Release Date: 20120927
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books UK
In a fantasy marketplace that has only recently seen a conclusion to Robert Jordan’s iconic Wheel of Time, and long suffering delays to George R.R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, I’ve compiled a list of authors and series I can recommend in their place, which includes: Peter Brett’s Demon Cycle, Elizabeth Bear’s The Eternal Sky, Daniel Abraham’s The Dagger and the Coin, and Brent Weeks’s Lightbringer. That established, David Hair’s first adult novel, Mage’s Blood is one of the better epic fantasy series first instalments I’ve read in recent years.
It should be noted that when I refer to the term epic fantasy, I really mean it. Sweeping conflicts, clashes of cultures, political and personal entanglements, rich and in-depth magic, and mighty warriors dot the landscape. There’s even lavish descriptions of food,
…they ate a cold meal of dried meat and breads, washed down with a small flask of arak and some water, all from the wagon’s spoils. Tanuva Ankesharan’s best cooking could not match so wondrous a feast as this scavenged meal.
Written in limited third person from multiple points of views, Mage’s Blood does maintain some notion of good and evil. It walks a fine line though, often refusing to color individuals entirely one or the other. In that sense it’s quintessential modern epic fantasy, but couched in a very expected setting. Continue reading
So, Hugo Award nominations. Every year, it seems to be both an invitation to bellyaching among those who want the award to take itself more seriously, to again become a fair and trustworthy snapshot of the genre’s best year-in-and-year-out, and an everybody-hug-circlejerk-ignore-the-trolls-you-deserve-this-i-voted-for-you twitter fun factory between nominees. Fun times, especially for frustrated Internet pundits like myself. This year’s ballot was particularly blah, though. I won’t go through each category because, well… I don’t have an opinion on a lot of it. But there are a few spots I’d like to explore.
My first thought on the list of nominations for the ‘Best Novel’ was a tepid lack of inspiration. The inclusion of Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon (REVIEW) is the lone bright spot, and also the only novel from my list of nominations to appear on the final ballot. Redshirts (REVIEW) is entertaining, but no more worthy of a Hugo than a fourth-or-fifth episode of Dr. Who appear in the ‘Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)’ category; I’m not surprised to see it there, but I am disappointed that another of Scalzi’s wash, rinse, repeat efforts was rewarded with a nomination. The novels from Bujold and Grant are included, for all intents and purposes, because of the name on their cover, rather than the text inside. I’m sure they’re both fine novels, but neither made waves in fandom or genre discussion this year. Kim Stanley Robinson is another Hugo darling, and 2312 was at least a significant release in Science Fiction, which, alongside David Brin’s Existence (a novel that some will should have been included instead of Robinson’s), reopened a style of hard Science Fiction that has a long legacy in the genre but little recent activity. Continue reading
After the Apocalypse
Release Date: 20111108
Publisher: Small Beer Press
I get e-mails from time to time offering me electronic copies of self-published or small press titles for review. I usually say yes, with the caveat that I may never actually read it or get past the first chapter. Most of them are not very good. This was my mindset when I received a copy of a short story collection by Maureen McHugh, called After the Apocalypse. At the time, I wasn’t aware of Small Beer Press and what they’re about. I went in to After the Apocalypse functionally blind. After reading it, I feel like I can see.
I’d never heard of McHugh prior to this book. It turns out she’s published four novels and over twenty short stories. Her first novel, China Mountain Zhang, was nominated for both the Hugo and the Nebula Award. In 1996 she won a Hugo Award for her short story The Lincoln Train. After reading this collection, none of that surprises me. Many of the stories in this collection are “award worthy” – especially the three new ones that are published here for the first time. Continue reading
Release Date: 20130512
Publisher: Orbit Books
I admit, prior to reading The Troupe, I had no idea what vaudeville was all about. I had an idea in my head, based on implied fuzzy cultural memory, but it’s not something I’d ever taken a moment to actually look into. Having read Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus and paged through Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti by Genevieve Valentine, two circus-themed novels from 2011, I classified Bennett’s novel in my mind as another entrant in this newly popularized subgenre. Vaudville isn’t the same as a circus, but I was expecting a similar type of novel where the setting is as much a character as the people that populate it. The Troupe shattered those notions. Plot and character driven, set against a vaudville background, Bennett’s novel calls to mind the stylings of Neil Gaiman and lives up to the comparison.
Sixteen-year-old pianist George Carole has joined vaudeville to find Heironomo Silenus, the man he suspects to be his father. As he chases down Silenus’s troupe, he begins to understand that their performances are unique even for vaudeville and strange happenings follow in their wake. It’s not until after he joins them that George realizes the troupe isn’t simply touring, and Silenus is hiding a secret as old as time itself. Told in a tight third person voice, The Troupe follows George through his experience as a vaudeville act, a lost young man searching for direction, and a chess piece in an endless metaphysical war. Not surprisingly, the novel is divided into three parts that roughly correspond to each of those story arcs, although none are entirely resolved until the final pages. Continue reading
Throne of the Crescent Moon
Release Date: 20120207
When I reviewed Seven Princes by John Fultz back in 2011, I heavily criticized the sword and sorcery novel for lacking character, plot, and, well… substance. When I did that, I opened myself up to the criticism that a sword and sorcery novel lacks those things on purpose. They’re all about fun and adventure. I knew that was wrong, but didn’t have a way to prove it. I do now. Saladin Ahmed’s sword and sorcery novel, Throne of the Crescent Moon, is a superficial adventure novel at first glance. It also possesses tremendous heart and soul. Not soul in a Biblical sense, although there’s some of that too; I mean soul like Barry Gordy. Every note in Ahmed’s debut comes from an authentic place, a cultural awareness not unlike Motown in the 1960′s.
From a plot standpoint, Throne of the Crescent Moon is about a power struggle between the iron-fisted Khalif and the subversive Falcon Prince. In the midst of a brewing rebellion, a series of brutal supernatural murders strikes at the heart of the Crescent Moon Kingdoms. The 60-year old Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, is the last real ghul hunter in the great city of Dhamsawaat and his young assistant Raseed bas Raseed, is a holy warrior whose swordsmanship is matched only by his devotion to God. When they learn that the murders and the Falcon Prince’s brewing revolution are connected, they find themselves in a race to save the life of the tyrannical Khalif. Continue reading