The Poisoned Crown

Even though I'm French Canadian, it's thanks to George R. R. Martin that I recently discovered the excellent The Accursed Kings by French author Maurice Druon. Having enjoyed both The Iron King and The Strangled Queen, I was curious to see what the third installment would have in store for readers.

But unlike its predecessors, The Poisoned Crown failed to live up to expectations, through no fault of the author. Indeed, it has more to do with the fact that the book focuses on Louis X's brief reign. A feeble and arrogant man, the Hutin is far from an engaging character and his many ineptitutes signal the beginning of the end of an era for the kingdom of France.

Here's the blurb:

No man is impervious to the poisons of the crown…

Having murdered his wife and exiled his mistress, King Louis X of France becomes besotted with Princess Clemence of Hungary and makes her his new Queen.

However, though the matter of the succession should be assured, it is far from so, as Louis embarks on an ill-fated war against Flanders.

Where his father, Philip IV, was strong, Louis is weak, and the ambitions of his proud, profligate barons threaten his power and the future of a kingdom once ruled by an Iron King.

Having had his wife murdered to pave the way for his marriage to Clemence of Hungary, King Louis X doesn't seem to realize that he needs more than secure the succession to restore order within the borders of his kingdom. Famine plunged France into chaos and his inability to hold in balance the infighting between the ambitious factions undermining his reign has brought France on the brink of collapse. As always, Maurice Druon demonstrates that he has an incredible eye for historical details and his narrative truly comes alive as you read along.

Once more, I found the translation to be quite good. As was the case in the first two volumes, it is at times literal, creating occasional odd turns of phrase here and there. But other than that, nothing to complain about. As is usually his wont, instead of relying on info-dumps, Druon opted for footnotes sending you to the back of the novel for more historical background and clarification. This maintains a fluid pace throughout, and one reaches the end all too quickly. In a day and age when SFF and historical novels are veritable doorstopper works of fiction, these books are decidedly short. Too short, if you ask me. They are episodic in nature, and instead of a seven-book cycle the reissue of The Accursed Kings should probably have been released as a trilogy. Given the price of novels, this may have worked better with a few omnibus editions instead of going for the original seven installments.

The structure of these works revolves around a number of disparate POVs which allow readers to witness events through the eyes of a variety of protagonists. This help generate more emotional impact, as you see the web of scandal and intrigue which weaves itself around the Louis X and his entourage from both sides of the conflict. The king's POV, though a necessary evil as the tale focuses on his short reign, is not as interesting as other points of view. Louis X is not the sharpest tool in the shed and he spends most of the book digging his own grave, so to speak. To give you an example, imagine being forced to wade through a Lancel Lannister POV in the ASOIAF books. Pious to a fault, the young Clemence of Hungary is another protagonist whose POV isn't as compelling as I thought it would be. As was the case with the previous volumes, the often amusing POV of Guccio Baglioni helps create a bit of a balance with the darker elements of the main story arc.

All in all, The Poisoned Crown doesn't stand as well on its own as its predecessors. Still, Maurice Druon weaves many threads in what is undoubtedly a great tapestry and I have a feeling that this third volume is more of a transition book meant to bridge the storylines of the first two installments with what will come after. God knows that it opens the door for countless possibilities which will certainly be explored in The Royal Succession and subsequent installments.

With family rivalries, politicking, betrayals and back-stabbings, ASOIAF fans will find a lot to love about Maurice Druon's The Accursed Kings. And considering that these books were first published in the 50s, I have to admit that they have aged well and are as easy to read as any contemporary novels on the market today.

The final verdict: 7.25/10

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

Quote of the Day

Constipation was one of the things she hated most in the world, on par with despicable men who commit domestic violence and narrow-minded religious fundamentalists.

- HARUKI MURAKAMI, 1Q84 (Canada, USA, Europe)

Samantha Shannon contest winner!

This lucky gal will get her hands on my Advance Reading Copy of Samantha Shannon's The Mime Order! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winner is:

- Stacy Schulz, from Hartford, Connecticut, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

For a limited time, you can download Guy Gavriel Kay's masterpiece, Under Heaven, for only 3.64$ here.

Here's the blurb:

UNDER HEAVEN will be published in April 2010, and takes place in a world inspired by the glory and power of Tang Dynasty China in the 8th century, a world in which history and the fantastic meld into something both memorable and emotionally compelling. In the novel, Shen Tai is the son of a general who led the forces of imperial Kitai in the empire's last great war against its western enemies, twenty years before. Forty thousand men, on both sides, were slain by a remote mountain lake. General Shen Gao himself has died recently, having spoken to his son in later years about his sadness in the matter of this terrible battle.

To honour his father's memory, Tai spends two years in official mourning alone at the battle site by the blue waters of Kuala Nor. Each day he digs graves in hard ground to bury the bones of the dead. At night he can hear the ghosts moan and stir, terrifying voices of anger and lament. Sometimes he realizes that a given voice has ceased its crying, and he knows that is one he has laid to rest.

The dead by the lake are equally Kitan and their Taguran foes; there is no way to tell the bones apart, and he buries them all with honour.

It is during a routine supply visit led by a Taguran officer who has reluctantly come to befriend him that Tai learns that others, much more powerful, have taken note of his vigil. The White Jade Princess Cheng-wan, 17th daughter of the Emperor of Kitai, presents him with two hundred and fifty Sardian horses. They are being given in royal recognition of his courage and piety, and the honour he has done the dead. You gave a man one of the famed Sardian horses to reward him greatly.

You gave him four or five to exalt him above his fellows, propel him towards rank, and earn him jealousy, possibly mortal jealousy. Two hundred and fifty is an unthinkable gift, a gift to overwhelm an emperor. Tai is in deep waters. He needs to get himself back to court and his own emperor, alive. Riding the first of the Sardian horses, and bringing news of the rest, he starts east towards the glittering, dangerous capital of Kitai, and the Ta-Ming Palace - and gathers his wits for a return from solitude by a mountain lake to his own forever-altered life.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter's The Long Earth for only 3.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

An unmissable milestone for fans of Sir Terry Pratchett: the first SF novel in over three decades in which the visionary inventor of Discworld has created a new universe of tantalizing possibilities—a series of parallel “Earths” with doorways leading to adventure, intrigue, excitement, and an escape into the furthest reaches of the imagination.

The Long Earth, written with award-winning novelist Stephen Baxter, author of Stone Spring,Ark, and Floodwill, captivate science fiction fans of all stripes, readers of Kurt Vonnegut, Douglas Adams, and Carl Hiaasen, and anyone who enjoyed the Terry Pratchett/Neil Gaiman collaborationGood Omens.

The Long Earth is an adventure of the highest order—and an unforgettable read.

You can now download Naomi Novik's highly entertaining His Majesty's Dragon for only 3.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Aerial combat brings a thrilling new dimension to the Napoleonic Wars as valiant warriors rise to Britain’s defense by taking to the skies . . . not aboard aircraft but atop the mighty backs of fighting dragons.

When HMS Reliant captures a French frigate and seizes its precious cargo, an unhatched dragon egg, fate sweeps Capt. Will Laurence from his seafaring life into an uncertain future–and an unexpected kinship with a most extraordinary creature. Thrust into the rarified world of the Aerial Corps as master of the dragon Temeraire, he will face a crash course in the daring tactics of airborne battle. For as France’s own dragon-borne forces rally to breach British soil in Bonaparte’s boldest gambit, Laurence and Temeraire must soar into their own baptism of fire.


Gotcha! :P Not exactly, though it does have something to do with the forthcoming novel most fantasy fans want to get their hands on!

This picture was taken at the Daw Books annual dinner at the 2009 Worldcon in Montréal. Many of you will recall that when The Name of the Wind came out, a lot of fans thought I was Patrick Rothfuss. As you can see in the photo, we don't look alike at all, which always left me wondering how/why some people could mistake one for the other. I mean, no one has ever mistaken George R. R. Martin for George Clooney, right? So in any event, we joked about it and he gave me his blessing to autograph any of his books that came my way! ;-)

When I announced the Hotlist's 10th anniversary a few weeks back, some readers got in touch with me and wanted to know what were some of the quirky moments which left their mark in the history of this blog. There are quite a few, it goes without saying. But one of the weirdest had to do with the aforementioned The Doors of Stone. You see, though fans have mistaken me for Rothfuss on numerous occasions, it had never happened with one of his editors. Said editor will of course remain anonymous. . .

In May of 2013, I received an email asking for my input on sketches for the novel's cover art. I didn't immediately realize that something was amiss, for authors and editors do ask for my opinion on these matters from time to time. Here's the email:

Hi Pat,

The illustrator has been working on the cover for book 3 for the past few months (using the working title 'Doors of Stone' as a placeholder only, I hasten to add). She's got to the point where we have a working rough, and wanted to ask for your input. Would you mind taking a look - please remember this is only a rough, so it's less than half done! - and letting us know your thoughts?

So I got back to them, letting the editor know what I thought worked and what didn't quite work. Got this reply the next day:

Hi Pat,

Lovely to hear from you :)

I don’t think we’re wedded to orange. Let me ask the question. And I’ll pass on the badass (good point) lute (great point) and facial expression (thank you!) points to the artist and see what we can do.

Maybe once we have those tweaks in place and a slightly reworked version with (in particular) different coloured fonts, we can open the flood gates. What do you think?

I’m very relieved that, broadly, this is looking reasonable to you. And I totally agree – the difference between US and UK covers can be absolutely fascinating. They’re different worlds sometimes. I just hope you like both :)

. . . I’m going to dare to ask, so please forgive me. How is the third manuscript treating you?

Ooops. . . That's when I realized that Rothfuss' own editor emailed the wrong Pat. So I contacted the editor to let them know that this was the Pat from Pat's Fantasy Hotlist, not Patrick Rothfuss. The reply was not long in coming:

Aie!!! Oh no – I’m so sorry, and what a mistake :( Wow. Oops.

I’ve passed it on to the intended recipient, but thank you for letting me know and I believe we’ll have to arrange a proper cover reveal with you when the time comes. Thank you for keeping it under your hat in the meantime and I hope you didn’t mind having an accidental sneak preview.

Best, in embarrassment,

[name withheld]

The whole thing was pretty funny! And to this day, I'm on the short list of people who have an idea of what the cover art will look like! =) Still have the two sketches on my computer. . .

Would have liked to see the editor's face when my last email got through! ;-)

The Slow Regard of Silent Things

I am aware that this review has been a long time in coming. I've been receiving a lot of emails and messages asking me when I'd review Patrick Rothfuss' The Slow Regard of Silent Things since a few weeks before the novella was published. Trouble is, at first I had no intention of even reading the book. Don't get me wrong, like countless SFF readers I love Rothfuss. And I'm eagerly awaiting any news pertaining to the release of volume 3, The Doors of Stone.

The first red flag appeared when the author himself posted his "You might not want to buy this book" foreword online. Rothfuss warned readers that this was a bit of a strange story. Moreover, we were warned that it was different, that it didn't do a lot of the things a classic story is supposed to do. Hence, I was a bit apprehensive at the thought of reading this new novella. Then I finally received my copy and the author's endnote did nothing to reassure me. If anything, it well nigh convinced me that The Slow Regard of Silent Things wasn't for me. You know me. I'm a plot kind of guy. Always have been, always will be. And this novella didn't really have a plot to speak of. The closest thing to an action scene it features is a description of Auri making soap. All in all, it didn't seem to bode well for me. So I elected that for the good of everyone involved, I should refrain from reading and reviewing this one.

Not unexpectedly, readers' reviews have been rather mixed. Some have loved everything about it, while others have accused Rothfuss of milking his popularity for all it's worth by releasing a weird work that should have remained buried somewhere deep in his computer files. Knowing how hard to please I can be and reading those mixed reviews made me realize that this was the right course of action for me. Yet for some reason, even though everything hinted at the fact that I would in all likelihood absolutely hate everything about The Slow Regard of Silent Things, I kept thinking about the book and whether or not I should give it a go. The Holiday season was just around the corner and I wanted a quick read, so I finally caved in and decided to read the novella. And I'm glad I did!

Here's the blurb:

Deep below the University, there is a dark place. Few people know of it: a broken web of ancient passageways and abandoned rooms. A young woman lives there, tucked among the sprawling tunnels of the Underthing, snug in the heart of this forgotten place. Her name is Auri, and she is full of mysteries.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things is a brief, bittersweet glimpse of Auri’s life, a small adventure all her own. At once joyous and haunting, this story offers a chance to see the world through Auri’s eyes. And it gives the reader a chance to learn things that only Auri knows….

In this book, Patrick Rothfuss brings us into the world of one of The Kingkiller Chronicle’s most enigmatic characters. Full of secrets and mysteries, The Slow Regard of Silent Things is the story of a broken girl trying to live in a broken world.

The tale focuses on Auri, the mysterious girl that Kvothe befriends at the university, and her life in the Underthing. Forewarned by Rothfuss, one quickly realizes that there is indeed no structured plot moving the story forward. The third person narrative follows the point of view of Auri and we immediately discover -- not that we needed any confirmation -- that there is something special about this strange girl. In the main book sequence, Auri comes across as an incredibly shy, innocent, and enigmatic girl. But there is something hauntingly whimsical about her and the way she perceives the world around her. Every object and place has a special name and is even attributed feelings. Her life seems to revolve around finding a proper place for every object she comes across.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things features a story that drifts somewhat aimlessly as it follows Auri's life in the Underthing. She somehow knows that Kvothe will be visiting her in seven days and she must find a suitable gift for him. The better part of the book pretty much has to with her quest to find the appropriate place for all the inanimate object she finds, a place that suits them and won't hurt their feelings. Hence, the narrative meanders and often doesn't seem to go anywhere. Things don't necessarily make any sense, but in a way that's the beauty of the novella.

As I mentioned, there is something hauntingly whimsical about Auri's POV. At times, she's sweet and fragile. At others, she's driven and stronger. There is an innocence about her that I found absolutely charming. Her sweetness reminded me of my goddaughter Angélique. I remember watching her interact with the world around her while she was growing up, and then participating in her often odd adventures as she grew older, trying to understand what the heck was going on inside her head. Auri is a bit like that. Her sweetness and vulnerability draw you inside her world. And although there is indeed no plot to speak of, I found myself letting go of what a story is supposed to be about and all of a sudden I was just along for the ride. A weird and fanciful ride, no doubt about it!

Few speculative fiction authors could have managed to make a story with no plot, a story that often basically goes nowhere, something so interesting to read. But Patrick Rothfuss' prose makes this a joy to read. His evocative depiction of the Underthing as a dark and atmospheric place sets the mood perfectly.

The novella also features a number of black-and-white illustrations from artist Nate Taylor. Each help depict Auri and the various rooms of the Underthing and its many corridors, capturing the often claustrophobic feel of those places. In a strange way, the Underthing almost becomes a character in its own right throughout this book.

So no, if you are looking for more about Kvothe and the Kingkiller Chronicle, this novella is not for you. Nothing much happens and chances are that you won't enjoy it. But if you want to read something different, something special, about a broken girl making her way through a broken world, then The Slow Regard of Silent Things might be for you.

The final verdict: 7.75/10

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

Quote of the Day

Sometimes great rights must be stitched from little wrongs.

- JOE ABERCROMBIE, Half the World (Canada, USA, Europe)

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Dan Simmons' Hugo award-winning classic, Hyperion, for only 4.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

On the world called Hyperion, beyond the law of the Hegemony of Man, there waits the creature called the Shrike. There are those who worship it. There are those who fear it. And there are those who have vowed to destroy it. In the Valley of the Time Tombs, where huge, brooding structures move backward through time, the Shrike waits for them all. On the eve of Armageddon, with the entire galaxy at war, seven pilgrims set forth on a final voyage to Hyperion seeking the answers to the unsolved riddles of their lives. Each carries a desperate hope--and a terrible secret. And one may hold the fate of humanity in his hands.

You can also get your hands on another science fiction classic, William Gibson's Neuromancer, for only 4.59$ here.

Here's the blurb:

The Matrix is a world within the world, a global consensus-hallucination, the representation of every byte of data in cyberspace . . .

Case had been the sharpest data-thief in the business, until vengeful former employees crippled his nervous system. But now a new and very mysterious employer recruits him for a last-chance run. The target: an unthinkably powerful artificial intelligence orbiting Earth in service of the sinister Tessier-Ashpool business clan. With a dead man riding shotgun and Molly, mirror-eyed street-samurai, to watch his back, Case embarks on an adventure that ups the ante on an entire genre of fiction.

Hotwired to the leading edges of art and technology, Neuromancer ranks with 1984 and Brave New World as one of the century’s most potent visions of the future.

Gemini Cell

Right off the bat, let's get one thing straight: Myke Cole is the shit! All three installments of the Shadow Ops series were fresh and unlike anything else I had ever read. Control PointFortress Frontier, and Breach Zone were fun, intelligent, action-packed, and entertaining reads, each with a generous dose of ass-kicking! Too bad the author signed a mass market paperback book deal and doesn't get a whole lot of marketing to help promote his books, for his first trilogy is as accessible as it is compelling. It's been years since I last encountered a fantasy series with so much mass appeal and there's nothing I would like more than to see these books get more widely read and enjoyed.

Having said that, Cole closed the show on the Shadow Ops series last year, capping everything off with style and aplomb. So that story arc is over and this new trilogy will focus on the early days of the Great Awakening, when magic first returned to the world and changed everything. Hence, Cole couldn't build on existing storylines and was forced to start from scratch, with brand new characters, new realities as the world order begins to unravel, and totally different plotlines. Could he do it again? Could this new series live up to the lofty expectations created by the way the author set the bar so high with the Shadow Ops series? Well, I'm please to report that once more, the answer is a resounding yes! At least as far as this first volume is concerned, in any case.

Here's the blurb:

Myke Cole continues to blow the military fantasy genre wide open with GEMINI CELL, an all-new epic adventure in the highly acclaimed Shadow Ops universe.

US Navy SEAL Jim Schweitzer is a consummate professional, a fierce warrior, and a hard man to kill. But when he sees something he was never meant to see on a covert mission gone bad, he finds himself – and his family – in the crosshairs. Nothing means more to Jim than protecting his loved ones, but when the enemy brings the battle to his front door, he is overwhelmed and taken down.

It should be the end of the story. But Jim is raised from the dead by a sorcerer and recruited by a top secret unit dabbling in the occult, known only as the Gemini Cell. With powers he doesn’t understand, Jim is called back to duty – as the ultimate warrior. As he wrestles with a literal inner demon, Jim realises his new superiors are determined to use him for their own ends and keep him in the dark – especially about the fates of his wife and son…

As was the case in his last offering, Myke Cole seems more mature as a writer and in better control of his craft. And as always, having served in the military allows the author to imbue his books with a credibility regarding the realism of the use of magic in military operations and its ramifications up and down the chain of command. I feel that it gives any Myke Cole work its unique "flavor" and remains what sets them apart from everything else on the market. With magic returning to the world, it was interesting to see how the US military tried to take advantage of these new powers in the early days of what would come to be known as the Great Awakening. I'm particularly looking forward to finding out how the top secret unit known as the Gemini Cell will grow to become the SOC.

All three Shadow Ops volumes were character-driven affairs and the same can be said of Gemini Cell. This may be military fantasy, yet Myke Cole has a knack for creating genuine three-dimensional protagonists with absorbing back stories. I feel that Cole never did receive the credit he deserves for having a deft human touch which allows him to come up with unexpected emotional scenes packing a powerful punch. Jim Schweitzer is an easy character to root for and I enjoyed how the author brought him back to life and how he portrayed his struggles to maintain his identity. I felt that there was a good balance between his POV and that of his wife Sarah, who's been told that her husband has passed away. The hopeless love affair with Steve made me groan in frustration, but I should have known that Cole wouldn't go for the path of least resistance. Scenes with Eldredge, Jawid, and Ninip gave us a fascinating glimpse of the repercussions engendered by the return of magic and I'm really looking forward to more of that in the upcoming installments.

As is usually his wont, Cole keeps the pace nice and crisp, and Gemini Cell is a another page-turner. You may recall that, although I loved Breach Zone, I felt that the 300-page set-up and only 30-something pages to close the show felt a bit incongruous. I am aware that mass market paperback editions habitually preclude the sort of word count that authors publishing hardbacks can work with. But these last two novels demonstrated that Cole likely needs more pages to do justice to the tale he is telling. Here's to hoping that his editors will give him a bit more freedom in the future, as once again I felt that Gemini Cell would have been stronger, especially where the finale is concerned, if Cole had had more pages to work with, thus giving him the opportunity to bring this book to an end without being forced to rush everything.

With Gemini Cell, Myke Cole proves that the Shadow Ops trilogy was no fluke. It's everything the first series was and then some! Don't feel bad if you haven't given Cole a shot yet. Rejoice, for you can now dive into no less than four engaging and entertaining novels, with more on the way!

Myke Cole's Gemini Cell is military fantasy at its best!

The final verdict: 8/10

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

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can get all three volumes of Jeff VanderMeer's The Southern Reach trilogy for 2.99$ each.

- Annihilation
- Authority
- Acceptance

Here's the blurb for the first volume:

Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; the second expedition ended in mass suicide, the third expedition in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another. The members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within weeks, all had died of cancer. In Annihilation, the first volume of Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy, we join the twelfth expedition.

The group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain, record all observations of their surroundings and of one anotioner, and, above all, avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.

They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding—but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another that change everything.

Musical Interlude

Happy Saturday! =)

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (January 12th)

In hardcover:

Stephen King's Revival is down two positions, ending the week at number 6.

Haruki Murakami's The Strange Library is down four positions, ending the week at number 14.

Anne Rice's Prince Lestat is down seven positions, ending the week at number 18.

In paperback:

Andy Weir's The Martian is up one spot, finishing the week at number 2.

George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones is down five positions, ending the week at number 7.

George R. R. Martin's A Dance With Dragons is down one spot, finishing the week at number 11.

Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane maintains its position at number 19 (trade paperback).

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download John Gwynne's Malice for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Young Corban watches enviously as boys become warriors, learning the art of war. He yearns to wield his sword and spear to protect his king’s realm. But that day will come all too soon.

Only when he loses those he loves will he learn the true price of courage. The Banished Lands has a violent past where armies of men and giants clashed in battle, the earth running dark with their heartsblood. Although the giant-clans were broken in ages past, their ruined fortresses still scar the land. But now giants stir anew, the very stones weep blood and there are sightings of giant wyrms.

Those who can still read the signs see a threat far greater than the ancient wars. Sorrow will darken the world, as angels and demons make it their battlefield. Then there will be a war to end all wars. High King Aquilus summons his fellow kings to council, seeking an alliance in this time of need. Prophesy indicates darkness and light will demand two champions, the Black Sun and the Bright Star. They would be wise to seek out both, for if the Black Sun gains ascendancy, mankind’s hopes and dreams will fall to dust.

The Expanse Trailer

I had some doubts at first, but now that I've seen this trailer I'm excited! =) If you haven't read James S. A. Corey's Leviathan Wakes, you should read it now!

Quote of the Day

Modesty is for folk with nothing to boast of.

- JOE ABERCROMBIE, Half the World (Canada, USA, Europe)

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

For a limited time only, you can get your hands on Peter V. Brett's debut, The Warded Man, for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

As darkness falls after sunset, the corelings rise—demons who possess supernatural powers and burn with a consuming hatred of humanity. For hundreds of years the demons have terrorized the night, slowly culling the human herd that shelters behind magical wards—symbols of power whose origins are lost in myth and whose protection is terrifyingly fragile. It was not always this way. Once, men and women battled the corelings on equal terms, but those days are gone. Night by night the demons grow stronger, while human numbers dwindle under their relentless assault. Now, with hope for the future fading, three young survivors of vicious demon attacks will dare the impossible, stepping beyond the crumbling safety of the wards to risk everything in a desperate quest to regain the secrets of the past. Together, they will stand against the night.

Win a copy of Wild Cards IV: ACES ABROAD

Thanks to the generosity of the folks at Tor Books, I have three copies of Wild Cards IV: Aces Abroad, edited by George R. R. Martin and Melinda M. Snodgrass, for you to win! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

The action-packed alternate fantasy returns for a new generation, featuring fiction from #1 New York Times bestselling author George R. R. Martin, Michael Cassutt, Melinda M. Snodgrass, Lewis Shiner, and more—plus two completely new stories from Kevin Andrew Murphy and bestselling author Carrie Vaughn. Forty years after the Wild Card Virus’s release, the World Health Organization decides it’s time to take a delegation of Aces, Jokers, politicians, and journalists on a fact-finding mission to learn how other countries are dealing with the virus that reshaped humanity. Leading the team is Gregg Hartmann, a senator with presidential aspirations and a dangerous ace up his sleeve. Joining him is a menagerie of some of the series’ best and most popular Wild Cards, including Dr. Tachyon, aces Peregrine and Golden Boy, and jokers Chrysalis, Troll, and Father Squid. From the jungles of Haiti and Peru to the tumultuous political climate of Egypt, from a monastery in Japan to the streets of the most glamorous cities of Europe, the Wild Cards are in for an eye-opening trip. While some are worshiped as actual gods, those possessing the most extreme mutations are treated with a contempt that's all too familiar to the delegates from Jokertown. New alliances will be formed, new enemies will be made, and some actions will fulfill centuries-old prophecies that make ripples throughout the future of the Wild Cards universe.

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam) with the header "ACES." 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!

Michael Moorcock contest winner!

This lucky winner will get his hands on my ARC of Michael Moorcock's latest, The Whispering Swarm! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

- Bill Purcell, from Leary, Georgia, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can download the entire Ender Quintet by Orson Scott Card for only 16.99$ here. That's 5 books for a little over 3$ each!

Here's the blurb:

This set contains Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game, Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, Children of the Mind, and Ender in Exile.

At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.

And here's the blurb for the first volume, Ender's Game:

In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race's next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew "Ender" Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn't make the cut—young Ender is the Wiggin drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training.

Ender's skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity. Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders. His psychological battles include loneliness, fear that he is becoming like the cruel brother he remembers, and fanning the flames of devotion to his beloved sister.

Is Ender the general Earth needs? But Ender is not the only result of the genetic experiments. The war with the Buggers has been raging for a hundred years, and the quest for the perfect general has been underway for almost as long. Ender's two older siblings are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways. Between the three of them lie the abilities to remake a world. If, that is, the world survives.

Ender's Game is the winner of the 1985 Nebula Award for Best Novel and the 1986 Hugo Award for Best Novel.

Quote of the Day

The statesman's only moments of rest are in defeat, with all its bitterness and the anxious recapitulation of accomplished fact, often of a threatening future. There is no rest for those in power but in defeat.

- MAURICE DRUON, The Poisoned Crown (Canada, USA, Europe)

Win a copy of Joel Shepherd's ORIGINATOR

I have three copies of Joel Shepherd's Originator up for grabs, compliments of the folks at Pyr. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

A quarter of a million people die in the destruction of the moon Cresta. The League civil war is accelerating out of control, but projections indicate that as their technologically induced sociological dysfunction continues, all of humanity may face a similar fate. In the aftermath of Cresta's destruction, Sandy Kresnov discovers the alien Talee operative Cai in Tanusha, there to learn just how far the technologically-induced insanity has gone. The Talee have seen this before, and they are terrified of anything threatening a recurrence.

Meanwhile, Sandy's old nemesis Renaldo Takewashi, the self-proclaimed “father” of synthetic intelligence, comes to the Federation seeking asylum. Takewashi may even have a cure—previously unknown Talee technology implanted into a human child subject—Sandy's little boy, Kiril. But it is exactly this technology that the Talee fear, and they will exterminate anyone caught using it.

Now, Sandy must fight to save her family from a terrible new threat, but doing so may plunge humanity into another destructive war between humans, or worse, against the massively-advanced Talee. And what final secret are the Talee protecting about the origins of synthetic humans like Sandy that could either liberate Sandy’s fellow synthetics from bondage or spell disaster for all humanity?

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam) with the header "ORIGINATOR." 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!

Je suis Charlie

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can download J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings: One Volume for only 5.60$ here!

Here's the blurb:

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

In ancient times the Rings of Power were crafted by the Elven-smiths, and Sauron, the Dark Lord, forged the One Ring, filling it with his own power so that he could rule all others. But the One Ring was taken from him, and though he sought it throughout Middle-earth, it remained lost to him. After many ages it fell by chance into the hands of the hobbit Bilbo Baggins.

From Sauron's fastness in the Dark Tower of Mordor, his power spread far and wide. Sauron gathered all the Great Rings to him, but always he searched for the One Ring that would complete his dominion.

When Bilbo reached his eleventy-first birthday he disappeared, bequeathing to his young cousin Frodo the Ruling Ring and a perilous quest: to journey across Middle-earth, deep into the shadow of the Dark Lord, and destroy the Ring by casting it into the Cracks of Doom.

The Lord of the Rings tells of the great quest undertaken by Frodo and the Fellowship of the Ring: Gandalf the Wizard; the hobbits Merry, Pippin, and Sam; Gimli the Dwarf; Legolas the Elf; Boromir of Gondor; and a tall, mysterious stranger called Strider.

This new edition includes the fiftieth-anniversary fully corrected text setting and, for the first time, an extensive new index.

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (January 5th)

In hardcover:

Stephen King's Revival is down two positions, ending the week at number 4.

Haruki Murakami's The Strange Library maintains its position at number 10.

Anne Rice's Prince Lestat is up two positions, ending the week at number 11.

David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks is up four spots, finishing the week at number 16.

In paperback:

George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones is up four positions, ending the week at number 2.

George R. R. Martin's A Dance With Dragons is up nine spots, finishing the week at number 10.

George R. R. Martin's A Clash of Kings returns at number 14.

George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones returns at number 17.

Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane is up one position, ending the week at number 19 (trade paperback).

George R. R. Martin's A Storm of Swords returns at number 20.

Calling on all self-published/indie speculative fiction writers: Final Update

As you know, my attempt to read and review a self-published SFF work sort of went down the crapper last year. I felt kind of bad, because I really wanted to do this. Meaning that I wanted to give an indie speculative fiction author's book a fair shot and come what may.

Since the "winner" of the draw saw fit not to get back to me, I was at a loss as to what to do. So I put that little project on hold and kind of forgot all about it. Fast forward to last fall, when Ted Cross, long-time Hotlist follower, communicated with me, touching base to see if perhaps I'd be interested in giving his self-published cyberpunk tale a go since I hadn't followed through with the experience in 2014. I thought about it for a while and then replied that I couldn't offer any promises as to if/when I'd read it. Still, Cross took a chance and sent me a PDF file, crossing his fingers.

My curiosity was piqued a few weeks later when I discovered that he paid 2000$ out of his own pocket to have the cover art done by the talented Stephan Martiniere because he wanted the novel to stand out from other self-published works out there. I spent the Holidays debating whether or not to do this and I finally decided to read and review The Immortality Game. You can find more info about this title here.

Here's the blurb:

Moscow, 2138. With the world only beginning to recover from the complete societal collapse of the late 21st Century, Zoya scrapes by prepping corpses for funerals and dreams of saving enough money to have a child. When her brother forces her to bring him a mysterious package, she witnesses his murder and finds herself on the run from ruthless mobsters. Frantically trying to stay alive and save her loved ones, Zoya opens the package and discovers two unusual data cards, one that allows her to fight back against the mafia and another which may hold the key to everlasting life.

So there you have it. As promised, I will read and review an indie SFF novel. Don't know exactly when, but Ted Cross' The Immortality Game is now in the 2015 book rotation. . .

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on the first volume of Jim Butcher's excellent Dresden Files series, Storm Front, for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

For Harry Dresden, Chicago's only professional wizard, business, to put it mildly, stinks. So when the police bring him in to consult on a grisly double murder committed with black magic, Harry's seeing dollar signs. But where there's black magic, there's a black mage behind it. And now that mage knows Harry's name.

You can also download Samantha Shannon's The Bone Season for 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

The year is 2059. Nineteen-year-old Paige Mahoney is working in the criminal underworld of Scion London, based at Seven Dials, employed by a man named Jaxon Hall. Her job: to scout for information by breaking into people’s minds. For Paige is a dreamwalker, a clairvoyant and, in the world of Scion, she commits treason simply by breathing.

It is raining the day her life changes for ever. Attacked, drugged and kidnapped, Paige is transported to Oxford – a city kept secret for two hundred years, controlled by a powerful, otherworldly race. Paige is assigned to Warden, a Rephaite with mysterious motives. He is her master. Her trainer. Her natural enemy. But if Paige wants to regain her freedom she must allow herself to be nurtured in this prison where she is meant to die.

The Bone Season introduces a compelling heroine and also introduces an extraordinary young writer, with huge ambition and a teeming imagination. Samantha Shannon has created a bold new reality in this riveting debut.

Don't know for how long, but you can also download Robin Hobb's awesome Assassin's Apprentice for only 1.99$ here!

Here's the blurb:

Young Fitz is the bastard son of the noble Prince Chivalry, raised in the shadow of the royal court by his father’s gruff stableman. He is treated as an outcast by all the royalty except the devious King Shrewd, who has him secretly tutored in the arts of the assassin. For in Fitz’s blood runs the magic Skill—and the darker knowledge of a child raised with the stable hounds and rejected by his family.

As barbarous raiders ravage the coasts, Fitz is growing to manhood. Soon he will face his first dangerous, soul-shattering mission. And though some regard him as a threat to the throne, he may just be the key to the survival of the kingdom.

You can also get your hands on Rysa Walker's Timebound for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

When Kate Pierce-Keller’s grandmother gives her a strange blue medallion and speaks of time travel, sixteen-year-old Kate assumes the old woman is delusional. But it all becomes horrifyingly real when a murder in the past destroys the foundation of Kate’s present-day life. Suddenly, that medallion is the only thing protecting Kate from blinking out of existence.

Kate learns that the 1893 killing is part of something much more sinister, and her genetic ability to time travel makes Kate the only one who can fix the future. Risking everything, she travels back in time to the Chicago World’s Fair to try to prevent the murder and the chain of events that follows.

Changing the timeline comes with a personal cost—if Kate succeeds, the boy she loves will have no memory of her existence. And regardless of her motives, does Kate have the right to manipulate the fate of the entire world?

Timebound was originally released as Time’s Twisted Arrow.

Extract from Brenda Cooper's EDGE OF DARK

Thanks to the folks at Pyr, here's an extract from Brenda Cooper's forthcoming Edge of Dark. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

What if a society banished its worst nightmare to the far edge of the solar system, destined to sip only dregs of light and struggle for the barest living? And yet, that life thrived? It grew and learned and became far more than you ever expected, and it wanted to return to the sun. What if it didn’t share your moral compass in any way?

The Glittering duology describes the clash of forces when an advanced society that has filled a solar system with flesh and blood life meets the near-AI’s that it banished long ago. This is a story of love for the wild and natural life on a colony planet, complex adventure set in powerful space stations, and the desire to live completely whether you are made of flesh and bone or silicon and carbon fiber.

In Edge of Dark, meet ranger Charlie Windar and his adopted wild predator, and explore their home on a planet that has been raped and restored more than once. Meet Nona Hall, child of power and privilege from the greatest station in the system, the Diamond Deep. Meet Nona’s best friend, a young woman named Chrystal who awakens in a robotic body…


Charlie Windar stood on his skimmer, knees slightly bent to absorb the small shocks of his speed. The pilot’s seat acted like a brace. The engine fed silently on stored sunlight and pushed the craft so fast that the wind chapped Charlie’s cheeks and stung water from his eyes. The forests of Goland went on and on below him, the first new leaves of spring opening out and shining bright yellow-green. Morning sun warmed his back and made diamond patterns on thin ribbons of water that tumbled over rocks and fell down the faces of cliffs.

A band on his wrist vibrated.

He slapped his arm, effectively turning on a whole universe of communi cation. “What is it?”

“Distress call.”

He sat down and flipped the skimmer to autopilot. “Give it to me.”

“Hold onto your anger.” Jean Paul Rosseau’s familiar voice conveyed both worry and sarcasm in equal measures. “A family seems to have misplaced their teenagers.”


“Hard to tell. The parents smell like smugglers to me.”

Charlie pursed his lips, reflecting on the idiots who often ran through the way-too-loose planetary security on Lym to prove themselves against tooth and claw or hunt for treasure in some long-dead city. It did make him angry— it always made him angry. But Jean Paul was right. “Where are they?”

“The scared parents? About ten klicks from you. At the top of the Blue Canyons.”

“What do you know about the kids?”

“Three boys, red haired, all healthy. Twelve, fifteen, and sixteen.” The worst ages of young male stupidity. “Used to gravity?”

“They say so.” Jean Paul sounded doubtful.

Charlie stood again and surveyed the trees below him, as if the kids would just pop up there and wave at him. “How long have they been missing?”

“A day and a half.”


“Good luck. Be careful.”

“I’ll let you know when I find the kids.” Sometimes he never even found bodies.

“I’ll make myself a cup of stim,” Jean Paul promised. “Be right here for you, no matter how long it takes.”

“Thanks.” Charlie told the skimmer to fly lower and set up a search pattern. It would show him everything that was both breathing and bigger than a bird and even help him identify a human signature. Of course if the boys actually had died, it wouldn’t help.

Raptors circled on rising columns of warming air. Two flocks of bright orange startles rose up just ahead of him. Charlie cursed when the skimmer hit one of the tiny birds, sending its body tumbling back into the thin canopy. Grazing angle-hops moved together, the big-eared herd looking up as the arrow-shaped shadow of the skimmer touched their clearing.

The computer showed him the bright heat of mammals and birds below the forest canopy as lights on his screen, color coded for species and move ment. Tags embedded in larger animals declared that two were marsupials and one was a hunting cat stretched out on a tree-trunk as long as Charlie was tall. He catalogued the cat as interesting but kept his focus on looking for untagged humans.

The forest gave way to stony ground filled with short scrub trees and spiny grasses, a place where life depended on deep roots thrust into meager soil. The day heated, and life hid under rocks and roots. Sweat stuck his shirt to his back. The skimmer’s trajectory turned again, still over the rocky plain. He admired the stark interplay of gray and black, shadow and rock, the occasional punctua tion of pale green. Pale yellow flowers bloomed in the shade of rocks.

Twelve heat signatures blossomed onto the screen in front of him.

He drew his gun, started the familiar, fluid motion of his safety checks. An audible beep signaled a living human. Then another. He listened for the third.


That left ten tongats: four-legged pack predators half the height of a man. He was close enough to see details. The hair on their spines stood up and their ears pricked forward and back. Most crouched low, shoulders hunched, ready to spring. The biggest and blackest of the beasts circled the pack at a lope. The pack surrounded a small hill of jumbled rocks just clear of a scraggly tree line.

One boy knelt on top of the highest rock. He held a gun pointed at the closest tongat, but he wasn’t firing. A second boy stood behind him, scanning the horizon. Jean Paul hadn’t been kidding about the red hair—they might as well have worn fire for hats.

Only two.

Charlie glanced down and verified that his gun was fully charged: four lights blinking green for ready. His right foot signaled the skimmer to pick up speed. He stood again, searching for the third teen.

The kneeling boy fired and one of the tongats yelped. None fell.

The standing boy turned in circles, his attention so completely on the predators that he hadn’t yet noticed Charlie. The bottom of his shirt had been torn off, and his exposed skin had brightened to a sunburnt red.

To frightened boys, the attacking beasts would be big and fast and scary, maybe the scariest thing they had ever seen. Other fears would plague them as well. The open sky above them, the horizon. Everything would look wrong. No one born in space came here prepared for a place with almost no walls.

Ships were big flying coffins and the pictures he’d seen of space stations looked like planets turned inside out and robbed of their horizons.

Charlie felt sorry for the boys, if not for the parents. He squeezed the gun handle, his palm print and the pressure of it identifying him to the weapon. He was ready.

He came in close, slowing the skimmer and starting a wide circle around the boy’s location.

A few of the tongats looked up, recognizing him as a threat. He fired at the big black one first, grimacing as he hit it. The animal stumbled but kept going. He ignored it for the moment, using a single shot to bring down the one closest to the boys.

It took four slow revolutions of his skimmer before the last tongat fell. The boy still pointed his weapon at them.

Charlie turned on his loudspeaker. “Put your gun down.”

The boy fired. The body of the animal closest to him jerked.


The boy glanced up and hesitated, and for a moment it appeared he wouldn’t obey. Then he laid his weapon down and stood up. In a delayed reac tion, he began to wave his hands above his head in a “look at me” gesture.

Charlie thumbed his line to Jean Paul open. “Found two of them. Apparently they were hunting tongats.”

Something in Charlie’s voice must have clued in Jean Paul. “Tongats hunting them now, huh?”

“Yeah.” Charlie’d seen it happen before. Spacers mystified him.

“Stupidity. Are you safe?”

“Yeah. I’m on my way to talk to them. At least one is armed. Keep your line open so you can hear the conversation.”

“Got your back.”

“Always.” Charlie smiled grimly and toed the skimmer into a careful landing. The closest flat place was half a klick away, so he had to make his way to the boys through the bodies of tongats. It saddened him greatly to see the big beasts so still. He walked close enough to the one the boy had shot to see that the bullet had gone clean through the thick neck, missing both the spine and the jugular vein. A thin trickle of blood stained the animal’s black coat with a bright, wet line. Damn.

He stopped at the bottom of the rock pile, looking up at the trespassers. The bigger boy looked wary and the smaller simply shell-shocked. Both had the ultra-white skin of spacers and thin, slightly elongated bodies.

Charlie took a deep breath and tried to calm his anger over the tongats. “I’m a ranger. Charlie Windar. You’re trespassing.”

The small one managed to stutter out, “Th-thank you. Thank you.”

He looked so pathetic that Charlie dredged up a smile he didn’t feel. “You’re welcome.” He started up but stopped halfway. A body lay sprawled on a flat rock below the boys’ perch, one leg shattered. White bone protruded from his leg in two places. Blood had pooled and congealed on the rock, and ants crawled through the blood. The dead boy’s white face appeared twisted by pain even after death. Probably the middle boy, the fifteen-year-old.

If they’d been anywhere near civilization, he would have lived. The bloody bottom of the smaller boy’s shirt tied around the dead one’s leg was the only sign of any attempt at medical attention. Another problem with spacers; they lived inches from good medical care.

Charlie closed the dead boy’s eyes before he climbed the rest of the way to the top of the rocks and asked the older boy, “What happened?”

“Richard fell.” He spoke calmly, although his voice shook. “We were climbing up behind him and suddenly we just couldn’t see him. We tried to tell him to wait for the doc, but he couldn’t do it.”

The younger one said, “It got dark. We stayed here and halfway through the night the big dogs started howling and they kept coming closer. This morning they were here so we couldn’t go for help.”

“What’s your name?” Charlie asked.

“Justin. And this is my big brother, Sam.”

Sam looked displeased to have his name revealed so easily. From time to time he glanced at the patch on Charlie’s shoulder that proclaimed him an officer of the law.

“Why did you come out here?” Charlie asked him.

“Aren’t you going to take us back?”

“Not yet.”

The boys exchanged a worried look.

“Why’d you come?” Charlie asked again.

“Dad said we should know what a planet is like.”

“Did he tell you to hunt?”

Neither boy answered.

“Did you want to kill a tongat?”

“No,” Sam said, but Justin nodded. A brief angry look crossed Sam’s face, and then he looked accusingly at Charlie. “You killed them. You killed all of them.”

“No, I didn’t. And that’s why we’re staying right here. We need to take care of them.”

Neither Sam nor Justin appeared to be wearing any technology. Their clothes were nothing much either: ragged ship’s jumpsuits and scuffed boots that needed new soles.

Justin retreated to the far edge of the rock, the look on his face so lost and unhappy that Charlie felt the tug of it on his heart. He spoke softly, as if talking to a wild animal. “Don’t you fall.”

Sam looked him up and down, appearing a little more interested. “Do you eat tongats?”

“No.” He glanced over at the still forms. “No. We protect them. That’s what we’re going to do now. Sit here until they all wake up.”

“They’re not dead?” Justin asked in a high, thin voice.

“No.” Charlie held out his hand. “Sam, give me your gun.”

“I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“It’s not mine. It’s my dad’s.”

Charlie nodded. “I have something to do, and I’m going to make sure you can’t point that thing at me.”

Charlie stood still, hand out, working hard to keep his face neutral. In the space of about ten breaths, the gun landed in his hand, a little heavier than he expected. “Thank you. Now stay here.”

“What about Richard?” Sam said.

“Richard doesn’t care what happens next. But you two are safe enough. You can watch me from here.” Without waiting to see how the boys reacted, Charlie climbed carefully through the rocks and went back to the injured animal he’d checked on the way in. He pulled a med-kit from his pack and sutured the wound, one hand on the warm, thick neck muscle. His attention roamed back and forth from his work to the beast’s wide mouth, which was full of impressive off-white teeth. Once, he jerked back when the animal shuddered head to tail as if shaking off a fly.

As soon as he finished he stepped back a few steps. “Jean Paul?”


“We’ll be here another hour or two. Do you know where I should take the boys?”

“The coordinates are in your nav system.”

“Thanks. Parents in custody?”

“Yep. Said the boys ran away but we think they sent them off so they could do a deal with other smugglers.”

“Fits the boy’s story.”

“Sad,” Jean Paul said.

Charlie glanced back up at the boys. They sat side by side, watching him solemnly. He went to the skimmer and opened a cargo compartment, pulling out a pack.

When he got back to the rocks by the boys he settled down comfortably in a middle of the widest, flattest rock near the top.

“I want to go home,” Justin said.

“Did you know there are animals that would eat these tongats if they came across them in this sorry state?”

“They tried to kill us,” Sam said. He was standing, his arms crossed. “I want my gun.”

“Now that there’s no danger?”

Sam looked away, anger and impotence on his face.

Charlie felt like the kind of mean adult he’d hated when he was kid. Still,they’d lost a brother. “I’m sorry about Richard.”

“Can we bring him home?” Justin asked.

“Yes.” He patted the rock next to him.

Neither boy moved.

“We’re going to be waiting a while. You might as well sit down.” He pulled the pack onto his lap and extracted two water pouches, setting one on each side of him.

It took a while but eventually both boys sat down, one on each side, even though Sam stayed as far away as he could without falling off of the rock. To his credit, he sucked on the water slowly, and didn’t finish it all.

The younger boy sat close enough to touch Charlie, and he simply looked sad and tired. Charlie resisted an urge to put an arm around him. “Did either of you sleep last night?”

“No,” Justin said. “I was trying to keep Richard awake talking to him.”

He stopped for a moment, blinking back tears and then turning his face away. After a few deep, shuddering breaths, he turned back to Charlie. “He lived until halfway through the night.”

“I’m sorry. You know this place is off-limits to humans.”

“You’re here,” Sam said.

“Good thing for you. But there’s two continents where you’re not allowed to go on Lym. Here on Goland, and do you know the other one?”


“So you did know better than to come out here.”

“Dad told us to see the wild places before they’re all gone.”

“They’re not going to be gone,” Charlie said. “We’re keeping them for everyone. And Lagara is almost a park. People visit there every year.”

“Rich people,” Sam said.

“There’s some truth in that.”

Sam looked surprised that Charlie agreed with him. “So what were we supposed to do?”

Charlie fell silent, pondering. “Respect the boundaries. The same way I’m respecting the tongats out there. We almost destroyed this place once, and then we almost destroyed it again. This time that’s not going to happen.”

“Are you sure?” Justin asked.

“Yes.” Charlie drank some water himself. He pointed in front of them. “Look. One of the tongats is getting up already.”

Sam and Justin were silent as they watched the biggest animal stand up and shake itself, looking one way and then another and then nosing a packmate’s flank. “See,” Charlie said. “They’re a family. They watch out for each other.”

“They tried to kill us.”

“You were invading their home.”

“Will they hurt us now?” Justin shrank closer to Charlie, almost touching him.

Charlie’s glasses pinged for danger and he blinked a few times, adjusting his view, taking in the size of the heat signature behind him. “Charlie?” Jean Paul’s worried whisper vibrated in his ear. “Do you see it?”

Charlie whispered in turn to the boys. “Stay completely still. Don’t make any sound. None.” He checked his gun, stood up and turned slowly. A huge animal stood on its hind legs about twenty meters in front of him, just at the bottom of the rocks. He drew in a sharp breath and his hand tightened on his gun barrel. Being above it might not help very much.

“Boys,” he whispered. “Stand up as slowly as you can and be careful not to fall.”

Justin’s arm slid around Charlie’s waist and Sam let out a tiny moan, then went silent.

The predator cousin of the jumpers he’d flown over earlier stood three times the size of a man, with a long neck and snout and huge haunches. A thick, long tail twitched on the ground. Its neck moved like a snake’s, back and forth, back and forth. Vestigial wings fluttered on its back and the small hands attached to them reached out sideways as if pulling on the air. Justin whimpered. His braver brother whispered, “A rakul. A real rakul.” Charlie swallowed. “That’s what might have eaten the tongats that might have eaten you.” “What do we do?” Sam whispered back. “Nothing, unless it comes closer. It’s trying to decide what to do.” A howl came up from behind them. The rakul raised its head and looked around. It bounded close enough for Charlie to make out the small fine feathers on its arms and the folds in the leathery skin of its neck. Its teeth were as big as his forearm. A breeze blew the smell of carrion and earth toward them.

Justin buried his face in Charlie’s stomach. Charlie’s free arm snuck around the kid, patting his back awkwardly. The other hand flexed at the gun, keeping it ready. He’d need a very precise shot to even slow a rakul.

Time slowed. The beast glanced at them directly from time to time. It bent to sniff at a tongat body and then lifted its head again, apparently sur prised that the possible dinner in front of it was alive.

Charlie aimed his gun at the rakul. His hand shook. His own rules told him to allow predators to kill, but he had put the tongat in harm’s way, and it shouldn’t die because he’d stunned it.

Another tongat bayed, then a third.

The rakul glanced around and then cried out. The high-pitched screech drove a smile out of Charlie.

Other than his hand patting Justin’s back, he wasn’t certain he could move if he had to, even in self-defense. His eye stayed on the beast, drinking details. He’d never been so close to one. “What terrible beauty,” he whispered, and Justin clutched him harder.

The tongat closest to the rakul pushed itself up and then raced away, a little unsteady on its feet but obviously driven by fear.

Two more rakuls came up over the rocky ridge, both bigger than the one they stared at. The biggest called sharply. The one close to them turned and jumped away, its thick tail thumping with every leap.

Charlie closed his eyes and took a deep breath, then opened them and double-checked. Nothing. “It’s fine, Jean Paul,” he whispered. “It’s all fine. It’s gone. They’re gone. There were three of them.” He turned and did a three-sixty visual scan of the area. “The tongats are gone, too.”

Jean Paul’s relieved laugh on the other end broke the spell. “Wouldn’t you be gone if you could run fast enough to outpace a rakul?”

“Even the one the boy shot got away.”

“They’re lucky beasties,” Jean Paul said.

“The tongats? You bet. I’m bringing the kids in.”

It took thirty minutes to bundle the body and the two living kids into the skimmer. “I don’t have helmets that fit you,” he told them. “You’ll have to close your eyes when we go fast.”


Even though they weren’t moving fast yet, Sam had his eyes closed when he said, “The rakuls might be big enough.”

“Big enough for what?” Charlie asked him as he stepped on the gas a little, sending the skimmer lurching lightly forward.

“Big enough to stop the ice pirates.”

Charlie blinked. “Probably not. Hard for flesh to stand up to machines. But the ice pirates can’t get here. We’re way inside the Ring.”

“Pirates have been coming inside the Ring. More than usual.”

Charlie stiffened. “Who told you that?”

“My dad.”

“Was he trying to scare you?”

Sam was quiet for a long time. Eventually he said, “No. I think he was scared.”