You can now download Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars for only 4.59$ here!
Here's the blurb:
In his most ambitious project to date, award-winning author Kim Stanley Robinson utilizes years of research and cutting-edge science in the first of three novels that will chronicle the colonization of Mars. For eons, sandstorms have swept the barren desolate landscape of the red planet. For centuries, Mars has beckoned to mankind to come and conquer its hostile climate. Now, in the year 2026, a group of one hundred colonists is about to fulfill that destiny. John Boone, Maya Toitavna, Frank Chalmers, and Arkady Bogdanov lead a mission whose ultimate goal is the terraforming of Mars. For some, Mars will become a passion driving them to daring acts of courage and madness; for others it offers and opportunity to strip the planet of its riches. And for the genetic "alchemists, " Mars presents a chance to create a biomedical miracle, a breakthrough that could change all we know about life...and death. The colonists place giant satellite mirrors in Martian orbit to reflect light to the planets surface. Black dust sprinkled on the polar caps will capture warmth and melt the ice. And massive tunnels, kilometers in depth, will be drilled into the Martian mantle to create stupendous vents of hot gases. Against this backdrop of epic upheaval, rivalries, loves, and friendships will form and fall to pieces--for there are those who will fight to the death to prevent Mars from ever being changed. Brilliantly imagined, breathtaking in scope and ingenuity, Red Mars is an epic scientific saga, chronicling the next step in human evolution and creating a world in its entirety. Red Mars shows us a future, with both glory and tarnish, that awes with complexity and inspires with vision.
Just realized that all three Mongoliad volumes are still on sale! You can download the first volume for only 3.99$ here. You can also get your hands on the second installment for the same price here. Finally, you can also download the final volume for 3.99$ here.
Here's the blurb for the first volume:
With bonus material! This Kindle edition features extra content only found in the Collector’s Edition of The Mongoliad: Book One, including an illustrated character glossary, a Foreworld map, and Sinner, a prequel to the Mongoliad series.
The first novel to be released in The Foreworld Saga, The Mongoliad: Book One, is an epic-within-an-epic, taking place in 13th century. In it, a small band of warriors and mystics raise their swords to save Europe from a bloodthirsty Mongol invasion. Inspired by their leader (an elder of an order of warrior monks), they embark on a perilous journey and uncover the history of hidden knowledge and conflict among powerful secret societies that had been shaping world events for millennia. But the saga reaches the modern world via a circuitous route. In the late 19th century, Sir Richard F. Burton, an expert on exotic languages and historical swordsmanship, is approached by a mysterious group of English martial arts aficionados about translating a collection of long-lost manuscripts. Burton dies before his work is finished, and his efforts were thought lost until recently rediscovered by a team of amateur archaeologists in the ruins of a mansion in Trieste, Italy. From this collection of arcana, the incredible tale of The Mongoliad was recreated. Full of high adventure, unforgettable characters, and unflinching battle scenes, The Mongoliad ignites a dangerous quest where willpower and blades are tested and the scope of world-building is redefined. A note on this edition: The Mongoliad began as a social media experiment, combining serial story-telling with a unique level of interaction between authors and audience during the creative process. Since its original iteration, The Mongoliad has been restructured, edited, and rewritten under the supervision of its authors to create a more cohesive reading experience and will be published as a trilogy of novels. This edition is the definitive edition and is the authors' preferred text.
Thanks to the author, here's an extract from Jeff Salyards' forthcoming Veil of the Deserters! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.
Here's the blurb:
Braylar is still poisoned by the memories of those slain by his unholy flail Bloodsounder, and attempts to counter this sickness have proven ineffectual. The Syldoonian Emperor, Cynead, has solidified his power in unprecedented ways, and Braylar and company are recalled to the capital to swear fealty. Braylar must decide if he can trust his sister, Soffjian, with the secret that is killing him. She has powerful memory magics that might be able to save him from Bloodsounder’s effects, but she has political allegiances that are not his own. Arki and others in the company try to get Soffjian and Braylar to trust one another, but politics in the capital prove to be complicated and dangerous. Deposed emperor Thumarr plots to remove the repressive Cynead, and Braylar and Soffjian are at the heart of his plans. The distance between “favored shadow agent of the emperor” and “exiled traitor” is unsurprisingly small. But it is filled with blind twists and unexpected turns. Before the journey is over, Arki will chronicle the true intentions of Emperor Cynead and Soffjian.
Finally standing before the front entrance to the Grieving Dog, I couldn’t quite make myself take the final steps inside. I thought about circling the building once or twice to build up courage, but that seemed ridiculous. Still, I stood there, berating myself for not moving. It wasn’t simply fear of reprisal—I doubted my mercy (misguided as it was turning out to be) would cause the captain to do more than give me a verbal lashing, and given his peculiar condition, I might even escape that. Temporarily, at least. After all, he’d been the one holding the crossbow in the Green Sea, not me. It was his decision to spare the Hornman, even if I’d been the one who somehow convinced him. He had to recognize some culpability. Well, maybe not. But either way, it wasn’t even imagined wrath that gave me pause. It was the thought that my admission would likely cost me whatever small measure of esteem I’d attained by saving his life at the temple.
The fact that I was overwrought about potentially losing the limited respect of a man who was a scheming manipulator actually irked and emboldened me. I knocked the shit and muck off my boots as best I could, stepped through the front door, and walked up the stairs. I’d made my choice to alert Braylar—however it played out after that was how it played out. There was nothing to be gained by perseverating.
Heading down the hall, I saw Mulldoos and Vendurro standing outside the door to the common quarters. They were close together, foreheads almost touching, and Mulldoos’s huge paw was wrapped around the back of Vendurro’s neck, holding him there as he spoke quietly to the younger man. I couldn’t make out the words, which was all for the best, as the scene was clearly intimate, and a display of affection that I would never have suspected from Mulldoos. I was about to turn around and leave them to it when Vendurro nodded twice, and Mulldoos gave the smaller Syldoon a hard clap on the back, then turned and noticed me there. Whatever tenderness was on display was immediately replaced by a scowl.
Mulldoos looked at Vendurro and said, “Tell Cap I’m on it.” He started down the narrow hall, limping noticeably, clearly expecting me to make way, which I did without a word. He stopped next to me as I pressed up against a wall, and he moved in closer, and I couldn’t help but remember Vendurro doing the same thing when we first met, only he was on horse, and yet Mulldoos on foot was somehow twice as terrifying. “Got a real talent for being where you ought not to, and not being where you should. This a scribbler thing, or is being a burning arrow in the ass just something particular to you?”
The words flew out of my mouth before I had a chance to consider them, “Well, I can’t presume to speak for the entire chronicling profession, so I suppose it’s just me. Or just you who thinks so.” A wrinkle bridged his pale brows as some surprise crossed his face, and then an instant later Mulldoos elbowed me hard just below the sternum. I doubled over, grabbing onto his elbow to hold myself up, which also proved to be a mistake, as be backed up and I fell onto my hands and knees, gasping for breath that was nowhere to be found.
He leaned over and said, “Gless, dead. Lloi, deader. Hew, me, and Cap, injured plenty good. What you got going on right now, that thing filling you with a queer panic, making your eyes water, making you feel like whatever garlicky business you got in your stomach is about to come rushing back up, that ain’t nothing at all.” He patted the pommel of the big falchion on his hip. “Count yourself lucky, scribbler. Real lucky.”
Mulldoos headed down the stairs as I knelt there holding my stomach, hugging myself. Clearly, he knew how to hit a man in just the right spot, because he was right about all of the symptoms, only he neglected to mention the vision going blurry as I nearly passed out before sputtering as I finally felt my lungs start working again.
I coughed a few times, and suddenly saw a hand in front of my face. For a moment, I feared Mulldoos had returned to deliver some more good luck, but I looked up and saw Vendurro there. He offered his hand again, which I gladly accepted, and he helped me to my feet.
“Seen him do that a time or ten. Been on the receiving end more than twice. No man takes you down harder than Mulldoos. Sharp elbows, he’s got. Sharp.”
I tried to straighten, felt my stomach muscles spasm, nearly retched, waited until it passed, then tried again. My ribs were on fire from one tip to the next, but Mulldoos had been right about that, too—no lasting damage. “Why. . . ” I waited for some more breath to come back into my lungs, and Vendurro waited with me until I could breathe without sputtering. “What did I do. . . why is he so angry with me?”
Vendurro had a small smile, not nearly as big and toothy as I’d come to expect, but a smile nonetheless. “Oh, wouldn’t say it’s specific to you none. Well, no more than most things and people. The lieutenant, if he’s not angry at one thing, he’s angrier at something else. But just now, I’d say it wasn’t so much what you done, but what you didn’t do. You had no armor, you got no training, and yet you come out of that scrape in the skinny trees without much of a scratch to speak of. Now, I heard Hewspear say you handled yourself better than you had any right to in there, and stood when most would have pissed themselves and run like rabbits.
“But Mulldoos, all he sees is someone that survived that got no real right surviving when those who maybe should have lived just didn’t. Nothing personal, though.”
“Oh, no,” I was finally able to speak without burning in my belly, “nothing personal. He just wishes it was me dead, instead of Tomner, or Gless—”
Vendurro’s smile disappeared again as I stopped myself, but too late. I tried to think of something that might act as a balm, but only stumbled some more, “I’m sorry, Vendurro. I didn’t, that is, I didn’t mean. . . ”
He ran a hand through his thick head of hair. “It’s alright, bookmaster. But you hit on the thing square. Cap ain’t the only one that takes losses hard. And I ain’t meaning the battles, neither. We either won that or scrapped to a draw, depending on who’s keeping tally. But the men. Losing the men. That rubs them both raw. I had a few men under me, back when we were a big company, full squad. Few of them, two younger, two older. But we weren’t at war with nobody just then, so only got into a couple skirmishes, not much chance of anybody dying on my watch. So I can’t pretend to know what it’s like for them, not real like. But I’ve seen them, and Hew, too, all three, seen them lose men, and it’s a hard, bitter thing, it is.”
Vendurro let out a long slow breath. “So it’s no kind of personal. Just rankles the lieutenant you lived when men he trained, knew for years, didn’t make it back.”
It was difficult to tell if he wanted to say more or wished he’d said nothing at all, so I left him to it, not wanting to interrupt if he truly wanted to go on, not wanting to press him if he didn’t. But he wasn’t done. Though you would have thought he was the one who’d just been punched in the gut by how halting it came. “I shouldn’t tell you to keep your mouth shut with Mulldoos. I mean, it’s sound advice and all, but I know you probably won’t heed it none anyway, and I didn’t much neither. Still don’t know when to clamp shut half the time. I got myself in a ton of trouble over the years with my flapping yap. Thing of it is, Gless, he’d get me out of those scrapes when my mouth got to running faster than my brain. Always had my back, he did. Counted on that, which was half the reason I’d let my mouth go on like I did. Now. . . ”
He trailed off, and there was an awkward pause that I broke by saying, “Mulldoos, was he. . . that is, when I came up on the landing, it looked like he was talking to you about Glesswik.”
Vendurro nodded slowly. “Yup. That he was.”
I waited quietly, figuring if he felt comfortable enough to offer more, he would. Vendurro stared off down the hall, past my shoulder, as if he expected Mulldoos to come back and spare him. Or maybe Glesswik. Finally, just when I was about to excuse myself and proceed to Captain Killcoin’s room, Vendurro said, “The thing of it is, soldiers lose other soldiers. Part and parcel of the deal. No getting around it or prettying it up. And the Syldoon more than most, on account of us being full timers. Always on campaign, or on patrol, or invading, or repulsing, or some action or other. Not much time to watch the moss grow, if you see what I’m saying.
“So sooner or later—and mostly on the sooner—you see a Towermate or three go down. Just the Syldoon way. You lose your brothers. And there’s nothing worse than that, because there’s no tighter unit in the known world than a Syldoon Tower. So, it ain’t never easy when it happens. But Gless and me. . . ” his forehead wrinkled. “You got any brothers?”
I had no siblings that I knew of, though there were likely some out there. But I shook my head.
He smiled again, small and sad. “Shame, that. Man ought to have a brother or two. But us, the Syldoon, the boys in our Tower, we are brothers, no less than those of blood. Maybe more. And Gless and me were the closest. Just never figured on seeing him go down, is all. Never figured on that.” He trailed off, staring down the hallways again.
I felt as if I should put my hand on his shoulder, or offer some condolence or other, but gestures and words both felt hollow, clumsy, even if delivered sincerely. So, hoping to at least lead him away from his grief rather than toward it, I said, “And did whatever Mulldoos say, did it help any?”
Vendurro rubbed the back of his neck, as if remembering Mulldoos’s huge hand there, and his eyes got a touch wetter. “Told me to grieve my grief—weren’t nothing wrong with it—but then put to it in the ground and armor back up, because my other brothers needed me alert. And we were running mighty thin on quality sergeants just now.” He laughed a little, and then, unexpectedly, laughed some more. “Not one for ornate speeches, Mulldoos. But he has the right of it.”
I nearly pointed out it had only been a day, and such a recent wound would need time to close and heal, but I was clearly no soldier, so maybe Mulldoos was correct. With lives in the balance, maybe performing your duties with a grief-stricken heart wasn’t the best idea, or at least the safest. Who was I to suggest he should allow himself a heavy heart?
It made me glad I was no soldier. It seemed a rough, rough world.
I did put my hand on his shoulder then, impulsively, and said, “I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to have a brother, let alone lose one.” And then, pulling my hand away, added lamely, “I’m sorry.”
Vendurro smiled again. “Thanks, Arkamondos. Gless was a mean bastard, and always looking for a way out of a job if he could find it. Figures he’d leave me with double duty.”
I nodded. “You can call me Arki. No one did, before the captain that is, but I’m getting used to it now. And it’s far better than quillmonkey, scribbler, or—” we both said the next in unison, “horsecunt.” And then we laughed together as well.
But like sun obscured by clouds, that merriment left almost as fast. And these clouds seemed thicker and slower to move past than the last bank. Again, I didn’t want to intrude, so waited him out.
After staring at his feet for a minute, Vendurro said, “Told you he was a shit husband too, didn’t I? Hardly there at all, especially the last few years with us campaigning all over Anjuria. Even before, when we were stationed in Sunwrack, he only seemed to head home long enough to father two brats of his own.”
Vendurro ran his hands though his hair, shifted his weight from one leg to the next, then leaned against the wall, kicking it with his heel when he did. In that one motion, he seemed to lose ten years, but they came back just as suddenly, and brought friends. “Good lass. Leastwise, not bad. Mervulla. Native Thurvacian. Tower Commanders always telling us to settle down with the locals, make nice. Who can say what she saw in the bastard. Womenfolk are queer as cats.”
He pressed his head back into the wood, closed his eyes. “The Syldoon, they’ll provide something. For her, and her young, on account of the marriage at all. And she got some income. They owned some olive orchards, rented the land out to those that worked them. So, seeing as she’s from the capital herself, can’t see her selling. Still collect the rents, most like. So she won’t need the bread line or to turn prostitute. But still.”
“Bread line? Prostitute?”
“Yep. Plenty of widows got no livelihood to call their own, nor chance to make one after a certain age. Lose their men, lose their coin. Only options are charity or selling what wares the gods gave you. Syldoon widows luckier in that respect. We take care of our own.
“Still, whatever she felt for Gless, can’t see her liking the news she’s a fresh widow none. Can’t see nobody liking that news, less they hated a fellow. And he might have been a bastard, but he wasn’t totally wanting for good qualities. On the whole. So can’t see her liking that news much at all.”
“And you. . . you have to deliver it? You have to be the one to tell her?”
“Have to?” He banged his head and looked up at the ceiling. “Nope. Ain’t no have to. But I knew him better than anybody. And she knew me some, too. So it’s got to come from me. The news and the widowcoin. Got to.”
Before I thought about what I was saying, the words came of their own volition. “Would you like me to go with you?”
Vendurro pulled himself slowly off the wall and looked at me. “You’d do that?”
Now that it was out there, I wished I’d thought it through first. I was sure that would be painfully awkward and. . . just painful. To witness anyway. But there was no recalling it. I nodded and he seemed to think it over before replying. “Can’t ask you to do that. Not to her door. She never met you, she’d know right off something weren’t right.” He suddenly seemed young and small again as he added, “But if you want to head with me most of the way. And wait to down some drinks after. A lot of them. That would be something, that is, if you—”
“Of course. I’ll accompany you as far you like, and I’ll buy the first round or two. Well, provided the captain pays me ahead of time.”
Between the offer and my halfhearted joke, he seemed in slightly better spirits. Before we dwelt on it much longer though, I asked, “Speaking of the captain, is he in his quarters?”
Vendurro replied, “Yup, that he is. Returned a while back. Told me to make sure he was left good and alone. Figure he’s fighting off whatever it is he fights now that Lloi ain’t here to spell him. Plus, he didn’t seem like he was all too pleased about how that parley with the baron played out. Guessing you should give him some time, unless you like dodging pitchers or platters.”
“Well,” I replied, choosing my words carefully, “I can’t say that I do. But there’s something. . . that requires his attention. And I think he’ll thank me for rousing him. Well, after he screams or throws something at my head.”
Vendurro thought about it for a few moments, then fished the key out of his belt pouch. “Better you than me. Hoping you’re right about it being all fire important, though. Getting real thin on company scribes in these parts, too.” He took the last steps toward the door.
I have always been a study of the way people walk. Their posture, stride, the swing of the arms, the tilt of the head, if they are rigid or relaxed, pigeon-toed. Posture and gait can be very telling, saying a lot about what the person has endured, attitude, mood, mobility, quickness. You can usually tell a fresh limp from an old injury that the person has become so accustomed to they hardly notice.
When I met Vendurro, he strode as if each leg was trying to outdo the other in pushing him off the ground, a springy, rambunctious, youthful gait. But now, he walked as if he were twenty years older, hadn’t slept in days, and was wearing lead boots. Which wasn’t surprising, given his loss, but I wondered in time if he would ever fully recover that bounce, or if someone who met him in a year or two would never have the chance to see him that carefree.
Vendurro unlocked the door and I thanked him as we stepped inside. He sat down on a stool near the door after locking it again, and watched as I took a few steps toward the captain’s chamber and then hesitated. Once I told Braylar what I knew, there would be no untelling it. It was tempting to walk to my room instead, or even back out to the Fair, under the pretense that I simply was following Vendurro’s advice not to disturb him, but I knew if I did that I might lose the nerve to go through with it at all. So, with a quick look back at Vendurro, who shook his head and mimed ducking quickly, I knocked quietly on the captain’s door.
I didn’t hear anything. No raspy threats or pejoratives, no stirring at all, really. I rapped on the door again, louder this time, and waited, but still nothing. I looked back at the young sergeant, who only shrugged, and then I tried the door, expecting to find it locked. But it creaked open as I pushed. I poked my head in, ready to pull it back if anything came flying. The interior was dim, heavy curtains mostly blocking out the horn blinds and the last day’s sunlight beyond them, and it took a moment for my eyes to adjust.
I called out the captain’s name, and still hearing nothing, walked inside and pushed the door shut behind me. I saw his form on the bed, lying on his back, and slowly made my way closer. While the room was too dim to make out much, I saw his chest rising and falling slowly. Also that he was holding Bloodsounder with both hands on his stomach, the way a drunk might cradle the empty flask or leather bottle that had done him in.
I called out his name again, and still no response, physical or otherwise. It appeared he had sunk into his depths again, and this time without Lloi to rescue him. I sat down heavily on a bench against the wall, not worried that it scraped loudly when I did. Captain Killcoin didn’t stir at all.
In the Green Sea, he said each time was a little different, that it was impossible to gauge his response to the stolen memories that must have been flooding into him now. Perhaps this condition was temporary. I was reluctant to head back to the common room to tell Vendurro—certainly he’d seen his captain laid low like this before, so it wouldn’t come as a shock, but I doubted it would be welcome news either.
But from my experience in the steppe, it was unlikely I was going to do any good sitting there. I had no skills to assist him, and my presence surely wasn’t any kind of relief, even if he felt it at all. So I sat there, unsure what to do. I waited for a while, my anxiety growing by the moment, especially as I had little enough to distract myself with. Braylar’s room was small enough, and little had changed since we left it earlier in the day. Someone, no doubt a terrified boy or girl, had swept up the mess and removed the remnants of the ale, probably at Vendurro’s behest. Besides some chests and clothes on top of them, and the table and chairs near the bed, the only other object in the room was the long container we’d lugged and stowed away for so many days, the same that the captain appeared determined to protect at all costs.
Looking at it, I still wondered at the whole business. Even given the Anjurians’ superstitious nature and how much stock they put in ceremony and pomp, it still seemed decidedly peculiar the absence of royal vestments would be alarming enough to cause uproar or upheaval of any kind. Obviously the Syldoon had several schemes in play in this region, and the stolen vestments weren’t central to their machinations. Their play on Baron Brune and High Priest Henlester proved that, and for all I knew, other games were being played as well.
But it still struck me as odd that they would go to such lengths to steal and transport something that was peripheral (at best) to their major plans here, especially since I doubted such maneuvering was going to prove all that fruitful, and I’m sure the Syldoon soldiers in their charge must have shared those doubts. The Boy King’s reign was off to a rocky start, given that his regent was hardly loved, and there was such contentious blood between the young monarch and so many of his barons, something inherited from the king so recently buried. Perhaps those inclined to be critical could point to the missing trappings and robes as one more sign that the boy wasn’t fit to rule, or that his reign would only end in calamity. But while I was hardly an expert on court politics, that still seemed somewhat shaky to me. Even with all the importance attached to the rituals of ascension.
Perhaps you simply had to be Anjurian to appreciate the finer points. Perhaps some missing robes were enough to undermine an already rickety transition of power and title. Who could say?
I’d only read about such a transfer, as old King Xefron had reigned for at least forty years, long enough to outlast the war with the Syldoon and negotiate a truce, but not long enough to ensure his heir would inherit a stable kingdom or had the prowess and acuity to manage it. Were the robes and whatnot ancient? Surely they wouldn’t want a new monarch to appear in public with tattered vestments, yellowed and threadbare. Hardly an inspiring image. But then again, maybe that was part of the ceremony, the cloth that so many ancestors had worn, ugly as it might have been, signifying that a legitimate succession was occurring. But just how old were they? Who had been the first to wear them? They must have been in a vastly different style and cut from the current royal fashion.
Before I’d thought it through, I found myself kneeling before the container, casting a quick look back at Braylar’s unmoving form before pulling the canvas back.
A lock. Of course there was a lock. I nearly sat back down on the bench, but my curiosity was fully roused now. While a large part of me knew doing anything else was pure foolishness, I really wanted to see the vestments, just once. I would probably never have another opportunity like this. And I told myself I already knew what was inside, so there was no harm in taking a quick peek at the contents. So I walked over to the clothes, found Braylar’s belts and pouches, and picked out the one that I was sure contained the long key.
I was breathing fast as I fit the key into the lock. The tumblers were well oiled, but still clicked loudly enough I worried Vendurro must have heard. But he was doubtless trying to put his grief in the ground, and surely I’d hear voices if anyone else returned.
With the lock undone, I lifted the lid, which was less well oiled, and creaked loudly. Even in the dim light, it took only a moment to realize that there weren’t clothes inside at all. Not a one, not a stitch. Instead, there were countless scrolls of various sizes, some large and bound by tiny chains, others smaller and secured by leather cords, or a few with silk ribbons, and there were several cracked leather tubes that I assumed contained still more. Some scrolls had thick wooden rollers on each end, and even those had distinct differences, a few being plain and simple, others with elaborate designs carved into wood that seemed stained various colors. Some scrolls appeared to be papyrus, others thicker parchment that looked so old I feared to even breathe too close lest they crumble into dust. There were clay and waxed tablets in the container as well.
I’d been breathing fast before, but now I stopped altogether. These looked to have been gathered from a number of places, and spanned the ages. What was this?
“I hadn’t realized the Fair was canceled today. Pity.”
I dropped the lid and it slammed shut on my fingers. It was all I could do not to howl in pain.
With his voice unused for hours, it was even more coarse and raspy, but there was no mistaking the fact that Captain Killcoin was indeed awake, and not swept under the currents of stolen memories.
I pulled my fingers clear, stood up, and turned to face him. I felt like a child again, caught by my mother stealing a coin from her small purse. The blood rushed to my face, and I heard my heart pounding in my ears, both from hot embarrassment, fear, and also anger from having been deceived again. “There are no royal vestments.”
Braylar was sitting up in bed and it was difficult to read his expression in that light. How he had moved so quietly, especially without rattling the chains of the flail, was a mystery. He set Bloodsounder on the bed and clapped three times, slowly. “Oh, deftly done, Arki. Truly. Caught literally red-handed—I hope it leaves a deep bruise, by the way—and you have the gall to lay an implied accusation at my feet. Very nice redirection. There might be hope for you yet.”
Shame, fear, and anger coiled tighter. With my voice as controlled as I could make it to mask all three, I asked, “Do you ever tell the truth?”
He laughed then, followed immediately by a cough. “As seldom as I can manage, and only when other recourses are exhausted. Or as it suits my purpose. Which is rare enough, but noteworthy.”
“But why? Why the story about stealing robes? Why did you tell me anything at all?”
Braylar rose slowly, and it was obvious now that his stupor was due to ale, as he teetered just slightly. He must have managed to keep some down without vomiting. “I have a question of my own, more pressing as it happens—where are the flagons? I don’t recall sending them away. Is this your doing, because you will have more to answer for that heinous crime than the transgression of opening a locked box. Oh. Yes. I will take the key back now. Just after you snap the lock shut again.”
I did as he bade and walked toward him slowly, feeling unsteady on my feet as well. Fear seemed the only strand left now.
“Come now, I’m not some brutish Grass Dog to cut off half your hand. Frankly, I’m so utterly stunned at your initiative of late—or utterly drunk at last, I’m not entirely certain—that I find myself more amused than enraged. But I can’t promise how long that shall last.” He snapped his finger. “The key.”
I handed it to him, happy he let me take my hand and fingers back whole and unbroken.
Braylar said, “As to your query, I wanted to see if word about stolen vestments started circulating, or if you carried the tale yourself to unwholesome ears.”
“So it was a test? A trap?”
“Oh, yes. A testy trap.”
“You had me followed then?”
“Well, it would not have been much of a test if I couldn’t monitor the outcome, now would it?”
I stood there, stunned, wondering if my tail had seen the young Hornman, or my reaction to him, anyway. “And?” I asked, slowly, quietly.
“Well, if you had run to the good baron, you can be sure this conversation would have a much different tenor. I had hoped you would prove yourself leal, and you have. Well, until you broke into my things, that is.”
I looked back at the chest, barely trusting my voice. “What are these documents then?”
He dropped the key into his pouch and closed it. “My permissive mood is passing. Leave me. Now. And send in more ale. Immediately.”
While I had countless other burning questions, I knew I’d used up as much goodwill as the captain was likely to offer. And while I’d come into the room initially to tell him about the Hornman, that suddenly seemed the worst idea I’d ever come up with.
I turned to go, and Braylar rasped, “Oh, and the next time you filch something from me, young scribe, you can be sure I will batter you to the floor, kick your ribs in, and spit on your wailing face. If I am feeling permissive. And worse if I am not. Are we clear?”
Yes, now was not the time for admissions of any kind. It appeared Mulldoos had been right about this being my lucky day. Without turning around, I nodded and left the captain in his dim chamber as fast as my feet could carry me.
Thanks to the generosity of the folks at Vintage Books, these winners will receive a copy of Robot Uprisings, edited by Daniel H. Wilson and John Joseph Adams! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.
Very rarely, there comes a novel so grand in scope, so rich in historical details, so vibrant, so engrossing, that you basically lose track of everything else around you. James Clavell's international bestselling masterpiece Shogun was one such novel. Indeed, it made for the ultimate reading experience. Awesome doesn't even begin to describe the book. Such were my thoughts when I sat down to write my review for Shogun.
I had been looking forward to sinking my teeth into Tai-Pan. When I booked my flights and got confirmation that I would be flying to/from Hong Kong last winter, I knew that this James Clavell bestseller was coming with me! I thought that it would be interesting to walk around modern day Hong Kong and then read about how it all came to be. Unfortunately, though Tai-Pan is a good and entertaining read, it failed to capture my imagination the way Shogun did. . .
Here's the blurb:
It is the early 19th century, when European traders and adventurers first began to penetrate the forbidding Chinese mainland. And it is in this exciting time and exotic place that a giant of an Englishman, Dirk Straun, sets out to turn the desolate island of Hong Kong into an impregnable fortress of British power, and to make himself supreme ruler…Tai-Pan!
Dirk Struan is a protagonist loosely based on William Jardine and his Noble House is based on Jardine Matheson and Co., a major Scottish trading company which was known as the Jardine Matheson Holdings at the time of the founding of Hong Kong. As was the case with Shogun, the narrative is filled with a wealth of historical details. Once again, the author managed to imbue Tai-Pan with an encyclopedic knowledge pertaining to the culture and history of 19th century China. The novel starts right after the British victory in the first Opium War and with their laying claim to the rugged island of Hong Kong. Political and social upheavals in England and elsewhere in the Empire have repercussions throughout the tale. In terms of worldbuilding, even though it may not be as dense and sprawling a novel as Shogun, Tai-Pan remains a vast, dramatic, and marvelously crafted work of fiction.
James Clavell has a veritable knack for creating memorable characters. Understandably, Dirk Struan takes center stage throughout the book, as he is the only one who fully understands Hong Kong's incalculable worth and he remains the only true architect bent on shaping a commercial future in which the Noble House and the island are intricately linked. Still, as was the case in Shogun, a panoply of points of view from several characters, great and small, add layers upon layers to a very complex story. Again, the tale would never have been the same without the opportunity to witness events unfold through the eyes of men and women such as Culum Struan, Tyler Brock, May–May, Gordon Chen, Horatio Sinclair, and many more.
Weighing in at 732 pages, Tai-Pan is another big book, one which you would think would suffer from occasional pacing issues. Not so, however, as there is enough suspense and unexpected surprises to keep you hooked from start to finish. Although it's a another door-stopper work, for me there wasn't a single dull moment between the covers of Tai-Pan.
What sort of killed the novel for me was its ending. The lack of resolution, with everything literally hanging up in the air and the reader reaching the end of Tai-Pan before the smoke has even begun to clear. Though Shogun was always meant to be part of a much larger whole, it was nonetheless a great stand-alone work featuring a more or less self-contained, if multilayered, story arc. Sadly, Tai-Pan's finale doesn't provide much in the way of answers, I'm afraid. And to make it worse, it raises a decidedly high number of new questions. As such, the book leaves you hanging high and dry, which makes for a big disappointment.
Hence, like Shogun, for the most part James Clavell's Tai-Pan is an epic, captivating, exciting, panoramic, dramatic tale of the Far East. And yet, the anticlimactic and lackluster ending fail to live up to the lofty expectations generated by the novel's immense potential and make for a somewhat frustrating reading experience. For no matter how awesome 95% of the book was, the fashion in which the author brings it to a close robs Tai-Pan of the sort of emotional impact that made Shogun such an unforgettable read.
You can now download Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus for only 4.99$ here.
Here's the blurb:
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.
But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.
True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus performers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.
Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.
When a private envoy of the queen and member of Lord Carmichael's discreet service goes missing, Balfour and Meriwether are asked to look into the affair. They will find a labyrinth of dreams, horrors risen from hell, prophecy, sexual perversion, and an abandoned farmhouse on the moors outside Harrowmoor Sanitarium. The earth itself will bare its secrets and the Empire itself will tremble in the face of the hidden dangers they discover, but the greatest peril is the one they have brought with them.
Balfour and Meriwether in the Incident of the Harrowmoor Dogs is the first novella length work in the Balfour and Meriwether stories by Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award nominated author Daniel Abraham.
Syfy has given a direct-to-series order to an exciting-sounding new project based on an acclaimed sci-fi book series. The cable network has ordered 10 episodes of The Expanse, from Academy Award-nominated screenwriting duo Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby (Children of Men, Iron Man) and Alcon Television Group. The project has been described by industry insiders as “Game of Thrones in space” — not so much because of the specifics of the plot, but because it tells a dramatic sprawling grown-up story within a popular fantasy genre that’s based on a respected series of novels. The logline: “A thriller set two hundred years in the future, The Expanse follows the case of a missing young woman who brings a hardened detective and a rogue ship’s captain together in a race across the solar system to expose the greatest conspiracy in human history.” The Expanse is based on a series of books by James S.A. Corey. The most well-known title is probably the first in the series, Leviathan Wakes, which has been praised for reinventing and updating the old-school Star Wars/Firefly-style space opera. Syfy won a bidding war with another content producer to acquire the project. Syfy president Dave Howe promised, “The Expanse is epic in scale and scope and promises to be Syfy’s most ambitious series to date. Bringing this coveted book franchise to television with our partners at Alcon and the Sean Daniel Company is a giant win for Syfy, reinforcing our overall strategy to produce bold, provocative and compelling sci-fi fantasy stories. The Expanse joins a killer line-up of high-concept, high quality series, along with recently announced original projects Ascension, 12 Monkeys, the renewal of Helix, and the soon to premiere Dominion.” Sean Daniel and Jason Brown of the Sean Daniel Company developed the original pitch, with Fergus and Ostby, and will also executive produce. “The Expanse is one of the most special pieces of material we’ve ever encountered and it has been our dream to bring it to life since the moment we read it,” Daniel and Brown said in a statement. “We couldn’t be more excited to be doing it with this team of all-stars.” Added Alcon president Sharon Hall: “The Expanse is an addictive, sophisticated, character-driven franchise and Mark and Hawk are the perfect people to steer it. Their script is a totally immersive and accessible sci-fi journey.”
Although I'm pretty sure that most of you have already read it, you should know that you can download Joe Abercrombie's debut, The Blade Itself, for only 1.99$ here.
Here's the blurb:
Logen Ninefingers, infamous barbarian, has finally run out of luck. Caught in one feud too many, he’s on the verge of becoming a dead barbarian – leaving nothing behind him but bad songs, dead friends, and a lot of happy enemies. Nobleman, dashing officer, and paragon of selfishness, Captain Jezal dan Luthar has nothing more dangerous in mind than fleecing his friends at cards and dreaming of glory in the fencing circle. But war is brewing, and on the battlefields of the frozen North they fight by altogether bloodier rules. Inquisitor Glokta, cripple turned torturer, would like nothing better than to see Jezal come home in a box. But then Glokta hates everyone: cutting treason out of the Union one confession at a time leaves little room for friendship. His latest trail of corpses may lead him right to the rotten heart of government, if he can stay alive long enough to follow it. Enter the wizard, Bayaz. A bald old man with a terrible temper and a pathetic assistant, he could be the First of the Magi, he could be a spectacular fraud, but whatever he is, he's about to make the lives of Logen, Jezal, and Glotka a whole lot more difficult. Murderous conspiracies rise to the surface, old scores are ready to be settled, and the line between hero and villain is sharp enough to draw blood. Unpredictable, compelling, wickedly funny, and packed with unforgettable characters, The Blade Itself is noir fantasy with a real cutting edge.
Three Subterranean Press limited editions by Alastair Reynolds can still be downloaded on the cheap!
You can get The Six Directions of Space for 2.99$ here.
Here's the blurb:
What if Genghis Khan got his wish, and brought the entire planet under the control of the Mongols? Where would he have gone next?
A thousand years after Khan's death, Yellow Dog is the codename of a female spy working for a vast Mongol-dominated galactic empire. When she learns of anomalous events happening on the edge of civilised space -- phantom ships appearing in the faster-than-light transit system which binds the empire together -- Yellow Dog puts herself forward for the most hazardous assignment of her career. In deep cover, she must penetrate the autonomous zone where the anomalies are most frequent, and determine whether the empire is really under attack, and if so by who or what. Yellow Dog's problems, however, are only just beginning. For the autonomous zone is under the heel of Qilian, a thuggish local tyrant with no love for central government and a reputation for extreme brutality. Qilian already knows more about the anomalies than Yellow Dog does. If she is going to learn more, she will have to earn his confidence -- even if that means working for him, rather than against him.
So begins a deadly game of subterfuge and double-cross -- while the anomalies increase...
In novels such as Chasm City and Revelation Space, Alastair Reynolds established himself as an indisputable master of the far-flung intergalactic epic. Reynolds brings that same deceptively effortless mastery to the shorter fictional forms, a fact that Troika, his elegant, compulsively readable new novella, amply demonstrates. Troika tells the story of men and women confronting an enigma known as the Matryoshka, a vast alien construct whose periodic appearances have generated terror, wonder, and endless debate. During its third "apparition" in a remote corner of the galaxy, a trio of Russian cosmonauts approach this enigma and attempt to penetrate its mysteries. What they discover--and what they endure in the process--forms the centerpiece of an enthralling, constantly surprising narrative. Troika is at once a wholly original account of First Contact and a meditation on time, history, and the essentially fluid nature of identity itself. Suspenseful, erudite, and gracefully written, it is a significant accomplishment in its own right and a welcome addition to a remarkable body of work.
And you can also download Thousandth Night for 2.99$ here.
Here's the blurb:
Thousandth Night, the genesis for the epic novel House of Suns, is quintessential Reynolds. A visionary account of intrigue, ambition, and technological marvels set within a beautifully realized far-future milieu, it combines world-class storytelling with a provocative meditation on the mystery, grandeur, and inconceivable immensity of the universe.
The castle of Anderras Darion has stood abandoned and majestic for as long as anyone can remember. Then, from out of the mountains, comes the healer, Hawklan - a man with no memory of the past - to take possession of the keep with his sole companion, Gavor. Across the country, the great fortress of Narsindalvak is a constant reminder of the victory won by the hero Ethriss in alliance with the three realms of Orthlund, Riddin and Fyorlund against the Dark Lord, Sumeral, hundreds of years before. But Rgoric, the ailing king of Fyorlund and protector of the peace, has fallen under the malign influence of the Lord Dan-Tor, and from the bleakness of Narsindal come ugly rumours. It is whispered that Mandrocs are abroad again and that the Dark Lord himself is stirring. And in the remote fastness of Anderras Darion, Hawklan feels deep within himself the echoes of an ancient power and the unknown, yet strangely familiar, call to arms... "The Call of the Sword" is Book One of The Chronicles of Hawklan.
As if anyone needed more proof that 'Game of Thrones' is a cultural juggernaut, Sunday night's Season Four premiere earned HBO its highest ratings since 'The Sopranos' aired its last episode in 2007, according to EW. The show's 6.6 million viewers was its biggest audience yet, with two replays boosting that number to 8.2 million people. (The show's third season, which debuted March 31st of last year, garnered 4.4 million viewers by comparison.) The show also broke its own record for most-viewed episode previously held by week six of the third season (5.5 million viewers).
You can now download Anne McCaffrey and Margaret Ball's Acorna for only 0.99$ here.
Here's the blurb:
"Something's Alive In There!" She was just a little girl, with a tiny horn in the center of her forehead, funny-looking feet, beautiful silver hair, and several curious powers: the ability to purify air and water, make plants grow, and heal scars and broken bones. A trio of grizzled prospectors found her drifting in an escape pod amid the asteroids, adopted her, and took her to the bandit planet Kezdet, a place where no questions are asked and the girl might grow up free. But Kezdet has its own dark secret. The prosperity of the planet is based on a hideous trade in child slave labor, administered by "The Piper" -- a mystery man with special plans for Acorna and her powers. But free little girls have a way of growing into freedom-loving young women, and Acorna has special plans all her own. . .
And all the sequels in the series are available for between 3.99$ and 5.99$.
Right off the bat, let me just say that, as is the case with Guy Gavriel Kay and L. E. Modesitt, jr., it feels as though Paul Kearney, even after all these years of writing quality novels, remains criminally unread for the most part. The Macht trilogy, his latest work, is in my humble opinion one of the very best fantasy series of the new millennium. So when it was announced that Solaris were reissuing A Different Kingdom, what many fans consider Kearney's best novel to date, I was pretty excited and knew I wanted to give it a shot ASAP.
Still, since the book was first published more than two decades ago, I was wondering if A Different Kingdom had aged well and could be read and enjoyed as much by readers in 2014 as those who fell in love with the novel when it was originally released in 1993. The answer, I'm pleased to report, is a resounding yes!
Here's the blurb:
Michael Fay is a normal boy, living with his grandparents on their family farm in rural Ireland. In the woods—once thought safe and well-explored—there are wolves; and other, stranger things. He keeps them from his family, even his Aunt Rose, his closest friend, until the day he finds himself in the Other Place. There are wild people, and terrible monsters, and a girl called Cat. When the wolves follow him from the Other Place to his family’s doorstep, Michael must choose between locking the doors and looking away—or following Cat on an adventure that may take an entire lifetime in the Other Place. He will become a man, and a warrior, and confront the Devil himself: the terrible Dark Horseman...
By SFF standards, A Different Kingdom is not a big novel. Weighing in at 423 pages, I have a feeling that had it been published in this day and age, the tale would have probably been a duology instead of a stand-alone work. And even though you get the feeling that Kearney didn't have the luxury of elaborating a whole lot when it comes to worldbuilding, this book is neverheless full of depth. My only complaint about it would be that I would have loved to learn more about most ideas and concepts the author introduced in A Different Kingdom. Perhaps due to the limited wordcount, Paul Kearney's narrative is superior to everything else he has ever written. His prose creates an imagery that makes the land and the characters come alive in a way that you seldom see.
It takes a little while to get used to the structure of the novel, as portions of basically every chapter jump from the present (Michael, now a grown and broken man living in England), to the past (Michael as a young man traveling in the Other Place), and an even more distant past (Michael as a young boy living in Ireland). But once you make sense of it, then everything works quite splendidly and Michael's tale grabs hold of you and captures your imagination. Michael Fray is, as a matter of course, the main protagonist of the book. I feel that Kearney did a great job portraying him at various stages of his life, from the curious boy, to the courageous young man, and then the broken man who grew old before his time. The supporting cast is comprised of a number of interesting characters, namely Michael's grandparents and his aunt Rose in the past, and of course Cat once he enters the Other Place.
The pace remains crisp throughout the book, and unfortunately you reach the end of this one all too quickly. Kudos to Paul Kearney for managing to fool the readers and bring A Different Kingdom to a close with a totally unanticipated ending. Although I wish this novel had been longer, the fact that it's a relatively short work by today's speculative fiction standards (with no info-dumps, no focus on extraneous plotlines that bring little to the overall story arc, and not a single dull moment between the covers) makes for a fully satisfying read. The blurb might make one think that this is a generic, run-of-the-mill fantasy story that you've seen many times before. Believe you me: It's far from that!
Simply put, A Different Kingdom is an awesome fantasy work produced by one of the most underappreciated speculative fiction authors out there. Better yet, it's Paul Kearney writing at the top of his game. If you are looking for an engaging and original stand-alone fantasy work to read, A Different Kingdom might just be what the doctor ordered!
A lot of people have messaged me to ask me whatever happened with the self-published SFF work I was supposed to read and review last spring. Well, nothing happened. . .
After getting in touch with the winner a couple of times prior to my trip to Ukraine last year, I tried once again during summer. When readers got in touch with me asking when the review would go up, I tried to contact another author whose work had piqued my curiosity. Again, no reply. I tried one last time around September, again with no luck.
I had totally forgotten about this until someone emailed me about it last week. So I just wanted to give you guys a little update to let you know that things have apparently gone down the crapper regarding this. . .
You can now download Terry Brooks' first omnibus of The Magic Kingdom of Landover series for only 1.99$ here.
Here's the blurb for the first installment:
After Ben Holiday purchased Landover, he discovered the magic kingdom had some problems. The Barons refused to recognize a king and the peasants were without hope. To make matters worse, Ben learned that he had to duel to the death with the Iron Mask, the terrible lord of the demons--a duel which no human could hope to win...
You can also download The Best of Lucius Shepard for only 2.99$ here.
Here's the blurb:
Lucius Shepard writes from the darkest, truest heart of America -- not the heart of the United States or of North America, but all of America -- and he writes of it with rare passion, honesty and intelligence. His earliest stories, the ones that made his name a quarter of a century ago were set in the jungles of South America and filled with creatures dark and fantastical. Stories like "Salvador", "The Jaguar Hunter", and the excoriatingly brilliant "R&R" deconstructed war and peace in South America, in both the past and the future, like no other writer of the fantastic. A writer of great talent and equally great scope, Shepard has also written of the seamier side of the United States at home in classic stories like "Life of Buddha" and "Dead Money", and in "Only Partly Here" has written one of the finest post-9/11 stories yet. Perhaps strangest of all, Shepard created one of the greatest sequence of "dragon" stories we've seen in the tales featuring the enormous dragon, Griaule. The Best of Lucius Shepard is the first ever career retrospective collection from one of the finest writers of the fantastic to emerge in the United States over the past quarter century. It contains nearly 300,000 words of his best short fiction and is destined to be recognized as a true classic of the field.
You can also download Jonathan Maberry's Patient Zero for only 2.99$ here.
Here's the blurb:
When you have to kill the same terrorist twice in one week there's either something wrong with your world or something wrong with your skills... and there's nothing wrong with Joe Ledger's skills. And that's both a good, and a bad thing. It's good because he's a Baltimore detective that has just been secretly recruited by the government to lead a new taskforce created to deal with the problems that Homeland Security can't handle. This rapid response group is called the Department of Military Sciences or the DMS for short. It's bad because his first mission is to help stop a group of terrorists from releasing a dreadful bio-weapon that can turn ordinary people into zombies. The fate of the world hangs in the balance...
You can now download David Constantine's The Pillars of Hercules for only 3.49$ here.
Here's the blurb:
Alexander, Prince of Macedon, is the terror of the world. Persia, Egypt, Athens… one after another, mighty nations are falling before the fearsome conqueror. Some say Alexander is actually the son of Zeus, king of the gods, and the living incarnation of Hercules himself. Worse yet, some say Alexander believes this… The ambitious prince is aided in his conquest by unstoppable war-machines based on the forbidden knowledge of his former tutor, the legendary scientist-mage known as Aristotle. Greek fire, mechanical golems, and gigantic siege-engines lay waste to Alexander's enemies as his armies march relentlessly west—toward the very edge of the world. Beyond the Pillars of Hercules, past the gateway to the outer ocean, lies the rumored remnants of Atlantis: ancient artifacts of such tremendous power that they may be all that stands between Alexander and conquest of the entire world. Alexander desires that power for himself, but an unlikely band of fugitives—including a Gaulish barbarian, a cynical Greek archer, a cunning Persian princess, and a sorcerer's daughter—must find it first… before Alexander unleashes godlike forces that will shatter civilization. The Pillars of Hercules is an epic adventure that captures the grandeur and mystery of the ancient world as it might have been, where science and magic are one and the same.
Thanks to the generosity of the folks at Crown Publishing, I have three copies of Chris Beckett's Dark Eden up for grabs! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.
Here's the blurb:
On the alien, sunless planet they call Eden, the 532 members of the Family take shelter beneath the light and warmth of the Forest’s lantern trees. Beyond the Forest lie the mountains of the Snowy Dark and a cold so bitter and a night so profound that no man has ever crossed it. The Oldest among the Family recount legends of a world where light came from the sky, where men and women made boats that could cross the stars. These ships brought us here, the Oldest say—and the Family must only wait for the travelers to return. But young John Redlantern will break the laws of Eden, shatter the Family and change history. He will abandon the old ways, venture into the Dark...and discover the truth about their world. Already remarkably acclaimed in the United Kingdom, Dark Eden is science fiction as literature: part parable, part powerful coming-of-age story, set in a truly original alien world of dark, sinister beauty and rendered in prose that is at once strikingly simple and stunningly inventive.