Author Archive

BOOK REVIEW: Moth and Spark by Anne Leonard

REVIEW SUMMARY: A well-written epic fantasy debut with a strong foreground romance.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS:: In a fantasy kingdom chafing under the rule of a distant empire, a Prince and a commoner struggle to build a relationship even as war and Draconic meddling threatens their safety.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Believable, strong romance that defies the clichés of the trope; excellent view into the workings of a royal court; evocative prose; a beautiful artifact of a book; tells a complete story in one volume.
CONS: The world and worldbuilding outside of that court, from the dragons to the threat of war, is not written with the interest and strength of the world inside of it.
BOTTOM LINE: An epic fantasy recommended for readers far more interested in romance and character interactions than wide-screen worldbuilding and action.
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MIND MELD: Our Favorite Convention Panels

[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

This week, we asked our panlists about their favorite Convention Panels:

Q: What was the best convention panel you ever attended? What was the best convention panel you were ever on? If you could set up your ideal convention panel, what would be the topic and who would be on it?

This is what they said…

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BOOK REVIEW: Blood and Iron by Jon Sprunk

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS:: A captured would-be crusader, a gladiator-turned-slave, and a slave under deep cover struggle to survive in a fantasy city under threat from within and without.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: A welcome return to a new area of Sprunk’s world; raises of the stakes from previous novels; interesting magic systems; complex socio-political situation.
CONS: The jump up to epic fantasy not always successful in practice; slow start; some character missteps work against the dramatic build-up.
BOTTOM LINE: The first installment of a new new series that overcomes its slow start and ups the entertainment factor.

Crusades, slaves, heresies and a desperate ruler’s fight for power and survival are the meaty matter of Jon Sprunk’s Blood and Iron, first in his new Black Earth series. Set in the same world as the Shadow Saga (Shadow’s Son and its sequels), Blood and Iron represents a significant increase in scale and stakes.
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Tired of nearly every secondary world fantasy being set in a world that seems to borrow only from Medieval Europe, especially Western Europe? Most especially Northwestern Europe (England, France, perhaps the Low Countries)? Tired of the rest of Eurasia and beyond being ignored, except when token people and lands care called for, or perhaps a crusade against the unfathomable East, with no sense of them as people? With no sense of their cultures, values, flora, or fauna?

Good. So am I. And I’d like to tell you about the fantasy that transcends that barrier.

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An Interview with Fantasy Author Elspeth Cooper

Elspeth Cooper[ Rachel Rose Photography]

Elspeth Cooper
[Rachel Rose Photography]

Elspeth Cooper is a British fantasy writer, author of The Wild Hunt fantasy series. There’s not an elf in sight. No prophecies either, and it is bereft of dwarves, orcs, generic Dark Lords and all the other familiar epic fantasy furniture. It’s just a damn good read.

Elspeth was kind enough to answer some questions about her and her series.


Paul Weimer: Who is Elspeth Cooper?

Elspeth Cooper: By day, she is a mild-mannered epic fantasy author. When nobody’s looking she transforms into a sword-wielding British housewife and retired IT worker, drinker of tea and herder of cats.
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BOOK REVIEW: Emilie and the Sky World by Martha Wells

REVIEW SUMMARY: The second novel in Martha Wells newest series closely follows on the first novel, expanding the world and characters.

MY RATING:

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Deepening of protagonist’s character, cosmology and the world; consistently entertaining; a quick read; excellent Introductory fantasy, especially for readers looking for a female protagonists and role models.
CONS: The novel’s uncomplicated YA nature may turn off readers looking for more complex fare; the lack of space between the two volumes, time-wise, mandates reading the first volume first.
BOTTOM LINE: A sequel that provides an entertaining second visit to Wells’ world and strengthens some of the weaknesses of the first novel.
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REVIEW SUMMARY: The followup to Martinez’s debut novel The Daedalus Incident builds on the strengths of the first novel and shores up its weaknesses.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS:: The two worlds, alchemical and corporate future, meet again, as an ancient Martian plot draws them both to Saturn…and Siwa, Egypt, for an attempt to reopen the doorway between them, and beyond.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: High Concept remains interesting. More character focus given a deemphasis on the fast and furious worldbuilding of the first.
CONS: The splitting of the parties in both worlds is only partially effective, some plotlines are frankly more interesting than others, the two halves feel less connected.
BOTTOM LINE: A followup that manages to improve on the first in significant ways but doesn’t quite leap to the next quantum level.
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MIND MELD: Secondary Characters Who Take Center Stage

[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

Protagonists and antagonists get lots of spotlight in novels, but sometimes the most intriguing characters are the minor ones, the ones that briefly grace the stage and depart, leaving the main characters to their business.This week, we asked our panel about the most iconic of fantasy creatures:

Q: What minor characters in novels and stories have caught your interest, and want to know more about? What characters in your own work have gathered unexpected interest, and you’d like to write from their point of view?

This is what they said…
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AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone

REVIEW SUMMARY: A debut that underpins a strong new voice in fantasy.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In Alt Coulumb, the death of the God of Fire and the disposition of his contracts and bargains brings together magicians, priests, servants of a lost goddess, intrigue and high action and adventure.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Strong multiple female characters (and primary protagonist); exciting, wild and innovative worldbuilding.
CONS: Breakneck pace can work against the novel; perhaps one too many complications and small details are made relevant.
BOTTOM LINE: A debut novel that confirms the author’s nomination for a Campbell Award and points to great things in his future.

The Gods of the Craftverse are very different than most fantasy universes. Sure they are embodiments of magic, of cosmic forces, and all that, but that’s just a surface detail. To get things done, like in the Exalted RPG universe, Gods have to make bargains, deals, and contracts with other gods, Magicians, and countries. These deals and contracts are binding and can make or break a God; they hold legal force, even if the unthinkable should occur. A contract unfulfilled can lead to fires going out, steam trains not working, and worse.

So, when a God in the Craftverse dies, death, as they say, is only the beginning.
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BOOK REVIEW: Empress of the Sun by Ian McDonald

REVIEW SUMMARY:The third novel in the Everness series continues to expand both the universe and its protagonists and antagonists alike.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Everett, Sen and the rest of the crew of the airship make a jump to a BDO (Big Dumb Object) inhabited by descendants of dinosaurs.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: A BDO of engineering larger than a Ringworld! Good character development of both the protagonists and antagonists.
CONS: Perhaps a bit too brief in length, especially given the size of the locales and the amount of material covered.
BOTTOM LINE: The third novel in MacDonald’s series starts taking off the gloves and kicking things into high gear.

I’ve a big fan of Ian McDonald’s Everness series, which began with Planesrunner and Be My Enemy. I’ve avidly followed story of a teenage genius who unlocks his father’s most prized secret — the secret not only to visit the ten worlds of the Plentitude, but the entire multiverse. The series follows Everett’s quest to find his missing father, lost somewhere in that multiverse, and the efforts of those who follow Everett in order to capture the Infundibulum for themselves. In the third novel in this series, Empress of the Sun, the story follows (in separate plotlines) Everett (still with the crew of The Everness, the airship he encountered in Planesrunner), Everett’s double from another world of the Plentitude who was recruited to find him, and Charlotte Villers (the main antagonist of the series).

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BOOK REVIEW: Shadow Ops: Breach Zone by Myke Cole

REVIEW SUMMARY: The third book in the Shadow Ops trilogy is the strongest yet by Military Fantasy author Myke Cole.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS:: Looking backward and forward, Cole gives an antagonist of the series, Harlequin, screen time as we learn his story and his place in the Shadow Ops history and universe.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Excellent delving into the character and motivations of a previous antagonist of the series; solid world building; action sequences alone are worth the price of admission.
CONS: A couple of beats could have been more clearly hit; a couple of intimations, if they are, are too softly invoked.
BOTTOM LINE: The final book of the Shadow Ops trilogy is the strongest.

[WARNING: Plot spoilers and general trilogy discussion ahead…]

Black Hawk Down meets the X-men. That’s the one-line high-concept that introduced me to Myke Cole’s Shadow Ops series.
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BOOK REVIEW: Trucksong by Andrew Macrae

REVIEW SUMMARY: An inventive, unique and fresh Australian post-apocalyptic novel.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A first-person dystopian science fiction novel about lost love, AI trucks and the search for meaning in a post-apocalyptic Australia.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Inventive, strong point of view gives a tight focus on the world around the protagonist.
CONS: First-person narration sometimes works against it; some elements not fleshed out sufficiently; dialect and slang may put off casual, non-Australians readers.
BOTTOM LINE: A unique and fresh post-apocalyptic novel.

Australia after the apocalypse is a hell of a place in Andrew Macrae’s debut novel Trucksong. The great metropolises (Gigacities in the parlance of the book) have all fallen, leaving a remnant population of humans, and things more and less than human. That last includes semi-trucks, with artificial intelligence, the ability to symbiotically bond with humans, and the seemingly dominant species left in Australia. Above it all, an ancient satellite named The Watcher sends cryptic messages to those who can hear them, including a young man determined to free the girl he loves, and break the power of the strongest truck on the roads, The Brumby King.
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BOOK REVIEW: Book of the Dead Edited by Jared Shurin

REVIEW SUMMARY: Another anthology from Jared Shurin’s Jurassic London imprint satisfyingly takes on yet another unexpected subject.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Mummies get their due in an anthology with strong stories from Paul Cornell, Gail Carriger, Maria Dahvana Headley and more.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Mummies! A wide range of tone, subject, and style gives something for every taste; good use of illustrations.
CONS: A couple of the stories don’t quite reach the high standard of the real highlights.
BOTTOM LINE: A solid and strong anthology of stories in an underexplored corner of the fantastic.
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BOOK REVIEW: Heartwood by Freya Robertson

REVIEW SUMMARY: The first volume in the Elemental Wars series is a promising start from new fantasy writer Freya Robertson.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A society of knights dedicated to protect a Yggdrasil like tree quest across the land in order to save it and oppose enemies known and unknown.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Excellent misc-en-scene and detail; egalitarian society at heart of novel most welcome.
CONS: Several coincidences and turns of plot are awfully convenient; some character arcs feel like missed opportunities; a repeated typographical error was more than a little annoying.
BOTTOM LINE: An imperfect but entertaining start to a new epic fantasy writer.

A tree at the center of creation, an egalitarian set of knights set to protect it, and a ghastly attack that threatens the health of the world are the stakes in Heartwood, a debut epic fantasy novel from Freya Robertson.

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MIND MELD: Our Favorite Dragons in Fantasy

[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

With the arrival of The Desolation of Smaug on movie screens, We asked this week’s panelists about the most iconic of fantasy creatures: Dragons.

Q: What makes dragons appealing? How do you use dragons in your own writing? What are your favorite depictions in fantasy?

This is what they said…

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7 Questions for Tom Lloyd, Author of MOON’S ARTIFICE

Tom Lloyd is a British Novelist best known for his Twilight Reign series, comprised of The Stormcaller, The Twilight Herald, The Grave Thief, The Ragged Man, The Dusk Watchman as well as the collection The God Tattoo: Untold Tales from the Twilight Reign. His new novel, Moon’s Artifice, begins a new series in a brand new world. You can find him at his webiste TomLloyd.co.uk/, on Facebook and on Twitter as @tomlloydwrites.

Tom consented to answer some questions about his new work.

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BOOK REVIEW: Moon’s Artifice by Tom Lloyd

REVIEW SUMMARY: Lloyd convincingly begins a new fantasy universe of Gods, noble houses and an attempted apotheosis.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In the Imperial City, the heart of the Empire, a lowly investigator gets entangled in a conflict between Noble Houses and the Gods themselves.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Rich, deep world building (almost to excess); dverse set of protagonists; excellent action scenes.
CONS: A concordance would have helped illuminate the wave of information thrown at the reader; some character elements out of central casting.
BOTTOM LINE: An entertaining and strong entry into a new fantasy universe that reads like the fantasy equivalent of a technothriller.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: The third in Ian Sales Apollo Quartet sees a more alternate historical mode to his story of astonauts and spy satellites.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In an alternate world where the Korean War dragged into an endless meatgrinder, a female-led space program ties in with a black ops spy satellite program

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Solid research into dark and strange corners of the space program, both in terms of people and technology; three-dimensional characters whose depth belie the shortness of the work.
CONS: Not all aspects of the alternate history are as plausible as others; divergent time points in the alternate history could have been bound more tightly together.
BOTTOM LINE: An impressive depth of research combined with a love of space programs is aptly married to excellent writing.

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BOOK REVIEW: Wrath-Bearing Tree by James Enge

REVIEW SUMMARY: The second volume of Wrath-Bearing Tree continues to expand the scope of Morlock’s life and world.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Following the events of the Dragon-Dwarf War, the religious nation of Kaen is the battleground in the continued conflict between the Ambrosii and the Gods of Fate and Chaos.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Strong fusion of sword & sorcery and epic fantasy.
CONS: Some parts do not mesh well together, leading to a less smooth reading experience
BOTTOM LINE: New characters and new conflicts deepen and to flesh out the origin story of Morlock.

Wrath-Bearing Tree is second in James Enge’s series A Tournament of Shadows, following A Guile of Dragons. The series serves as an origin story for his character Morlock Ambrosius (previously seen in A Blood of Ambrose, This Crooked Way and The Wolf Age)

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BOOK REVIEW: Lost Covenant by Ari Marmell

REVIEW SUMMARY: Marmell continues to explore the growing up of a teenage thief with a God in her head as she is on the run outside her home city.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: On the run from her deeds in her hometown, a young thief finds that aiding a branch of her old patron’s family is far trickier than she thinks.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Excellent voice and interaction between Widdershins and Olgun; fun, relatively light action not afraid to go darker at key moments; good development of the character’s long term arc; Offers expanded look at the world; excellent cover art.
CONS: Plotline taking place back in Davillion does not feel as well integrated as it might be.
BOTTOM LINE: Another solid entry in the continuing story of Widdershins from Marmell

Ari Marmell’s Lost Covenant, the book that follows Thief’s Covenant and False Covenant, picks up with Widdershins on the road. Not content to lie completely low, her information gathering and fortune lead her to the distant city of Lourveaux, where she discovers that the last branch of the Delacroix family is under threat from a rival House. Widdershins’ sense of obligation to her old mentor and adoptive parent leads her on to seek to help of the last of that House, to deal with the threat against them. Since the aristocratic Delacroix knows nothing of who or what Widdershins is besides an obviously common-born girl of no merit whatsoever, this is not going to be easy at all for Widdershins to manage.

(Note: From this point on, spoilers for Thief’s Covenant and False Covenant are inevitable.)
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