Mass Effect fans know Maya Brooks from the Citadel DLC. In Mass Effect: Foundations, we learn how she came to be an agent of Cerberus, compiling dossiers on Shepard’s eclectic crew. Issue one was a very interesting look into that very process, but when the next issues began shoehorning Maya into what should simply have been origin stories for our favourite characters, things started to fall apart. I suspect the idea was to make Maya the Mara Jade of the Mass Effect world, but her presence lacked the subtlety of the Emperor’s Hand. I found Kaidan Alenko’s story particularly disappointing. Anyone who took the time to talk to him in the original game already knew this story, so the issue felt more like an excuse to show Kaidan’s teacher being excessively mean and shouting a lot, within panels literally flooded with biotic powers, without telling anything new.
Based on the covers of Grimm Fairy Tales, I hadn’t expected much, but was pleasantly surprised when I read volume one. Realm Knights takes a different spin on the fairy tales with fully realized characters as part of the real world. And when Chronos returns seeking vengeance against the gods that imprisoned him, Snow, Robyn Hood, Hook, Van Helsing and Red Riding Hood are brought together to defeat him. Fans of the series will undoubtedly recognize the characters and their powers, quirky personalities and relationships, but a new reader can have just as much fun on this wild ride, especially when the amusing Hades shows up to help or hinder them in the fight against his father.
One thing that immediately sets Sheltered apart from other post-apocalyptic stories is the fact that it’s actually a pre-apocalyptic story. It begins at a secluded camp of survivalists who have been busily preparing for the inevitable. What they didn’t expect is how their preparations would affect their children. Lead by Lucas, who believes that the only chance the younger generation has for survival, is to take their parents’ teachings to heart. Meanwhile, Hailey and Victoria, who were not part of the plan, end up doing a lot of nothing for most of the volume, while Lucas tries to maintain his fragile control.
While I really liked the idea behind Sheltered, I felt the motivations of the children were not strong enough to make it truly believable. The Lord of the Flies mentality is easy enough to comprehend, but not before the children bring their deadly plan to fruition. There is no clear reason for the children to follow through with Lucas’ plan, no matter how much of a bully he might be or how convincing his end of the world scenario is.
Following the death of her parents, Aurora Grimeon is sent to live with her grandfather, Silver, in the mysterious Ossuary Isle. Upon her arrival, she is greeted by the haunting form of a blue flame. The neighbours refer to it as a will-o-the-wisp, but Silver dismisses it as science. And while Silver does not care much for the superstitious nature of his neighbours, he does consent to send her off to Mama Nonnie, the local hoodoo woman, for protection spells. Death surrounds the people of Ossuary Isle, and Aurora’s arrival seems to herald more of it.
This is a an intriguing little tale, with quirky, beautiful art, perfectly suited to the dark, morbid environment. Graves and grave workers line the swamp and Silver’s hobbies and research certainly are macabre. I really liked the way the superstitions, which at first seemed to be worthy only of dismissal, were used, taking on a life of their own as the mystery unwound and the story went places I did not quite expect. And then there’s Missy the raccoon…
There’s a good chance that, if you’re a Science Fiction, Fantasy, Steampunk and Urban Fantasy reader, you’ve read a book featuring one of Photo-Illustrator Gene Mollica‘s incredible covers. A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Gene began his artistic career as a traditional painter, but soon moved into the challenging world of digital media.
When chatting with Gene, one thing becomes very clear: creating the most stunning image possible is his goal, and he goes above and beyond to make that happen. The wrong cover can confuse an audience, so it’s Gene’s job to make sure that his work is not only eye-catching, but captures the attention of the right readers. The key is visually interesting texture and detail to “anchor the eye,” while still encouraging movement across the page. And of course, the image should reflect the story within.
“I put a little something of myself in every cover,” says Gene.
The result is beautiful images that offer a window into an author’s world. And the best part is that he absolutely loves doing it and loves chatting about it.
|The Crimson Campain by
We learned a little about the cover design process in our recent Cover Lover, featuring Mark Smylie’s The Barrow, but Gene very kindly offered to go deeper, taking us through the steps that bring his brilliant covers to life.
STEP ONE: The brief.
There are many important factors that go into the design beyond the outline of story and characters. The current market trend and competing books within the genre need to be considered, which is why it is important to find what makes an individual book unique and bring that to light in the cover.
The information a cover designer receives from an editor/art director can be quite sparse, and when Gene first began in the industry, this was an obvious challenge. Now that experience has made him far more confident, he readily pushes back to the art direct/editor to request more detail. Authors have also found that his friendly and receptive nature, and his desire to truly understand their vision, means they can really get down to the defining details. Does the character have a tattoo? What kind of attitude and expression would they have? Are they wearing a specific style or piece of clothing?
|Lena Greenwood from Codex Born|
The visual challenges Gene deals with can be as basic as those in Brian McClellan‘s Powder Mage series, which required a civil war costume with a medieval background. Or they can be far more intimidating, such as working on the notorious Jim C. Hines‘ Magic Ex Libris series. Gene says that he’s learned a lot from Hines’ critical analysis of the posing of female characters. Codex Born, the second book in the series, presented a real challenge based on the character description of a Native woman of a larger body type. “Oh it was terrifying!” Gene laughs, but fortunately, Hines was pleased with the end result.
STEP TWO: Agreement on a desired direction.
Through thorough back and forth discussions with the art directors, editors and/or the authors, Gene is able to put together some rough sketches for approval, before getting down to business.
STEP THREE: Pre-production.
“I love the costume part,” says Gene. Many of his covers are for the Urban Fantasy genre, featuring jeans and tank tops, but he really gets to have fun with Fantasy. Then Steampunk came along and opened up a whole new world.
Initially, Gene attempted to rent all the costumes, but discovered that rental shops tend to fulfill the more robust demands of theatrical costuming. Now, he works with professional costume designers and his growing collection of weapons and gadgets to get the perfect look.
Gyllian of Eeldrytch Armouree is a critical member of Gene’s team. He handles all of the leather pieces, belts, baldrics and customizes the weapons. Gene also works with the fabulous design team of Shirley and Victor Forster of Renaissance Sewing, but Deborah Gerard has become his lead after years of working together on Gene’s many projects, from start to finish. “I totally rely on her expertise and thorough knowledge of historical costumes and traditions. Her design capabilities experience and versatility across a wide spectrum has really brought my work up to a new level.”
Looking for a custom designed costume based on the cover of your favourite novel? All of these gorgeous designs can be recreated!
Once the props and costumes have been chosen, it’s time to select the talent. Gene’s preference is to work with professional talent agencies which, while a bit more costly, has the advantage of filtering talent that is the most suitable to his needs.
STEP FOUR: The photo shoot.
With the costumes, props and talent in place, and a quick review with the art director again, the process advances to the photo shoot where Gene rounds out his team with his, assistant, Mike Moosbrugger, who’s knowledge of professional studio lighting and work flow is exceptional. And on-set stylist Agata Smentek transforms the models with her fantastic hair and make-up.
STEP FIVE: Composites.
|Wolfbreed by S.A. Swan|
Once pictures from the photo shoot are approved, Gene creates some quick composites and rough images for review. He used to provide ten or twelve comps, but, as with all processes, experience allows for a lot of streamlining. With a firm understanding of the direction the cover needs to go, Gene is able to rough in the background and foreground colour palette to create just a few high resolution comps that are very close to the final product.
STEP SIX: Final illustration.
Finally, working in Photoshop with stock photos – a mountain from here, a tree from there – Gene creates his masterpiece – a seamless blend of colour, lighting and design to catch the eye of the reader.
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Series: Book 1 of Twilight Reign
Publication Date: October 21, 2008 (Pyr)
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
I have to say I did things a little bit backwards when it came to this series. It all started with The God Tattoo, Tom Lloyd’s anthology of stories from the Twilight Reign that I read last year. Needless to say, I enjoyed it very much. Furthermore, it made me want to explore everything else this world had to offer, so when Pyr gave me the opportunity to read and review The Stormcaller, the first book of the series that began it all, I very enthusiastically accepted.
That collection of tales had given me a taste of the Twilight Reign universe, and piqued my interest with its promise of a dark and epic fantasy. Here was the world I had been introduced to, one of white-eyes, ancient deities and terrible magic. Now I was finally able to see the wider context, getting the full depth of the story filled with gods and demons, clandestine politics and violent clashes between warring peoples. I feel like what I’d gotten from the anthology was just a nibble. And here, this was the whole cake.
Dreamwalker – kicking off this list of new arrivals in the last fortnight is this gem by C.S. Friedman from DAW Books. Her adult fantasy books have always intrigued me, but Dreamwalker is actually quite a departure, featuring a story set in a modern setting that is geared more towards a young adult audience. Nevertheless, it’s a good one! Be sure to keep an eye out for my review sometime next week.
V-S Day – this one looks simply fascinating. A little different from my usual reads, perhaps, but I’m always trying to challenge myself to read outside my comfort zone, and who can say no to a World War II alternate history novel?
Seoul Survivors – Jo Fletcher Books never fails to deliver when I’m looking for “something different” or “out there” in my speculative fiction. Naomi Foyle definitely has a new fan in me after this one. If you haven’t seen my review for Seoul Survivors yet, you can check it out here.
Stone Cold – the follow-up to Devon Monk’s Hell Bent, her new Broken Magic spin-off series from her Allie Beckstrom novels. I read and enjoyed Hell Bent last year and thought it was chock-full of potential, so I’m pretty excited for this one.
Scourge of the Betrayer – now on to the digital pile, which is never without its fair share of audiobooks. The Audible Matchmaker tool strikes again, and I’m finding more books that I have bought Kindle ebooks for that have a good price for the audio version. Scourge of the Betrayer has been on my to-read list for a while, and I hear the sequel is coming out in the summer, so boom, sold!
Shadow Ops: Control Point – the third book of this series is about to come out and it’s been getting some pretty rave reviews, so it got me thinking, maybe I shouldn’t wait to read this one anymore. I snagged the audiobook and let me tell you, that was a credit damn well spent. The review will be up soon, as soon as I recover from the awesomeness.
Nameless – an ebook for review from Ragnarok Publications, and having had such a great time with Mercedes M. Yardley’s novella last month, I didn’t need much convincing to read this one. Yardley’s stories and characters are always so grimly addicting!
Honor Among Thieves – I’m requesting books from NetGalley in moderation these days, but you couldn’t have kept me away from this one. Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck writing as James S. A. Corey + Han Solo = win. That is all.
Mogsy’s Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Horror, Paranormal
Series: Book 1 of The Bone Angel Trilogy
Publication Date: January 21, 2014
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction Fantasy
Series: Book 3 of Everness
Publication Date: January 2014 (Jo Fletcher)
Mogsy’s Rating: 5 of 5 stars
It’s no exaggeration when I say these books in the Everness series just seem to get better and better. The adventure that started with Planesrunner only intensified with Be My Enemy, and now the third installment has taken things even further. Seriously — I really wish there were more young adult novels like this out there.
Empress of the Sun continues the story of Everett Singh and the crew of the Earth 3 airship Everness. Spoilers for books one and two will likely be unavoidable in this review when discussing the third book, though if you haven’t read the previous novels you can still probably pick up on the story and follow along, if you don’t mind missing out on some of the nuances. Nothing will beat starting this great series from the beginning though, and obviously I highly recommend it!
Because Everness is about alternate dimensions and the Multiverse, you just never know where the story might take you next! That’s what I love most about these books. And true to form, Ian McDonald starts this one off by dropping us into most bizarre and incredible parallel universe yet. In order to track down and rescue his father, Everett and his friends have taken to world-hopping. Armed with a jump gun and the Infundibulum, they now have the ability to go anywhere on any one of the 10 to the power of 80 worlds in the Panoply. Something goes seriously wrong with their last jump though, and the airship ends up on a strange version of earth which does not appear to follow the rules of astrophysics.
It turns out that the alternate earth they are on is actually an Alderson Disk. Not being very well-versed in my science fiction megastructures, this was the first time I’ve ever heard of such a thing. This is some cool stuff! And not only that, the world they are on is one where dinosaurs never went extinct. Instead, they have evolved over the eons to become the dominant species on this “discworld” (Pratchett fans, eat your heart out!) called the Jiju, whose civilization is 65 million years ahead of ours.
Not only is their technology frighteningly advanced, as the main bad guys in this book, the Jiju make the other villains that we’ve seen so far in this series look like peanuts. What is Charlotte Villiers or even the Nahn compared to these lizard people who have the ability to make the sun dance to their tune? The author sure pulled out all the stops with this one. Blown, my mind is.
I also can’t decide what I love more about this book: the world building or the character development. The former has clearly impressed me, but as ever, the people in the stories are the most important to me when I read. With every book in this series, I feel closer and more amiable towards Everett and the crew. The relationship between him and Sen is moving forward nicely, and we’re getting to the point where their feelings for each other are starting to come to the surface. This book also explores the friction between Everett and Sharkey. The two have not gotten along since the weighmaster suggested selling Everett out to the enemy in order to save the ship, but there is clearly a lot more to this precarious friendship than meets the eye.
The members of the crew aren’t the only ones getting further developed in this novel. In Be My Enemy, readers were introduced to an alternate Everett, a version of him from another earth who was kidnapped and forced to take the place of real Everett, in order to spy and report to the nefarious factions in the Plenitude of Known Worlds. This doppelganger played a somewhat antagonistic role in the last book, but this one humanizes him and lets us see that deep down he is just like any other boy, with feelings and fears like everyone else. We also get a part of the story told in Charlotte Villiers’ perspective, and even though she is the main villain, we are shown that there is a reason for all the things she does. To sum it up, this book just does a fantastic job all around at fleshing out everyone. As someone who places such high importance on characters, I couldn’t be happier.
Action, adventure, and rollicking good fun! Empress of the Sun has all of that. And of all the books so far, I also have to say this one was the most humorous. There are some sections of dialogue that just made me laugh out loud, especially when it came to the conversation between Everett and Kax the Jiju about human reproduction. Oh my, I still can’t stop chuckling when I think of that scene.
I’m so glad to see that there will be more of these books. The crew of the Everness still has much to do, and there are still so many worlds out there to explore. I can’t wait to see where they will go next.
Before Bitten aired, SyFy and SPACE began their promotions and I have to admit, they didn’t make it look or sound very appealing. The only female werewolf, surrounded by a bunch of hot male werewolves, torn between her two loves. Someone on G+ raged about this entire concept, assuming that this would just be another vagina show with Elena woefully swooning over all the men trying to bed her.
As this is based on one of my favourite books, I felt the immediate need to jump to its defence and point out important things like the fact that wolves are monogamous, dammit! They don’t share! But I refrained. In fact, I didn’t even blog about it at the time. Instead, I’ve just let the show speak for itself. The haters might still be hatin’, but so far, I’m quite pleased. And no, I’m mostly not saying that because of all the Clay and Logan body works that have been going on over the last two episodes. Mostly.
There are actually some legitimate reasons for my approval thus far. First of all, Elena. She remains the strong female character that Kelley Armstrong created. Her past is slowly being teased out, but it’s clear that there has been quite a lot of trauma that she’s managed to deal with on her own. While she loves her Stonehaven family and the new family she’s working her way into, Elena is still a fiercely independent woman and the men in her life have to work hard to get her to bend if they need her. What she does, is on her own terms.
With Elena being the only female werewolf and knowing what I did about the first book, I was pleased to see a reasonable emphasis and subsequent passing of the Bechdel Test in episode one, with Elena finding a firm friend in her fiancé’s sister. Okay yes, they talked about the fiancé a bit, but there was other stuff too. Sort of.
Speaking of the fiancé, Philip, there’s been a bit of a change to his appearance and demeanour, if I recall correctly. He was a bit more mousey before and there was a sense that he absolutely could not hold a candle to Clay. There was also more of a sense that he was a cover for Elena. Now, her relationship feels more genuine and implies much more of an inner struggle for Elena.
As far as holding to the source material goes, they are mostly doing well and I am holding on to my original desire to give the show the benefit of the doubt. Jeremy’s appearance is still questionable. I am not happy that they chose to pass over his Asian heritage. I don’t bind myself to appearance any more than Armstrong herself has, assuming an actor understands the character and can truly bring him to life. I am trying to give the benefit of the doubt, but thus far, I’m largely unimpressed with Greg Bryk, though I admit that it could very well be my bias speaking. Bryk has Jeremy’s subdued manner and the Pack responds to him accordingly as their Alpha, but… he’s still not quite Jeremy. And he needs to get rid of those godawful vests.
The character I do absolutely love is Stonehaven. In early production videos, I was very pleased to see so much love and attention going into the Pack’s home and am pleased now to see it expressed not only in its appearance, but in how the Pack interacts with the building. I also adore the Pack life, which we got loads of in the most recent episode. As much as Elena has struggled with the concept of family and is trying to avoid Stonehaven for reasons, the family vibe is wonderfully portrayed, which is an extension of the entire Pack mentality. Naked Logan and Clay aside, what really sold me on the show was Elena waking up to Nick hanging out in her bed like it ain’t no thang, and then breakfast. Breakfast was just perfect.
I would like to see more of the wolves in action, though. Prior to reading Bitten, werewolves were the big, violent, lone monsters. Armstrong changed that view for me by putting so much into the them being an actual pack of wolves. When they Change, they hold on to their human awareness, but they are also very much wolves and act accordingly.
So this leaves only the problem of Clay and Elena’s relationship. I hope they don’t drag things out too long here. Clay’s stalkeriness can only be tolerated for so long, even by fans who know why Elena wants him out of her life.
Yes, I know I’m being very cryptic, because I don’t want to spoil. I imagine that, even as a fan of the book, I’m still going to be surprised (and kinda am hoping things will diverge a bit … for reasons… ). I’m hooked so far and hope those who didn’t read the book or who weren’t too impressed by the superficial advertising will at least give it a try. I’m very curious to see where things will go with future seasons. As Bitten is the first in a series that Armstrong later dubbed “Women of the Otherworld,” I would love to see the other ladies make an appearance, particularly the witches, Paige and Savannah, whom Elena meets in the second book, Stolen…
“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!
Devi Morris has a lot of problems. And not the fun, easy-to-shoot kind either.
After a mysterious attack left her short several memories and one partner, she’s determined to keep her head down, do her job, and get on with her life. But even though Devi’s not actually looking for it — trouble keeps finding her. She sees things no one else can, the black stain on her hands is growing, and she is entangled with the cook she’s supposed to hate.
But when a deadly crisis exposes far more of the truth than she bargained for, Devi discovers there’s worse fates than being shot, and sometimes the only people you can trust are the ones who want you dead.”