller, Joseph Helmreich’s clever debut is a wild and unexpected journey worth taking.

The day humanity found out that it was not alone in the universe began just like any other, with the exception of a few pockets in the scientific community all abuzz with the anticipation for that night’s lunar eclipse coinciding with the winter solstice. It is an occasion rare enough that a news television station has arranged a live broadcast on site in the Bernasconi Hills of Southern California with expert physicist-turned-celebrity scientist Dr. Andrew Leland to cover the event. This is why, when a mysterious spacecraft suddenly swoops down upon the TV crew after the eclipse, Dr. Leland’s subsequent abduction by aliens was captured entirely on film and televised live on air for all to see.  The footage was so clear that not even the fiercest skeptics could deny the evidence of what happened that day. The next six years saw drastic changes in almost all facets of life, ranging from mass panic to renewed dedication to studying the space sciences, people either reembracing or abandoning their faith, lots of discussion and speculation about what might have happened to Leland and where he might be now.

At least the last question was answered one day when the world received another shock—in the middle of the South American desert, a bedraggled wanderer was picked up by authorities and identified as none other than Dr. Andrew Leland. But instead of enlightening everyone with the details of what he saw and experienced in the last six years, Leland claims that he remembers nothing. In fact, he denies having been abducted at all. Soon after, he becomes a recluse, retreating completely from the public eye. For some people though, that simply would not do. Shawn Ferris is a young physics grad student who has been obsessed with the life of Andrew Leland ever since he watched the famous video of the abduction as a young boy. He wants answers and is determined to get them by tracking his hero down. In doing so, however, what Shawn did not expect to find are others hunting Leland too, except their intentions are not so nice.

To my utter astonishment, the publisher description actually contains a lot more detail and potential spoilers for its own story—though I suppose with the sheer number twists and turns in this book, they probably figured revealing a couple of them wouldn’t hurt. If you truly want to be surprised though, I would suggest avoiding the blurb if you haven’t read it already, and also not to seek out anything more about the plot. Trust me, it’ll make finding out what happens so much better…

While in essence The Return is a science fiction novel, its style, format and pacing is more in keeping with a suspense-thriller by employing devices like a third-person omniscient point of view, lots of POV jumps and incidental characters, cliffhangers at the end of chapters, etc. If these are the kinds of stories you like, then this book will work very well for you. It is also in large part a mystery, keeping readers guessing in anticipation at what the big picture is. At first, the story is told in two disparate threads, one following Shawn Ferris in America and the second taking place in Spain, with no hints as to how they are related. But as events gradually unfold in each storyline, the connections start to form. From the very start, I was impressed with Helmreich’s sleek and polished writing style and the clever way he structured the plot. And despite the amount of scientific jargon, reading this never felt like a chore thanks to the writing being very readable and the punchy pace keeping me from putting the book down.

Perhaps the only part I felt dubious about was the ending, which wrapped up much too quickly and felt just a little too convenient, considering the elaborate development that went into the ramp-up to this point. But even though the ending wasn’t as satisfying as it could have been, I wouldn’t say I was disappointed—not when many of the events in the final parts of this book are just as shocking and unexpected as those in the first half, and I confess I was even left feeling gut-punched by several of those surprising twists.

This is a genre I often struggle with, but The Return succeed in drawing me in with its smart and intriguing premise. While it is not completely without its flaws, for a debut effort it is nonetheless impressive, featuring a story that often kept me perched on the edge of my seat. Joseph Helmreich’s writing is also solid and very “cinematic” in its quality—sharply vivid and immediate, delivering maximum thrills and entertainment. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and would recommend it for readers who enjoy a kick of an adrenaline rush with their sci-fi.

4-stars

Mogsy 2

Audiobook Review: Star Wars: Aftermath: Empire’s End by Chuck Wendig

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

aftermath-empires-endStar Wars: Aftermath: Empire’s End by Chuck Wendig

Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction, Media Tie-In

Series: Book 3 of Star Wars: Aftermath

Publisher: Random House Audio (February 21, 2017)

Length: 15 hrs and 57 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Marc Thompson

The Aftermath trilogy may have gotten off to a shaky start, but the good news is that things have been steadily turning around ever since Life Debt improved on many of the problems that plagued the first novel. I’m happy to report that Empire’s End continues this trend by further developing the story and characters, giving them the depth that they lacked early on.

Looking back my review of Aftermath, my feelings about this series now can’t be any more different. To be honest, I thought the first book was very forgettable. The plot was fun but fluffy, lacking any real weight. None of the new characters were all that compelling or memorable, except maybe the droid. It wasn’t a bad read, but overall it was still a very mediocre addition to the new Star Wars canon, doubly disappointing because of how hugely it was hyped.

Now, fast forward to Empire’s End. We’ve definitely come a long way since the first book. The inclusion of original trilogy characters and connections to other events and stories in the Star Wars universe have helped this trilogy immensely, increasing its relevance and making the second and third books a lot more enjoyable to read. We also know that the title refers to the Empire’s last stand at the Battle of Jakku, so the anticipation for this monumentally important event also helped.

Empire’s End continues the adventures of Norra Wexley and her band of mercenaries as they continue to hunt down the remnants of the Imperial leadership—except now, it’s personal. The events that took place at Chandrila at the end of Life Debt have made Grand Admiral Rae Sloane the primary target of Norra’s revenge. Unbeknownst to our rebels though, Sloane has lost all her power, struck down by the diabolical Gallius Rax, the former protégé of Emperor Palpatine and self-proclaimed Counselor of the Empire.

The hunt to bring Sloane to justice ultimately leads Norra to Jakku, where her team discovers the presence of a large Imperial force attempting to regather their strength. This intelligence is relayed back to the New Republic, where the Galactic Senate now must decide whether or not to bring the fight to the Empire. Meanwhile, Leia Organa and Han Solo are soon expecting their first child and have taken a step back from the limelight. Understanding the need to see the enemy put down once and for all, however, they team up with Chancellor Mon Mothma to convince others in the senate that the vote to bring the fleet to Jakku must pass.

Politics, action, and thrills come together in this final installment of the Aftermath trilogy, and if you’ve been enjoying the ride so far, then you’ll likely be pleased with the results. Empire’s End is much better than the first book, possibly even better than Life Debt; in fact, I think it’s one of the stronger new canon novels to date. Maybe I’m just getting used to the writing, or maybe opting to go with the audiobook format could have improved the experience, but I found Wendig’s style and his use of the present tense much less distracting this time around. And even though I still find them somewhat distracting, I’ve also come to grudgingly tolerate those pesky interludes. Dare I say, a couple of them were actually quite interesting, like that brief glimpse we got into what Jar Jar Binks has been up to since the prequels.

This novel’s greatest achievement though, is character development. Norra, Temmin, Jas, Sinjir, and Jom went from a jumble of names I could barely remember to the heroes that I enthusiastically cheered for in this final showdown between the New Republic and the Empire. And of course we mustn’t forget about Mr. Bones, who has been a favorite since the beginning. Over the course of the trilogy, this crew of ragtag rebels has become a real family. Empire’s End places them all in situations where you can truly sense their loyalty to each other, or understand their growing emotional ties and friendships. In addition, this book did amazing things for Grand Admiral Rae Sloane. Though she was already a fantastic character even going back to her first appearance in A New Dawn, much of her growth has been seen in the Aftermath trilogy. She may be on the wrong side of history, but she has such a strong, interesting backstory and personality that you can’t help but love her too.

If the later books had remained mediocre like Aftermath, I would have said skip this trilogy. Fortunately though, this was not the case. Things have really picked up since the first book, and the number of significant events and ties to other stories and characters in the Star Wars universe have pretty much made this one a must-read. Overall, I’m pretty pleased with how the series has turned out. I have some caveats of course, which you can find in my reviews of the previous books, but on the whole I would encourage Star Wars fans both new and old to check out this trilogy if you think you might enjoy it.

Audiobook Comments: Marc Thompson is a god, that is all.

Okay, fine, I’ll elaborate. More and more, I’m finding myself shifting away from reading Star Wars fiction to listening to them, simply because they always have the best talent narrating these books. Thompson is a perpetual favorite because of his ability to do all these great voices. Some of the ones he does for specific characters are spot on. I loved his voices for Han Solo, Sinjir, and Mr. Bones. He even did a pretty good Lando. And one of my friends who read the hardcover version of book actually asked me if Thompson did the Jar Jar Binks voice for the aforementioned interlude, and I was like, are you kidding me, of course he did! And it was amazing! Star Wars audiobooks are always a treat, and Thompson is a narrator whose reading can really enhance a story even when there’s not a lot happening on a page.

4-stars

Mogsy 2

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Star Wars: Aftermath (Book 1)
Review of Star Wars: Aftermath: Life Debt (Book 2)

Book Review: Revenger by Alastair Reynolds

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

revengerRevenger by Alastair Reynolds

Mogsy’s Rating: 2 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Book 1

Publisher: Orbit (US: February 28, 2016)

Length: 432 pages

Author Information: Website

Revenger was my first book by Alastair Reynolds, which makes admitting that it did not work for me all that much harder. Still, in all fairness, I had been warned by several others beforehand that this does not feel representative of much of his work (as apparently the target audience is YA). Instead of choosing something else as my introduction to the author though, I decided to throw caution to the wind and try it anyway, so that’s on me.

The story follows Adrana and Fura Ness, a pair of teenaged sisters who live with their ailing father on the planet of Mazerile. A series of bad investments have bankrupted the family and now the girls have little prospects for the future, which is why when Captain Rackamore turns up in his sunjammer hoping to recruit a new Bone reader for his crew, Adrana and Fura are quick to take him up on his offer. Because the two of them are Sympathetics, they are perfect for the job which involves mentally linking themselves up with a mysterious piece of technology called a skull on the ship, enabling the crew to communicate with other travelers using the long-established inter-galactic trade routes.

So without another thought spared to their dear old dad, the girls decide to run off and join Rackamore on The Monetta’s Mourn, beginning their treasure seeking adventures among the remains of lost civilizations. The galaxy is filled with crews like theirs scavenging the far corners of space for “baubles”, a term used to describe artificially enclosed planets that can contain all manner of precious valuables and wonders. But perhaps just as common are the ships that prey on these treasure hunting crews, waiting for others to do the hard work before swooping in and snatching away their bounty. Adrana and Fura end up learning this lesson the hard way when The Monetta’s Mourn comes under such an attack, the crew becoming the next victims of the fearsome space pirate known as Bosa Sennen.

So what worked and what didn’t? On a world-building level, I could appreciate what Reynolds was trying to achieve here. Revenger is a mix of hard sci-fi with something else that is less definable—a mythological, fabled element that belongs more in a fantasy novel, perhaps. The universe is filled with alien artifacts, ancient technologies, and other unexplainable mysteries such as individuals with special gifts. And while the story takes place in deep space and humankind has achieved the ability to travel among the stars, the atmosphere of the setting is nonetheless evocative of an era more befitting of the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries. Think the Age of Discovery, exploration and mercantilism, crews setting off into the great unknown on treasure voyagers hoping to bring home fortune and glory. It’s a classic maritime adventure novel complete with pirates, ship wrecks and hidden booty, except that it’s all superimposed over a science fiction backdrop.

But as fascinating as this all was, the disappointment came crashing down when, after getting through nearly half the novel, I realized very few of these elements were actually explored. All those new and unfamiliar terms that were being thrown around at the beginning, ostensibly teasing the reader and making us all think that explanations were forthcoming, ultimately led to no satisfying answers.

Then there was the main character of Fura. She’s everything I find distasteful in a teen protagonist—selfish, impulsive, arrogant, and naïve. She takes new experiences for granted, treats opportunities like she is entitled to them, and doesn’t think too hard about the consequences of her actions. I realize she’s supposed to be a teenager, but this type of attitude and thinking feels even more immature than is called for somehow.

Overall, I also found myself unenthused by the story. It’s possible that my dislike of Fura had something to do with it, though in general I thought the plot suffered from poor pacing. For a novel supposedly aimed at a young adult audience, it’s surprisingly slow. Things ticked up a bit when The Monetta’s Mourn came under attack by pirates, but then returned to a monotonous pattern once the dust settled.

I tried, but I just couldn’t get into this one. Revenger was definitely not what I expected from my first foray into Alastair Reynolds, but fans might be relieved to know I’m chalking this up to an anomaly which is not indicative of his usual work. I fully intend to try him again in the future, hopefully with a book that has a story and characters that are more to my tastes.

2stars

Mogsy 2

Mogsy’s Bookshelf Roundup: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads

Stacking the Shelves where I talk about the new books I’ve added to my library or received for review, as well as It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? where I round up what I’ve read since the last update and what I’m planning to read soon. Mostly it also serves as a recap post, so sometimes I’ll throw in stuff like reading challenge progress reports, book lists, and other random bookish thoughts or announcements.

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Received for Review

Thank you to the publishers and authors for the following review copies received. For more details and full descriptions of the books, be sure to click the links to their Goodreads pages!

The Waking Land by Callie Bates – My thanks to Del Rey for this gorgeous ARC! The Waking Land is high on my list of most anticipated 2017 debuts and I can’t wait to read it.

Sins of Empire by Brian McClellan – The start of a new epic fantasy series set in the same universe as the author’s Powder Mage trilogy – which I loved. Definitely looking forward to see more of this world. With thanks to Orbit.

The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge – Not my usual genre, I confess, but then I do have a fascination with all things Lovecraft. So when this was pitched to me, I found I could hardly resist. With thanks to Penguin.

Huge thanks to the amazing team at Subterranean Press for the following trio of beauties: I freaked out when I received The Furthest Station by Ben Aaronovitch, a novella from one of my favorite UF series, Rivers of London/Peter Grant. This book hadn’t even been on my radar, so its arrival was a surprise in more ways than one. I’m also pretty excited about Mightier Than The Sword by K.J. Parker; I’ve always wanted to read more of his work. And The Unorthodox Dr. Draper and Other Stories by William Browning Spencer looks totally wild! No idea what I’ll be in for, but the blurb describes the tales as a commingling of “horror and humor”. The cover alone makes me think this one’s going to be quite interesting.

Gardenia by Kelsey Sutton – “Ever since she was a child, Ivy has been able to see countdown clocks over everyone’s heads indicating how long before they will die…” The moment I saw this first part in the book’s blurb, I just knew I had to check it out. Gardenia looks pretty unique for a Young Adult supernatural novel, so I’m hoping it’ll be as good as it sounds! With thanks to Diversion Books.

Alone by Scott Sigler – My thanks to Del Rey for this finished copy! Alone is the final installment in The Generations Trilogy and I’m curious to see how it will all end.

Black City Demon by Richard A. Knaak – Much love also to Pyr for sending me a finished copy of this follow-up to Black City Saint. Reminds me that I better get cracking on these books!

given-to-the-sea only-the-dead-know-brooklyn 

the-evaporation-of-sofi-snow  

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Given to the Sea by Mindy McGinnis – The bulk of my recent YA reads have been sci-fi, horror, dystopian, UF, etc. and I just feel like I need more YA epic fantasy in my life, which is why I felt drawn to this. That and I am a total cover whore. With thanks to Putnam’s YA via the Penguin First to Read program.

My 2017 challenge to read and discover new Horror fiction continues, which was what led me to Only The Dead Know Brooklyn by Chris Vola. Thanks to Thomas Dunne Books for approving my request! From the publisher I also received A Gathering of Ravens by Scott Oden, a Norse mythology inspired fantasy which I’m really excited about.

The Evaporation of Sofi Snow by Mary Weber – What can I say? I have a huge weakness for books with a video gaming twist. With thanks to Thomas Nelson via NetGalley.

The Astonishing Mistakes of Dahlia Moss by Max Wirestone – And speaking of video games, here is a series that has been described as Veronica Mars meets World of Warcraft. I read the first book and it was hilaaaarious! Definitely going to be reading this one soon. With thanks to Redhook.

Lady of the Lake by Andrzej Sapkowski – Audiobook edition, read by Peter Kenny. I wouldn’t miss the final book of the Witcher saga for anything, and had to go with the audio version too, of course of course! With thanks to Hachette Audio.

Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory – So happy I was approved for this earlier in the week. I’m a big fan of Daryl Gregory and when I found out he has a new book coming out, I knew I had to check it out. With thanks to Knopf via Edelweiss.

And last but not least, a couple of new e-galleys courtesy of Tor.com! The Ghost Line by Andrew Neil Gray is a science fiction thriller sounds like it could be really good, and so does The Delirium Brief by Charles Stross even though according to Goodreads it is the eight book in a series, which makes me doubt this  makes a good jumping on point. Unless these books can be read as standalones? Anyone know?

Reviews

Here’s a summary of my reviews posted since the last Roundup. The book gods have been very kind to me in the last couple of weeks, blessing me with a  lot of fantastic reads. Brandon Sanderson’s latest novella Snapshot gets the top honor of being today’s highlight.

Snapshot by Brandon Sanderson (4.5 of 5 stars)
Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames (4 of 5 stars)
Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs (4 of 5 stars)
The Holver Alley Crew by Marshall Ryan Maresca (4 of 5 stars)
Idle Ingredients by Matt Wallace (4 of 5 stars)
The Devil Crept in by Ania Ahlborn (4 of 5 stars)
Thunderbird by Chuck Wendig (3.5 of 5 stars)
The Seventh Age: Dawn by Rick Heinz (3 of 5 stars)
Caraval by Stephanie Garber (3 of 5 stars)

Roundup Highlight:

What I’ve Read Since the Last Update

Here are the books I’ve finished recently. Most of these don’t have reviews up yet because I’m a bit behind on posting them, but they’ll be coming soon.

Etched in Bone the-holver-alley-crew aftermath-empires-end snapshot a-conjuring-of-light

the-return phantom-pains nemesis Crossroads of Canopy

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Have you heard of or read any of the books featured this week? What caught your eye? Any new discoveries? I hope you found something interesting for a future read! Let me know what you plan on checking out. Until next time, see you next Roundup!:)

Celebrate Buffy’s 20th Anniversary with Bookburners!

Like many geeks growing up in the late 90s and early 2000s, I was a huge fan of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show, watching it religiously to follow the adventures of our Sunnydale gang. And do you know who else are big fans? The author team behind the Serial Box series Bookburnersa serialized fiction story where magic is real and some books have teeth! If you’ve read the serial, then you’ve probably spotted many similarities between it and Buffy, especially in the hunting-magic sense and the dynamics between the characters. After all, Max Gladstone, Margaret Dunlap, Mur Lafferty and Brian Francis Slattery all consider themselves super fans of Buffy and have been influenced greatly by the show.

On this day, March 10, 2017, fans around the world are celebrating the 20th anniversary of Buffy the Vampire Slayer season one. Hard to believe it’s been twenty years already, but time sure flies! To join in the fun, this weekend Serial Box is offering a half-off promo on Bookburners in honor of Buffy, so if you’ve been curious about the series now is your chance to see what the fuss is all about. In case you missed my review, this is a seriously kickass series based around secret team of agents that hunts down dangerous books containing deadly magic. 

For more about the Bookburners and the ideas and influences that went into it, the authors have written a great piece on how they feel Buffy has transformed television and continues to inspire today, along with links and promo details included at the end of the post. I hope you’ll enjoy and check out Bookburners!

Margaret: Looking back twenty years after Buffy, it’s hard to remember that so much of what it did was revolutionary at the time. Like, the “big bad” who gave each season its own flavor and self-contained arc that then built the story of the series as a whole; no one else was doing that in the same way. Babylon-5 famously had its five-year plan, but it always presented itself as a deliberate exception, a grand experiment. Buffy was just television. Quippy, girl-centric television on the WB, no less. Pinning the television revolution to one show is always going to be a gross oversimplification, but Buffy served as a proof of concept that TV dramas didn’t have to live and die only by their week-to-week stories.

Now a structure that combines season-arcs and standalone episodes is so baked into our consciousness, when our team sat down to break the first season of Bookburners, we sort of took it for granted that was how we were going to tell our story. Which is an insanely fast shift, when you think about it.

Max: Buffy set a high water mark for a certain kind of quippy, self-conscious television: stories in which the characters know they’re in a story, know stories like the ones they’re in—and know those stories don’t end well. It’s a fine line to walk. Lean too far to the left, and the characters become so self aware the story loses all horror, mystery, wonder, or even basic emotional affect. Lean too far to the right, and the horror crushes the life out of the quips, and out of our characters. The jokes just seem grotesque. The Buffy team built a world where students possessed by hyena spirits could eat the school principal, and we’d all recognize that this was the kind of thing that happened in Sunnydale and on some level everything would turn out fine, more or less, while at the same time knowing that the principal really had been torn apart by his students. And the creators didn’t stop there—that careful tension left the viewer unprepared for the serious emotional right hooks the series later started to throw.

That balance is at the heart of our work on Bookburners, too—a fun story, about people having fun, with plenty of blood in. A balance that leaves you off guard for the blow.

Brian: Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the show that I’m always most afraid of ripping off when writing Bookburners. I was a huge fan of the show when it was on the air, to the point that I possibly did a little less well in graduate school because of it. At the time, seasons 3 and 5 in particular seemed to me to be about as good as television got at the time.

But even the high drama of those seasons didn’t quite prepare me for the way the series ended overall. Maybe the final season was a little uneven. Maybe some of the drama got a little overplayed. Maybe it got a little too dark. But the final conceit, in which Buffy found a way to change the rules that had tied her down, and break the patriarchy that had made her its servant, still stands in my mind as a nearly perfect way to end that story. Not only because it turned the logic of the show inside out in an intellectually satisfying way, but because it showed the consequences of that radical decision on a human scale. The images in that final sequence—the flush of beatification on Willow’s face when she casts her last spell, followed by the smiles of strength on the faces of not only the women assembled to fight demons, but a girl who stays the hand of her abuser, a girl at bat who knows she’s going to knock that next pitch all the way out of the park—have stayed with me since that final episode aired. The show’s writers could have killed Buffy off at the end of the series (and did once, a couple seasons before that) and it would have made sense. Instead, they set her free. Needless to say, we’ve been taking notes.

Mur: One out of many things Buffy did right was female relationships. We saw in Heathers and Mean Girls the narrative of the best friends who secretly compete and hate each other and, even if you were a girl and had a best friend, you wondered if girl friendships were the rare thing and the backstabbing relationships were the norm. Then Buffy came along, and she and Willow created a super strong bond, and later with Anya and Tara, the Scoobies were heavy on the tight girl friendships. Cordelia did manage to bring the bitchy rivalry aspect to the show, but she didn’t hang around for long.

In Bookburners we have Sal and Grace developing a slow but tight friendship that is tested, but stays strong. Asanti plays more of a parental role, but her female/female connections to Sal and (to a lesser extent) Grace are also tight. The men in our team play roles that connect to each other, and the women, but they do not overshadow the women’s connections and experiences. In a world where the Bechtel test is a depressing test that so many stories manage to fail, Buffy didn’t, and Bookburners takes its lead from that awesome show.

To see how the writing team was influenced by Buffy, check out Bookburners here, and for today and this weekend only we’re offering half off Season 1 using code BuffyPromo1 and half off Season 2 using code BuffyPromo2. To redeem, go to www.SerialBox.com.

Audiobook Review: Snapshot by Brandon Sanderson

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

snapshotSnapshot by Brandon Sanderson

Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Audible Studios (February 17, 2017)

Length: 2 hrs and 23 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: William DeMeritt

I’ll be the first to admit I’m not the biggest fan of short fiction, but I genuinely enjoy reading Brandon Sanderson novellas. Honestly, I have no idea how the guy does it. Whether his books are 1000 pages or 100, they’re always fun to read, not to mention creative as hell. As you’d expect, this was definitely the case with Snapshot as well.

Davis and Chaz are investigative partners with an interesting job, working out of a town called New Clipperton where law enforcement has access to a very special facility that helps them solve crimes. The police there have access to a technology that allows them to create a “Snapshot”, a perfect reconstruction of a day recently in the past right down to the smallest detail. Knowing exactly what’s going to happen beforehand, investigators like Davis and Chaz can be sent through into Snapshots to gather evidence or to witness the actual crimes that take place, which may then lead to arrests and charges in the real world.

There are a lot of rules, though. While Snapshots are perfect recreations of a day in time, real people who are sent through can affect the world just like it is their own. Any changes are called deviations, and they can be large or small. People are also recreated in Snapshots, called dupes. They are not real, but they might as well be for all intents and purposes—after all, they are flesh and blood, they retain the same personalities and memories as their originals, and most importantly, they also have no idea they are in a Snapshot. The only way they would find out is if they are confronted by a Snapshot agent, who is the absolute authority while he or she is on the job. Snapshot agents can still be hurt and even die while they are in a Snapshot, but they also carry special badges that allows them to overrule the civil rights of any dupes around them, which gives them access to places and information that they likely wouldn’t have gotten back in the real world.

When the story begins, we learn that Davis and Chaz are in a Snapshot of May 1st, ten days in the past. Originally assigned to do routine evidence gathering for a case they’re working on, the two of them end up accidentally stumbling onto a crime scene of a mass killing. To Davis and Chaz, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to catch a wanted murderer, but their precinct orders them to stand down and walk away instead, giving our protagonists no choice but to take matters into their own hands.

What follows next is a pulse-pounding hunt for a serial killer as our two able investigators uncover even more gruesome details about the perpetrator’s crimes. If you’re even passing familiar with Sanderson’s work though, you’ll already know that things are never so straightforward. Yes, Snapshot is a mystery, but there are so many layers to this novella that I believe even non-fans of crime and detective stories will be able to appreciate it. For one thing, there’s the fantastic premise which adds several extra dimensions to the mystery plot, and our characters are thrown into situations that will really make you think. Basically if the concept of using Snapshots to solve crimes sounds fascinating to you, then you’re going to love all the thought and creativity that went into this story.

I was also floored by the ending, which for me was definitely one of those bug-eyed “What the hell just happened?!” moments. I had to playback my audiobook several times just to make sure I heard everything right. That too, is classic Sanderson. He has this way of leading you down a garden path, making you think everything is going one way, and then BAM, he’ll show you just how innocent and naïve you were. Looking back, I guess I should have seen it coming, but in the end that twist still managed to knock me for a loop.

I don’t often hand out such high ratings for a novella simply because so few have impressed me to this degree, but I’ll happily throw my full recommendation behind Snapshot, which I thought was a truly imaginative and brilliant read. One final thing to note, this novella apparently takes place in the same universe as the Reckoners, though any links are very minor and aren’t even all that easy to catch, so reading the series is definitely not a prerequisite. This story can be enjoyed entirely on its own, so if it interests you, I would say go ahead and jump right in.

Audiobook Comments: Snapshot was a very short listen, perfect for when you need an audiobook to entertain you for a couple of hours. I’ve had experience with William DeMeritt as a narrator one other time only (for Underground Airlines by Ben Winters) but he has impressed me once again. His voice really is quite perfect for a book like this, with his deep tones enhancing the story’s crime noir vibes by bringing them to the surface. If you’re considering this one in audio, I highly recommend it.

4-5stars

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Book Review: Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

kings-of-the-wyldKings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of The Band

Publisher: Orbit (February 21, 2017)

Length: 544 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Humor can be a tricky beast, as I often say. What works for one reader might not work for another, and what works one day might not work the next. Picking up something labeled “fantasy humor” is therefore always something of a crapshoot because I never know how it’s going to play out, and unfortunately the last couple of years have seen more misses than hits. When I started Kings of the Wyld though, I had a feeling it was going to be special, and I’m glad that my instincts didn’t steer me wrong.

This book has it all: gritty anti-heroes and twisted villains, epic battles and heart-stopping fight scenes, exotic locales and all manner of fantastical creatures. If this sounds like your kind of story, then you’re in for a treat. Nicholas Eames has reworked the classic quest narrative and presented it to us in a fun and refreshing package. You might even find yourself laughing out loud along the way.

Kings of the Wyld follows a motley crew of aging yet charming mercenaries as they reunite to rescue a bandmate’s daughter trapped behind the walls of a city under siege. After years of questing and brawling, Clay Cooper is ready put his past behind him. He’s married now with a young child, and he’s looking forward to retiring to a life of quiet and leisure. Fate, however, has different plans. One day, his old bandmate Gabe shows up with a desperate request for help. It seems Gabe’s daughter Rose has run off and gotten herself into trouble again, only this time it’s a matter of life and death.

At first, Clay is reluctant to get involved. He has his own fledgling family to think of now; no longer can he drop everything to traipse across the world on dangerous missions. But seeing Gabe’s distress, and recalling all the good times he’s had with his friend, he finally relents. Leaving the comfort of home behind, Clay joins Gabe to round up the members of Saga, their old band. This includes Matrick, their resident rogue who is now a drunken cuckolded king; Arcandius Moog, a wizard who has turned to a life of research trying to find a cure for a deadly disease; Ganelon, who has spent the last nineteen years trapped in his own private prison; and along the way, they even meet a Daeva named Larkspur who is in fact more foe than ally.

What follows is an entertaining, brilliantly crafted adventure that takes us across the Wyld by land and by air. If you’re a fan of video games or tabletop RPGs, you’ll feel right at home in this world with these characters who feel like they’ve stepped right out of a D&D campaign. Kings of the Wyld reads like a loving tribute to these types of classic narratives, while giving it heart—which I feel is the secret ingredient that sets this one apart. Somehow, Eames made it possible and even easy for me to relate to this band of mostly drunk, fat and jaded old men by turning their faults into endearing traits. These are genuine characters who have very real hopes and dreams, as well as values and principles that are important to them. After all, the entire premise of this story is driven by Gabe’s love for his daughter, and also by Clay’s loyalty to his old friend. You’ll fall in love with the members of Saga and want to cheer them on every step of the way.

And of course, humor is another huge selling point. Kings of the Wyld is a fantasy novel that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and there are elements in it that are unabashedly tongue-in-cheek. The author might have taken a gamble on the style, but in the end I think it paid off. Still, one of the more common criticisms I’ve seen when it comes to fantasy comedy is the use of modern language, slang, or pop culture references. Personally, it doesn’t bother me when it’s second world fantasy, but if such anachronisms aren’t your cup of tea, then you might find it problematic. For me though, what matters more is the tone of humor; I prefer my comedy on the subtler side (as opposed to more overt styles, like slapstick) and this is where Eames struck the perfect balance. Without going overboard, he kept the story light and entertaining while still adhering to epic fantasy traditions.

From the first page to the last, Kings of the Wyld is a rollicking fast-paced novel with just the right amount of grit and wit. Nicholas Eames is definitely on to something here with his impressive debut. Bottom line, read this book if you’re a fan of good old-fashioned quest adventure narratives, epecially if you think you might enjoy one as seen through a modern humorous lens. I’ve tried a lot of books that match this description in recent years, and I have to say this is the best. Already I find myself craving the sequel.

4-stars

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