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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Giveaway: Three Parts Dead & Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone



Fantasy Book Critic reviewed and loved Two Serpents Rise, and in support of its North American publication on October 29, 2013 via Tor Books. Fantasy Book Critic and Tor Books are giving away one set of “Three Parts Dead” and “Two Serpents Rise” to One Lucky Winner!!!

To enter, please send an email to fbcgiveaway@gmail.com with your Name, Mailing Address, and the subject: CRAFT. Giveaway has ENDED and was open to participants in USA & CANADA ONLY.

Thank you for entering and Good Luck!


GIVEAWAY RULES: 
 1) Open To Anyone in USA & CANADA ONLY
 2) Only One Entry Per Household (Multiple Entries Will Be Disqualified)
 3) Must Enter Valid Email Address, Mailing Address + Name
 4) No Purchase Necessary
 5) Giveaway has ENDED
 6) Winner Will Be Randomly Selected and Notified By Email
 7) Personal Information Will Only Be Used In Mailing Out the Books To The Winner
Wednesday, October 30, 2013

“Two Serpents Rise” by Max Gladstone (Reviewed by Casey Blair)

Order “Two Serpents RiseHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE
Read FBC’s Review of “Three Parts Dead

If you've seen my review of Three Parts Dead, you know that I had high hopes for Two Serpents Rise, and Max Gladstone completely delivered.

Two Serpents Rise is not exactly a sequel; it's set in the same world but in another part of it. There are occasional references to the city Alt Coulumb, but this book stands on its own. It also works as some sort of blend of epic and urban fantasy: epic in scope yet grounded very specifically in a secondary world city.

The city of Dresediel Lex is clearly inspired by Aztec mythology, but Max didn't limit himself to just Aztec ideas. The history of priests sacrificing to gods is certainly present, but then again, in the very first scene the goddess of gambling also makes an appearance, setting up the motif of balancing risk that runs throughout.

And the running! It's like Parkour gone insane, and Parkour is not exactly the safest sport to begin with.

Structurally this book is a bit different particularly in regards to POV, in that, except for some interludes, there's only one POV up until the end. For a couple of chapters I was waiting for it to switch, but in retrospect I see why that couldn't have worked.

Like Three Parts Dead, another craft/law firm is central to this story, even though the protagonist this time around isn't a craft user. We get to see a different magic that is more tied to the gods. And I loved seeing technology like elevators in this setting, because technological development shouldn't stop just because a world is mostly powered by magic. This book gives a lot to think about in regards to the notions of progress and civilization without giving any easy answers.

Really, the author did a wonderful job of not making any character the straw man, especially in regards to dealing with religion. The issue here is not a matter of whether people believe in gods, but what they owe gods, what they owe us, and how those interact. Is being a diehard believer the right approach, or is it better to completely renounce the gods? Is there some middle ground, and if so, what is that in-between road, and how do you navigate it? What is the value of knowing your place in society contrasted with the uncertainty of having to struggle to find it?

Every character has completely valid points and reasons for believing mutually exclusive views. No argument about the issue of religion is ever “won,” because everyone knows how much more complicated it is, how personal it is, and it's personal for these characters.

And the characters' personal ties really are integral to everything else going on, all the kinds of ties that bind: contractually, romantically, philosophically, filially, religiously — how they all intertwine and how far, how deep those ties can go, and what that means for us.

I love how organically all of these issues work in the social and political framework, the characters, everything. I love that there are no taboos on sexual orientation or on having sex at all. The characters are all riveting, even when I don't like them — I particularly loved the Red King, who is creepy as anything and completely amazing.

All this and I haven't even gotten around to mentioning the whole story is built around economics and the logistical realities of providing water to an urban settlement in the desert and the risks of water conflict — I challenge anyone who thinks fantasy doesn't deal with reality and is purely about escapism to take a harder look at this one.

I really can't recommend this book and this series highly enough. Give it a shot.
Tuesday, October 29, 2013

"Fortune's Pawn" by Rachel Bach (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu and Mihir Wanchoo)



OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Devi Morris isn't your average mercenary. She has plans. Big ones. And a ton of ambition. It's a combination that's going to get her killed one day - but not just yet.

That is, until she just gets a job on a tiny trade ship with a nasty reputation for surprises. The Glorious Fool isn't misnamed: it likes to get into trouble, so much so that one year of security work under its captain is equal to five years everywhere else. With odds like that, Devi knows she's found the perfect way to get the jump on the next part of her Plan. But the Fool doesn't give up its secrets without a fight, and one year on this ship might be more than even Devi can handle.

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Rachel Bach (Rachel Aaron) lives in Athens, Georgia with her family. She has graduated from University of Georgia with a B.A. in English Literature. She has been an avid reader since her childhood and now has an ever-growing collection to show for it. She loves gaming, Manga comics & reality TV police shows. She also blogs occasionally on the Magic Districts website

CLASSIFICATION: The Paradox series is an action-packed SF series with romantic elements. Think of it as “Kate Daniels in armor and fighting aliens in space” or possibly a female heroine version of the Shadow Warrior series by Chris Bunch.

FORMAT/INFO: Fortune’s Pawn  is 340 pages long divided over sixteen numbered chapters. Narration is in the first person solely via Deviana “Devi” Morris. There's also an excerpt from Honor's Knight (book II if the Paradox trilogy) and an interview with Rachel Aaron in the Extras section. 

November 5, 2013 marks the Trade paperback and e-book publication of Fortune's Pawn via Orbit Books.

ANALYSIS (Liviu): Fortune’s Pawn is an addictive page turner with a great narrator and a weird and interesting character list all set in an intriguing universe that is of the advanced technology, space polities, humanity, aliens, space fleets etc future with magic - or possibly unexplained science of course kind - while the set-up reminded me of the Shadow Warrior series of Chris Bunch to a large extent.

The author wrote also the Eli Monpress series as Rachel Aaron and while I liked the writing well enough in the first volume, I had no intention of reading more because the content and the style were of the kind I find both anachronistic and annoying in fantasy, while here in sf same thing works very well - I am not sure why as this happens all the time with sf stuff I love but would not touch were it fantasy, but I guess I do not find current attitudes, mores, wisecracks believable when set in a pre-industrial world.

So the typical action-adventure mil-sf seen tons of times, but the details and the voice and of course the fact that I love this sub-genre when done well made all the difference and I got hooked and plan to read the next installment - set for 2-14 - as soon as I can get a copy

Tough heroine Devi from the space kingdom of Paradox which is led by a divine God-king wants to become an elite warrior - Devastator - of the King's guard so when she gets to the highest combat rung of the top mercenary commando outfit of Paradox, she needs to find "the next level" to have a chance and be invited to apply for a Devastator position

Somewhat to her annoyance that next level turns out to be an usually lowly ship-guard position on a tramp freighter with a weird crew, whose Captain Caldswell is a Terran Republic former officer to boot - as the main human polities, Paradox and Terra fought quite a few "border" wars across time - but that is what she hears from her contacts at court...

And of course you know the spiel - nothing is as it seems - but as mentioned the cast is awesome bringing together members of the other two main material sentient races of the Galaxy - there is a fourth powerful species, the Lelgis, but they are essentially energy beings/spirits whose material manifestations are meat drones.<

First there are the bird-like Aeon, whose representative, Basil - love the name too - is the ship XO and offers a lot of comic relief with his self-importance as after all "the monkeys" gotta be supervised and then the dinosaur like predators Xith-cal who love the humans and the aeons a lot - as dinner of course and they raise them as "cattle", though the meat drones of the Lelgis are poisonous to them, so a large part of both the Terran and Paradoxian commandos' job is to fight slavers and Xith-cal hordes to free their human slaves and on meeting a Xith-cal, their reaction is always to shoot on sight.

In a very nice touch, the Xith-cal's representative Hyrek, is the doctor of the ship - as Hyrek puts it, experience as a Xith-cal butcher gave him all the insight he needs in the biology of humans and aeons. In addition to the two "aliens" we have  some humans who may be even more "alien": the astrogator space hippie Nova (scape Starchild) who can see auras and do psychic stuff like levitation, the captain's daughter Ren who is strange and well (read to find out more) and not least the handsome cook Rupert who well (same as above)...

Adventures, battles, fights, intrigues, romance and all that you want in a fast and furious package that has only one flaw, namely that it ends so fast. The extract from book two, Honor's Knight, which picks up where this ends just makes me regret I do not have that book now. Highly recommended.

ANALYSIS (Mihir): This was another awesome book from the mind that gave us the wonderful Legend Of Eli Monpress series. Rachel had mentioned this book in her previous interview with us last year and after finishing it, I think can be best summed up as "Kate Daniels in space with armor". The author builds up an interesting universe that I’m sure will be explored in the sequel books.  What this book is simply awesome and here’s what it’s about.

Deviana "Devi" Morris is a mercenary very much in the Kate Daniels mold, that is tough, extremely competent, headstrong & packing a lot more power than is apparent. Devi is a person who does things her own way, be it her personal or professional lives. Her aim is to be the best at her job so she can attract enough attention and commendations to be called to join the Devastator unit which serves the king directly. She is a citizen of Paradox which is ruled by a god-king. Democracy is heretical to them and violence is second nature. She is unapologetic and extremely focused on becoming a part of the Devastators [Royal Paradoxian unit] that gets to play by her own rules. Her path to becoming a devastator however goes through a year of guard duty on the Glorious Fool.

The Glorious Fool has a high mortality rate for its crew as well as the mercenaries that protect it. This ship’s captain Brian Caldswell has a worse reputation than his ship when it comes to dangerous missions however his worth and ideals are admired throughout interstellar space. Devi will learn that the captain plays his own game and his crew is even more shrouded in ambiguity. The story then focuses on Devi and the journey she will take as a security team member of the Glorious Fool.

The author sets the book to be a rip-roaring ride full of action, intrigue, snarky talk and a very interesting universe that has four sentient races (as detailed above by Liviu) and many possibilities about what actually is happening. Firstly here’s why I loved this book so much, the characterization is top notch. Devi Morris is an absolute kick-ass character who will keep the reader glued on to her antics as well as the overall plot twists. The author has to be commended for setting this story in first person and making it so enthralling. Devi constantly keeps the readers on her toes and the way she’s goes about things (like giving her armor and weaponry, names such as Mia, Sasha & Lady Grey or having her way in relationships). Devi as a character is absolutely a riveting one and is one of my favorite narrators being written about.

Secondly the world or universe-building is absolutely engrossing, beginning with the four sentient races, or the curious split between Terran and Paradoxian humanity and all the secrets surrounding the crew of the Glorious Fool. The author makes it absolutely intriguing as she drops enough hints and peeks about what might be happening so as to grab the readers for the remaining books in the series. Thirdly the pace and plot twists are absolutely top-notch, they keep the reader hooked and with the way the book ends. The book wonderfully mixes action with romantic elements along with the Sci-fi aspect of the story.I can bet that the readers (like me) can’t wait to read Honor’s Knight to see what happens next with Devi and the Glorious Fool inhabitants.

I didn't find any things to nit-pick about this book, no issues at all and so I would like to simply say that this was one of my three top reads of this year irrespective of genre.

CONCLUSION: Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach (nee Aaron) is a wonderful read; it encompasses various different genre elements and yet makes itself original enough to stand out among various SF reads. Be sure to read Fortune’s Pawn as otherwise you will be missing out on a fun book and a superb story.
Monday, October 28, 2013

GUEST POST: When The Grid Goes Down by Gail Z. Martin


One of the reckoning points when we watch apocalyptic shows like Revolution, the Walking Dead or the series Life After People is how quickly life as we know it vanishes without the power grid, at least for those of us in First World existences. Without electricity, settlements in areas of extreme heat (like Las Vegas) or cold (like North Dakota), or that rely on either irrigation for water supply or on power to rid them of excess water could not sustain the population under natural conditions, at least not on the scale to which they have developed.

High rise buildings are not sustainable without electricity to run the elevators and provide light, heat, water flow and necessary services. City sanitation breaks down without sewer treatment facilities and garbage trucks can't pick up trash if electric gas pumps don't work.

In my novel Ice Forged, magic functions like the culture's power grid. Most magic is of the small, convenient and useful variety--protecting crops from pests, draining swampy areas, preserving food, and the like. Magic is their science, and those small magics undergird more of their everyday existence than anyone realizes until one day, the magic disappears. A devastating war with the neighboring kingdom provokes the battle mages on both sides to employ a doomsday strike. The strike has the unforeseen consequence of breaking the bonds that had made it possible for people to control magic and returning the power to its wild, untamed state. Fire rains from the sky, weather becomes more extreme, and in all the hundreds of ways in which people had depended on small magics, life falls apart.

One man might be able to restore the magic, but there are factions that like the opportunity chaos provides, and therein hangs the tale.

While I'm not usually a fan of modern apocalyptic stories, I was intrigued by the premise for Ice Forged for a couple of reasons. First, because it's a medieval apocalypse, which was suited to an epic fantasy format. And secondly, because the idea of struggling to do things the old way, without magic, just got a hold of my imagination and wouldn't let go.


Back in the 1970s, when the back-to-nature movement got started, the Foxfire books seemed to be on everyone's bookshelves. These books sought to impart what most of our great-grandmothers and grandfathers knew (and what the Amish and other cultures without modern technology still do, but city-dwellers don't). Canning, growing a backyard garden, folk cures and low-tech solutions suddenly became interesting as people began to wonder about sustainability and the unintended consequences of pesticides, EMF fields, chemical additives and other modern "miracles."

I was on an apocalypse panel at Dragon*Con where we were talking about what it would look like 10 years after The Event. We agreed that preserving the accessible (no disk drives!) forms of knowledge that explain how to do the crucial things (farming, first aid, surgery, canning, etc.) would be essential for society to rebuild in less time than it required to evolve those technologies the first time around. Blaine's world has to go back four hundred years to find out how things were done without magic, so the transition is even starker. And in order to try to fix things, you've got to live long enough to make the attempt.

In Ice Forged, one group that adjusts without difficulty to the lack of magic is the talishte, the immortal vampires. They remember how things were done centuries ago because they were around when it was done that way. And while they're quite capable of coping without magical conveniences, some of the talishte join forces with my hero, Blaine McFadden to bring back the magic because they appreciate the civilizing value and the convenience that "power grid" provided.

It's the little things that disappear when the world ends, as much as the big things. In Blaine's world, when the magic fails, both the living and the undead have their reasons to get the world back on track, and their enemies have just as many reasons to want the dark times to stay as dark as possible.

Come check out all the free excerpts, book giveaways and other goodies that are part of my Days of the Dead blog tour! Trick-or-Treat you way through more than 30 partner sites where you'll find brand new interviews, freebies and more--details at my website.

Ice Forged will be a Kindle Daily Deal with a special one-day price of just $1.99 only on October 31! Get it here


Official Author Website

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Gail began writing fiction as a child and she was always a voracious reader since childhood, she frequently chose to read books with a supernatural slant, including folktales, compilations of regional ghost stories and gothic mysteries. She credits the TV show Dark Shadows with her life-long fascination with vampires. She discovery SF and fantasy during middle and high school and that has fueled her writing journey. She graduated from The Pennsylvania State University with an M.B.A. in Marketing and Management Information Systems.

Gail is the author of Ice Forged in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga and the upcoming Reign of Ash (Orbit Books, 2014), plus the Chronicles of the Necromancer series (Solaris Books) and The Fallen Kings Cycle (Orbit Books). Next year, she also launches a new urban fantasy novel, Deadly Curiosities, from Solaris Books. She is also the author of two series of ebook short stories: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures and the Deadly Curiosities Adventures.

For more about Gail’s books and short stories, follow her on Twitter @GailZMartin, and join her for frequent discussions on Goodreads
Friday, October 25, 2013

Four Short Reviews: Dan Simmons' "The Abominable" and Mark von Schlegell's Three Superb Solar System Books (by Liviu Suciu)


"It's 1926, and the desire to summit the world's highest mountain has reached a fever-pitch among adventurers. Three young friends, eager to take their shot at the top, accept funding from a grieving mother whose son fell to his death on Mt. Everest two years earlier. But she refuses to believe he's dead, and wants them to bring him back alive.

As they set off toward Everest, the men encounter other hikers who are seeking the boy's body for their own mysterious reasons. What valuable item could he have been carrying? What is the truth behind the many disappearances on the mountain? As they journey to the top of the world, the three friends face abominable choices, actions--and possibly creatures. A bone-chilling, pulse-pounding story of supernatural suspense, THE ABOMINABLE is Dan Simmons at his best."
  
With a blurb that is both factually wrong - as the action takes place in 1925 - and misleading as the novel while having a lot of a suspense true, has nothing of the supernatural,  The Abominable is one of the prime example of how a potentially awesome and memorable novel is ruined by conventional action that lacks any imagination or subtlety.

For about 500 pages, The Abominable is  an extremely engrossing story of mountaineering with lots of technical details that ground it in reality, showing once again that what's possible really depends a lot of what level of technology we are at. Incidentally the book made me read a little about the Mt. Everest expeditions and how today what was once a dangerous adventure for the very few became a relatively common place thing at least for fit people with enough cash to pay for equipment and permits, and this is quite cheering as I expect similar things to happen with near space travel...  

But then The Abominable becomes the worst sort of "dumb Nazi supermen" against plucky heroes, not to speak of all the cliches regarding the heroes themselves and the Shangri La ending. In addition, the book is set in 1925 when Adolf Hitler was a blip on the horizon - a lunatic with charisma and dangerous ideas, but there were tons of such across history and only very specific circumstances - essentially the sudden impoverishment of the developed world after the 1929 crash - brought him to power, while other specific circumstances  - the Carthaginian peace of Versailles against what is by nature the most powerful nation of Europe since after all there was a reason the French, Spanish and later Habsurgs tried and succeeded in keeping Germany a dis-united war zone for so many centuries, while even after the complete devastation of 1945, in under 10 years Germany became the most prosperous nation in Europe again, truncated and all - allowed him to try and conquer the world and implement his genocidal policies, so the whole Nazi stuff is even stupider than if the book were set in 1938 for example a la Indiana Jones and this last at least was brainless entertainment and never aspired to more, but The Abominable was supposed to be an interesting novel...

This being so, the extraordinary writing skills of the author and the narrative momentum of the novel, still made The Abominable a recommended book, but with even a little more subtlety in its last 150 pages it could have been an excellent and possibly awesome one...

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"It's 2133. A priceless Vermeer is making its way back to Earth. Freelance Spacer Nick Wesley is charged with protecting the painting as it comes on board The Polly-Ann, the eccentrically re-fit cross system space-hauler of notorious Count Simwe Skaw. With Skaw poised to make a move, Nick secures the masterpiece with a so-called quantum lock. Meanwhile, back on Earth riots in Equator City are threatening stability of the C. Clarke Elevator. Even if he manages to outwit Skaw and his minions, Nick just might not make it back for Nora's Sunday Brunch on Penobscot Bay...

High Wichita is a key novelette in Mark von Schlegell's still un-winding science fiction future history, The System Series. A missing link between the novels Venusia (2005) and Mercury Station (2009), High Wichita is both a love-letter to pulp fiction and a pot-boiling caper story of its own."

High Wichita is a mind bending novella set in the universe of Venusia and Mercury Station and it is nicely illustrated too. Excellent stuff that contains quite a lot within 55 pages, mostly taking place across a Solar System liner of the author's imaginative 22nd century and is self-contained as its action goes, but it is directly related to the author's two novels set in the same universe, most notably, Mercury Station. Excellent stuff overall and here is a quote to illustrate the richness of the setting, while you can read more in the sample at Smashwords:

"Painting is a perfect pastime for the long hours of space travel. As the Lunar linershuttle came into equal velocity with the Polly-Ann, Nick Wesley was just putting the finishing touches on a rather successful paint-by-numbers portrait of his adorable wife. Now he laid his brush on the toppler and strolled to the windowmirror to take a gander at that legendary ship.
  Four thousand kilometers over Luna City, Count Skaw's refit grainovator bulged with eccentricity and complication. The hull's quasicrystal skin shoneyellow like a Chinese fish. Broad swaths of lightsuckers wrapped off and around the diamond barnacles of the sparkling, parasite autonomies, the stuck-on eateries, brothels, casinos, churches, markets and hotels, by which Polly-Ann paid for her own passage. The heraldry of the Concerns was not to be found among her bangles and baudles. Captain Count burned energy as he saw fit, without undue interference."

 **********************************************************************


  
"Primitive literacy is redundant. Mere words are expelled. We inaugurate a world of pure presence. The mind, that intrudes itself between ourselves and those memories too terrible to know, must keep us moving beyond the grasp of their claw. To control the flow, it will be necessary that political order be imposed always temporarily. The state shall enjoy direct, creative access to the real.It's the end of the twenty-third century. Earth has violently self-destructed. Venusia, an experimental off-world colony, survives under the enlightened totalitarianism of the Princeps Crittendon regime. Using industrialized narcotics, holographic entertainment, and memory control, Crittendon has turned Venusia into a self-sustaining system of relative historical inertia. But when mild-mannered junk dealer Rogers Collectibles finds a book about early Venusian history, the colony -- once fully immersed in the present -- begins losing its grip on the real. With his Reality-V girlfriend Martha Dobbs, neuroscop operator Sylvia Yang, his midget friend Niftus Norrington, and a sentient plant, Rogers wages a war to alter the shape of spacetime, and in the process, revisions the whole human (and vegetable) condition"

Chronologically the first novel of Mark von Schlegell published in his extremely imaginative near future universe, Venusia truly made my head spin and I felt dizzy though sitting on a bench when I was trying to imagine the landscape of the novel.

I quite enjoyed it overall - weird is too banal a word for this one, both in style - modernistic a la MJ Harrison - and in content  - from sentient plants to multidimensional twisting of reality - with the drawback is that you have to immerse yourself and not nitpick. If you like your sf to be truly crazy, forget Hannu Rajaniemi and read Mark von Schlegell instead, or maybe read both...

**********************************************************************




"Published by Semiotext(e) in 2005, Mark von Schlegell's debut novel Venusia was hailed in the sci-fi and literary worlds as a "breathtaking excursion" and "heady kaleidoscopic trip," establishing him as an important practitioner of vanguard science fiction. Mercury Station, the second book in Von Schlegell's System Series, continues the journey into a dystopian literary future. It is 2150. Eddard J. Ryan was born in a laboratory off Luna City, an orphan raised by the Black Rose Army, a radical post-Earth Irish revolutionary movement. But his first bombing went wrong and he's been stuck in a borstal on Mercury for decades. System Space has collapsed and most of human civilization with it, but Eddie Ryan and his fellow prisoners continue to suffer the remote-control domination of the borstal and its condescending central authority, the qompURE MERKUR, programmed to treat them as adolescents. Yet things could be worse. With little human supervision, the qompURE can be fooled. There's food and whiskey, and best of all, the girl of Eddie Ryan's dreams, his long-time friend and comrade Kor? McAllister, is in the same prison. When his old boss, rich and eccentric chrononaut Count Reginald Skaw shows up in orbit with an entire interstation cruiser at his disposal, there's even the possibility of escape....back in time. Like Venusia, Mercury Station tells a compelling story, drawn through a labyrinth of future-history sci-fi, medieval hard fantasy, and cascading samplings of high and low culture. The book is a brilliant literary assault against the singularity of self and its imprisonment in Einsteinian spacetime."

Mercury Station is closer to what one would call "essential sf" than things usually labeled such; it is innovative in quite a few ways, and while Venusia was weird but with a sort-of-clear-plot/action and I have not decided yet if Mercury Station truly makes sense plot-wise, the things thrown in almost casually from a chrono-dynamics theory, to Quantum computers, to Medieval imagery and action combined with 22nd century Solar System intrigue, all in a package that will make you a bit dizzy but still compel you to turn pages, should make this one a must for any sf-lover. Highly, highly recommended!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Wayward by Blake Crouch (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Order “WaywardHERE
Read an excerpt HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Pines" by Blake Crouch
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Review of “Eerie” by Blake and Jordan Crouch
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Review of “Run” by Blake Crouch
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Review of “Serial Killers Uncut” by Jack Kilborn and Blake Crouch
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Interview with Blake Crouch

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Blake Crouch was born in Statesville, North Carolina and graduated in 2000 with degrees in English and Creative Writing from the University of North Carolina. He has written four previous novels and a host of short stories. Two of his stories have been optioned for film adaptation. Blake currently lives in Durango, Colorado with his wife.

OFFICIAL BLURB: Welcome to Wayward Pines, population 461. Nestled amidst picture-perfect mountains, the idyllic town is a modern-day Eden...except for the electrified fence and razor wire, snipers scoping everything 24/7, and the relentless surveillance tracking each word and gesture.

None of the residents know how they got here. They are told where to work, how to live, and who to marry. Some believe they are dead. Others think they’re trapped in an unfathomable experiment. Everyone secretly dreams of leaving, but those who dare face a terrifying surprise.

Ethan Burke has seen the world beyond. He’s sheriff, and one of the few who knows the truth—Wayward Pines isn’t just a town. And what lies on the other side of the fence is a nightmare beyond anyone’s imagining.

FORMAT/INFO: Wayward is 324 pages long divided over twenty-seven numbered chapters which are spread out over five sections. Narration is in the third-person via Ethan Burke, Theresa Burke, David Pilcher, Tobias Hassler, and Pamela. Wayward is the second book in the Wayward Pines series and it’s highly imperative to read Pines before this one. The book also features an acknowledgements page and also includes a listing of Blake Crouch’s bibliography.

September 23, 2013 marked the overall Paperback and e-book publication of Wayward via Thomas and Mercer. Cover art and design provided by Jeroen Ten Berge.

ANALYSIS: Wayward is the sequel to Pines and a book that was highly anticipated and yet out-scored my anticipation. Firstly before even I begin my review, I would like to announce that to even discuss the blurb will be spoilery for the first book Pines. So those folks who haven't read the first book and don't want their read ruined in the least. STOP and go read Pines...

Now for those of you who have read and loved Pines, welcome and I must say you will love the second outing by Blake Crouch as he explores the strange town of Wayward Pines and its inhabitants. This book further illuminates the town of Wayward Pines through Ethan Burke but with a crucial difference, he’s an insider now unlike the previous volume wherein he was the enemy. Ethan after the events of the previous books has now been elevated to the position of Sheriff and is tasked with the town’s safety. Sheriff Ethan has seen what truly lies outside of the town's boundaries and it is forcing him to co-operate with the town's creator and protector so as to speak. After facing the end of the barrel in the last book, he finds himself quite perturbed to be on the other side and forcing people to do what he ultimately disobeyed. He has gotten his family back but is still irked by all that is hidden from the majority of the town’s population. The story though begins when a murder occurs and it falls upon Ethan to investigate the death.

Blake Crouch is a veritable genius, there I said it. Not only did he write a crackerjack thriller, with Pines he also created a smooth amalgamation of SF, thriller and mystery genres. In this setting, he further springs a couple more surprises with Wayward. At the end of Pines, I was wondering where he would take the story and here Blake presents the logical path. Ethan Burke as a character is haunted by all he has seen and witnessed but there’s plenty more secrets and in this book, the author reveals a whole lot more. Firstly the focus is on characterization, in this book the characters showcased beside Burke are a motley bunch beginning with his ex-partner Kate, his wife Theresa and son Ben, the people who are running Wayward Pines and many more. Each of them is given a proper personality and with multiple plot twists, further facets of their selves are exposed. The book then further explores the community of residents and their psyche. The author has some nasty surprises in this book about the characters that we have already met as well as for new ones. What I loved best was how the author exposed the story and characters through the use of flashback as was the case with Pines but believe me in this, there are some wild shockers.

Secondly with what was exposed as the main reason for the existence and current security levels for Wayward Pines, it became imperative for the author to build on that front. Blake Crouch doesn’t disappoint and manages to give us a glimpse of the world beyond and I believe this will be quite important in the books to follow (at this point, my assumption is that the author will have multiple books in this series). The world settings are distinctly expanded upon and there’s a quintessential “Jurassic Park” vibe to be found here. What I enjoyed was how the author builds up the tension and yet manages to showcase bits and pieces throughout the story until its explosive climax which ends on dual cliffhangers (of sorts) one on a personal level for our main protagonist & the second on an existential level. The climax is shattering to say the least and will rightfully make you clamor for the third book instantaneously as that I believe was Blake Crouch's intent after all.

Again I didn’t have any complaints from this volume or the series so far. Sure some things or plot points stretch credibility but as is the case with thrillers and SF, readers have to accept certain improbabilities. Not that there are outlandish mistakes that just make the plot crumble. Lastly with this series being made into a TV miniseries, I can only imagine the popularity once it comes out in 2014. So do yourself a favor and get reading as then you will be able to enjoy the TV series even more.

CONCLUSION: A thoroughly satisfying read that combines a lot of genres and tropes, Wayward will have turning pages to see how it all ends. The climax though takes things to a whole different level and leaves you desperately craving for the next volume. Wayward is another crackerjack thriller from the mind of one of the best thrillers writers out there, do not miss it!
Wednesday, October 23, 2013

More Recent/Upcoming Books of Interest, Dan Simmons, Donna Tartt, Adam Bodor and Brian Staveley (with comments by Liviu Suciu)


"It's 1926, and the desire to summit the world's highest mountain has reached a fever-pitch among adventurers. Three young friends, eager to take their shot at the top, accept funding from a grieving mother whose son fell to his death on Mt. Everest two years earlier. But she refuses to believe he's dead, and wants them to bring him back alive.

As they set off toward Everest, the men encounter other hikers who are seeking the boy's body for their own mysterious reasons. What valuable item could he have been carrying? What is the truth behind the many disapperances on the mountain? As they journey to the top of the world, the three friends face abominable choices, actions--and possibly creatures. A bone-chilling, pulse-pounding story of supernatural suspense, THE ABOMINABLE is Dan Simmons at his best."


I finally got a copy of The Abominable and while I browsed the ending just to make sure people were not jesting when they were telling what the title referred to (hint: it's not the yeti and the rumors are true, but I do not mind that) I really like how Dan Simmons writes, so I am thinking of reading this seriously as I am in the mood for epic storytelling of a kind or another, though of course serious competition comes soon with the release of David Hair's The Scarlet Tides.

Immersive and absorbing stuff so far.

**********************************************************************


"A young boy in New York City, Theo Decker, miraculously survives an accident that takes the life of his mother. Alone and determined to avoid being taken in by the city as an orphan, Theo scrambles between nights in friends’ apartments and on the city streets. He becomes entranced by the one thing that reminds him of his mother, a small, mysteriously captivating painting that soon draws Theo into the art underworld."
  
The Goldfinch was a gripping novel but it left me with a "so what" feeling of contrived plotting and utter implausibility in its resolution of the main issue, not to speak of the overall message - you are traumatized as a child/teen, feel free to break the law and you will be rewarded rather than punished, message that in the end was starting to become very annoying when Theo confronted with consequences, gets the expected "get out of jail card" by authorial fiat.

The first few parts detailing Theo's childhood and the first few months "after" - when he was 13 - were awesome as they were relatively reasonable in content and the voice was superb, but after his deadbeat dad shows up and takes him to Vegas, the book turns into another "destined boy" who will manage despite the odds and the book starts becoming wish-fulfillment rather than literary fiction, only to later turn into another "lives of beautiful people" through the eyes of an outsider, combined to the same "destined" boy grown up now and somehow evading consequences of his constant law breaking - or more precise, the hero is written by the author really above the law and morality of "regular people' as the trauma of his childhood entitled him to that.

With constant references to popular sff like Harry Potter and with a lot of similarities in its "destined boy" stuff, the book reads very much like a novel of the present cultural trends and overall it has great narrative momentum and it is well written as style goes, but it is ultimately empty.

**********************************************************************


"Lyrical, surreal, and yet unsettlingly realistic, The Sinistra Zone swims in the totalitarian backwaters of Eastern Europe

Entering a weird, remote hamlet, Andrei calls himself "a simple wayfarer," but he is in fact highly compromised: he has no identity papers. Taken under the wing of the military zone's commander, Andrei is first assigned to guard the blueberries that supply a nearby bear reserve. He is surrounded by human wrecks, supernatural umbrellas, birds carrying plagues, albino twins.

The bears - and an affair with a married woman - occupy Andrei until his protector is replaced by a new female commander, "a slender creature, quiet, diaphanous, like a dragonfly," and yet an iron-fisted harridan. As things grow ever more alarming, Andrei becomes a "corpse watchman," standing guard over the dead to check for any signs of life, and then
..."

With a huge reading pile and I still cannot resist when I hear about a book that may sound interesting like the recently translated The Sinistra Zone by Adam Bodor.  As I have just found out about it last night and liked the excerpt, I immediately got myself a copy and I will fit it in when in the mood for such.

**********************************************************************


"When the emperor of Annur is murdered, his children must fight to uncover the conspiracy—and the ancient enemy—that effected his death.

Kaden, the heir apparent, was for eight years sequestered in a remote mountain monastery, where he learned the inscrutable discipline of monks devoted to the Blank God. Their rituals hold the key to an ancient power which Kaden must master before it’s too late. When an imperial delegation arrives to usher him back to the capital for his coronation, he has learned just enough to realize that they are not what they seem—and enough, perhaps, to successfully fight back.

Meanwhile, in the capital, his sister Adare, master politician and Minister of Finance, struggles against the religious conspiracy that seems to be responsible for the emperor’s murder. Amid murky politics, she’s determined to have justice—but she may be condemning the wrong man.

Their brother Valyn is struggling to stay alive. He knew his training to join the Kettral— deadly warriors who fly massive birds into battle—would be arduous. But after a number of strange apparent accidents, and the last desperate warning of a dying guard, he’s convinced his father’s murderers are trying to kill him, and then his brother. He must escape north to warn Kaden—if he can first survive the brutal final test of the Kettral."

Another much hyped fantasy debut upcoming in January 2014, The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley came a little surprisingly as an advanced review copy in my mailbox a week or so ago and while the first impression, was "look more later as on first glance it is not the disaster of Malice but not the compelling, cannot put down Blood Song either", I finally had the time to take a careful look and as the book moved into the "forget it, not for me" category, I will record here my thoughts and then as mentioned above, just forget about it...

"the writing just didn't resonate and I browsed through the book and read the ending which failed to interest me in what came before or what may come next; from my point of view, I would say the writing style is pretty nondescript, without emotion or narrative power to absorb a reader, while the content could have been interesting if the style worked out

if there is a book this reminded me of, it is the Acacia trilogy of David Durham, but there I quite liked the style, though the content veered into stuff I had no real interest in by the third book..."
 
Tuesday, October 22, 2013

GIVEAWAY: 10th Anniversary Collector’s Edition of Eragon by Christopher Paolini


A little over a decade ago, Christopher Paolini and Knopf Books for Young Readers released Eragon to the masses. Eragon has since been adapted into a major motion picture, published in 125 countries in 49 languages, and the Inheritance series itself has sold over 35 million copies.

To celebrate the book’s tenth anniversary, Random House and Christopher Paolini are releasing a one-of-a-kind, extremely limited Collector’s Edition of Eragon on October 22, 2013.

This faux-leather bound edition features gold-foil line art on the cover and six glossy, full-color original illustrations on the interior by award-winning artists who inspired PaoliniJohn Jude Palancar (the Inheritance cycle cover artist), Michael Hague, Donato Giancola, Ciurelo, and Raoule Vitale—as well as Paolini himself. Lastly it will also contain an essay by Christopher Paolini reflecting on this tenth anniversary milestone and on the artists who have inspired his work


Fantasy Book Critic will soon be reviewing this special edition, and in support of its American publication today via Knopf Books for Young Readers. Knopf Books and Fantasy Book Critic are giving away a copy of “the 10th Anniversary Collector’s Edition of ERAGON” to ONE Lucky Winner!!!

To enter, please send an email to fbcgiveaway@gmail.com with your Name, Mailing Address, and the subject: Eragon10. Giveaway has ENDED and was open to participants in the US ONLY. Thank you for entering and Good Luck!

GIVEAWAY RULES:
 1) Open To Anyone in USA ONLY 
 2) Only One Entry Per Household (Multiple Entries Will Be Disqualified)
 3) Must Enter Valid Email Address, Mailing Address + Name
 4) No Purchase Necessary
 5) Giveaway has ENDED
 6) Winner Will Be Randomly Selected and Notified By Email
 7) Personal Information Will Only Be Used In Mailing Out the Book To The Winner

NOTE: Cover art and author picture courtesy of Alagaesia.
Monday, October 21, 2013

"The Path of Anger: The Book and the Sword I" by Antoine Rouaud (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)


Order The Path of Anger HERE
Read the first two chapters at Gollancz's site.

"There will be blood. There will be death. This is the path of anger. . .

Dun-Cadal has been drinking his life away for years. Betrayed by his friends - who turned their back on their ideals in favour of a new republic - and grief stricken at the loss of his apprentice, who saved his life on the battlefield and whom he trained as a knight in exchange, he's done with politics, with adventure, and with people.

But people aren't finished with him - not yet. Viola is a young historian looking for the last Emperor's sword, and her search not only brings her to Dun-Cadal, it's also going to embroil them both in a series of assassinations. Because Dun-Cadal's turncoat friends are being murdered, one by one. . . by someone who kills in the unmistakable style of an Imperial assassin. . ."


The Path of Anger is Antoine Rouaud's much hyped world debut in various languages, including the original French (La Voie de la Colere - Le Livre et l'Epee: I) and English with a literal translation of the title and it has been a highly expected novel of mine for a long time, so I got a copy the moment it was out and I read it fast as it was quite a page turner.

Story-wise, it is hard to talk about the book without major spoilers which while I suspected some on general principles, the author's able misdirection made them a surprise as execution went. As structure, the book alternates the present - starting as the blurb indicates with the famous general and knight Dun-Cadal with power to command the "animus" - you know what that is from Star Wars and the like - now wasting his final years away in drink, while everything he believed in crumbled around him, and the past where it is recounted the story of his protegee "Frog" who had saved his life in a rebellion and whom Dun Cadal took to court as a squire and helped him realize his dream of becoming a knight too. 

As opposed to the usual fantasy genre structure of alternating chapters, the book uses the literary fiction technique of switching in mid-paragraph between the times and as that is done outstandingly, The Path of Anger stands out from the usual genre offering. 

While I had some quibbles about the plot especially about the wedding at the end which really didn't make sense at least as our current understanding of the position of the respective characters in the world of the series, the main drawback is the almost complete lack of world building which leads to the novel reading as characters acting in theater with props, very well done for what is, but in contemporary top tier secondary world fantasy, we need more, namely a sense of the world beyond a few cliches.

The ending is at a good stopping point, wrapping up the main plot driver of the novel and preparing for what comes next when the "book" and "the sword" of the title series should start revealing their significance - their identities are pretty obvious from the start as the blurb talks about the sword, while the book in cause is mentioned every few pages...

Overall, The Path of Anger has outstanding writing style - I would say arguably better than anything in contemporary secondary world fantasy genre - superbly drawn characters and narrative momentum and it is a novel that if it were about college students/professors, historical personages in a context and maybe even sf in a logical future of our world, it would have been awesome but as fantasy it falls short due to minimal world building which modern "serious" fantasy of the secondary world kind requires to be in the top tier.

While not yet a top 25 of mine - though it may grow more on me with time and/or new installments  - I highly recommend The Path of Anger for its major positives and I am definitely interested in the sequel as I want to see both what happens to the main characters and where the storyline of the book and the sword goes...

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Gangster Regimes: Communism and National Socialism Destroying Lives - "One Night in Winter" by Simon Sebag Montefiore and "Monsieur Le Comandant" by Romain Slocombe (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)


"If your children were forced to testify against you, what terrible secrets would they reveal?

Moscow 1945. As Stalin and his courtiers celebrate victory over Hitler, shots ring out. On a nearby bridge, a teenage boy and girl lie dead.

But this is no ordinary tragedy and these are no ordinary teenagers, but the children of Russia's most important leaders who attend the most exclusive school in Moscow.
Is it murder? A suicide pact? Or a conspiracy against the state?

Directed by Stalin himself, an investigation begins as children are arrested and forced to testify against their friends - and their parents. This terrifying witch-hunt soon unveils illicit love affairs and family secrets in a hidden world where the smallest mistakes will be punished with death."

One Night in Winter is an excellent novel which is loosely related to Sashenka as many characters from that book, including one of the main heroes, appear here. There are also allusions to what happened in Sashenka, but One Night in Winter can be read independently as all the back story is recounted. 

Taking place over a few months in 1945, with some flashbacks to the late stages of the war and an epilogue jumping in time to 1953 and then to the early 70's to conclude the several threads, One Night in Winter follows the following main characters:

Decorated war hero, Marshal Hercules Satinov, intimate friend and protegee of Stalin who often refers to the 20 years younger Georgian as "boy" and whose four surviving children, including the six year old Mariko play an important role in the novel too. 

18 year old Andrei Kurbski, son of an "enemy of the people", who has just been allowed to return to Moscow with his mother after almost a decade of exile in Central Asia, while also being accepted - to his considerable surprise - to the elite high school 801 where all the Party bigwigs send their children. One little tidbit from the past that turns out to be important is Svetlana - Stalin's youngest daughter, now 19 and a college student - time at the school... 

While an outsider in the beginning, Andrei soon starts making friends with the affluent children of the nomenklatura and through him we see the lives of the rich and privileged families of the Red Tsar's Court from a "normal" perspective.

Serafima Romanshkina, the beautiful and glamorous girl at the school whom all the boys are in love with, is the daughter of famous actress Sophia Zeitlin, Jewish, cousin of Sashenka, intimate of Stalin and courted by both pervert Beria, the secret police chief and by self proclaimed ladies' man, Victor Abakumov, the chief of Military Intelligence and main rival of Beria. Following in the steps of her mom, the serious and contemplative Serafima is courted by Stalin's surviving son, Vasily, a 24 old drunken and dissolute air force general known as the "crown prince" among the elite, though Stalin is quite tough with him too. But Serafima has a dangerous secret and that may turn to be the undoing of all...

Dr. Daria Dorova, Dashka, personal physician of the elite and cardiologist, later Minister of Health, married with Stalin's hatchet man, feared bureaucrat and executioner, Genrikh Dorov and whose four children, most notably, 10 year old Senka, nicknamed "the Little Professor" have also very important roles to play. Senka's - a 10 year old remember - verbal duel with the experienced secret police interrogators are among the highlights of the middle, dark part of the novel. A glamorous woman like Sophia Zeitlin, Dashka has her own secrets that could prove dangerous...

And then there are many other secondary characters, including Stalin and his court, all with very memorable portraits, and last but not least the teachers of the school, including seemingly stiff principal with a (secret) heart, 50 year old "spinster" of the revolution, Kapitolina Medvedeva, political hack and deputy principal, Innokenty Rimm whose mis-adventures are in turn comical and horrifying and most popular teacher, Benya Golden, whom we last saw destined for the Gulag in Sashenka, unexpectedly returned from the living dead and somehow even having got a position at elite high school 801 to boot...

One Night in Winter is an emotional page turner, quite brutal especially in its middle part and alternating the absurdities of communism with its tragedies: kids denouncing parents and 6 year old children - of Stalin's immediate collaborators - jailed and interrogated by the secret police, while a 10 year old was being threatened with being jailed until 12 when he legally could be executed, while teenagers' poetic musings taken as conspiracies against the state...

As it happens pretty much of the book is inspired by reality with all the above actually having happened in "the real life" under communism, including 11 year old children kept in jail until they turned 12 and could be given the 9 gram treatment - ie shot in the back of the head, while younger children were jailed, as their siblings denounced them and their parent.

Exceptional narrative flow and memorable characters made One Night in Winter one of my big time favorites of this year and I think the author managed to raise his prose skills one step up from the compelling but on occasion grating Sashenka, so I look forward to anything Mr. Sebag Montefiore will be putting out.

 ******************************************************************



"French Academician and Nazi sympathizer Paul-Jean Husson writes a letter to his local SS officer in the autumn of 1942.

Tormented by an illicit passion for Ilse, his German daughter-in-law, Husson has made a decision that will devastate several lives, including his own.

The letter is intended to explain his actions. It is a dramatic, sometimes harrowing story that begins in the years leading up to the war, when following the accidental drowning of his daughter, Husson's previously gilded life begins to unravel.

And through Husson's confession, Romain Slocombe gives the reader a startling picture of a man's journey: from pillar of the French Establishment and World War One hero to outspoken supporter of Nazi ideology and the Vichy government."

Monsieur Le Comandant is a novel that is more horrifying than anything in the horror genre; it is also a book that cannot to be put down as it ratchets the tension gradually and one keeps hoping that the narrator will just shred the letter in the end...

As noted in the blurb, the novel has as main conceit a letter being written in 1942 by an early 60's famous French Catholic novelist, member of the Academy, decorated WW1 veteran who had lost his forearm in battle, had many affairs in his time, being now quite well off if not rich and whose only son had married in the 30's a German actress with whom he became quite fascinated with, to the point of both conspiring to hide her Jewish origins and amplifying his official antisemitism to the no return point of vitriolic articles, denunciations etc...

While a lot of the "what happened" from the letter is predictable, the "how it happened" brings quite a few twists and turns and the narrative flow is extremely powerful.

Dark, brutal and excellent stuff that reminds one of two things - how the gangster regimes of the 20th century - National Socialism and Communism - casually destroyed lives and brought up the scum of the society who enjoyed doing the dirty work for the leaders and then how under such circumstances it was very hard to remain innocent and one either became one of the perpetrators or one of the victims - or of course both.
 

 

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