Posts Tagged: Michael J. Sullivan

Unfettered, edited by Shawn Speakman

That line-up still blows my mind.

Fun fact: Todd Lockwood, who created the art for the cover, incorporated Speakman’s likeness into the figure on the cover. It looks just like him, and I take some perverse joy in the fact that the latest in the endless line of hooded figures looks just like my friend.

As for the art, it’s a nice departure from Lockwood, who continues to be one of my favourite Fantasy artists. Love the brooding colour scheme and the liberal use of purple, which you don’t see very often.

You can learn more about Unfettered on the Grim Oak Press website.

Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn.This week, Justin Landon, editor of Staffer’s Book Review, hosted a series of guest articles discussing and exploring the idea of “agency” in Science Fiction and Fantasy. The term means different things to different people, and many readers might not even recognize it when they see it, but it’s at the core of almost every successful novel. In particular, Landon was interested in applying the idea of agency against the role and development of female characters in Fantasy and Science Fiction, and how it differs from that of male characters.

Landon explains the genesis of the project:

I’ve noticed more and more authors lamenting the treatment of women in fantasy novels. Despite widespread agreement that there should be a more concerted effort to depict strong women, I wasn’t necessarily coming away with the impression that agency is something a character has to have.

So, Landon prompted several of Fantasy and Science Fiction writers with a few questions to encourage the discussion of character agency, how it affects the driving force of novels, and its role in the overall debate centred around gender and SFF. The questions were:

What is agency?
Why is it important?
Why do we find more male characters with agency in fantasy novels than females?
Is it OK if a character doesn’t have it?
Can a character still be interesting if it lacks it?
Can a book be good if none of the characters have it?

Landon has published the responses from several authors, with promises of more to come. Here’s a collection of their thoughts, along with links to the full articles:

Elizabeth Bear, author of Range of Ghosts:

Agency, as we use the term in literary circles, is–quite frankly–the thing that makes characters interesting to the reader. As much as we talk about tactics of characterization that may or may not appeal to any particular reader (making the character accessible, making them funny, making them identifiable)… the one thing that I have found that does not fail to connect to the audience is giving a character agency.


A lot of people use the term “strong female character” to mean “kickass heroine.” I think this is silly. In my estimation, one of the strongest women in Range of Ghosts never picks up a weapon. She’s a fourteen-year-old-girl who escapes execution for being pregnant with the wrong man’s child by running across a desert at night in her bedroom slippers.

That’s pretty damned tough. She wants to live, and she wants her child to live, and she does what she has to do to make it happen.


As for why female characters have it less often than male ones? Well, there’s an implicit assumption in the question that I’m not sure I agree with. Do they really? Does Lessa have less agency than F’lar? Does Juliet have less agency than Romeo? Does Jessica have less agency than Paul? Does Elizabeth have less agency than Mr. Darcy?

Women may have traditionally had to express their agency in more limited ways–but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. Just that they were pushing a bigger boulder uphill to express what they want, and their options on what to do to get it were more limited.

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Another year, another list of great novels. I don’t read widely enough to declare a ‘best of 2011,’ so instead here is a collection of my favourite novels published in 2011, starting with honourable mentioned (in no order) and capped off with my favourite novel of 2011, which might come as a bit of a surprise.


Honorable Mentions

Shadowheart by Tad Williams

SHADOWHEART by Tad WilliamsShadowheart is, essentially, one enormous climax. The pacing is frenetic (for a Williams novel…) and the author fills every nook and cranny of the novel with feverish action, enlightening observations on the plot or characters and enough twists and turns to keep fans of the series happy. It’s always bittersweet to see a series come to an end; as fans, we are always eager to find out what happens to our heroes and heroines, but, equally, we don’t want them to ever leave our lives. Perhaps the greatest thing I can say about Shadowheart is that through four long volumes of a story, Williams convinced me to care utterly for his characters and there’s a hole now in my life where they once lived. Few story tellers can do that. Williams does it with alarming regularity.
Read my full review of Shadowheart by Tad Williams.
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Rise of Empire by Michael J. SullivanStumbled across a an interesting nugget in a recent interview with Michael J. Sullivan on SFF World:

You’ve got some other stories in the works, do you want to let us know about any of them?

Well some are older pieces that I’ve resurrected, which means a complete rewrite from the ground up, but the seed of the story remains intact. If I try to talk about my books I end up rambling, so I’ll give you the “back of the book blurbs” which do a better job than I would if I just talked about them. The first is Antithesis:

Have you ever wondered about how the world would end?

No, well don’t sweat it, most don’t and those that do figure it will come about due to a dramatic change in climate, a widespread disease, or war. That’s what we’ve been taught to believe and our brains are always eager for a rational explanation, but our minds weren’t always so logical. There was a time when people believed in myths and magic, but in today’s scientific age if it can’t be proved, well it doesn’t exist.

I was the same way until I met Winston Stewart. That was the day I learned to believe in much more than I could see—not the least of which is fate. Fate is an amazing thing. It put Ghandi in South Africa, Nelson at Gibraltar, Newton under the apple tree, and Winston Stewart on that train in Alexandria Virginia. You don’t know who Winston Stewart is? You will.


I also have literary fiction piece which, in many ways is the antithesis of The Riyria Revelations. It’s the book that made me quit writing when I couldn’t get it published. Riyria is fast-paced, written in a simple style, and contains a sweeping epic involving likeable characters. A Burden to the Earth is a very simple tale about a complex man and his very small life. In this book I concentrated on constructing the prose and so it reads much differently than the simple, straightforward style I used with Riyria. Here is the blurb for it:

He learned values from Gunsmoke, ethics from Father Knows Best, and his place in the world from Ozzie & Harriet, but his life turned out much different.

A child of the fifties, Elliot Myers believed his parents, his teachers, his priest, and television when they promised him the American dream. Now at forty, and still living in his mother’s tiny condominium, he knows they all lied. Embittered by a world that moved ahead and left him behind, Elliot finds one last chance to free himself of forty years of waiting and makes his first, and final, grasp at life. Set in the early 1990’s A Burden to the Earth explores regret over lost innocence, nostalgia for the past, and the cost of dwelling on both.

I’ve seen Sullivan speak vaguely about some of the other projects he’s been working on since completing The Riyria Revelations (including a prequel trilogy that’s not included in the quote above), but never quite in so much detail. As I mention in my review of Theft of Swords, the first volume of Sullivan’s ‘trilogy’ (which is actually comprised of six volumes), Sullivan’s bread-and-butter appears to be his handle on Fantasy tropes and conventions and his ability to tell them simple, compulsively readable way that somehow manages to avoid feeling stale despite all the easy-recognized elements. These two descriptions are a step away from what Sullivan established with his Fantasy trilogy, most notably by both being set on Earth, rather than a secondary world and A Burden of the Earth steps entirely away from genre fiction. It’s nice to see authors diversify their library, but I’m sure that Sullivan fans (and Orbit Books, his publisher) would love to see him spending his writing time on the novels set in the world of The Riyria Revelations. It will be interesting to see which direction he goes.

Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan

Theft of Swords

By Michael J. Sullivan
Pages: 704 pages
Publisher: Orbit Books
Release Date: 23/11/11
ISBN: 0316187747


Michael J. Sullivan has a story that every aspiring writer would love to tell. It’s not about trolls or princesses, vanquishing evil or finding treasure (at least not in the literal sense), but it is a tale of perseverance and personal triumph, of overcoming obstacles that prove impossible for so many others. See, Sullivan’s most interesting story isn’t that of Hadrian Blackwater and Royce Melborn, the protagonists of Theft of Swords, which consists of Sullivan’s first two self-published novels, The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha, and the eponymous pair behind The Riyria Revelations, it’s the story behind his success, of his rocky and self-driven path to publication, first under his own publishing label (ostensibly a self-published writer) and selling several thousand eBooks a month to signing a full-fledged publishing deal with a major New York City publisher (and potentially leaving tens- or hundreds-of-thousands of dollars on the table.) Michael J. Sullivan is a self-made success story and it shows in Theft of Swords’ utter disregard for the current trends that are sweeping the Fantasy genre (and are so important in the minds of the major publishers.)

In this post-GRRM (George R.R. Martin, author of A Song of Ice and Fire) world, popular Epic Fantasy is dominated by so-called ‘gritty’ writers like Joe Abercrombie, Scott Lynch or R. Scott Bakker. Even the ‘good guys,’ like Brandon Sanderson, author of The Alloy of Law are known for attempting to subvert the tropes of the genre by taking common building blocks and flipping them on their heads in a way that’s supposed to upend the reader’s expectations. Theft of Swords, on the other hand, is a delightful throwback to the Fantasy of the ‘80s and ‘90s that took the concepts and thematic structures first popularized by Tolkien and helped solidify the genre’s place in popular geek culture. These days it’s cool to hate on Terry Brooks, David Eddings and Raymond E. Feist, but Theft of Swords proves that the building blocks used by those authors are still effective today when wielded by a careful author.
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