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The Immortality Game


You guys are aware that 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 give an indie speculative fiction author's book a fair shot and come what may. Most of the Hotlist's readers seemed to be against the idea, maintaining that it would likely be a total waste of time, that self-published novels sucked, yada yada yada. And yet, against my better judgement, I elected to do it anyway. Perhaps I should have listened to them. . .

Indie writer Ted Cross, long-time Hotlist follower, communicated with me last fall, 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. My curiosity was piqued when I discovered that he paid 2000$ out of his own pocket to have the gorgeous cover art done by the talented Stephan Martiniere because he wanted the novel to stand out from other self-published works out there.

They say that you can't judge a book by its cover and it's true in this case. Cross mentionned that he felt it was money well-spent, that it was maybe better than investing in a developmental editor. Having read the whole thing, I beg to differ. Although it's well-written, The Immortality Game wasn't ready to be published. Which, in light of the shortcomings on which I'll soon elaborate, is why agents and editors passed on the manuscript.

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.

One thing that most self-published authors appear to have in common is their low opinion of professional editors. Too often they are portrayed as evil monsters whose only desire in life is to make sure that said authors never get published. A minority expound on the fact that those same editors almost never take a chance on writers whose works don't fit within the confines of any of the popular speculative fiction labels. It's true that being an editor means that they must also wear a businessman or businesswoman's hat, as it's their job to buy and put together a novel that will sell, and that if one's work seems hard to market they may pass on it. But I feel that the bulk of self-published works don't fit in that category. Agents and editors are dying to find the next big thing, or any quality read that will sell for that matter. Ask any SFF authors and they will all acknowledge how their editors made their manuscripts better. True, publishing is a tough nut to crack, but that's the way love goes. Editors are there to make sure no author will release anything less than their best effort. If editors were just fucktards on power trips bent on dominating publishing and making it their life's work to prevent indie authors from ever ending up in bookstores, big names like Richard Morgan, Joe Abercrombie, and George R. R. Martin wouldn't praise Simon Spanton, Gillian Redfearn, and Anne Groell respectively for all the positive influence they have had on their many books. Nor would Patrick Rothfuss be professing his undying love for Betsy Wollheim for all that she has done for him since he signed with Daw Books.

The truth of the matter is that the aforementioned agents and editors are probably passing on these manuscripts because they are simply unfit to be published in their current form. Ted Cross' The Immortality Game sadly falls in that category. Like many other self-published works, Cross' novel contains the seeds of what could become a good and entertaining tale. But I fear that it needs a number of revisions and is probably quite a few rewrites away from ever being adequate to catch an agent or an editor's interest. Unfortunately, like many other writers before him, instead of going back to the drawing board and diving back into this manuscript to try to fix what isn't working, Cross took the path of least resistance and elected to self-publish it.

Now, Ted Cross' The Immortality Game could well be better than the majority of self-published books out there. But that's not saying much. It is extremely well-written and it's obvious that he polished this manuscript in a professional manner. The prose is fluid and easy to read, so there is no problem in that regard. Problem is, the storylines often make no sense and the characterization is at times mediocre and so-so at best. It's in those areas of the manuscript that a developmental editor could have helped Cross immensely. Authors are often too enamored with their works and aren't necessarily the best of judges when it comes to put their finger on what works well and what doesn't. A neutral party can usually focus on the strengths and weaknesses and offer constructive feedback on such matters. And evidently, Cross' test readers didn't do a good job in that regard. . . Indeed, the flaws that prevented him from getting an agent or an editor are quite flagrant. When I asked him about it, Cross replied that his beta readers didn't point out any such flaws. In which case, they did him a disservice. Needless to say, spending that 2000$ to hire an editor would have been a much better investment.

It appears that Cross wanted this one to read like a page-turning cyberpunk technothriller. Hence, for the sake of a crisp rhythm, it looks as though the worldbuilding was kept to a bare minimum. Trouble is, this robbed the story of any sort of depth, which doesn't work very well. Finding the right balance between good storytelling and a quick-moving pace can be tricky. But Ted Cross failed in that particular endeavor. The backdrop of this tale is a near-future world in which the proverbial shit has hit the fan. The bulk of the novel takes place in Russia, where various war lords have taken control of the country. On the other side of the Atlantic, it appears that Mormons now control a vast chunk of the USA. There are a few mentions of the Dark Times, the period during which everything collapsed around the world, but nothing which could give us a better grasp of what actually took place and why things are as they are now in 2138.

What truly killed the book for me was the characterization, especially the dialogue. The narrative itself isn't bad, but things immediately go downhill as soon as characters start to talk or think. To my dismay, the dialogue is full of exchanges worthy of B-movies featuring Steven Seagal or Jean-Claude Van Damme. Yes, it's that bad, especially any back-and-forth involving the scientist Tyoma or the mobster Tavik. I'm pretty sure that this is not what Ted Cross was aiming for. At first I thought that perhaps it was just me, so I did a copy-and-paste of a few scenes and sent them to six of my friends who are avid readers. I told them that I was beta reading a manuscript for my agent and didn't tell them that this was a self-published book that was already on the market. They (3 men and 3 women) opined that the dialogue was atrocious and the monologues going on inside the characters' mind brutal. Five out of six of them alluded to the B-movie-esque style of the exchanges, while another mentioned seeing better dialogue in a porn flick. . . Unless Cross was looking for something that could reach even the lowest common denominator, the dialogue truly kills this novel. Another major shortcoming of The Immortality Game is that the two main protagonists, Zoya and Marcus, never act the way genuine people would. I wouldn't call them dumb, but they excercise absolutely no judgement throughout the tale. They always make the wrong decision, and everything feels contrived to keep the story moving in the direction the author is aiming for. Unfortunately, by doing so they make the teenage cast of a Friday the 13th installment --you know, the ones running around almost naked, going down a dark cellar with the lights off, and getting murdered in the dumbest ways-- look like absolute geniuses. The storylines often make absolutely no sense. Especially Zoya's; this girl has such poor decision-making skills that she gets almost everyone she loves killed. And Marcus, sad puppie that he is, just goes along on this mad quest, putting his own life at risk at every turn for a girl he met a few hours before. The whole thing doesn't ring true and is hard to follow as nothing makes sense from the beginning. This is definitely something that an editor could have helped fix.

Another problem with The Immortality Game is that I feel it's a case of Cross biting off more than he could chew. His attempt to weave together this impossible love story with the cloning/immortality plotline, all the while involving the army and the Russian mafia, was just a bit too much. By exploring those various plotlines, the extraneous is often brought to the forefront and it feels as though the author often loses track of what matters. Once more, this is something an editor could have helped fix.

In the end, The Immortality Game is obviously Ted Cross' love child. It's the kind of tale he obviously loves and wants to read. And that's the kicker. His love for this story blinds him to its shortcomings and prevents him from seeing what's wrong with it. He came up with an interesting premise and the whole thing shows signs that with more work it could be a compelling and entertaining read. But in its current form, those shortcomings simply make it impossible for the book to stand well on its own. As such, paying 2000$ for that Martiniere cover turned out to be a mistake. He would have been better served with the services of an editor who would have helped him clean up his manucript and make everything better.

Normally, I would have stopped reading because I hate to waste time on inferior SFF works when my plate is already full with works from established authors. But I went public and I said I would do this, and I promised Cross to give his book a shot. I hate to give something a bad score, but the truth of the matter is that The Immortality Game wasn't ready to be published. It shows potential, true, but it's a number of rewrites away from being good enough to be read at large. Barring an editor, Ted Cross needs a number of honest and objective beta readers who are not afraid to tell him what doesn't work with his manuscripts. This guy has talent and good ideas. It's in the execution that he needs to improve.

The final verdict: 4/10

Thus ends my probably ill-advised self-published experiment. Hence, for better or worse, I will not be reading any other books by indie authors. . .

You can find more info about this title here.

Sebastien de Castell contest winners!

Our two winners will receive a copy of Sebastien de Castell's Knight's Shadow, compliments of the folks at Jo Fletcher Books. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winners are:

- Ron Fay, from Salem, Wisconsin, USA

- Mark James Schryver, from Pulaski, New York, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


For a limited time only, you can once again download The World of Ice and Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones at a discount! You can now get your hands on it for only 10.60$ here! It's a must read for all the big ASOIAF fans out there!

Here's the blurb:

THE NEVER-BEFORE-SEEN HISTORY OF WESTEROS AND THE LANDS BEYOND • WITH HUNDREDS OF PAGES OF ALL-NEW MATERIAL FROM GEORGE R. R. MARTIN

If the past is prologue, then George R. R. Martin’s masterwork—the most inventive and entertaining fantasy saga of our time—warrants one hell of an introduction. At long last, it has arrived with The World of Ice & Fire.

This lavishly illustrated volume is a comprehensive history of the Seven Kingdoms, providing vividly constructed accounts of the epic battles, bitter rivalries, and daring rebellions that lead to the events of A Song of Ice and Fire and HBO’s Game of Thrones. In a collaboration that’s been years in the making, Martin has teamed with Elio M. García, Jr., and Linda Antonsson, the founders of the renowned fan site Westeros.org—perhaps the only people who know this world almost as well as its visionary creator.

Collected here is all the accumulated knowledge, scholarly speculation, and inherited folk tales of maesters and septons, maegi and singers, including

• full-color artwork and maps, with more than 170 original pieces
• full family trees for Houses Stark, Lannister, and Targaryen
• in-depth explorations of the history and culture of Westeros
• 100% all-new material, more than half of which Martin wrote specifically for this book

The definitive companion piece to George R. R. Martin’s dazzlingly conceived universe, The World of Ice & Fire is indeed proof that the pen is mightier than a storm of swords.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


For a limited time only, you can download Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant for only 5.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

The Romans have long since departed and Britain is steadily declining into ruin. But, at least, the wars that once ravaged the country have ceased. Axl and Beatrice, a couple of elderly Britons, decide that now is the time, finally, for them to set off across this troubled land of mist and rain to find the son they have not seen for years, the son they can scarcely remember. They know they will face many hazards—some strange and otherworldly—but they cannot foresee how their journey will reveal to them the dark and forgotten corners of their love for each other. Nor can they foresee that they will be joined on their journey by a Saxon warrior, his orphan charge, and a knight—each of them, like Axl and Beatrice, lost in some way to his own past, but drawn inexorably toward the comfort, and the burden, of the fullness of a life’s memories.

Sometimes savage, sometimes mysterious, always intensely moving, Kazuo Ishiguro’s first novel in a decade tells a luminous story about the act of forgetting and the power of memory, a resonant tale of love, vengeance, and war.

Dave Bara contest winners!

Our winners will get their hands on a copy of Dave Bara's Impulse, compliments of the folks at Del Rey UK. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winners are:

- Joshua Patrao, from Vashi, Navi Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

- Murray Lane, from Formby, Merseyside, United Kingdom

- Ana Cristina Amaral Alves, from Amadora, Portugal

Many thanks to all the participants!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


Most of the Dresden Files graphic novels from Dynamite Entertainment are available for 1.99$ each! You can download Jim Butcher's Welcome to the Jungle here.

Here's the blurb:

This original story is set in the New York Times-bestselling world of Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, and is scripted by Butcher himself! When the supernatural world goes out of control, there's only one man to call: Harry Dresden, the only professional wizard in the Chicago phonebook.

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (April 6th)

In hardcover:

Kazuo Ishiguro's The Buried Giant is down one position, ending the week at number 7. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

In paperback:

Andy Weir's The Martian is up four positions, ending the week at number 4 (trade paperback).

Dean Koontz's The City is down two spots, finishing the week at number 13.

George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones maintains its position at number 14.

Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One returns at number 17 (trade paperback)

Myke Cole contest winners!

Thanks to the folks at Ace, our three winners will receive a copy of Myke Cole's Gemini Cell! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

The winners are:

- Noe Caro, from Yuma, Arizona, USA

- Laura Miller, from Macomb, Michigan, USA

- Myra Castellano, from Edinburg, Texas, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


For a limited time, you can download Janny Wurts' Curse of the Mistwraith for only 0.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

The stunning first volume in Janny Wurts’s epic tale of two half-brothers cursed to life-long enmity.

The world of Athera lives in eternal fog, its skies obscured by the malevolent Mistwraith. Only the combined powers of two half-brothers can challenge the Mistwraith’s stranglehold: Arithon, Master of Shadow and Lysaer, Lord of Light.

Arithon and Lysaer will find that they are inescapably bound inside a pattern of events dictated by their own deepest convictions. Yet there is more at stake than one battle with the Mistwraith – as the sorcerers of the Fellowship of Seven know well. For between them the half-brothers hold the balance of the world, its harmony and its future, in their hands.

Win a copy of Ken Liu's THE GRACE OF KINGS


Thanks to the generosity of the folks at Saga Press, I have a copy of Ken Liu's The Grace of Kings up for grabs. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

Two men rebel together against tyranny—and then become rivals—in this first sweeping book of an epic fantasy series from Ken Liu, recipient of Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards.

Wily, charming Kuni Garu, a bandit, and stern, fearless Mata Zyndu, the son of a deposed duke, seem like polar opposites. Yet, in the uprising against the emperor, the two quickly become the best of friends after a series of adventures fighting against vast conscripted armies, silk-draped airships, and shapeshifting gods. Once the emperor has been overthrown, however, they each find themselves the leader of separate factions—two sides with very different ideas about how the world should be run and the meaning of justice.

Fans of intrigue, intimate plots, and action will find a new series to embrace in the Dandelion Dynasty.

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

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

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

Good luck to all the participants!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


You can now download Miles Cameron's The Red Knight for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

This is a world dominated by The Wild.

Man lives in pockets of civilisation claimed from The Wild. Within men's walls life is civilised, the peace punctuated by tournaments, politicking, courtly love and canny business. Beyond those walls men are prey - vulnerable to the exceptionally powerful and dangerous creatures which populate the land, and even more vulnerable to those creatures schemes.

So when one of those creatures breaks out of The Wild and begins preying on people in their homes, it takes a specialist to hunt it down or drive it out . . . and even then, it's a long, difficult and extremely dangerous job.

The Black Captain and his men are one such group of specialists.

They have no idea what they're about to face . . .

Forget George and the Dragon. Forget Sir Lancelot and tales of Knightly exploits. This is dirty, bloody work. This is violent, visceral action. This is a mercenary knight as you've never seen one before.

Extract from Peter Newman's THE VAGRANT


Thanks to the folks at Harper Voyager, here's an extract from Peter Newman's The Vagrant. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

Years have passed since humanity’s destruction emerged from the Breach.

Friendless and alone he walks across a desolate, war-torn landscape.

As each day passes the world tumbles further into depravity, bent and twisted by the new order, corrupted by the Usurper, the enemy, and his infernal horde.

His purpose is to reach the Shining City, last bastion of the human race, and deliver the only weapon that may make a difference in the ongoing war.

What little hope remains is dying. Abandoned by its leader, The Seven, and its heroes, The Seraph Knights, the last defences of a once great civilisation are crumbling into dust.

But the Shining City is far away and the world is a very dangerous place.

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

Starlight gives way to bolder neon. Signs muscle in on all sides, brightly welcoming each arrival to New Horizon.

The Vagrant does not notice; his gaze fixes on the ground ahead.

People litter the streets like living waste, their eyes as hollow as their laughter. Voices beg and hands grasp, needy, aggressive.

The Vagrant does not notice and walks on, clasping his coat tightly at the neck.

Excited shouts draw a crowd ahead. A mixture of half-bloods and pimps, dealers and spectators gather in force. Platforms rise up in the street, unsteady on legs of salvaged metal. Wire cages sit on top. Within, shivering forms squat, waiting to be sold. For some of the assembled, the flesh auction provides new slaves, for others, fresh meat.

Unnoticed in the commotion, the Vagrant travels on.

The centre of New Horizon is dominated by a vast scrap yard dubbed ‘The Iron Mountain’, a legacy from the war. At its heart is the gutted corpse of a fallen sky-ship; its cargo of tanks and fighters has spilled out in the crash, forming a skirt of scattered metal at the mountain’s base.

Always opportunistic, the inhabitants of New Horizon have tunnelled out its insides to create living spaces and shops, selling on the sky-ship’s treasures. Scavenged lamps hang, colouring the shadows.

One tunnel is illuminated by a glowing hoop, off-white and erratic. In the pale light, the low ceiling is the colour of curdled milk.

Awkwardly, the Vagrant enters, bending his legs and bowing his head, his back held straight. Corrugated shelves line the walls, packed with bottles, tins and tubes. The owner of the rusting cave hunches on the floor, cleaning a syringe with a ragged cloth. He appraises the Vagrant with a bloodshot eye.

‘A new customer?’

The Vagrant nods.

Syringe and cloth are swiftly tucked away and yellowing fingers rub together. ‘Ah, welcome, welcome. I am Doctor Zero. I take it you’ve heard of me?’

The Vagrant nods.

‘Of course you have, that’s why you’re here. Well, what can I get you? You look tired. I have the finest selection of uppers this side of the Breach, or perhaps something to escape with?’ His eyes twinkle, sleazy, seductive.

One hand still on his collar, the Vagrant’s amber eyes roam the shelves. They alight on a small jar, its label faded to a uniform grey.

‘Ah, a discerning customer,’ says Doctor Zero, impressed. ‘Rare to have somebody who knows what they’re looking for. Most of the rabble I get through here can’t tell the difference between stardust and sawdust.’ He picks up the jar, flicking something sticky from the lid. ‘I assume whoever sent you appreciates the scarcity of good medicine … and the cost.’

In answer, the Vagrant kneels and places two platinum coins on the ground, sliding them across the floor towards the Doctor.

‘I hope you aren’t trying to trick me,’ the Doctor replies, picking them up and tapping each one in turn with his finger. The coins vibrate and a brief two-note duet fills the cramped space. For a moment neither speak, both moved to other memories by the sound.

Doctor Zero holds them to the light, the clean discs incongruous with his sallow skin. ‘My apologies,’ he says, handing the jar over quickly, hoping no change will be asked for. ‘And if you have any other needs, don’t hesitate to come back.’

Doctor Zero watches the Vagrant go, his fingers twisting together, untwisting and twisting again. He picks up the syringe and, after a moment’s deliberation, pricks his finger on it, wincing at the little stab of pain. A bead of blood appears on the end of his finger. He waits until it has grown to the size of a small pea and then whispers his message.

The Vagrant makes his way towards the city gates, famous for always being open. The Demagogue, demonic caretaker of the city, claims this is because New Horizon admits anyone, a lie to conceal their dysfunction. The great engines that control the gates are silent, critical parts stolen or broken long ago.

Beggars’ cries mix with heavy drumming and the taste of sweat. A girl, aged prematurely by life, pulls at the Vagrant’s arm. ‘Ey, you come from Zero’s? You wanna share?’ She runs a hand over her curveless frame. ‘You give me high, I give you ride. Big high, big ride.’ The Vagrant stops, looking at her hand until she withdraws it. He walks on, the girl’s stream of curses following after.

A large, hound-like animal sits on its haunches, square in the middle of the road. Tainted by infernal influence, it is larger than its ancestors, fearsome, ferocious, a Dogspawn. No Handler is in sight and the usually easy-going wastrels of New Horizon give it a wide berth.

The Vagrant does the same.

It watches him with mismatched eyes. One canine, black in the poor light, unreadable, but the other human one: it flickers in recognition. Somewhere outside the city a Handler watches, viewing the wanderer through their swapped orbs.

For a time, both are still and the crowd follows the lead of the fading stars above, retreating, one by one into the darkness.

The Dogspawn pants heavily, its foul breath adding to the thick cocktail of smoke and rot that passes for New Horizon’s air.

The Vagrant does not run. There is no point. Over the years, desperate prey has tried many things to hide its scent from these half-breeds: perfume, mud, excrement, even the blood of another member of the Dogspawn’s pack.

All fail.

The hunters do not track the body’s scent. The Vagrant knows this: it is why the rest of the pack and their Handlers lie dead.

With a growl, the Dogspawn stands up, refuse clinging to blood-crusted legs. It pads forward with difficulty, dragging itself through the muck.

The Vagrant watches, unmoving.

Eight metres from him, the Dogspawn leaps. It is a weak gesture, a mere suggestion of its usual power.

The Vagrant steps back, leaving it to sprawl exhausted at his feet. Its flanks heave, gasping and ragged. Blackish blood dribbles from its rear. Soon, it will die. The growls soften, become a whine which gives way to a fading, wheezy pant.

The Vagrant steps around the body but the Dogspawn is not quite dead. It snaps at him with the last of its strength, too slow to catch his ankle, but the long teeth snare his coat.

The Vagrant pulls at it, once, twice, the Dogspawn glaring at him through half-closed eyes. Its jaws stay locked onto the worn material in a last act of defiance. The Vagrant continues to pull: harder and more urgently until fabric tears on teeth. He pulls free but there is a cost, his coat is opened by the struggle.

The Dogspawn’s eyes open one final time, widening at what is revealed.

In the crook of his arm, a baby sleeps, oblivious; chubby cheeks are dusted with fever spots. A sword hangs at the Vagrant’s side, a single eye glaring from the crosspiece. It returns the Dogspawn’s dying stare, peering beyond to find the tether of essence that will lead to its tainted Handler.

Swiftly, the Vagrant walks towards the great gates of New Horizon, pulling his coat about him once more.

The rust-bruised gates loom high, thick chains frozen along their length. To their right is a watchtower, ruined, its broken roof hanging from defunct cables.

The Vagrant passes under its shadow and over the city’s boundary, walking purposefully into the gloom beyond.

Chunks of rock jut out across the barren landscape, a row of giant’s teeth. Repeated bombardments and exposure to poisonous demonic energies have taken their toll on the environment. Craters pepper the ground like pockmarks. There are no trees, no colour and little life to be seen. The Blasted Lands are named without irony.

From nearby a cry rings out, quickly muffled. It is enough. The Vagrant turns and moves toward the sound.

Behind a jagged slab of stone sits the Handler cradling his head. His dark animal eye has necrosed in his skull, making nerve endings scream. The Handler does not know he is found.

The Vagrant crouches, carefully lays the baby in the dust. He stands slowly, his blade singing as it tastes the air.

Now the Handler realizes. He scrabbles backwards, promises babbling from his lips until the Vagrant’s shadow covers him.

Abruptly there is silence.

Heritage of Cyador


A big fan of L. E. Modesitt, jr.'s Recluce saga for over two decades, it was with pleasure that I read the latest Recluce installment, Heritage of Cyador. This is the second volume in a two-part cycle chronicling the faith of the survivors of the fall of Cyador, having now re-established themselves in the small country of Cigoerne on the continent of Hamor. It begins just a few months following the events which marked the end of the previous novel, Cyador's Heirs. And as such, it's not a good jumping point for new readers wishing to get acquainted with the series. Indeed, this one is for long-time Recluce fans only.

As was the case with its predecessor, Heritage of Cyador helps flesh out the societies of Hamor, focusing on the events and the people that left an indelible mark on the continent's history. On the other hand, in style and tone this second installment is more a military fantasy offering, what with the entire novel dealing with the threat of the Heldyan invasion and the repercussions a victory by the foreign monarch would have on both Afrit and Cigoerne.

Here's the blurb:

From New York Times bestselling author L.E. Modesitt comes Heritage of Cyador, the new novel in the Saga of Recluce.

Scarcely a year after the events of Cyador’s Heirs, Lerial uses his mastery of Order and Chaos, the competing natural forces that shape his world and define the magic that exists within it, to utterly destroy an Afritan military force crossing into Cigoerne.

Five years later, Lerial, now an overcaptain and a field commander of Cigoerne’s Mirror Lancers, must lead three companies of troops into Afrit on a mission of mutual interest: neighboring Heldya is threatening to invade Afrit, and if that nation falls, Cigoerne is certain to be next.

The mission is both delicate and dangerous; Lerial’s value in the effort to repelling Heldya is undeniable, but his troubled history against Afrit may reopen old wounds that will never truly heal.

Worldbuilding always plays a big role in any Recluce book and it's no different in this one. In Cyador's Heirs, I really enjoyed how Modesitt filled in the many blanks and elaborated on how the late Empress brought the surviving Mirror Lancers, the Magi'i, and other survivors into the last fireship and fled Cyador to establish themselves in what would one eventually become Cigoerne. Heritage of Cyador focuses on Lerial and his troops as they try to help stave off the Heldyan invasion without sacrifing too many of his men. Moreover, as the son of Duke Kiedron and a superior military commander in his own right, he must do his best not to ruffle any feathers, both among the Afritan officers and the members of the nobility. And yet, the more time he spends defending first Luba and then Swartheld, the more Lerial discovers that the wealthy merchanter class could well be the worst threat to Afrit, not Heldya. Amid betrayal and corruption allegations, it appears that all is lost and it's up to Lerial, a stranger in a strange land, to find a way to help turn the tide.

The author continues to explore the relationship between Order and Chaos, one of the trademarks of this saga. Being able to manipulate both Order and Chaos forces Lerial to test the limits of what he can do, often with shocking results. With no one to teach him, Lerial, obviously a Gray Mage, must push himself like never before, and thus put his life on the line in an attempt to prevent Swartheld, and the rest of Afrit, from falling to the enemy. Unfortunately, we don't learn as much as I would have liked about Lerial's growing abilities. With overwhelming odds stacked against him at every turn, Lerial is forced to react and try to save himself and his men, often coming out of the ordeal with his own life hanging by a thread.

In terms of characterization, Lerial understandably takes center stage. With feminism and the emancipation of women being two important Recluce themes, Haesychya, Duke Atroyan's Consort, and Kyedra, their daughter, also have big roles to play in this book. Emerya, a powerful Healer and Lerial's aunt, is another key protagonist. As far as the Afritan military is concerned, Rhamuel, Arms-Commander of Afrit, is the only one that truly stands out amidst all the corrupted or inept officers.

Modesitt's books are never fast-paced affairs and Heritage of Cyador is no exception. The Recluce recipe is simple: you follow the main character as he or she must learn, experiment, and puzzle out ways to escape a number of predicaments before the finale. In that respect, the 18th volume in the saga follows Modesitt's Recluce recipe like its predecessors and long-time fans end up with a another satisfying read. Having said that, I must point out that you can pretty much see the end coming from the middle part of the novel. You can't tell exactly how it will come about, but everything points in that direction. That was a bit of a disappointment, as the author habitually keeps his card closer to his chest and does a better job concealing what he has in store for his readers. That doesn't necessarily take anything away from the overall reading experience, but it does rob Heritage of Cyador of any kind of "punch" to cap off the ending of the book.

When all is said and done, Heritage of Cyador is another quality read by L. E. Modesitt, jr. Intelligent, thoughtful, action-packed, and entertaining without any unnecessary bells and whistles, once more this is adult fantasy by an author in perfect control of his craft and his universe.

The final verdict: 7.5/10

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

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


For a limited time, you can get your hands on the digital edition of Peter V. Brett's The Great Bazaar and Other Stories for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Humanity has been brought to the brink of extinction. Each night, the world is overrun by demons—bloodthirsty creatures of nightmare that have been hunting and killing humanity for over 300 years. A scant few hamlets and half-starved city-states are all that remain of a once proud civilization, and it is only by hiding behind wards, ancient symbols with the power to repel the demons, that they survive. A handful of Messengers brave the night to keep the lines of communication open between the increasingly isolated populace.

But there was a time when the demons were not so bold. A time when wards did more than hold the demons at bay. They allowed man to fight back, and to win. Messenger Arlen Bales will search anywhere, dare anything, to return this magic to the world.

Abban, a merchant in the Great Bazaar of Krasia, purports to sell everything a man’s heart could desire, including, perhaps, the key to Arlen’s quest.

In addition to the title novelette, The Great Bazaar and Other Stories contains a number of scenes not included in The Painted Man (published in the US as The Warded Man) as well as a glossary and a grimoire, making it an essential guide to one of the most exciting epic fantasy series currently being published.


You can also get your hands on Messenger's Legacy for the same price here.

Here's the blurb:

Humanity has been brought to the brink of extinction. Each night, the world is overrun by demons—bloodthirsty creatures of nightmare that have been hunting the surface for over 300 years. A scant few hamlets and half-starved city-states are all that remain of a once proud civilization, and it is only by hiding behind wards, ancient symbols with the power to repel the demons, that they survive. A handful of Messengers brave the night to keep the lines of communication open between the increasingly isolated populace.

Briar Damaj is a boy of six in the small village of Bogton. Half Krasian, the village children call him Mudboy for his dark skin. When tragedy strikes, Briar decides the town is better off without him, fleeing into the bog with nothing but his wits and a bit of herb lore to protect him.

After twenty years, Ragen Messenger has agreed to retire and pass on his route to his protégé, Arlen Bales. But for all that he’s earned the rest, he has no idea what to do with the rest of his life. When he learns Briar, the son of an old friend, is missing, Ragen is willing to risk any danger to bring him safely home.

Messenger's Legacy will be amply illustrated by Lauren K. Cannon, with different dust jackets for the trade and limited editions, nine full-page interior black-and-white illustrations, and a full-color frontispiece exclusive to the limited edition.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


You can now download Douglas E. Richards' BrainWeb for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

When the Academy Awards become the target of a brutal terror attack, only one man can stave off massive bloodshed.

MIND'S EYE, the novel that introduced Nick Hall, was a runaway Kindle bestseller. Now Hall returns in a riveting stand-alone thriller, set in an Internet future that is just around the corner. From the New York Times bestselling author of WIRED.

Nick Hall, an unwilling recipient of brain implants, can surf the Web with his thoughts and read minds. And while this makes him one of the most formidable men on earth, he is determined to stay off the grid.

But when terrorists seize control of the Academy Awards and vow to butcher the world's most beloved stars, one by one, in front of an international television audience, Hall is forced to reveal his astonishing capabilities.

Now, power players around the world will stop at nothing to capture him. And as the secretive group working with Hall begins to unravel, he is sure of only two things: he has been betrayed by someone close to him. And the stakes he is playing for could not be any higher . . .

Based on actual research on thought-controlled Web surfing, BrainWeb is a smart thriller that raises a number of intriguing possibilities about a future that is rapidly approaching.

Win an Advance Reading Copy of Peter Orullian's TRIAL OF INTENTIONS


I'm giving away my ARC of Peter Orullian's Trial of Intentions to one lucky winner! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

The gods who created this world have abandoned it. In their mercy, however, they chained the rogue god--and the monstrous creatures he created to plague mortalkind--in the vast and inhospitable wasteland of the Bourne. The magical Veil that contains them has protected humankind for millennia and the monsters are little more than tales told to frighten children. But the Veil has become weak and creatures of Nightmare have come through. To fight them, the races of men must form a great alliance to try and stop the creatures.

But there is dissent. One king won't answer the call, his pride blinding him even to the poison in his own court. Another would see Convocation fail for his own political advantage. And still others believe Convocation is not enough. Some turn to the talents of the Sheason, who can shape the very essence of the world to their will. But their order is divided, on the brink of collapse.

Tahn Junell remembers friends who despaired in a place left barren by war. One of the few who have actually faced the unspeakable horde in battle, Tahn sees something else at work and wonders about the nature of the creatures on the other side of the Veil. He chooses to go to a place of his youth, a place of science, daring to think he can find a way to prevent slaughter, prevent war.

And his choices may reshape a world . . .

The second title in the Vault of Heaven series, Peter Orullian's Trial of Intentions is a mesmerizing fantasy epic that turns the conventions of the genre on its head.

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

The latest Hugo awards kerfluffle. . .


This year's Hugo awards nominees were announced earlier today. As is the case basically every single year, the annual Hugo kerfluffle was quick to ensue. Now, if you are like 99% of speculative fiction readers, you likely don't give a shit about this or any other award, and you probably don't keep track of the back-and-forth between the two most vocal factions that came to dominate the voting process in 2015.

Which is why so many people have been surprised -- and a little shocked -- by the amount of hate and mudslinging which have swamped our Facebook and Twitter feeds today. Personally, I find the whole mess hilarious. I never would have thought that the Sad Puppies movement organized by Brad R. Torgersen and Larry Correia would manage to place so many of their "contenders" on the ballot by going against the SJW clique.

If this tempest in a teacup has piqued your curiosity and you have a few minutes to kill, io9.com have just posted a good summary of the events which led to this year's ballot, with relevant links and stuff.

I've been expecting some sort of backlash for a number of years, ever since the start of the Scalzi/Robinette Kowal era of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. But I never in my life expected things to go this far. This undermines the credibility of the Hugo Awards, but that's nothing new.

Expect way more shit to hit the proverbial fan until the votes are tallied, with worst to come when the winners are announced next summer. . . :/

Follow this link to read the full story.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


You can now pre-order the digital edition of The Great Leveller, an omnibus of three Joe Abercrombie novels, for only 11.99$ here!

Here's the blurb:

Collected together for the first time, here are the three hard-hitting standalone novels set in the world of Joe Abercrombie's bestselling FIRST LAW trilogy.

BEST SERVED COLD: War may be hell but for Monza Murcatto, the Snake of Talins, the most feared and famous mercenary in Duke Orso's employ, it's a damn good way of making money too. Her victories have made her popular - a shade too popular for her employer's taste. Betrayed, thrown down a mountain and left for dead, Murcatto's reward is a broken body and a burning hunger for vengeance. Whatever the cost, seven men must die.

THE HEROES: Over three bloody days of battle, the fate of the North will be decided. But with both sides riddled by intrigues, follies, feuds and petty jealousies, it is unlikely to be the noblest hearts, or even the strongest arms that prevail. Three men. One battle. No Heroes.

RED COUNTRY: Shy South hoped to bury her bloody past and ride away smiling, but she'll have to sharpen up some bad old ways to get her family back, and she's not a woman to flinch from what needs doing. She sets off in pursuit off her family's killers with only a pair of oxen and her cowardly old stepfather Lamb for company. But it turns out Lamb's buried a bloody past of his own, and out in the lawless Far Country, the past never stays buried.

Win a copy of James Dashner's THE MAZE RUNNER COLLECTOR'S EDITION: THE SCORCH TRIALS


I'm giving away my review copy of James Dashner's The Maze Runner Collector's Edition: The Scorch Trials to one lucky winner! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

Get lost in the thrilling action and twisting plotlines of James Dashner’s #1 New York Times bestselling Maze Runner series. Read the first two books—The Maze Runner and The Scorch Trials—discover lost files from the offices of WICKED, and learn forgotten Glader memories in this collectible edition.

The Maze Runner is now a major motion picture from Twentieth Century Fox. Don’t miss the sequel, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, coming to theaters on September 18, 2015, with Dylan O’Brien as Thomas, Kaya Scodelario as Teresa, Will Poulter as Gally, Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Newt, Rosa Salazar as Brenda, Giancarlo Esposito as Jorge, and Aidan Gillen as the Rat Man.

Remember. Survive. Run.

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

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

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

Good luck to all the participants!

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (March 30th)

In hardcover:

Kazuo Ishiguro's The Buried Giant is down one position, ending the week at number 6. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Gail Carriger’s Prudence debuts at number 19.

In paperback:

Andy Weir's The Martian is down one position, ending the week at number 8 (trade paperback).

Dean Koontz's The City is down one spot, finishing the week at number 11.

George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones is up one spot, finishing the week at number 14.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


You can now download Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson's Hellhole for only 3.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Only the most desperate colonists dare to make a new home on Hellhole. Reeling from a recent asteroid impact, tortured with horrific storms, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, and churning volcanic eruptions, the planet is a dumping ground for undesirables, misfits, and charlatans…but also a haven for dreamers and independent pioneers.

Against all odds, an exiled general named Adolphus has turned Hellhole into a place of real opportunity for the desperate colonists who call the planet their home. While the colonists are hard at work developing the planet, General Adolphus secretly builds alliances with the leaders of the other Deep Zone worlds, forming a clandestine coalition against the tyrannical, fossilized government responsible for their exile.

What no one knows is this: the planet Hellhole, though damaged and volatile, hides an amazing secret. Deep beneath its surface lies the remnants of an obliterated alien civilization and the buried memories of its unrecorded past that, when unearthed, could tear the galaxy apart.


You can also get your hands on L. E. Modesitt, jr.'s Empress of Eternity for the same price here.

Here's the blurb:

In the far future, an indestructible and massive canal more than 2,000 miles long spans the mid-continent of Earth. Nothing can mar it, move it, or affect it in any fashion. At its western end, where it meets the sea, is an equally indestructible structure comprising three levels of seemingly empty chambers.

Scientists from three different civilizations, separated in time by hundreds of thousands of years, are investigating the canal. In the most distant of these civilizations, religious rebellion is brewing. A plot is hatched to overthrow the world government of the Vanir, using a weapon that can destroy anything-except the canal. If used at full power it might literally unravel the universe and destroy all life forever. The lives and fates of all three civilizations become intertwined as the forces behind the canal react to the threat, and all three teams of scientists find their lives changed beyond belief.


Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston's Earth Unaware is also available for 3.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

A hundred years before Ender's Game, humans thought they were alone in the galaxy. Humanity was slowly making their way out from Earth to the planets and asteroids of the Solar System, exploring and mining and founding colonies.

The mining ship El Cavador is far out from Earth, in the deeps of the Kuiper Belt, beyond Pluto. Other mining ships, and the families that live on them, are few and far between this far out. So when El Cavador's telescopes pick up a fast-moving object coming in-system, it's hard to know what to make of it. It's massive and moving at a significant fraction of the speed of light.

But the ship has other problems. Their systems are old and failing. The family is getting too big. There are claim-jumping corporates bringing Asteroid Belt tactics to the Kuiper Belt. Worrying about a distant object that might or might not be an alien ship seems…not important.

They're wrong. It's the most important thing that has happened to the human race in a million years. This is humanity's first contact with an alien race. The First Formic War is about to begin.

Earth Unaware is the first novel in The First Formic War series by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston.

New extract from George R. R. Martin's THE WINDS OF WINTER


George R. R. Martin just posted a new extract from the forthcoming The Winds of Winter on his website! It's an Alayne chapter, someone we haven't seen in a while.

Follow this link to read the extract.

Win a copy of Peter Newman's THE VAGRANT


I have three copies of Peter Newman's The Vagrant for you to win, courtesy of the folks at Harper Voyager. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

Years have passed since humanity’s destruction emerged from the Breach.

Friendless and alone he walks across a desolate, war-torn landscape.

As each day passes the world tumbles further into depravity, bent and twisted by the new order, corrupted by the Usurper, the enemy, and his infernal horde.

His purpose is to reach the Shining City, last bastion of the human race, and deliver the only weapon that may make a difference in the ongoing war.

What little hope remains is dying. Abandoned by its leader, The Seven, and its heroes, The Seraph Knights, the last defences of a once great civilisation are crumbling into dust.

But the Shining City is far away and the world is a very dangerous place.

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

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

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

Good luck to all the participants!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


You can now get your hands on the digital edition of Kate Elliott's A Passage of Stars for only 0.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

In the crackling first book of Kate Elliott’s Highroad trilogy, strong-spirited Lily Ransome leaves her home planet—and the life she’s always known—to rescue an abducted friend.

Willful as well as physically brave, Lily Ransome is dissatisfied by the options available to her on Unruli: She can either join her family’s lucrative mining business or begin procreating. When Heredes, her beloved martial arts instructor, tutor, and father figure, is kidnapped by alien bounty hunters, Lily spurns the expectations of her home planet and ventures into space to find him. Befriending a persecuted minority class of humans called the Ridani, she becomes involved in an intergalactic rebellion and finds love in an unexpected place—as well as true strength within herself.

Peter V. Brett contest winner!

Since the book comes out today, here's the lucky bastard who will get his hands on my Advance Reading Copy of Peter V. Brett's The Skull Throne! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winner is:

- Joel Miller, from Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

Extract from Ken Liu's THE GRACE OF KINGS


Here's an extract from Ken Liu's The Grace of Kings, first volume in the Dandelion Dynasty series, for you to sample, compliments of the folks at Saga Press. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

Two men rebel together against tyranny—and then become rivals—in this first sweeping book of an epic fantasy series from Ken Liu, recipient of Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards.

Wily, charming Kuni Garu, a bandit, and stern, fearless Mata Zyndu, the son of a deposed duke, seem like polar opposites. Yet, in the uprising against the emperor, the two quickly become the best of friends after a series of adventures fighting against vast conscripted armies, silk-draped airships, and shapeshifting gods. Once the emperor has been overthrown, however, they each find themselves the leader of separate factions—two sides with very different ideas about how the world should be run and the meaning of justice.

Fans of intrigue, intimate plots, and action will find a new series to embrace in the Dandelion Dynasty.

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

MATA ZYNDU

FARUN, IN THE TUNOA ISLANDS: THE NINTH MONTH IN THE FOURTEENTH YEAR OF THE REIGN OF ONE BRIGHT HEAVEN

Few would have guessed that the man towering above the noisy crowd at the edge of the town square of Farun was only a boy of fourteen. The jostling townspeople kept a respectful distance from Mata Zyndu’s seven-and-a-half-foot frame, rippling with muscle everywhere.

“They’re afraid of you,” Phin Zyndu, the boy’s uncle, said with pride in his voice. He looked up into Mata’s face and sighed. “I wish your father and grandfather could see you today.”

The boy nodded but said nothing, looking over the bobbing heads of the crowd like a crane among sandpipers. Unlike the brown eyes most common in Cocru, Mata’s eyes were coal-black, but each held two pupils that glowed with a faint light, a rare condition that many had believed was mythical.

Those double-pupiled eyes allowed him to see more sharply and farther than most people, and as he scanned the horizon, he lingered on the slender, dark tower of stone to the north, just outside of town. It stood next to the sea like a dagger stuck into the rocky beach. Mata could just make out the great arched windows near the top of the tower, whose frames were intricately decorated with carvings of the Two Ravens, black and white, their beaks meeting at the apex of the arch to hold up a stone chrysanthemum with a thousand petals.

That was the main tower of the ancestral castle of the Zyndu Clan. These days it belonged to Datun Zatoma, commander of the Xana garrison guarding Farun. Mata Zyndu hated to think about that commoner, not even a warrior but a mere scribe, squatting in the ancient, storied halls that rightfully belonged to his family.

Mata forced himself back into the present. He leaned down to whisper to Phin, “I want to get closer.”

The Imperial Procession had just arrived in Tunoa by sea from the southern part of the Big Island, where rumor had it that the emperor had survived an assassination attempt near Zudi. As Mata and Phin made their way forward, the crowd parted effortlessly and silently before Mata like waves before a ship’s prow.

They stopped just short of the front row, and Mata hunched down to his uncle’s height to avoid drawing attention from the emperor’s guards.

“They’re here!” the crowd shouted as airships burst through the clouds near the horizon and the tip of the Throne Pagoda rose into sight.

While the townspeople cheered the beautiful dancers and applauded the daring soldiers, Mata Zyndu had eyes only for Emperor Mapidéré. At long last, he would set his eyes on the face of the enemy.

A wall of soldiers now stood in a circle on top of the Pagoda, arrows nocked, swords drawn. The emperor sat in their midst, and the spectators could only catch occasional glimpses of his face.

Mata had imagined an old man grown soft and fat from complacency, but instead, through the wall of soldiers, as through a veil, he saw a gaunt figure with hard, expressionless eyes.

How alone he is, high above in his peerless splendor.

And how afraid.

Phin and Mata looked at each other. Each saw in the other’s eyes the same mixture of sorrow and smoldering hatred. Phin didn’t have to speak aloud. Mata had heard from his uncle the same words every day of his life:

Do not forget.

***

Back when Emperor Mapidéré was still only the young King of Xana, and when the army of Xana routed the crumbling forces of the Six States across land, sea, and sky, one man had stood in its way: Dazu Zyndu, Duke of Tunoa and Marshal of Cocru.

The Zyndus came from a long line of great Cocru generals. But when Dazu was a young man, he was scrawny and sickly. His father and grandfather decided to send him north, far away from the family’s fiefdom in the Tunoa Islands, to be trained under the legendary master swordsman Médo in the misty isles called the Silkworm Eggs, at the other end of Dara.

After one look at Dazu, Médo said, “I’m too old and you’re too little. I taught my last student years ago. Leave me in peace.”

But Dazu did not leave. He knelt outside Médo’s house for ten days and ten nights, refusing food or drink except rainwater. On the eleventh day, Dazu collapsed to the ground, and Médo was moved by Dazu’s persistence and accepted him as a student.

But instead of teaching the young man sword fighting, Médo used Dazu only as a ranch hand to care for his small herd of cattle. Dazu did not complain. In the cold and rocky mountains, the young man followed the herd everywhere, watching for wolves hiding in the mist and huddling for warmth among the lowing cows at night.

When a new calf was born in the spring, Médo told Dazu to carry the baby animal back to his house for a weigh-in each day so that the calf’s legs would not be injured by the sharp stones on the ground. This involved walking many miles. At first the trip was easy, but as the calf gained weight, the trip became more difficult.

“The calf is capable of walking quite well now,” Dazu said. “He never stumbles.”

“But I told you to carry him back here,” the teacher said. “The first thing a soldier must learn is to obey orders.”

Every day, the calf grew a little heavier, and every day, Dazu had to struggle a little harder. He would collapse, exhausted, when he finally got to the ranch, and the calf would bound out of his arms, glad to be able to walk on his own and stretch out.

When winter rolled around again, Médo handed him a wooden sword and asked him to strike as hard as he could at the practice dummy. Dazu looked with distaste at the crude weapon with no edge, but he swung obediently.

The wooden dummy fell in half, cut clean through. He looked at the sword in his hand with wonder.

“It’s not the sword,” his teacher said. “Have you looked at yourself lately?” He brought Dazu to stand in front of a brightly polished shield.

The young man could hardly recognize the reflection. His shoulders filled the frame of the mirror. His arms and thighs were twice as thick as he remembered, and his chest bulged over his narrow waist.

“A great warrior trusts not his weapons, but himself. When you possess true strength, you can deal a killing blow even if all you have is a blade of grass.

“Now you’re finally ready to learn from me. But first, go thank the calf for making you strong.”

Clash of Eagles


Imagine a world where the Roman Empire never fell, but instead continued to expand. . .

Thus began the back cover blurb of the advance reading copy of Alan Smale's Clash of Eagles. I've never been necessarily too keen on alternate history novels, but this one clearly intrigued me. And since I had yet to read any debut this year, I decided to give it a go.

I found the premise quite interesting and full of potential. Mixing an ever-expanding Roman Empire that never crumbled with native American lore and traditions made for a promising debut, or so I believed. If the author pulled it off, that is. And for the most part, Smale writes with aplomb and came up with a truly original tale.

Here's the blurb:

Perfect for fans of action-adventure and historical fiction—including novels by such authors as Bernard Cornwell, Steve Berry, Naomi Novik, and Harry Turtledove—this stunning work of alternate history imagines a world in which the Roman Empire has not fallen and the North American continent has just been discovered. In the year 1218 AD, transported by Norse longboats, a Roman legion crosses the great ocean, enters an endless wilderness, and faces a cataclysmic clash of worlds, cultures, and warriors.

Ever hungry for land and gold, the Emperor has sent Praetor Gaius Marcellinus and the 33rd Roman Legion into the newly discovered lands of North America. Marcellinus and his men expect easy victory over the native inhabitants, but on the shores of a vast river the Legion clashes with a unique civilization armed with weapons and strategies no Roman has ever imagined.

Forced to watch his vaunted force massacred by a surprisingly tenacious enemy, Marcellinus is spared by his captors and kept alive for his military knowledge. As he recovers and learns more about these proud people, he can’t help but be drawn into their society, forming an uneasy friendship with the denizens of the city-state of Cahokia. But threats—both Roman and Native—promise to assail his newfound kin, and Marcellinus will struggle to keep the peace while the rest of the continent surges toward certain conflict.

The backdrop of this story revolves around the Mississippian native American civilization which once dominated the lands surrounding the Mississippi and the Ohio rivers. I felt that the author did a great job bringing the city of Cahokia to life. Readers gradually discover more about the city and its inhabitants and their culture, the same way Marcellinus, now a stranger in a strange land, learns more about his new environment and its people. Info-dumps are used on occasions and are a necessary evil, as the Roman is the only POV character and the sole purpose of some scenes/discussions is to relay information to the reader. By and large, Smale's depiction of the native Americans' way of life was probably my favorite aspect of Clash of Eagles. The worldbuilding was original and compelling. The author has set the bar rather high in that regard and it will be interesting to see if he can maintain that level of quality and creativity when he depicts other civilizations such as the People of the Hand and the People of the Sun in future installments.

Witnessing the utter destruction of his Legion at the hands of what he considered mere savages humbled Praetor Gaius Marcellinus in a profound way. Sole survivor, he is kept alive so he can share his "modern" knowledge with the people of Cahokia. Shunned at first, with only children as companions, he slowly learns their language and after some time he begins to teach his captors a number of innovations. Simultaneously, he realizes the error of having underestimated the native Americans as uncivilized primitives. As time goes by, Marcellinus is astonished by the wonders that are unveiled. More or less a pariah at the beginning, witnessing Marcellinus spending time with the children to make them learn his language and in turn learn to communicate using theirs makes for an engaging read. Tahtay, Enopay, and Kimimela help shape the sort of man Marcellinus will become in order to earn the trust of the Cahokians. Inevitably, there is a Pocahontas feel to the whole tale, what with his interest in Sintikala, but Smale has a number of surprises up his sleeves. Here's to hoping that there will be additional points of view in the upcoming books, as it would be interesting to get the perspective of other people and not just that of Marcellinus. It would have been fascinating to have the POV of a native American, if only to discover how the Roman's ways and strange ideas are truly perceived by his captors.

The Cahokians may not be as technically advanced as the Romans in most regards, but the author came up with a number of surprising inventions that helped them crush the Legion, chief among them the Catanwakuna and the Wakinyan. I don't want to spoil anything, but let's just say that it's with his imagination and ingenuity that Alan Smale truly shines.

As a matter of course, in a novel whose premise has to do with a Roman Legion being defeated by native American forces, and in which the main protagonist is kept alive so he can teach the Cahokians how to better defend themselves against the Iroqua, exciting battle scenes and action sequences abound. Maybe a bit too much, if you ask me. Oddly enough, I felt that the pace was more fluid during the "slower" portions of the book. The fight scenes sort of got in the way of the storytelling, or so it seemed to me.

It remains to be seen if Alan Smale can imbue subsequent volumes with the same kind of originality and inventiveness. But as things stand, Clash of Eagles finds itself in pole position as far as the fantasy debut of the year is concerned.

The final verdict: 7.5/10

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

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


You can now get your hands on Paolo Bacigalupi's Ship Breaker for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

In America's Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being broken down for parts, Nailer, a teenage boy, works the light crew, scavenging for copper wiring just to make quota--and hopefully live to see another day. But when, by luck or chance, he discovers an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, Nailer faces the most important decision of his life: Strip the ship for all it's worth or rescue its lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl who could lead him to a better life. . .

In this powerful novel, award-winning author Paolo Bacigalupi delivers a thrilling, fast-paced adventure set in a vivid and raw, uncertain future.


You can also download the companion book, The Drowned Cities, for the same price here.

Here's the blurb:

Soldier boys emerged from the darkness. Guns gleamed dully. Bullet bandoliers and scars draped their bare chests. Ugly brands scored their faces. She knew why these soldier boys had come. She knew what they sought, and she knew, too, that if they found it, her best friend would surely die.

In a dark future America where violence, terror, and grief touch everyone, young refugees Mahlia and Mouse have managed to leave behind the war-torn lands of the Drowned Cities by escaping into the jungle outskirts. But when they discover a wounded half-man--a bioengineered war beast named Tool--who is being hunted by a vengeful band of soldiers, their fragile existence quickly collapses. One is taken prisoner by merciless soldier boys, and the other is faced with an impossible decision: Risk everything to save a friend, or flee to a place where freedom might finally be possible.

This thrilling companion to Paolo Bacigalupi's highly acclaimed Ship Breaker is a haunting and powerful story of loyalty, survival, and heart-pounding adventure.

Win a copy of David Walton's SUPERPOSITION


I have two copies of David Walton's science fiction technothriller Superposition up for grabs, courtesy of the folks at Pyr. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

Jacob Kelley’s family is turned upside down when an old friend turns up, waving a gun and babbling about an alien quantum intelligence. The mystery deepens when the friend is found dead in an underground bunker…apparently murdered the night he appeared at Jacob’s house. Jacob is arrested for the murder and put on trial.

As the details of the crime slowly come to light, the weave of reality becomes ever more tangled, twisted by a miraculous new technology and a quantum creature unconstrained by the normal limits of space and matter. With the help of his daughter, Alessandra, Jacob must find the true murderer before the creature destroys his family and everything he loves.

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

New Steven Erikson interview


The folks at Nerds of a feather just posted a very interesting interview with Steven Erikson. Here's a teaser:

Malazan Book of the Fallen is in many ways a tragic tale, but it is punctuated with some of the most outrageously funny comedy scenes we at ‘nerds of a feather’ have read in a long time. We particularly enjoyed the interplay between the destitute Tehol Beddict and his manservant, Bugg. What do you see as the function of comedy in your series? Is it simply the other face of tragedy, something to lighten the heavy, dark, and gritty load, so to speak? Or do you see comedy as a more poignant way of making a statement about the world in which we live?

I would think that comedy serves both the function of relieving pressure and providing another, perhaps more subversive, vehicle for social and political commentary. Tehol and Bugg are good examples of that, as they work to dismantle the rapacious economic structure of their native land. But also, it’s worth bearing in mind that humour often serves as a defense mechanism, both from the author’s point of view and also from that of characters who find themselves in extreme or traumatic situations, so it’s always worth it (when writing fiction) to keep that little pocket of irreverence near to hand for every character in a story. They need a break just like we need a break. They need to cut loose on occasion, same as we do. I would think that no matter how dark a story, or how repressive, humour remains a vital release-valve. And besides, sometimes it pays to impose a little perspective from a creative point of view.

Follow this link to read the whole thing!