Saturday, February 28, 2015

From the Shelf to the Page: This Week in the Ruins

Pretty much back to normal after a few crazy weeks in the office:

Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.

A solid week of new additions with some new review titles as well as a few new purchases to help round out the shelves.

• Dwarves in Space by Sabrina Zbasnik
One reviewer called it Tolkien, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and Firefly merged in a transporter accident, and that sounds like a whole lot of fun. 

• The Catacombs by Jeremy Bates
A found footage style novel, set deep within the ancient tunnels and mass graves beneath the streets of Paris. This one sounds like a perfect read.

• Dark Alchemy by Laura Bickle
It’s The Gunslinger meets Breaking Bad, genre-splicing elements of urban fantasy, western, horror, and romance. Definitely looking forward to this upcoming book tour.

• The Madonna and the Starship James K. Morrow
In the golden era of sci-fi TV, Uncle Wonder must create the ultimately irreverent television show — or crayfish from outer space will inflict their death-ray on an unsuspecting viewership.

• Phoenix Quest Adventures: First Three Novels by K.T. Tomb
The Hammer of Thor, the Spear of Destiny, and the Lair of Beowulf. I'm always up for a good adventure tale, so I snagged this bundle with my Amazon gift certificate.

• The Hunters by Chris Kuzneski
A team of renegades after a vast Romanian treasure, stolen by the Russians nearly a century ago, and scattered across the county. More adventure courtesy of my Amazon gift certificate.


It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf.

• The Skull Throne by Peter Brett
I promised myself I would hold off until March to start reading this one, and I almost did (technically, I started it before bed last night). Really looking forward to it!

• The Wolf at His Door by Adrian Lilly
A dark world of fairy tales and fantasy set the stage for an 'unpredictable' horror novel where werewolves, genetics, and a thrilling murder mystery intertwine.

• Dawn's Early Light by Pip Ballantine & Tee Morris
Somehow I missed the 3rd Books and Braun novel when it came out, so now I'm doing a little catch-up before joining the book tour for the fourth volume in April.

What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, February 27, 2015

WTF Friday: The Devil's Detective by Simon Kurt Unsworth

Every once in a while, as the mood strikes me, I like to indulge in those titles that are a bit odd . . . a bit different . . . a bit bizarre . . . and a bit freaky. These are books that don't get a lot of press, and which rarely get any retail shelf space.

They're often an underground of sort of literature, best shared through guilty whispers, and often with embarrassed grins. These are our WTF Friday reads!

Clive Barker once wrote that “Hell is reimagined by each generation,” and, with The Devil's Detective, it is Simon Kurt Unsworth's turn to do the reimagining. His Hell definitely pays homage to the 'classic' vision, but is more about purgatory and hopelessness than actual punishment. It is a bleak and colorless slum, home to human sinners, fallen angels, demon masters, and all kinds of monsters. Far more dystopian ruin than biblical hell-and-brimstone, Hell is quite literally the ugliest, saddest city that you can imagine, torn asunder from the world, and buried beneath the cruel temptation of Heaven's light above.

Our guide in this underworld is Thomas Fool, an Information Man who is akin to the saddest, most hopeless of bureaucrats. His job is to report on the atrocities of Hell, and to catalog the brutalities around him, but not to investigate them. He's like a burned out police detective, but one with no memory of his life before, and no hope for anything better before him. A cold, largely emotionless protagonist (think a later season Stabler from Law & Order: SVU, but without the rage), he's fascinating, but not a character to whom we can relate, or for whom we can root. When he's ordered to actually investigate a crime in which a human corpse was found without a soul, we're curious about where his story might go, but even the most optimistic reader would be hard-pressed to hold out any hope for him or his case.

This is a hard book to categorize. Like Dante's Inferno, it's a book that's more about the place and the journey than the people within it. It's as fascinating as it is depressing, with visions of horrors and atrocities that will linger with you long after putting the book down. For instance, the flaming orphanage full of monstrous half-demon babies, abandoned by their human prostitute mothers, particularly sticks with me, as does the first attempt by real demon to rape, defile, and devour that soulless corpse.

What story there is here is part police procedural and part political/religious thriller. The twists and tweaks that Unsworth makes to the procedural genre were, for me, the most intriguing aspect of the novel. The increasingly darker, more sinister, more carnivorous scenes with the Man of Plants and Flowers are remarkable, especially as we come to understand this mysterious informant is far more than just that. The scenes with Hell's coroner (think a bizarro, gothic take on Ducky from NCIS), who tests for souls using feces-encrusted communion wafers, are as unsettling as they are amusing, and the hopeless banter between Fool and his two fellow investigators is almost tragic, but one of the few threads of true humanity we find in the novel.

On the religious/political side, we're set up for something unusual at the very beginning, when Fool is commanded to escort a delegation from Heaven, who have come for the random selection and escalation of damned souls. These angels are as cruel and arrogant as any demon, and it's clear there are ulterior motives to their every action. The rulers of Hell have, of course, ulterior motives at every turn as well, and their reasons for ordering Fool to actually investigate a human murder are far more about self-preservation than justice. As for the riots that eventually ensue . . . well, I won't betray the secrets there.

Narratively, this is a very dense book, full of description and exposition, and not a lot of dialogue. It does tend to get very bogged down in words at times, and the often strained play on the name 'Fool' became a bit tiresome, but the imagination behind it all is what kept me reading. It's a book that will challenge a lot of readers, especially those who need happy endings or those those who feel strongly about issues of faith, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't give it a try. I keep coming back to that word, fascinating, but that's the best way I can think of to describe The Devil's Detective. It's not particularly enjoyable, and the bleak depths of winter are perhaps not the best time to wallow in such darkness and depression, but it is a fascinating study of Hell and humanity that never shies away from the journey it began.

Hardcover, 304 pages
Expected publication: March 3rd 2015 by Doubleday

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Beauty of Ruin by Damien Angelica Walters (author of Sing Me Your Scars)

Although my reading tastes have been driving me firmly back into the realms of epic fantasy, horror has always been my first love. It's what I remember reading first, and what has driven most of my own writing endeavours. So, while I hardly need an excuse to celebrate the genre, events like Women in Horror Month certainly do provide a convenient prompt for me to look beyond the towering review pile and dabble a bit more within the genre.

Today, for our final post under the WiHM666 banner, we welcome Damien Angelica Walters, author of the upcoming Sing Me Your Scars, to talk (appropriately enough) about The Beauty of Ruin.

The Beauty of Ruin
by Damien Angelica Walters

I am a literary sadist.

But don’t take my word for it. A recent reviewer (Anton Cancre of Eviscerating Pen) said this about Sing Me Your Scars: “I wept enough while reading this that I joked about changing the name to I Like It When You Cry and while there is hope to be found here, it is hard earned.”

He’s right. I like writing about broken people, and I like writing about hurt, but I promise I’m not cackling madly in the corner while I do so. Most of the time, I’m fighting against a lump in my throat and wondering why I’m drawn to such darkness.

I remember reading Stephen King’s IT a long time ago and breaking into ugly tears near the end when Beverly, Ben, Bill, and Richie are walking into the Town House (page 1,110 in the hardcover). Beverly sees their reflections in the glass, and although Eddie and Stan are gone, for a brief instant she sees their reflections, too.

That moment. That moment.

I hated Stephen King for making me care so much about characters that I had to stop reading because I was crying too hard to see the words, but a part of me loved him for it, too. That ache in my heart was a beautiful thing.

When I start writing a story, I never say, “Hey, let’s break some hearts today,” but if it happens, I can’t say it doesn’t make me happy. It isn’t that I’ve made someone cry; it’s that I’ve made someone care. It means that in that moment, for that reader, the character was more than just a name on paper. In that moment, the character, and their hurt, was real.

In truth, I’m not sure if the confines of short fiction make that easier or harder. A little of both, maybe, but I try not to overthink such things. I do know that not every story will touch every reader, and while I hope my stories will make more people care than not, once a story is written, it no longer belongs to the writer.

I’ll keep writing and hopefully, continue to create characters and stories that reach into readers’ hearts and break them a little. And maybe, just maybe, those readers will come back for more.


About the Author

Damien Angelica Walters’ short fiction has appeared in various magazines and anthologies, including Year’s Best Weird Fiction Volume One, The Best of Electric Velocipede, Strange Horizons, Nightmare, Lightspeed, Shimmer, and Apex. “The Floating Girls: A Documentary,” originally published in Jamais Vu and reprinted in the Chinese literary journal ZUI Found, is on the Bram Stoker Award ballot for Superior Achievement in Short Fiction.

Forthcoming in 2015: Sing Me Your Scars, a collection of short fiction, from Apex Publications, and Paper Tigers, a novel, from Dark House Press.

You can find her on Twitter @DamienAWalters or online at


About the Book

Sing Me Your Scars
by Damien Angelica Walters

Sometimes a thread pulled through the flesh is all that holds you together. Sometimes the blade of a knife or the point of a nail is the only way you know you’re real. When pain becomes art and a quarter is buried deep within in you, all you want is to be seen, to have value, to be loved. But love can be fragile, folded into an origami elephant while you disappear, carried on the musical notes that build a bridge, or woven into an illusion so real, so perfect that you can fool yourself for a little while. Paper crumples, bridges fall, and illusions come to an end. Then you must pick up the pieces, stitch yourself back together, and shed your fear, because that is when you find out what you are truly made of and lift your voice, that is when you Sing Me Your Scars.

In her first collection of short fiction, Damien Angelica Walters weaves her lyrical voice through suffering and sorrow, teasing out the truth and discovering hope.

Paperback, 200 pages
Expected publication: March 10th 2015 by Apex Book Company

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Historical Review: Dead Wake by Erik Larson

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. While I make every attempt to avoid spoilers, please be aware that an ARC synopsis, press release, or review request may disclose details that are not revealed in the published cover blurb.

There are some authors who, despite your best intentions, seem to linger upon the to-be-read shelf forever. For me, Erik Larson is one of those authors - I've had a trade paperback edition of The Devil in the White City sitting on that fateful shelf for far too many years now. When I came across the ARC of Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, I knew this would finally be our chance to connect, especially given my fascination with shipwrecks and submarines.

This is a lengthy, detailed, in-depth narrative exploration of historic events. As such, the pacing (at least at first glance) seems a little odd - it takes 140 pages for the Lusitania to leave port, and 250 pages for it to begin sinking. The story is almost Dickensian in the way Larson spends so many pages talking about minor characters and their stories, but that's part of its appeal. It's those passengers, crew, politicians, and more who bring the Lusitania to life, who humanize the tragedy, and who make us care about a ship that sank 100 years ago.

If you thought you knew the story of the Lusitania - sunk by a German U-boat, propelling the US into WWII - then prepare to be surprised. There were so many circumstances and events on both sides of the Atlantic that set the stage for such a tragedy that it's sometimes hard to believe. If this were a fictional novel, few would ever buy into the sequence of coincidences, and even fewer would ever believe that officials could be so obtuse and callous in their decisions. If there's such a thing as destiny, then the Lusitania was certainly destined to sink. It's a story that casts an uncomfortable shadow on people like President Wilson and Winston Churchill, and an equally uncomfortable sort of light on the German U-boat commanders. It humanizes everyone, makes you regret the weaknesses and distractions of the 'good' guys, and makes you sympathize (at least a little) with some of the 'bad' guys.

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania is a story that vindicates Captain William Thomas Turner, a man who was excessively demonized and portrayed as an incompetent coward in order to isolate officials from blame, and to protect state secrets. It all comes back to those callous decisions. Had they released just one piece of precious information, given Turner just one single line of advice or warning, nearly 1200 lives would unquestionably been saved. It's not just a matter of "what if?" but more a matter of "if only." It's also a story that casts some doubt on history's portrayal of Captain Walther Schwieger as a cold-blooded murder, letting us experience the tragedy from his unique perspective at the periscope. Larson is unquestionably fair in his portrayal of the German U-boat captain, putting blame squarely on his shoulders, but also allowing some cracks to show in his stoic exterior - especially as he watches the silent catastrophe from beneath the water, and then chooses to silently turn for home, rather than fire a second shot.

While it's a long time coming, the actual sinking of the Lusitania is as chilling for the circumstances as for the behavior of the passengers. Larson shows us faces of unimaginable calm in the face of impending danger, with casual conversations and lazy movements contrasted against the speed with which the ship listed and sank. There's so much 'prim and proper' going on that it'd comical, were we not already aware of their fates. At the same time, he puts us right into the heart of chaos and confusion, with heartbreaking scenes of horror and tragedy - such as when a passenger forces a lifeboat to be prematurely launched, crushing the passenger and drowning those on board. It's an experience even darker than that of the Titanic sinking, with passengers worried not just about the cold and the water, but also terrified that the U-boat might still be within range to begin shooting survivors.

Utterly fascinating, and more than a little sickening to realize how much could (and should) have been done to save so many lives Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania is a must-read for history buffs and literary fiction lovers alike. They say truth is stranger than fiction, and the sad tale of this great ocean liner proves that once again.

Hardcover, 448 pages
Expected publication: March 10th 2015 by Crown

Waiting on Wednesday: Dark Alchemy by Laura Bickle

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

Dark Alchemy by Laura Bickle
Kindle Edition
Expected publication: March 24th 2015 by Harper Voyager Impulse

Some secrets are better left buried …

Geologist Petra Dee arrives in Wyoming seeking clues to her father's disappearance years ago. What she finds instead is Temperance, a dying western town with a gold rush past and a meth-infested present. But under the dust and quiet, an old power is shifting. When bodies start turning up—desiccated and twisted skeletons that Petra can't scientifically explain—her investigations land her in the middle of a covert war between the town's most powerful interests. Petra's father wasn't the only one searching for the alchemical secrets of Temperance, and those still looking are now ready to kill. Armed with nothing but shaky alliances, a pair of antique guns, and a relic she doesn't understand, the only thing Petra knows for sure is that she and her coyote sidekick are going to have to move fast—or die next.

While I don't read a lot of urban fantasy, I jumped at the chance to join Laura's book review tour when I saw the tagline being attached to the novel - "Stephen King's The Gunslinger meets Breaking Bad." Seriously, Roland Deschain meets Walter White? How the hell could I not read this after being told that!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Interview with Auston Habershaw (author of The Iron Ring)

This morning we have the great pleasure of welcoming Auston Habershaw to the Ruins, here to talk about The Iron Ring, the first book of his Saga of the Redeemed (now available from HarperCollins).

Q: Thanks for taking the time to stop by today, Auston. For those who haven't yet had a chance to encounter Tyvian and the world of the Iron Ring, please tell us a little about yourself and what we can expect from the series.

THE IRON RING is the first book in The Saga of the Redeemed, which follows the trials and tribulations of arch-criminal Tyvian Reldamar as a sorcerous ring is slowly torturing him into becoming a better person. The series is very character centered, long on action and wit, and set in a world that’s going through a kind of Sorcerous Renaissance (or, as one reviewer on Amazon put it, a “Magical Industrial Revolution”) where the once forbidden arts of magic and sorcery are becoming more and more available to the average person.

As the series goes on, Tyvian is going to get dragged further and further from being able to live life on his own terms (which he hates) and will find himself placed in more and more complicated situations thanks to the ring. Along the way, he is going to gain companions and enemies which both drive him to dig deeper into himself and see if there is, in fact, a hero hiding under all that selfish, vain arrogance.

Q: I love the twist of an evil rogue magically prevented from any evildoing. How did you come up with the scenario, and which came first – Tyvian or the Iron Ring?

Oh, Tyvian definitely came first—he’s been a character I've had kicking around since high school. He even acquired an iron ring at some point, but I really wasn’t sure what it was supposed to do. Then, some years ago, I wrote a role-playing game set in Tyvian’s world and ran a campaign for my friends. In it, I stuck something called “the Iron Order” into the game and didn’t really think much of it until a buddy of mine wanted his character to join. That’s when I created the whole idea of a sort of secret society that tries to turn talented villains into noble heroes by way of this enchanted/cursed ring that punishes them any time they do bad things. The inspiration for that, incidentally, was Clockwork Orange. Except with magic and not science and with a significantly more adventurous style.

Q: Very cool. To put you on the spot for a moment, what do you think is the biggest hook or twist that would turn a curious reader into a dedicated one?

Without a doubt the story’s secret weapon is the character of Hool the gnoll. She is the magic glue that makes this story sing. You just wait—if you don’t love her, I don’t know what’s wrong with you. I mean, Tyvian’s great and the action is fast and the banter is fun, but once Hool starts throwing people around, the whole story gets turned up to eleven. At least that’s the plan.

Q: You’ve listed Robert Louis Stevenson, JRR Tolkien, and Robert E Howard among your literary influences. How did they influence your writing, and where do you feel you’ve most significantly evolved or branched out from those influences?

Hmmm…let’s see…

Stevenson taught me about character building in the context of an adventure story and he also taught me a fair amount about anti-heroes (Long John Silver is one of my all-time favorite characters). Stevenson keeps things moving and uses dialogue as much as anything else to really bring his characters to life, and I try to do the same thing.

Tolkien has world-building down. Middle Earth is full of wonder and history and weight. It seems like a real place. Any fantasy author has to take notes from him, even if they plan on departing well away from his example. He wrote the book on it, so-to-speak.

Howard knows his pacing and, also, creates vivid characters without slowing down the action. When I read Howard, I read for how to raise the stakes and keep the danger present without losing the mood of the story.

How I’ve branched out is really a question of how I’ve blended those influences together. I think Stevenson writes great characters and dialogue, but his descriptions and voice are rather dated. Tolkien writes beautifully, but it takes ages for anything to actually happen. Howard has great action, but his characters, while memorable, aren’t deep or dynamic enough to really sustain a novel-length work. I’ve kinda started with all those masters and tried to take the best from each—fast paced, character driven prose set in a vivid and complicated world.

Q: Fair approach, indeed. Your biography talks about how learning that Skylab fell from space on the day you were born pretty much sealed your authorial fate. I know there must be more to the story . . . can you enlighten us?

When I was a kid, I was really into the space program. I had a subscription to Odyssey, which was this magazine about space for kids. I read it cover-to-cover every month. I read every book about space I could find. To me, the age of interstellar travel, ray-guns, and space pirates was right around the corner, and I wanted in on the ground floor.

One day, I’m lying on my bedroom floor, reading about the world’s first space station—Skylab—and right there, in black and white, it tells me that it fell from space on July 11th (my birthday) in 1978—the year I was born. Now, funny story about that: a little while after I started putting that in my bio, I decided to look up Skylab just to make sure I was right about the year and date it fell. Well, turns out I was a little off—it fell from space on July 11th 1979—my first birthday. Now, I’ve spent the majority of my life thinking (and telling people) that it was the day I was born, because that’s what I honestly thought. The way I see it, though, is that my first birthday really isn’t that much different than the day I was born and plenty of people lie about their age, so I’m just going to stick to that one little fib. It makes a much better story for a scifi/fantasy author to tell.

Q: You know you're an author when . . . LOL. You have some short fiction to your credit, but The Iron Ring marks your debut as a novel. How different is it to plan out such an extended story arc versus concentrating everything for the utmost impact, and which format do you find easier?

I have always been a novelist at heart. I find plotting out novels far, far more intuitive than writing stories—it’s just how my mind works. I took up short fiction and began to write that more seriously because I realized that, for as difficult as it was to write a short story, I could write a whole lot of them in the same time I could write one novel and that would give me correspondingly more chances to break into the writing world. I figured if I could sell some short stories first, I would have better odds of selling a novel. I don’t know if it actually worked that way (you’d have to ask my editor), but it certainly made me a better and more serious author.

As for the difference, I tell it like this: a novel is to a short story as an anecdote is to a joke. An anecdote has a lot of moving parts—there’s an opening, there’s that part in the middle where you always make the funny sound, there’s the grand finale, etc., etc.. A joke has only one functional purpose—one moving part. You either nail it or it flops. Short stories are like that—they either work or they don’t and they don’t really work in “parts.” Novels, meanwhile, have sequences and chapters that you love and sometimes ones you don’t which creates a more complicated picture overall. They are both challenging, just in wholly different ways.

Q: Well said. In terms of reader reactions, what is the strangest or most surprising reaction to the The Iron Ring that you've encountered to -date?

There are two things that I find most interesting. First, a lot of people are surprised that there’s humor in the book. “It’s funny,” they say to me, as though they weren’t expecting it. Upon thinking about it, I came to realize that there actually is very little humor in most fantasy. It’s there, sure, but it’s the exception rather than the rule. Secondly, I find it interesting how everybody pictures Tyvian. They always ask me what I think he looks like or give me their opinions of who should “play him in the movie.” My favorites are “Adam Samberg” (mildly surprising) and “Peter Dinklage, except taller” (which I find, frankly, spot-on).

Q: I know we talked a bit about your literary influences, but who do you find yourself turning to when it’s time to relax, enjoy, and refresh your imagination?

Over the past few years, I've had the most knock-down, silly fun reading Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. Man, can that guy spin a page-turner (and, also—humor!). Beyond that, my favorite fantasy authors right now are Scott Lynch and Patrick Rothfuss. If I want to really recharge the imagination, though, I usually listen to music—classical, often, or movie soundtracks. Music really can paint pictures for me. It gets the juices going.

Q: You already touched on this a bit, but assuming you had total creative control over the production, who would you cast as the leading roles were the The Iron Ring to be optioned for the big screen . . . and would it be live action or animated?

100% Live action (with a CGI Hool, of course). Tyvian is a really tough pick—I need somebody with the right voice, the right build, the right smirk. Right now I’m leaning towards Damian Lewis (of Homeland fame), just based on looks (even though he is a bit too big). If there were a way to give Damian Lewis the voice of Timothy Dalton (or Peter Dinklage), it would be perfect. Artus would have to be a newcomer (a kid who gets the epithet “and introducing…” in the credits). Hool would be voiced by Viola Davis.

Before we let you go, what can we look forward to from you next? Clearly there are more books to come in the Saga of the Redeemed, so are we looking at a sequel soon or is there, perhaps, something completely different on the way?

The Saga of the Redeemed is currently guaranteed out to a third book (currently under revision) and, if these books go well, I’d like to continue the series. Tyvian’s got a long road ahead of him and his world is just so big and intricate that I can’t wait to do more with it. I have a lot of other books waiting in the wings—some space opera, some hard scifi, some urban fantasy/horror, some post-apocalyptic stuff—so hopefully you’ll be hearing a lot more from me in the years to come. For now, though, Tyvian and me have some unfinished business to take care of. I invite you all to come along for the ride!

Thanks very much!

Thanks for joining us, Auston.


About the Author

On the day Auston Habershaw was born, Skylab fell from the heavens. This foretold two possible fates: supervillain or scifi/fantasy author. Fortunately he chose the latter, and spends his time imagining the could-be and the never-was rather than disintegrating the moon with his volcano laser. He lives and works in Boston, MA.

Auston is a winner of the Writers of the Future Contest (2nd place in quarter 1, 2014) and has published stories in Analog, The Sword and Laser Anthology, and Stupefying Stories. His debut novel, The Iron Ring (Book 1 in the Saga of the Redeemed), was released on 2/10/15.


About the Book

Tyvian Reldamar—criminal mastermind, rogue mage, and smuggler of sorcerous goods—has just been betrayed by his longtime partner and left for dead in a freezing river. To add insult to injury, his mysterious rescuer took it upon himself to affix Tyvian with an iron ring that prevents the wearer from any evildoing.

Revenge just got complicated.

On his quest to get even, Tyvian navigates dark international conspiracies, dodges midnight assassins, and uncovers the plans of the ruthless warlord Banric Sahand—all while running from a Mage-Defender determined to lock him up. Tyvian will need to use every dirty trick in the book to avoid a painful and ignominious end, even as he discovers that sometimes even the world's most devious man needs a shoulder to lean on.

ebook, 192 pages
Published February 10th 2015 by Harper Voyager Impulse