Look what the cat dragged in!!!


MWAAAAHHHAAAHHHAAA!!!

This was waiting for me when I got home from work! =) Now, should I stop reading Steven Erikson's Fall of Light and jump to the Bakker immediately???

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


You can now download J. M. McDermott's Never Knew Another for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Fugitive Rachel Nolander is a newcomer to the city of Dogsland, where the rich throw parties and the poor just do whatever they can to scrape by. Supported by her brother Djoss, she hides out in their squalid apartment, living in fear that someday, someone will find out that she is the child of a demon. Corporal Jona Lord Joni is a demon's child too, but instead of living in fear, he keeps his secret and goes about his life as a cocky, self-assured man of the law. The first book in the Dogsland Trilogy, Never Knew Another is the story of how these two outcasts meet.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


Don't know for how long, but right now you can get your hands on the digital edition of Katherine Kurtz's excellent Camber of Culdi, first volume in The Legends of Camber of Culdi trilogy and perfect jump-in point for anyone interested in the Deryni saga, for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

A Deryni nobleman seeking justice faces a tyrannical king in the magnificent first book of this acclaimed classic fantasy series.

Long before Camber was revered as a saint, he was a Deryni noble, one of the most respected of the magical race whose arcane skills set them apart from ordinary humans in the medieval kingdom of Gwynedd. For nearly a century, Camber’s family has had little choice but to loyally serve the ruling Festils, Deryni usurpers who employed dark magic to wrest the throne from the rightful Haldane liege. Now, the land suffers under the tyranny of King Imre, whose savage oppression of the human population weighs heavily on Camber’s heart—a heart that is shattered when the despot and his evil mistress-sister, Ariella, cause the death of Camber’s beloved son.

Once he sought nothing more than a peaceful retirement and an uneventful old age, but the grim demands of justice and vengeance drive Camber far from his family’s estates in search of the last of the Haldane line. This descendant of kings will not be easily persuaded to accept Camber’s unthinkable plan. But with the kingdom in turmoil, the aging mage and the reluctant Haldane heir must confront together the awesome, terrible might of the Festils for the good of all.

You can also download The Bishop's Heir, opening chapter in The Histories of King Kelson, for the same price here.

This is the second trilogy featuring young King Kelson and probably not as good a book to begin one's journey in the Deryni saga. And yet, this series has Katherine Kurtz at the top of her game and is truly amazing. I'm persuaded that you can nevertheless enjoy it, though you would be missing on some nuances for not having read the previous series.

Dancer's Lament


At first, I wasn't sure whether or not I'd be reading Ian Cameron Esslemont's Dancer's Lament. Sure, a prequel trilogy focusing on how an assassin and Kellanved Ascended and became Dancer and Shadowthrone was intriguing. But given how disappointing Esslemont's last three Malazan books turned out to be, I was afraid to get burned again. The advance reviews were quite positive, yet they mostly came from fans who loved everything the author has published thus far. Hence, against my better judgement, I finally decided to give this novel a shot. And barely 15 pages into it, I realized that it had been a mistake. I elected to persevere, but to no avail. . .

As I mentioned in my review of Assail, Esslemont's writing has been divisive from the very beginning, when Night of Knives was first released as a limited edition by PS Publishing. From then on, a number of Erikson fans wrote him off and turned their backs on the Malazan co-creator. Others elected to stick with him and were rewarded with two thrilling and fascinating additions to the Malazan canon, Return of the Crimson Guard and Stonewielder. Unfortunately, two major letdowns in a row, Orb Sceptre Throne and Blood and Bone, made even some die-hard fans lose hope in Ian Cameron Esslemont. So much so that even on malazanempire.com, the emperor's own palace, so to speak, the biggest Malazan aficionados appear to be split into two camps. On the one hand, you have those who are happy with whatever helps further flesh out Steven Erikson's storylines, regardless of its quality. And on the other, you have those, like me, who have pretty much lost faith with Esslemont and bemoan the fact that the author seems to be unable to make his Malazan novels live up to the lofty expectations generated by his friend and fellow co-creator. Assail was Ian Cameron Esslemont's The Crippled God. The culmination of a variety of far-reaching storylines spread through his last four novels. Some of them first explored by Erikson in the original sequence, many years ago. And although many fans doubted that Esslemont could close the show the way Erikson did in the last volume of The Malazan Book of the Fallen, I would never have expected that Assail would be such a disheartening disappointment. As a matter of course, my expectations were as low as humanly possible when I set out to read Dancer's Lament. . .

So why waste my time and read it? Call my crazy, but I still harbor the hope that Esslemont can somehow return to the form that saw him write gripping yarns such as Return of the Crimson Guard and Stonewielder. But it was not to be. Not this time.

Here's the blurb:

It was once a land ravaged by war, minor city states, baronies and principates fight for supremacy, and then the rival cities of Tali and Quon formed an alliance and so Quon Tali came into being.

However that was generations ago, that dynasty has collapsed and the regional powers are now clawing at each others throats once more. But at the heart of Quon Tali lies the powerful city state of Li Heng which has for centuries enjoyed relative stability under the guidance of the powerful sorceress known as the “Protectress”. She is not someone likely to tolerate the arrival of two particular young men into her domain: one is determined to prove he is the most skilled assassin of his age; the other is his quarry - a Dal Hon mage who is proving annoyingly difficult to kill. The sorceress and her cabal of five mage servants were enough to repel the Quon Tali Iron Legions, so how could two such trouble-makers upset her iron-fisted rule?

And now, under a new and ambitious king, the forces of Itko Kan are marching on Li Heng from the south. His own assassins, the Nightblades, have been sent ahead into the city, and rumours abound that he has inhuman, nightmarish forces at his command. So as shadows and mistrust swirl and monstrous beasts that people say appear from nowhere, run rampage through Li Heng's streets, it seems chaos is come - but in chaos, as a certain young Dal Hon mage would say, there is opportunity . . .

The worldbuilding is always one of the key ingredients in every Malazan installment. And in this regard at least, Esslemont doesn't usually disappoint. Indeed, even lackluster novels like Orb Sceptre Throne and Blood and Bone featured superb worldbuilding. I still remember how the author captured the Southeast Asian jungle setting to perfection in his depiction of the Himatan jungle in the latter. His descriptive narrative created an imagery that made you experience the jungle as if you were right there with the characters. This aspect doesn't play as important a role in Dancer's Lament. It's probably due to the fact that we are revisiting locales that have been seen before, albeit a few decades in the past. Not as dense as the other Malazan titles, Dancer's Lament just might be the most accessible Malazan book to date. On the flipside, however, it is also a work that lacks much in terms of depth.

Ian Cameron Esslemont's previous three novels introduced several fascinating concepts that somehow fell short due to subpar execution, and this is once again a problem in this book. The Malazan Book of the Fallen would have been a veritable train wreck had it not been written by an author as ambitious and as gifted as Steven Erikson. In the past, we Malazan fans have often overlooked Esslemont's occasional shortcomings, maintaining that he was "fleshing out" Erikson's storylines, providing answers and raising yet more captivating questions. No matter from what angle you look at them, Esslemont's last four offerings remain somewhat poor and unispired works of fantasy. Reaching the last page of Assail, it became evident that Ian Cameron Esslemont didn't have what it takes as an author to truly do justice to the storylines that were his. Though the quality of both Return of the Crimson Guard and Stonewielder argues against such a statement, it is obvious that, unlike Steven Erikson, his skills were not necessarily up to the task. And unfortunately, the same can be said of Dancer's Lament. This new series will chronicle the genesis of the creation of the Malazan Empire, and although Esslemont shares Erikson's grand ambition, he simply doesn't possess the gift that allows his friend to work his magic and mesmerize readers the way he does in The Malazan Book of the Fallen and the Kharkanas trilogy. I'm currently reading Erikson's Fall of Light and by comparison the writing in Dancer's Lament occasionally feels like fanfic.

It is unfortunate, for a number of storylines could have been enthralling. I mean, not only do we have young men destined for greatness in Dancer and Kellanved, but there is so much more. Shalmanat, the Protectress of Li Heng, and her back story and her relationship with Ryllandaras. Sister Night and K'rul. Dassem as a young man. Silk. Shimmer. Smokey. The Crimson Guard. With elements such as these, one would expect this book to be a homerun. Sadly, the execution is such that it prevents the tale from truly lifting off.

As was the case in Esslemont's last three novels, the characterization is by far the weakest aspect of this work. How it could once more be that bad, I have no idea. While the plotlines don't necessarily lack any sense of direction the way they did in Blood and Bone, they are uninvolving for the most part, and most of the characters remain flat, generic, cardboard cutout characters. Dancer's Lament features three principal POV protagonists. Dorin Rav, a young assassin trying to make a name for himself in Li Heng and who will one day become the legendary Dancer, takes center stage. Iko, one of the Kanese Sword-Dancers, is a young woman destined to become Shimmer. And Silk, a city mage in the employ of the Protectress of Li Heng with his own secrets. I was so looking forward to discovering more about the younger version of Dancer, yet his interaction with Wu, the enigmatic Dal Hon mage who is in truth Kellanved, was quite lame. More often than not, once again the dialogue between the characters is adolescent and puerile. Iko's storyline is there to show how events unfold through the eyes of the enemy troops, while Silk's plotline allows readers to witness what is taking place through the eyes of the defenders of Li Heng. There are plenty of familiar faces showing up throughout the book, some more obvious than others. And that can be interesting, but overall the execution leaves a lot to be desired. It's evident that there was not enough material here to warrant a full novel, so expect more filler than killer as you read along.

Like a majority of Malazan fans, I relish any opportunities that can help shed some light on past events, characters, and secrets from Erikson's magnum opus. Sadly, it has now become quite obvious that Ian Cameron Esslemont cannot match Steven Erikson as far as writing skills are concerned. Problem is, there are a panoply of storylines that "belong" to him, which means that he can never do them justice and come up with something that lives up to the hype. Were Return of the Crimson Guard and Stonewielder just flukes, or can the author one day return to form and write another thrilling addition that will be a worthy addition to the Malazan canon? Only time will tell. . .

So will I read the next two installments in the Path to Ascendancy trilogy, or am I through with Esslemont? Hard to say. When I reviewed Assail, I told myself that I was done. But as a big Malazan fan, I was really intrigued by the blurb for Dancer's Lament. And even though I'm well aware that the second volume will miserably fail to satisfy me, chances are that I'll end up reading the next installment, secretly hoping that it will be more akin to Stonewielder instead of sucking like Blood and Bone.

Another major disappointment. . .

The final verdict: 5.5/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

Joe Hart contest winner!

This lucky winner will get his hands on a copy of Joe Hart's The Last Girl, courtesy of the folks at Thomas and Mercer. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winner is:

Jeffrey Tufano, from Rochester, New York, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


You can now download Ian McDonald's Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone for only 6.15$ here. Not that cheap, I know. But like Guy Gavriel Kay, most of McDonald's ebooks go for about 10$ each, so this is actually a good deal!

Here's the blurb:

Two works in one volume: An innovative science fiction novel about an inventor’s quest for redemption across a cyber-feudal Japan, plus a Hugo Award–nominated novella.

Design student Ethan Ring has created the next wave in military technology. Fracters are computerized images that can control the minds of others, giving their users the power to hypnotize, hurt, and even kill.

The reigning intelligence agency forces Ring to use the technology for their own ends by tattooing the most potent images on the palms of his hands. After witnessing the destruction his invention has wrought, Ring embarks on a Shikoku pilgrimage of redemption through the eighty-eight sacred sites of Shingon Buddhism across twenty-first-century Japan.

With the help of his friend Masahiko, Ring tours this strange new Japan in search of ways to rid himself of the curse he has unleashed—or a way to use it for the greater good by eliminating a terrorizing crime syndicate.

In Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone, author Ian McDonald has created an indelible cyberpunk adventure that mixes Kabbalah, manga, pop culture, and Zen in a superbly realized high-tech contemplation of good and evil.

Also included in this volume is McDonald’s The Tear, a stunning novella set in a far-future world, whose inhabitants develop multiple “aspects”: completely separate personalities that take over when required. The story follows young Ptey as he comes of age, takes on new aspects, looks for love, and plays a vital role in a battle against an implacable enemy. The resulting work is tragic, hopeful, and expansive.

Readers of William Gibson and Peter F. Hamilton will revel in this fascinatingly inventive work from a celebrated multiple-award-winning science fiction author.

Steven Erikson contest winner!

This lucky winner will receive a copy of Steven Erikson's Fall of Light , compliments of the folks at Transworld! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winner is.

Janne Prusti, from Gothenburg, Sweden

Many thanks to all the participants!

I'm not watching Game of Thrones, Season 6


I have made a decision. I will not watch Game of Thrones, Season 6. At least not until I've read The Winds of Winter. Maybe never.

Two of my favorite authors, Frank Herbert and Robert Jordan, passed away before they could finish their signature series. The completion of the Dune saga was a travesty, and that of The Wheel of Time was decidedly subpar.

Season 5 of GoT was atrocious. The writing sucked (You need a good woman but a bad pussy), the pace was abominable, the decisions made by the production team now going their own way and no longer following the essence of the books were crap, and the actors doing what they could with inferior scripts turned what was doubtless the best show on television into a massive turd.

Hence, I don't want a crappy TV show to spoil the books for me. George R. R. Martin is still alive and writing, and I want my first exposure to the rest of the story to be from his vision of what it was always meant to be.

Of course, I'm aware that I likely can't avoid all the spoilers that will be everywhere. But I've unliked all GoT-related Facebook material and will stay away from FB every Sunday night and Monday morning. I'll stop visiting any GoT-related websites for the next few weeks and will do my best to protect myself from possible spoilers.

I've waited this long for The Winds of Winter. I can wait a little longer. . . =)

Sorry HBO. I'm out.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


Today only, you can get your hands on the digital edition of Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Lyra is rushing to the cold, far North, where witch clans and armored bears rule. North, where the Gobblers take the children they steal--including her friend Roger. North, where her fearsome uncle Asriel is trying to build a bridge to a parallel world.

Can one small girl make a difference in such great and terrible endeavors? This is Lyra: a savage, a schemer, a liar, and as fierce and true a champion as Roger or Asriel could want.

But what Lyra doesn't know is that to help one of them will be to betray the other. . .


You can also download Pierce Brown's Red Rising for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations. Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better world for his children.

But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and lush wilds spread across the planet. Darrow—and Reds like him—are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class.

Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold caste, where the next generation of humanity’s overlords struggle for power. He will be forced to compete for his life and the very future of civilization against the best and most brutal of Society’s ruling class. There, he will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies . . . even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.

The Warrior-Prophet


The long-awaited (and what should have been the final installment in The Aspect-Emperor trilogy, but has since then been split into two volumes) The Great Ordeal by R. Scott Bakker will finally be released this summer. It's been five years since The White-Luck Warrior, the second volume, saw the light, so you can understand why Bakker fans are rejoicing. Problem is, it's been a very long time in between books. And for a midlist genre author, one that never was marketed much by his publishers to begin with, this can make things difficult. Sadly, it appears that an entire generation of SFF readers have never heard of him and some of us have been wondering about what we can possibly do to give Bakker some much-deserved exposure.

I'm not sure what sort of impact this will have down the line, but I've decided to reprint my reviews of R. Scott Bakker's first two series to help raise awareness in what I consider to be one of the more ambitious fantasy sagas ever written. Hence, every couple of days for the next little while I'll post reviews of all three installments of the Prince of Nothing trilogy and the first two volumes of The Aspect-Emperor series.

Hopefully, these reviews will entice potential readers to give these novels a shot. Love them or hate them, these are powerful works of fiction that deserve to be more widely read than they are at the moment. Check them out!

So here's my review of Bakker's second volume in the Prince of Nothing trilogy, originally posted on May 16th, 2005.

Here's the blurb:

"Book Two of The Prince of Nothing" finds the Holy War continuing its inexorable march southward. But the suspicion begins to dawn that the real threat comes not from the infidel but from within...Steering souls through the subtleties of word and expression, Kellhus strives to extend his dominion over the Men of the Tusk. The sorcerer Achamian and his lover, Esmenet, submit entirely, only to have their faith - and their love - tested in unimaginable ways. Meanwhile, the warrior Cnaiur falls ever deeper into madness. Convinced that Kellhus will betray their pact to murder his father, Cnaiur turns to the agents of the Second Apocalypse and strikes an infernal bargain. The Holy War stands on a knife edge. If all is not to be lost, the great powers of the world will have to choose between their most desperate desires and the end of the world. Between hatred and hope. Between Anasurimbor Kellhus and the second apocalypse.

I have admit that I had very high expectations for this book. How could it be otherwise, when just about everyone told me that this sequel is much better than its predecessor? And the author himself set the bar rather high with The Darkness that Comes Before. But in all objectivity, I must say that The Warrior-Prophet did not live up to those expectations. Don't get me wrong. I thought it was a good and fascinating novel. But in my opinion, the book suffers from a number of shortcomings that prevent it from achieving greatness.


First, let's enumerate everything that is good about The Warrior-Prophet before focusing on what I didn't quite like. Again, it is an intelligent work, a satisfying treat for "deep" thinkers. And the philosophical and religious themes underlying the tale continue to give this series its unique flavor. Just for that, I would encourage readers to give The Prince of Nothing a try.:-)

The Mideastern setting continues to be a delight. It's so different than what is the norm in the fantasy genre. This is a work rich in details, which demonstrates that a vast amount of research went into its creation. But this novel doesn't resonates with as much depth as The Darkness that Comes Before. It more or less chronicles the Holy War's southward march toward Shimeh. There are a few golden nuggets of information that are truly something. But 2/3 of the novel is dedicated to the army's march through Fanim lands. And that, I think, was a bit of a mistake. Even though it is the entire backdrop of the book, I much preferred those short intervals when we learned more about the Consult, the Inchoroi, the Nonmen, the Cishaurim, the Apocalypse, etc. There are a number of unexpected plot twists involving Achamian, Maithanet, the Consult, and a few others, that leave you wanting to learn more. But unfortunately, the story revolves more about the Holy War itself and the rise of Kellhus as the Warrior-Prophet.

Once again, the prose is of high quality. I know that few readers nowadays find this aspect important, but it's nice to see an author who writes as well as Bakker.

If you are into battle scenes, then this one is definitely for you. Indeed, The Warrior-Prophet should satisfy fans of blood and gore. There are so many battle scenes in this book. . . Too many, if you ask me. I simply loved the very first encounter between the Holy War and the heathen troops. Bakker has a poetic way with battle narrative, a gift that very few writers possess. The problem is that there are so many battles in this novel that Bakker's talent loses its lustre as the tale moves forward. Or rather, it is the reader who somewhat loses that sense of wonder generated by the author's brilliant manner with which he depicts battles in the earlier parts of the book.

But let's not forget that this is a holy war, which means that violence must be omnipresent. And R. Scott Bakker doesn't sugarcoat it. The graphic violence and human suffering will not appeal to everyone, however. And although I can appreciate the gritty reality of those descriptions, even I think that at times it could have been toned down a bit. That is one of the main reasons this series will never become mainstream. And yet, no one would want this series to be any different. As a matter of fact, it is the fact that it is so different from everything else on the market that makes it so good.;-)

The aspect of this book which could alienate a majority of readers, especially female readers, has to be the explicit and brutal sexuality. Not to mention necrophilia. The fact that all female characters of note are whores cannot be overlooked. Women taken captives are routinely raped, tortured and then put to the sword. Hopefully Esmenet and the other women will play a larger role in the last volume. I am aware that this is a holy war, and that the fate of the women inhabitating the conquered lands is less than appealing. But I was expecting more of the Empress, Esmenet and Serwë. It seems that every scene in which they appear shows them getting laid. . .

The characterizations, which were so impressive in the first volume, do not progress that much in this book. The characters do not grow as they should, which is a bit of a disappointment. The Darkness that Comes Before introduced us to a number of well-drawn characters. Unfortunately, there is little progression here. Kellhus often takes center stage, and the rest of the characters are too often relegated in the background.

As was the case with its predecessor, The Warrior-Prophet is at times slow-moving. The pace can be quite sluggish, at least in certain parts of the story.

In my opinion, the one aspect that either makes or break this novel is whether the reader accepts how easily Kellhus manipulates just about everyone to take control of the Holy War. If you buy it, great. But if you don't, you will have difficulty going through this book.

In my opinion, the ending truly saves this one. I had grown disillusioned with the whole Warrior-Prophet and the Holy War. But the last hundred pages or so are great!;-) This an ending that no one can see coming, and it sets the stage for the final volume of the trilogy. And I will sure be lining up to get my hands on it!

Though I consider this book to contain a few shortcomings, The Warrior-Prophet nevertheless shows many signs of brilliance. Like its predecessor, it is not for everyone. I believe that most "mainstream" fantasy fans would have difficulty getting into this series. But for purists, it is a book to read!:-)

Even though it did not live up the high expectations I had, The Warrior-Prophet is a superior tale. And the book's ending promises a hell of a finale! I can't wait for the release of The Thousandfold Thought.

The final verdict: 8/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe


This week's New York Times Bestsellers (April 18th)

In paperback:

Stephen King's Finders Keepers is up one spot, finishing the week at number 3.

Andy Weir's The Martian is down two positions, ending the week at number 13 (trade paperback).

Stephen King's 11/22/63 is down two positions, ending the week at number 14.

New Canadian cover art for Guy Gavriel Kay's books






Over the course of the next few months, all nine Guy Gavriel Kay novels published by Penguin Books Canada will get new covers. Here are the first three! =)


Get the digital edition of Steven Erikson's FALL OF LIGHT for only 2.99$ if you have pre-ordered the print edition

Just found out about this. It appears that if you have pre-ordered a copy of Steven Erikson's eagerly anticipated Fall of Light  (Canada, USA, Europe) on Amazon.com, you can also pre-order the ebook edition for only 2.99$.

You can see the photo evidence here.

Not sure if this is for a limited time only, so better go for it now if you are interested!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


You can now get your hands on the digital edition of Elizabeth Bear's first New Amsterdam omnibus for only 3.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

New Amsterdam

Abigail Irene Garrett drinks too much. She makes scandalous liaisons with inappropriate men, and if in her youth she was a famous beauty, now she is both formidable and notorious! She is a forensic sorceress, and a dedicated officer of a Crown that does not deserve her loyalty. Sebastien de Ulloa is the oldest creature she has ever known. He has forgotten his birth-name, his birth-place, and even the year in which he was born, if he ever knew it. But he still remembers the woman who made him immortal. In a world where the sun never sets on the British Empire, where Holland finally ceded New Amsterdam to the English only during the Napoleonic wars, and where the expansion of the American colonies was halted by the war magic of the Iroquois, they are exiles in the new world - and its only hope for justice!

Garrett Investigates

The following five stories comprise some of the matter surrounding the life of Lady Abigail Irene Garrett, Th.D., sometime Crown Investigator. They are previously uncollected. One is new; the others were only previously available as bonus chapbooks with the limited editions of various novellas.

You can also download the second New Amsterdam omnibus for only 3.99$ here.

Road Brothers: Tales from the Broken Empire


I was quite happy when I found out that Mark Lawrence had just released a collection of short fiction titled Road Brothers: Tales from the Broken Empire. Though it is probably one of the most divisive fantasy series published in recent years, I was a big fan of Jorg's tale and relished the chance to find out more about the supporting cast. Indeed, although Jorg's companions play important roles in Prince of Thorns, King of Thorns, and Emperor of Thorns, Lawrence is not very forthcoming about information regarding that group of hard men.

In Road Brothers: Tales from the Broken Empire, the author offers us a closer look with back stories featuring Makin, Red Kent, Rike, the Nuban, Gorgoth, Father Gomst, and even Jorg himself. Be forewarned that this collection is for people who have read the Broken Empire trilogy and who are looking for more. It is not meant for newbies who would like to give Lawrence a shot, for each short story contains spoilers for the books.

The problem with anthologies and collection of short stories is that they usually contain a few worthwhile reads, while the rest is often half-assed and lackluster material. Not so with this one, I'm pleased to report! Some tales are better than others, that goes without saying. Yet each short story was a quality read that gave us insight into the lives of the Road Brothers. They all focus on events that helped shape them into the battle-hardened men we meet in the series.

Here's the blurb:

10 short stories from the lives of Jorg and his Road Brothers. Contains spoilers for the Broken Empire trilogy. 5 of the stories have previously been published in anthologies. Contains the short story 'Sleeping Beauty' that is also sold separately. A total of 43.000 words or just over half the length of Prince of Thorns.

Oddly enough, "Sleeping Beauty" turned out to be my favorite tale of the bunch. It's surprising because this short story was written when a reader dared Mark Lawrence to write a Jorg/fairy tale mash-up. The result was simply awesome. As the title implies, it is a nod to Sleeping Beauty and it occurs upon Jorg’s return to Ancrath from his first visit to Vyene. Jorg wakes up strapped to a table with Builder technology all around him. Ghosts from the past will discover that Jorg doesn't like to be threatened. I'm always a big sucker for back stories, so I've always loved all the glimpses from the past the author has offered over the course of both the Broken Empire and the Red Queen's War trilogies. Hence, having Jorg deal with a remnant of the Builders' era was a treat.

"A Good Name" wasn't far behind as far as quality is concerned. It is essentially the story of the Nuban and even features Snorri ver Snagason’s father. Focusing on the Nuban's development from a young man to a fearsome warrior, this short story makes us understand how he became some sort of mentor to a young Jorg.

"A Rescue" and "Mercy" feature Makin at different stages of his life. In the former, having lost his family he becomes a soldier for King Olidan. While in the latter, now a bitter and vengeful man, Makin tracks down those men who killed his family and makes them pay the ultimate price.

"Bad Seed" is the tale of a boy named Alann Oak and whose fate is to become Red Kent. "The Nature of the Beast" shows Rike being cursed by a witch and explains why he acted the way he did at the end of Emperor of Thorns. "Select Mode" is an interesting tale featuring Jorg and the Nuban, as well as a malfunctioning remnant of Builder technology which spawned a brotherhood of warriors.

"Choices" features the mutants Gorgoth and his sister Jane right before the arrival of Jorg. It explores the notions of free will and destiny, as Gorgoth attempts to be a good man in a harsh world. "The Secret" features the assassin Brother Sim posing as a storyteller. "Know Thyself" is the last short story and it brings the collection to a close with style, as Father Gomst realizes that educating young Jorg and his brother William might be the death of him.

All in all, Road Brothers: Tales from the Broken Empire takes the focus away from Jorg Ancrath for the duration of a few short stories and by doing so adds layers to an already convoluted grimdark saga. Fans of the Broken Empire trilogy will find a lot to love about this collection, especially since you can download it for just a couple of dollars.

The final verdict: 7.75/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

C. J. Cherryh contest winner!

To help promote the release of C. J. Cherryh's Visitor (Canada, USA, Europe), the 17th installment in The Foreigner series, this lucky winner will receive a full set of the saga, courtesy of the cool folks at Daw Books! The prize pack includes:

- Foreigner (1994)
- Invader (1995)
- Inheritor (1996)
- Precursor (1999)
- Defender (2001)
- Explorer (2003)
- Destroyer (2005)
- Pretender (2006)
- Deliverer (2007)
- Conspirator (2009)
- Deceiver (2010)
- Betrayer (2011)
- Intruder (2012)
- Protector (2013)
- Peacemaker (2014)
- Tracker (2015)
- Visitor (2016)

The winner is:

- Jamieson Cobleigh, from Ashland, Maine, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

Win an Advance Reading Copy of Guy Gavriel Kay's CHILDREN OF EARTH AND SKY


I received a second ARC of Guy Gavriel Kay's Children of Earth and Sky, so I'm giving it away to one lucky winner! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

The bestselling author of the groundbreaking novels Under Heaven and River of Stars, Guy Gavriel Kay is back with a new novel, Children of Earth and Sky, set in a world inspired by the conflicts and dramas of Renaissance Europe. Against this tumultuous backdrop the lives of men and women unfold on the borderlands—where empires and faiths collide.

From the small coastal town of Senjan, notorious for its pirates, a young woman sets out to find vengeance for her lost family. That same spring, from the wealthy city-state of Seressa, famous for its canals and lagoon, come two very different people: a young artist traveling to the dangerous east to paint the grand khalif at his request—and possibly to do more—and a fiercely intelligent, angry woman, posing as a doctor’s wife, but sent by Seressa as a spy.

The trading ship that carries them is commanded by the accomplished younger son of a merchant family, ambivalent about the life he’s been born to live. And farther east a boy trains to become a soldier in the elite infantry of the khalif—to win glory in the war everyone knows is coming.

As these lives entwine, their fates—and those of many others—will hang in the balance, when the khalif sends out his massive army to take the great fortress that is the gateway to the western world…

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam)gryphonwood.net with the header "CHILDREN." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.

Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.

Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.

Good luck to all the participants!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


You can now get your hands on the digital edition of Trudi Canavan's Priestess of the White, first volume in the Age of the Five Gods trilogy, for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

In a land on the brink of peace—watched jealously by a ruthless cult from across the sea and beset by hidden enemies—five extraordinary humans must serve as sword and shield of the Gods.

Auraya is one.

Her heroism saved a village from destruction; now Auraya has been named Priestess of the White. The limits of her unique talents must be tested in order to prove her worthy of the honor and grave responsibility awarded to her. But a perilous road lies ahead, fraught with pitfalls that will challenge the newest servant of the gods. An enduring friendship with a Dreamweaver—a member of an ancient outcast sect of sorcerer-healers—could destroy Auraya's future. And her destiny has set her in conflict with a powerful and mysterious, black-clad sorcerer with but a single purpose: the total annihilation of the White. And he is not alone . . .

And you can download the sequel, Last of the Wilds, for 3.99$ here.

The Darkness That Comes Before


The long-awaited (and what should have been the final installment in The Aspect-Emperor trilogy, but has since then been split into two volumes) The Great Ordeal by R. Scott Bakker will finally be released this summer. It's been five years since The White-Luck Warrior, the second volume, saw the light, so you can understand why Bakker fans are rejoicing. Problem is, it's been a very long time in between books. And for a midlist genre author, one that never was marketed much by his publishers to begin with, this can make things difficult. Sadly, it appears that an entire generation of SFF readers have never heard of him and some of us have been wondering about what we can possibly do to give Bakker some much-deserved exposure.

I'm not sure what sort of impact this will have down the line, but I've decided to reprint my reviews of R. Scott Bakker's first two series to help raise awareness in what I consider to be one of the more ambitious fantasy sagas ever written. Hence, every couple of days for the next little while I'll post reviews of all three installments of the Prince of Nothing trilogy and the first two volumes of The Aspect-Emperor series.

Hopefully, these reviews will entice potential readers to give these novels a shot. Love them or hate them, these are powerful works of fiction that deserve to be more widely read than they are at the moment. Check them out!

So here's my review of Bakker's debut and opening chapter in the Prince of Nothing trilogy, originally posted on May 5th, 2005. For a more recent take on The Darkness That Comes Before, fantasy author Mark Lawrence reviewed it on Goodreads a few weeks back. Follow this link to see what he thought about the book.

Here's the blurb:

A score of centuries has passed since the First Apocalypse. The No-God has been vanquished and the thoughts of men have turned, inevitably, to more worldly concerns...Drusas Achamian, tormented by 2,000 year old nightmares, is a sorcerer and a spy, constantly seeking news of an ancient enemy that few believe still exists. Ikurei Conphas, nephew to the Nansur Emperor, is the Exalt-General of the Imperial Army and a military genius. He plots to conquer the known world for his Emperor and dreams of the throne for himself. Maithanet, mysterious and charismatic, is spiritual leader of the Thousand Temples. He seeks a Holy War to cleanse the land of the infidel. Cnaiur, Chieftain of the Utemot, is a Scylvendi barbarian. Rejected by his people, he seeks vengeance against the former slave who slew his father, and disgraced him in the eyes of his tribe. Into this world steps Anasurimbor Kellhus, the product of two thousand years of breeding and a lifetime of training in the ways of thought, limb, and face. Steering souls through the subtleties of word and expression, he slowly binds all - man and woman, emperor and slave - to his own mysterious ends. But the fate of men - even great men - means little when the world itself may soon be torn asunder. Behind the politics, beneath the imperialist expansion, amongst the religious fervour, a dark and ancient evil is reawakening. After two thousand years, the No-God is returning. The Second Apocalypse is nigh. And one cannot raise walls against what has been forgotten...


When I held a poll which was to determine the best "ongoing" fantasy series, I was expecting some surprises. Indeed, that was the very reason which encouraged me to organize the poll. As expected, I wasn't disappointed. But one series in particular received a vast number of votes, especially from the members of the wotmania.com "Other Fantasy" message board. R. Scott Bakker's The Prince of Nothing garnered so many rave reviews that I knew I had to inquire about this one. For, like most fantasy fans, I had never heard of him or his books. Several people were more than a little surprised by his series' presence in our list of top "ongoing" series.

Nearly everyone on wotmania.com encouraged me to read Bakker's novels. I was thus quite happy when Penguin Canada accepted to send me review copies of both The Darkness that Comes Before and The Warrior-Prophet. Hence, it was with eagerness that I plunged into this one, especially since the author is Canadian. And as a fellow Canuck, it's the least I can do to promote the great works of my countrymen!;-)

So what's the verdict? Well, to put it simply, this is an impressive debut. One of the very best debut novels I have read in years. An intelligent work, in every run of the mill. Which is probably satisfy purists in a way that is seldom seen. Bakker has created something quite special. But the philosophical and religious aspects of this tale will indubitably prevent the series from becoming mainstream. Which, in the end, might allow it to retain its uniqueness in the fantasy genre.:-)

The Darkness that Comes Before is a rare cross between Dune and The Lord of the Rings. It's obvious that Frank Herbert's epic has been a major influence on Bakker, both in form and on a deeper level. The format also follows that of the Dune books. But fear not, this is by no means a Dune rip-off. Bakker, although influenced by the master, has created a truly original universe.

It is quite apparent that the author has worked on this book for well over a decade. To claim that it's richly detailed would be a gross understatement. It's a lot more than that. The worldbuilding is of the highest order. Bakker has created a living and breathing universe, detailed and authentic. Not since I've read Robert Jordan's The Eye of the World in the early 90s have I come across a work that resounds with such depth. And it promises a lot more to come! At times, the back story appears to be fascinating enough that one wishes he could learn more. The few glimpses the author provides pertaining to the past and the Apocalypse bring even more depth to his work.

The prose is of high quality, for those few of us who actually attach some importance to this detail. The dialogues ring true. While the narative is consise and flows well, a barbarian actually sounds like a barbarian. The problem with most good writers is that a simple villager often speaks like a doctor. Not so here.

One of the only problems with this novel is that the pace is at times very slow. That wasn't a problem for me, because I could still appreciate the content, the worldbuilding, and everything else there is to like about this book. And the author has a lot of groundwork to initially set up, especially with the characters. But this could be a problem for a number of people, especially those who like a lot of action, fight scenes and brisk rhythm.

The characters are well developed. Each has his or her own back story, and those who can read between the lines know that there is a lot more to come. I can't say that one is more memorable than the others. To me, it was the tapestry that these characters and their actions wove that kept me turning those pages.

As I mentioned, this is an intelligent work, one that will appeal to readers who need more than the fluff produced by a majority of fantasy writers today. Philosophy and religion play a big role in this tale, which imbues it with a depth that is seldom encountered on the current market. The Darkness that Comes Before is for a mature audience. As a matter of fact, I think that only such an audience can appreciate the novel at its just value.

As is often the case nowadays, this book is one vast introduction for a much larger story. The ending offers little in the way of resolution, providing us with more questions than answers. But it certainly opens the door for a lot more to come! Indeed, I can't wait to read The Warrior-Prophet, especially since everyone appears to agree that it's much better than its predecessor. If true, that makes it quite a novel!

So if you are looking for a new voice, an original series, set in a world that is fascinating and different than what is currently the norm in the fantasy genre, populated by deeply realized characters and societies, then The Darkness that Comes Before is definitely for you!

This could well be the beginning of a saga that could become a "must read!" work. . . We will have to wait and see if it lives up to those high expectations.

The final verdict: 8/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe


Win an Advance Reading Copy of Richard Kadrey's THE EVERYTHING BOX


I'm giving away my ARC of Richard Kadrey's The Everything Box to one lucky winner! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

Reminiscent of the edgy, offbeat humor of Chris Moore and Matt Ruff, the first entry in a whimsical, fast-paced supernatural series from the New York Times bestselling author of the Sandman Slim novels—a dark and humorous story involving a doomsday gizmo, a horde of baddies determined to possess its power, and a clever thief who must steal it back . . . again and again.

22000 B.C. A beautiful, ambitious angel stands on a mountaintop, surveying the world and its little inhabitants below. He smiles because soon, the last of humanity who survived the great flood will meet its end, too. And he should know. He’s going to play a big part in it. Our angel usually doesn’t get to do field work, and if he does well, he’s certain he’ll get a big promotion.

And now it’s time . . . .

The angel reaches into his pocket for the instrument of humanity’s doom. Must be in the other pocket. Then he frantically begins to pat himself down. Dejected, he realizes he has lost the object. Looking over the Earth at all that could have been, the majestic angel utters a single word.

“Crap.”

2015. A thief named Coop—a specialist in purloining magic objects—steals and delivers a small box to the mysterious client who engaged his services. Coop doesn’t know that his latest job could be the end of him—and the rest of the world. Suddenly he finds himself in the company of The Department of Peculiar Science, a fearsome enforcement agency that polices the odd and strange. The box isn’t just a supernatural heirloom with quaint powers, they tell him.

It’s a doomsday device. They think . . .

And suddenly, everyone is out to get it.

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam)gryphonwood.net with the header "BOX." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.

Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.

Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.

Good luck to all the participants!

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (April 11th)

In paperback:

Stephen King's Finders Keepers is down two spots, finishing the week at number 4.

Andy Weir's The Martian is down four positions, ending the week at number 11 (trade paperback).

Stephen King's 11/22/63 is down five positions, ending the week at number 12.

Ernest Cline's Ready Player One is down one spot, finishing the week at number 13 (trade paperback).

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


You can now download Tanya Huff's Sing the Four Quarters for only 2.51$ here.

Here's the blurb:

The Bards of Shkoder hold the country together. They, and the elemental spirits they Sing – earth, air, fire, and water - bring the news of the sea to the mountains, news of the mountains to the plains. They give their people, from peasant to king, a song in common.

Annice is a rare talent, able to Sing all four quarters, but her brother, the newly enthroned King Theron, sees her request to study at the Bardic Hall as a betrayal. To his surprise, Annice accepts his conditions, renouncing her royal blood and swearing to remain childless so as not to jeopardize the line of succession. She walks away from political responsibilities, royal privilege and her family.

Ten years later, Annice has become the Princess Bard and her real life is about to become the exact opposite of the overwrought ballad her fellow students at the Bardic Hall wrote about her. Now, she's on the run from the Royal Guards with the Duc of Ohrid, the father of her unborn child, both of them guilty of treason – one of them unjustly accused. To save the Duc's life, they'll have to cross the country, manage to keep from strangling each other, and defeat an enemy too damaged for even a Bard's song to reach.

Alan Smale contest winner!

Thanks to the generosity of the folks at Del Rey, to celebrate the release of Alan Smale's Eagle in Exile (Canada, USA, Europe), this lucky winner will receive a set of the first two volumes in the series! The prize pack includes:

- Clash of Eagles
- Eagle in Exile

The winner is:

- Nick Guido, from Allen, Texas, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

Win the digital edition of T. Frohock's Los Nefilim trilogy


To help promote the release of T. Frohock's The Second Death, final installment in the Los Nefilim trilogy, I have a full set up for grabs, compliments of the folks at Harper Voyager: Impulse. The prize pack includes digital editions of:

- In Midnight's Silence
- Without Light or Guide
- The Second Death

Each installment is available for 0.99$ through these links.

Here's the blurb for the first volume:

Born of an angel and a daimon, Diago Alvarez is a singular being in a country torn by a looming civil war and the spiritual struggle between the forces of angels and daimons. With allegiance to no one but his partner Miquel, he is content to simply live in Barcelona, caring only for the man he loves and the music he makes. Yet, neither side is satisfied to let him lead this domesticated life and, knowing they can’t get to him directly, they do the one thing he’s always feared.

They go after Miquel.

Now, in order to save his lover’s life, he is forced by an angel to perform a gruesome task: feed a child to the daimon Moloch in exchange for a coin that will limit the extent of the world’s next war. The mission is fraught with danger, the time he has to accomplish it is limited…and the child he is to sacrifice is the son Diago never knew existed.

A lyrical tale in a world of music and magic, T. Frohock’s IN MIDNIGHT’S SILENCE shows the lengths a man will go to save the people he loves, and the sides he’ll choose when the sidelines are no longer an option.

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam)gryphonwood.net with the header "DEATH." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.

Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.

Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.

Good luck to all the participants!

Extract from Todd Lockwood's THE SUMMER DRAGON


Thanks to the generosity of the folks at Daw Books, here's an extract from Todd Lockwood's The Summer Dragon! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the author's blurb:

Maia and her family raise dragons for the political war machine. As she comes of age, she anticipates a dragon of her own to add to the stable of breeding parents. But the war goes badly, and the needs of the Dragonry dash her hopes. Her peaceful life is shattered when the Summer Dragon—one of the rare and mythical High Dragons— makes an appearance in her quiet valley. The Summer Dragon is an omen of change, but no one knows for certain what kind of change he augurs. Political factions vie to control the implied message, each to further their own agendas.

Maia heads into the wilderness in search of the dragon qit that she believes will solve her problems. She doesn't expect to encounter the enemy of her people, the Harodhi, or an angry wilding father...

Enjoy!
------------------------------------------

The valley floor at the base of the cliffs was stony and difficult, and short on cover, but the moon was still low in the sky, and the nearby trees were tall. I allowed my eyes to adjust to the deeper darkness in their shadows. I needed to get close enough to the poacher’s cave to assess things and devise a plan. But I knew that once I reached its mouth, there would be guards and precious little cover for me. I was operating on instinct alone—instinct and blind desperation. I struggled to control my racing thoughts. Darian’s barb drifted into my mother’s last words, then into the arguments of Bellua and Mabir.

Curse. It was distracting, maddening. Curse. Over and over again the litany turned, illustrated with images of the ravening Horrors eating the Harodhi dead. Doubt crept into my resolve, but the chorus of damning words always forced me back to the same place: a qit.

I located the trail the Harodhi had used and quickly realized that I’d come upon the scene of their battle with the father dragon. Spatters and puddles of blood showed as ebony in patches of moonlight.

My heart skipped a beat. He was out here still, somewhere. I listened, studied the blackness between the trees, but caught no sight of him. Cautiously I crept into the denser shadows and started up the trail. I stumbled across an abandoned crossbow and examined it. The stock was broken. I set it down again quietly. But here was a perfectly good arrow and another nearby. The arrowheads weren’t like the ones we used to hunt deer, with flat triangular blades. They were of military design, square and dart-like, meant to pierce armor. Common to every army that fought against dragons. Even so, dragon-skin is thick and covered with hard plates on the neck, chest, and shoulders—many of their shots had simply glanced off. Would one bow in the hands of a girl be enough to offer a defense? I stuck the arrows in my quiver anyway. They would still kill a man.

Night made the going slow, but I inched my way up the hill, stopping frequently to listen and look all around, in every direction—uphill, downhill, clifftop, forest, sky.

Grunts and moans ahead stopped me in my tracks. Low keening and quiet, sorrowful chuffing indicated a dragon in deep despair. I crouched and shielded my face from the moonlit cliff face and sky, so that my eyes could adapt to the murky shadow. I scanned the forest for a visual cue, finally detecting a bright glimmer ahead and to the right, like moonlight on scales.

Father dragon was in bad shape. He tried to pluck crossbow bolts from his chest with his teeth, but growled in pain and frustration with each failed attempt. His posture was slumped—head down, right wing dragging, left wing held up and back at an odd angle. Several feathered shafts protruded from the alar pectoral, caked with drying blood. It was no wonder he couldn’t fly.

He had to be in great pain, yet he’d fought to free his baby from its captors. He’d somehow avoided their snares and traps, and sent a number of Harodhi to their deaths. It reminded me of the tale of one of my ancestors, Malik, who fought off an invading tribe alone, just him and his dragon mount, to rescue his kidnapped daughter. It was nothing less than heroic. My heart went out to him. It would be hard not to think of him now as Malik. But he was also a wounded predator, and I was a girl with a single crossbow, wearing a knapsack full of meat. It was a thin arsenal, a thinner defense. And he was blocking my path.

I knelt behind a rock to watch, and wait. Shortly, he moved up the hill again, slowly and painfully, stepping gingerly on his right forefoot. When he had advanced twenty yards or so, I crept to another hiding place. Little by little I followed him up the slope. He paused often to worry at the arrows in his chest. They didn’t look deeply imbedded, but several were oozing black runnels of blood. Walking had to be excruciating.

From up the hill came the bleating of his baby, distant and plaintive. My heart sank at first, but I recognized the call—loneliness and fear, not outright terror. Safe, for the moment.

Malik’s head came up and he froze, listening until the cries dwindled. Then he tipped his head back and called twice with a dragon-word, a phrase of his wilding tongue that I could not know. It sounded for all the world like the call of a gigantic hawk.

Baby responded from the cave with another unhappy wail, but it was growing faint, and I realized that the Harodhi were taking it deeper into the cave. When it ended, silence enveloped the forest. Malik started up the slope again, grunting each time he planted his right forefoot. Suddenly he paused, raised his head, and looked back in my direction.

The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I was sure I hadn’t made a sound, but I glanced around for a defensible position, just in case.

He made a sharp whuffing noise—a warning threat, prelude to attack. My head snapped in his direction, and he charged.

Fear shot through my limbs. I turned and dashed for the trees.

Crashes and heavy footfalls behind me drew nearer. He roared, now fully engaged in the chase.

I screamed, leapt a log, landed badly. I bounced to my feet and darted around a tree. Ahead of me, a dense stand of fir trees surrounded a jumble of boulders. I would have to cross thirty feet of open space to reach it. I glanced back over my shoulder.

Malik rounded some large trees into the open space, closing fast. He roared again, trampled a sapling, then tucked his wings close, ready to pounce.

I sprinted across the gap, leapt between two trees and onto the nearest boulder. A crash resounded at my heels and splinters of wood flew past me. I vaulted a branch, stumbled, felt something swipe at my hair, fell past another trunk into the deep crack between two boulders. I landed on my back, looking up, the wind knocked out of me.

Malik tried to crawl between the trees surrounding the boulders, but the arrows in his side snagged against the trunks. He bellowed angrily and withdrew, stalked around to my left and swiped into my enclosure with a giant forepaw. I scrabbled backward as far as I could, gasping for breath, as he tested the strength of the tree with teeth and claws. It shook but did not give. He growled again in frustration and prowled around behind me, where a single slender tree protected my small redoubt. He pushed against it once, twice, three times. Needles and twigs and cones showered down. Roots groaned and snapped, and the tree fell inward.

I covered my face with my arm, but the boulders and the surrounding trees caught the falling timber by its branches. It settled at an angle like a roof across my crevice, still held by its toes to the earth. Malik bit and scratched at broken roots. He could do no more than shake it, but now he could step onto the boulders that shielded me. A set of talons quested between tree and rock. I scrambled back. He tried the other side, but arrows in his chest and legs snagged on the stout branches. Finally he backed off the rock, to circle and study my defenses.

I fell back, gasping deeply, tears streaming down my face. “Go away,” I whispered hoarsely. “Sweet Avar. Avar Avar Avar . . .”

Suddenly he roared in fury and leapt up onto the rocks again. He clawed frantically at the boughs of the fallen tree. Branches cracked and splintered. The trunk groaned as he stood on it and bounced. Shards of wood pattered all around me.

“Go away go away go away…”

Again he backed off, then raised his head and roared in utter frustration, shaking the trees and rocks with the thunder of his outrage. I heard his footfalls circling my enclosure, accompanied by low snarling. The undergrowth and trees diffused sound, and I couldn’t tell exactly where he was. I pushed myself to a sitting position, brushed hair out of my eyes, removing twigs and leaves with shaking hands. Thankfully, the meat in my knapsack had cushioned my backward fall, but knees, elbows, and palms were scraped and bleeding.

The footsteps moved away and the snarling ceased, but I heard him panting and whuffing aggressively. Twice more he tried to breech the upright trees around my fortress but fell back with painful cries. Long minutes passed in which only his labored breathing disturbed the deep night stillness. Still trembling, I stood up, my head between branches of the fallen tree.

Malik stood in the clearing, head down, panting. He saw me and growled, a deep menacing rumble that I’d never heard in the aeries, not even when Audax was testing Shuja’s seniority. This was feral and certain in its intent; he wanted to kill me.

I was trapped there, for as long as I concerned him.

I dropped out of sight again, heart pounding. I needed to convince him that I was not a threat. But how could I do that? He was a wilding—intelligent, but a creature of instinct and emotion nonetheless. He was unfamiliar with any of the commands or dialect that our aerie-born dragons spoke. All I had to work with was my knowledge of dragons, my crossbow, and a backpack full of food.

Oh, High Ones,” I muttered.

I studied my narrow haven quickly. Two large boulders defined it, capped by a third on one end. There was a skinny gap like a short, constricted hallway between that third boulder and the one to my right. A natural entrance. Malik’s tail was visible beyond it.

I breathed deeply in hopes of calming myself. I shook so violently that it took several tries to cock my bow and load an arrow. I set it down and removed the knapsack. There were some choice cuts of meat remaining, plus the entire haunch and a few large potatoes.

This was no time for half-measures. I pulled out the haunch and laid the knapsack behind me. Then I picked up the crossbow and crept to the threshold of the crack. Malik was tugging at one of the arrows in his chest with his teeth. He groaned as it drew the flesh around it outward, the barbs on the arrowhead clutching at the plate it had pierced. When it ripped free, he snarled, bit it in three, spat out the remnants as he roared in pain, then licked at the freely bleeding wound.

I took a deep breath and tiptoed slowly out into the clearing. As I was laying the haunch of venison down, Malik spotted me and charged.

But I was prepared. I darted back into the crack between the boulders. He swiped into it with his long arm, but I was out of range, and the arrows still in his chest and legs shortened his reach. He growled furiously, pacing back and forth across the entrance but then stopped to glare in at me balefully.

As much as I wanted—needed—to make a connection with him, Father had warned us many times that a wild dragon will see eye contact as a threat or challenge. I averted my gaze and showed him the crossbow, then laid it down and raised my empty hands. Whether that would mean anything to him or not I didn’t know.

He returned to licking his wound until the bleeding had slowed, though he looked up to check on me several times. Many long, excruciating minutes later he sniffed at the air, turned, and found the haunch of venison.

He stepped on it and removed half with a single bite. The remainder disappeared with scarcely more caution, though he worried the bone a little bit before crunching it into shards and swallowing it all.

Damn.” I’d hoped it would last a bit longer. I dug into the knapsack and pulled out two large potatoes. I showed them to him, then lobbed them gently out through the opening.

He sniffed at them, then swallowed them whole.

“High ones . . . you must be starving!” I tried to keep my voice low and calm.

He snarled at me, rumbling low in his chest. But the timbre had changed slightly, and it wasn’t all threat now. It made me think of our dragons when they came across something new and foreign. I retreated into the crevice a little further before I caught myself. I’m certain he could smell my terror, but I didn’t want to show fear, even though I was trembling and pouring sweat.

“Please leave me alone. I don’t want to be your food.” Trying to calm him. Trying to calm myself. I recalled Father two days ago telling Darian it doesn’t matter what you say. Tell him a story. Describe the weather. Babble like a lunatic. Tone was far more important than content. I took a deep breath.

“Avar, but you are terrifying. I mean gorgeous. What a handsome sire you are.” He stood panting, studying me. “Normally, a dragon sire is keeping the perimeter, ensuring a food supply for momma and her babies. But here you are, alone, stalking the men who stole your baby. Was that your mate I found? Or is she,” I swallowed, “in the cave?”

He stared at me inscrutably.

Despite myself, I snatched glimpses of his eyes: silver, like the stripes in his markings. He was beautiful, and it pained me to see the arrows in his flesh, the black rivulets of blood beneath them. Despite my fear and sadness and hurt, I found a well of empathy for this noble, wilding sire. I purred for him as best I could with dry lips and parched tongue. He tilted his head briefly. Encouraged, I tried to imitate the guttural rumble of contentment that our dragons made as they tucked into a meal. He tilted his head again.

“I want to save your baby too. Will you let me help? Look . . .” I fished a piece of meat out of the pack and showed it to him. Then I looked pointedly up the hill and mimicked the mewling bark that qits make when they’re hungry, what we called mowping. “This is for your baby.” Then I put the meat away.

He studied me, not moving.

“Oh, sweet Avar, but you are a mess! I wish I could help you, too.” His liquid eyes met mine, and his pupils dilated. Before I could avert my traitorous gaze he growled in rage and leapt atop the fallen tree again.

He ripped it in a frenzy, snapping limbs, pulling upward on the trunk, biting at the smaller boughs. The main beam of the tree groaned and shivered. Bark rained down on me.

I screamed, but then, almost without thought and using all the power in my lungs, tapping all the sadness I felt for this courageous wilding and the full depths of my terror, I did my best to mimic Grus’s sad keening. I sustained it at full volume for as long as I could, and finished each wail with a dragon’s mournful chuffing.

Malik paused, stared at me, panting heavily. His head tilted sideways.

Baby called back from the Harodhi camp—a long and desolate cry, barely audible.

Malik snarled at me again, then paced back and forth from boulder to boulder above. When he stopped, he threw his head back and called keirr! keirr!

Baby answered again.

He stuck his big head as far as he could between tree trunk and boulder, and roared at the top of his lungs. His warm, stinking breath washed over me, and I cowered in it.

Then he was gone.