Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Waiting On Wednesday: The Clockwork Dynasty by Daniel H. Wilson

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

The Clockwork Dynasty by Daniel H. Wilson
Expected publication: August 1st 2017 by Doubleday

An ingenious new thriller that weaves a path through history, following a race of human-like machines that have been hiding among us for untold centuries, written by the New York Times bestselling author of Robopocalypse.

Present day: When a young anthropologist specializing in ancient technology uncovers a terrible secret concealed in the workings of a three-hundred-year-old mechanical doll, she is thrown into a hidden world that lurks just under the surface of our own. With her career and her life at stake, June Stefanov will ally with a remarkable traveler who exposes her to a reality she never imagined, as they embark on an around-the-world adventure and discover breathtaking secrets of the past…

Russia, 1725: In the depths of the Kremlin, the tsar’s loyal mechanician brings to life two astonishingly humanlike mechanical beings. Peter and Elena are a brother and sister fallen out of time, possessed with uncanny power, and destined to serve great empires. Struggling to blend into pre-Victorian society, they are pulled into a legendary war that has raged for centuries.

The Clockwork Dynasty seamlessly interweaves past and present, exploring a race of beings designed to live by ironclad principles, yet constantly searching for meaning. As June plunges deeper into their world, her choices will ultimately determine their survival or extermination. Richly-imagined and heart-pounding, Daniel H. Wilson’s novel expertly draws on his robotics and science background, combining exquisitely drawn characters with visionary technology—and riveting action.

I never did get around to reading Robopocalypse, but I thought Amped was a fantastic read, and I've been eager to read more of Wilson's work . . . and this sounds like it could be my chance.

Friday, May 26, 2017

WTF Friday: Covenant by John Everson

Well, another WTF Friday is upon us, which means we once again turn the Ruins over to my dark half. As regular visitors will know, Foster Medina has a passion for messed up literary diversions - books that are bizarre, twisted, grotesque, and kinky - and he's only too happy to splatter them across the page.

While I had purchased several of John Everson's novels over the years - most notably Covenant and NightWhere - it wasn't until the release of Sacrificing Virgins that I realized what I had been missing and became a hardcore fan. With Redemption out now to finish up The Curburide Chronicles, I decided to go back to the beginning and read my way through to the finale.

Originally published back in 2004, Covenant was the debut novel by John Everson . . . and there's a damned good reason it won the Stoker Award for best first novel. This is dark, sexually charged, brutally violent, supernatural horror. It's a book with a great backstory, a twisted sense of history, and some fantastic characters.

At the core of Covenant is a classic ghost story involving an old lighthouse, a demonic presence, a history of suicides, and a small town that refuses to talk about it. At first, Joe Kieran suspects a murderous small-town cult, but the deeper he digs into the mystery, the more he finds it harder to deny the threat of the supernatural. Even his darkest fears, however, can't compare to the truth of what lies beneath the cliffs.

This is not a story for weak stomachs or sensitive souls. There are multiple scenes of rape and molestation, all driven by supernatural forces. Nobody is safe from the town's curse, with men and women compelled to act out their darkest desires, made to crave the shame, and forced to enjoy it - at least in the heat of the moment. As if that weren't enough, the sex is often bloody as well, adding to its occult nature. There aren't too many authors who can move from erotic spectacle to emotional trauma in the space of a paragraph, but Everson does it, and does it well.

While the climax is hardly a surprise, I did like the way the story came full circle, and am anxious to move onto Sacrifice next.

Paperback, 296 pages
Published September 1st 2008 by Leisure Books (first published 2004)

Thursday, May 25, 2017

#Horror Review: Gwendy's Button Box by Stephen King & Richard Chizmar

Gwendy's Button Box was one of those long-abandoned stories that Stephen King had never been able to finish, so he gave Richard Chizmar a crack at it, and they collaborated on the final product.

To be honest, I wish he'd just stuck with it and allowed his imagination to tackle it alone. While King's endings seem to be a source of disappointment for many readers, I have always loved how brutally dark they can be, with even victories that feel sad and sorrowful. Don't get me wrong, he's done a few silly ones (Under the Dome and Tommyknockers immediately come to mind), but for the most part I like his endings.

Not here. After a fantastic beginning involving Castle Rock, the Man in Black, and a mysterious box; followed by an equally exciting middle involving some very creepy explorations of power and responsibility; we get a soft ending that is all whimper and no bag. King and Chizmar completely side-step what should have been an epic climax. Not only that, but they offer up a weak closing that is entirely out of character for the Man in Black.

For a book that had so much promise early on, and which had me devouring pages at a frantic pace, I came away thoroughly disappointed.

Since I felt like there was a clear distinction in the text where King handed off the literary baton, with the whole style of the narrative changing, I do feel as if I got a fair taste of Chizmar's writing - and it's not bad. He's a solid writer who did a fantastic job of capturing the essence of Gwendy, and who contributed story elements that feel very much in keeping with King's style. I suspect he wasn't sure how to end it either, where to take such massive stakes without ending the world altogether, but certainly the two of them could have come up with something better than this.

Gwendy's Button Box certainly starts out as a vintage King story, hitting all the right buttons and getting the reader excited, and it plays very well with the mystery of that box, but it's timid refusal to confront a true ending undoes much of that potential.

Kindle Edition, 175 pages
Published May 16th 2017 by Cemetery Dance Publications

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Waiting On Wednesday: Swarm and Steel by Michael R. Fletcher

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

Swarm and Steel by Michael R. Fletcher
Expected publication: August 22nd 2017 by Talos

To escape the hell she created, a woman must team up with a novice warrior and return to her homeland in this gritty epic fantasy where delusions are literally made real.

Zerfall awakens in an alley, wounded and unable to remember her past. Chased by an assassin out into the endless wastes of the desert, she is caught, disfigured, and left for dead. Her scabbard is empty, but the need for answers—and the pull of her sword—will draw her back to the city-states.

When Jateko, a naïve youth, accidentally kills a member of his own tribe, he finds himself outcast and pursued across the desert for his crimes. Crazed from dehydration, dying of thirst and hunger, he stumbles across Zerfall.

Hunted by assassins and bound by mutual need, both Zerfall and Jeteko will confront the Täuschung, an ancient and deranged religion ruled by a broken fragment of Zerfall’s mind. Swarm, the Täuschung hell, seethes with imprisoned souls, but where gods—real or imagined—meddle in the affairs of man, the cost is high.

In Swarm and Steel, the power of belief can manifest and shape reality, and for political and religious leaders, faith becomes a powerful tool. But the insane are capable of twisting reality with their delusions as well, turning increasingly dangerous as their sanity crumbles. It is here that a long prophesied evil will be born, an endless hunger. The All Consuming will rise.

Although I have yet to get around to The Mirror's Truth, I can honestly say Beyond Redemption was one of the most stunningly original fantasy epics I have ever had the pleasure of reading. The publisher is looking for blurbs by early June, so I'll be tackling this soon.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Urban Fantasy Review: The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase by Greg Cox

The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase is a solid second entry in the literary annals of The Librarians, a fun follow-up by Greg Cox to last year's The Librarians and The Lost Lamp. Having already proven his grasp of the characters and their world, he's free to be a bit more playful this time around. It does lack the tension of the first, coming across as more a comedy of errors than a real life-and-death pursuit, but that's pretty much in keeping with the pacing of the series itself.

This time around, we discover that the original Mother Goose nursery rhymes were actually a dangerous spell book, one that was split apart and entrusted to three different descendants as part of the Mother Goose Treaty of 1918. A century later, it appears as if the planned demolition of a Mother Goose themed amusement park has prompted a return to the magic nursery rhymes.
"I don't plan, I act. I go by rhyme, not reason. I do as the spirit moves me. I am my own muse, the one true Mother Goose. No plans for me, only inspired flights of fancy!"
As a whole, the book is rather silly, but in an altogether clever way. Cox expands upon the verses we all know so well, going back to their darker, more sinister origins, and using them to serve as clues to a trio of treasure hunts. While all of this is going on, Colonel Baird and Jenkins are left to guard the Library itself from a hungry treasure chest, in a room-to-room battle that involves a lion, a unicorn, Excalibur, and more. As for Flynn, he's largely absent for this one, but the twist explaining why makes for an interesting finale.

If you're a fan, and can't wait for the new season to begin this fall, The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase is a great fix for riding out the wait.

Paperback, 288 pages
Published April 25th 2017 by Tor Books

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.

Monday, May 22, 2017

#SciFi Review: Lucifer’s Star by C.T. Phipps

As opening scenes go, sci-fi doesn't get much better than this! Lucifer’s Star kicks off with a big, high-stakes, fast-paced battle that evokes memories of the most intense space battles from Star Wars or the original Battlestar Galactica. It's wild, frantic stuff, and it just keeps getting better as we watch one character after another come to a fiery end in pursuit of their suicidal mission.

Almost immediately, however, C.T. Phipps quickly leaps ahead from galactic space opera to something darker and grittier that reminded me more of the Deathstalker books than Star Wars, albeit with the cynicism and conspiracy of the rebooted BSG. There's actually a lot of philosophy to this, some deep thoughts and heavy ideas about the nature of good versus evil, family legacies, and right versus wrong. History is written by the victors, and one man's terrorism is another's rebellion.

While this absolutely nails the space opera spectacle, it also has plenty of world building, fantastic characters, byzantine plots, and equal parts wonder, horror, and humor. Our introduction to the crew of the Melampus will have your head spinning, with secrets and lies lurking under their skin. After that, you think you'd be prepared for the exploration of the Rhea, but toss in the issue of clones, and suddenly the secrets and lies are almost too deep to wade through.

It's those characters who make this such a fun read, though, with personalities to match their layers of deceit. Cassius is the perfect hero, damaged and flawed, and navigating his way through conflicting motivations. Ida reminded me a lot of Hetty from NCIS: LA (a scary sort of Yoda); Hiro is an intriguing, almost likable backstabbing scoundrel; and Clarice is a sexy sort of femme fatale, a good friend to have, and a terrifying enemy. I'll be honest, I didn't really care of Isla, and while I really did like Zoe, I hesitate to say too much without untying some of those treacherous knots of lies and conspiracies.

Lucifer’s Star is space opera for a grimdark generation, an action-packed story that doesn't forego character building or ethical dilemmas in delivering on the fun. It's not a feel-good story, and will likely leave you needing a shower, but it is effective storytelling.

Kindle Edition, 300 pages
Published October 2016 by Crossroad Press

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this title from the author in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

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

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 quiet week this time around, with a pair of review titles sneaking their way onto my e-reader.

Scourge: A Darkhurst Novel by Gail Z. Martin
[July 11th, 2017]
Epic new fantasy from the bestselling author of The Summoner. In a city beset by monsters, three brothers must find out who is controlling the abominations.

Strange Weather by Joe Hill
[October 24th, 2017]
A collection of four novellas tells stories involving shards of sharp crystals that inexplicably begin to fall from the sky, a parachuter suddenly marooned on a solid cloud, a mentally unhinged security guard, and a camera that erases memories.


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.

Gwendy's Button Box by Stephen King & Richard Chizmar is my digital read of the moment, but I'll be back into The Witchwood Crown by Tad Williams as soon as I'm done. 

On the physical front, I've just cracked the spine on The Dragon's LegacyI was already excited about this, but having been friend with Deborah A. Wolf on Facebook for a few weeks . . . well, let's just say I really like her style!

What's topping your shelves this week?

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Waiting On Wednesday: Blackwing by Ed McDonald

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

Blackwing by Ed McDonald
Expected publication: July 27th 2017 by Gollancz | October 3rd 2017 by Ace Books

Set on a postapocalyptic frontier, Blackwing is a gritty fantasy debut about a man’s desperate battle to survive his own dark destiny...

Hope, reason, humanity: the Misery breaks them all.

Under its cracked and wailing sky, the Misery is a vast and blighted expanse, the arcane remnant of a devastating war with the immortals known as the Deep Kings. The war ended nearly a century ago, and the enemy is kept at bay only by the existence of the Engine, a terrible weapon that protects the Misery’s border. Across the corrupted no-man’s-land teeming with twisted magic and malevolent wraiths, the Deep Kings and their armies bide their time. Watching. Waiting.

Bounty hunter Ryhalt Galharrow has breathed Misery dust for twenty bitter years. When he’s ordered to locate a masked noblewoman at a frontier outpost, he finds himself caught in the middle of an attack by the Deep Kings, one that signifies they may no longer fear the Engine. Only a formidable show of power from the very woman he is seeking, Lady Ezabeth Tanza, repels the assault.

Ezabeth is a shadow from Galharrow’s grim past, and together they stumble onto a web of conspiracy that threatens to end the fragile peace the Engine has provided. Galharrow is not ready for the truth about the blood he’s spilled or the gods he’s supposed to serve…

I was fortunate enough to nab a UK ARC of this, so I won't be waiting until October. I must say, it looks like a fantastic read, and I can't wait to get started.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Populating a Universe is Hard . . . by C.T. Phipps (#scifi #guestpost)

Populating a Universe is Hard ...
By C.T. Phipps

This is, of course, something every writer of fantasy or science fiction will agree on. Urban fantasy has the benefit of usually taking place in "our" world but other types of settings often require the author to do massive info-dumps in order to give us a sense of who is what, where, why and who. Star Wars: A New Hope is probably the most famous for the fact it managed to make an opening crawl epic enough no one complains it's explaining an entire setting's worth of details and recent history. Rebellion, Empire, Death Star, plans, Princess Leia, etcetera-etcetera.

When I set down to do Lucifer's Star, I had my own severe challenge ahead as I was faced with filling up not only one world but an entire arm of the galaxy as well as the history of humanity which has stretched so far into the future they wouldn't know anything about the present day. Modern 21st century Earth is ancient history there and I couldn't throw in my usual pop culture quips or references. I might as well have been doing a fantasy setting.

It was also complicated by the fact I was writing with the decision I wanted to do a more complicated and darker universe than your typical space opera. I couldn't just point, "Commonwealth good", "Archduchy bad", "Go!" Instead, I envisioned a whole complicated universe of imperialist democracies, traditionalist dictatorships, corporate states, and so on. I made a whole notebook full of information ranging from how faster-than-light travel worked to the history for the past thousand years. Then I realized I couldn't use most of it.

I was glad to have the information in the back of my head but I realized I couldn't do anything with it. It would be boring as hell to just pour out all of that information onto the reader. They came here for a rocking space adventure of pew-pew, starfighters, and energy swords. They might stay for the politics, moral ambiguity, and complicated world-building but that was a side-dish on the menu. No, I had to figure out how to introduce them to my world as a complete stranger without overwhelming them.

In the end, I had to keep in mind the universe isn't the adventure but the place the adventure takes place. I wasn't going to go the A New Hope route of viewing the universe through a naive everyman, no; I wanted it through the viewpoint of someone who was already heavily invested in the situation and the world around them. It would be harder, maybe even impossible, but I had faith in my readers' intelligence. Also, I believe there's merit to the idea that if a story is good that it'll illustrate any details about a universe better than stopping to explain.

For me, everything which occurs in my book is in service to the plot. When two sides are fighting it out, I give enough information to let the readers know about the characters feel about them rather than try to give an objective lesson about who is what. By carefully dispensing such knowledge only from an in-character perspective, I can also pull the rug out from under the readers as well as the characters in-universe by revealing things which the main characters don't know about the universe.

Even so, I still had the process of trying to figure out how to make the universe sufficiently rich even with all the notes I had. One of the things which separated Lord of the Rings, A Song of Ice and Fire, and even Star Wars all benefited from there being a story behind it all. For me, it occurred to me there were several "cheats" I could use which I think other authors can and should benefit from.

The first of these was "stereotyping in-universe." Basically, if I was to meet a guy from one of my fantasy/sci-fi cultures then what would be what other people would think of him? Do they have any kind of reputation? Is it true? Klingons certainly come with some cultural baggage. How about elves? Knowing what these stereotypes are and whether they're true or not adds a layer of authenticity, even if I'm essentially just making my characters a wee bit racist.

Next is, oddly enough, what does the universe tastes like. I mean this in a literal sense as I sat down to imagine what kind of food they ate in the 3rd millennium. Establishing oddball combinations of pasta, Chinese food, and weird alien fish gave a sense of relevancy to the place. It also made me imagine what things smelled like and felt like. Describing things like a planet's humidity and the stench of bad air filters brings to life a location which might normally feel antiseptic or just dry.

Finally, this is something I enjoy doing as a matter of habit but it's important to give your character opinions on other characters and their quirks. This, of course, means making characters which have quirks. Does X race hate Y? Is there a habit of C race wearing gaudy jewelry? Does the lead really-really hate the current style of music on this world? Throwing these little details into the planet can make everything jump off the page. It can also turn a meeting with a merchant in a kiosk for fuel into an encounter with a six-armed alien who talks at length about how all Xerxes are thieves despite the protagonist being one.

After all, the Earth is a weird-weird place, why shouldn't space or another world be the same way?


About the Author

C.T Phipps is a lifelong student of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. An avid tabletop gamer, he discovered this passion led him to write and turned him into a lifelong geek. He is a regular blogger on "The United Federation of Charles" (http://unitedfederationofcharles.blogspot.com/).

He's the author of The Supervillainy Saga, Cthulhu Armageddon, Straight Outta Fangton, and Esoterrorism.


About the Book

Lucifer's Star 
by C. T. Phipps & Michael Suttkus

From the bestselling author of The Rules of Supervillainy:

Cassius Mass was the greatest star pilot of the Crius Archduchy. He fought fiercely for his cause, only to watch his nation fall to the Interstellar Commonwealth. It was only after that he realized the side he'd been fighting for was the wrong one. Now a semi-functional navigator on an interstellar freight hauler, he tries to hide who he was and escape his past. Unfortunately, some things refuse to stay buried and he ends up conscripted by the very people who destroyed his homeland.

LUCIFER'S STAR is the first novel of the Lucifer's Star series, a dark science fiction space opera set in a world of aliens, war, politics, and slavery.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

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

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 quiet week this time around, with just the one review title landing on my doorstep, and a single digital purchase.

The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis
[May 7th, 2017]
In the tradition of Honor Harrington and the high-flying Temeraire series, Bennis’s THE GUNS ABOVE is an adventurous military fantasy debut about a nation's first female airship captain. 

The Lady Who Loved Bones by Jack Hazen
[January 23rd, 2017]
The wild west just got wilder with the widow Hannah Monroe, a beautiful blonde paleontologist from Philadelphia, and the enigmatic Hex Hawkins, mountain man, former spy during the war, and owner of a secret gold mine.


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.

I received a finished paperback of The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase by Greg Cox in the mail this week, so I'm currently devouring that. With Tyrant's Throne done, I'm back on track with The Witchwood Crown by Tad Williams for my fantasy fix, and C.T. Phipps is feeding my sci-fi hunger with Lucifer's Star (and he'll be feeding yours with a guest-post on Monday!).

What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, May 12, 2017

WTF Friday: Sneeze, Freeze, or Bleed!

Well, another WTF Friday is upon us, which means we once again turn the Ruins over to my dark half. As regular visitors will know, Foster Medina has a passion for messed up literary diversions - books that are bizarre, twisted, grotesque, and kinky - and he's only too happy to splatter them across the page.

How would you like to die this week? Would you prefer to go down sneezing on an alien planet? Freeze in your tracks (literally) in a post-apocalyptic wasteland? Get ripped to bloody shreds by mail order monsters? Take your pick, but know that it's gonna be ugly!

"Purple Haze" is the first story of The End Is All We See, a Twilight Zone style sci-fi tale by M.F. Wahl that starts slow, gets weird, and ends with a whole lot of blood. Although it's ostensibly a sci-fi tale, I felt the genre's window dressing was the weakest aspect of the story. It's so light on detail, the spaceship crash could just as easily have been an international plane crash. Where that window dressing matters, however, is in the indigo-blue grass of an otherwise barren alien world. I can't say more without getting into spoiler territory, but the blood and the madness of the story's final pages are a gorgeous atrocity.

The second story in the collection, "Run For The Flame," is a vintage horror story from A.J. Brown that is reminiscent of Bachman-era Stephen King, before his ideas we co-opted and sanitized by the YA crowd. In an impossibly cold and barren future, young men and women are tasked with making a life-and-death run for a mythical flame, with bodies literally freezing in mid-step, littering the snow with bodies. I have never seen cold dealt with quite like this, and the amount of detail invested in its embrace is stunning.

Published March 2nd 2017 by M.F. Wahl

Just Add Water is the kind of pulp, trashy, exploitative horror that only Hunter Shea can deliver. It shouldn't be so much fun to witness so much carnage, to watch as so many people meet a bloody, grisly end, but it is. It really, truly, is.

It all starts on a warm summer afternoon in 1980 when a couple of boys order a pack of Amazing Sea Serpents from the back of a Wonder Woman comic. They arrive, they hatch, they swim, they stink, and they get dumped in a sewer when they prove to be a disappointment. Within days, however, those tiny creatures have grown large enough to feed on the rats within the sewers, and before long neighborhood cats and dogs are going missing.

Where the story kicks into high gear, and where I made the decision to devour this in one sitting, was with the neighborhood key party. If you don't recognize the reference, just know that it involves a dozen nearly-naked swinging couples, an outdoor pool party, and the panicked frenzy of "Bulbous heads that were seemingly all mouth sat atop almost human bodies, with the exception of a thick tail that raked back and forth."

Once Just Add Water has set up the story, it wastes no time getting bloody. The second half of the book is some of the most fun I've had in years, an old fashioned monster tale that just keeps piling up the bodies. It's a well-written, imaginative, gory bite of cult fun.

Expected publication: June 13th 2017 by Lyrical Underground

Thursday, May 11, 2017

#Fantasy Review: River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

River of Teeth is is a fantasy that's a bit odd, but in a very, very good way. What Sarah Gailey has crafted here has all the hallmarks of a vintage Western, but one where everything is just . . . well, a little bit off.

In a slightly different American of the early 20th century, a group of rustlers and rogues set out to orchestrate the biggest cattle rustling gig in history - except these cattle are man-eating hippos, and the cowboys are hardly your typical Western heroes.

One of them is a flamboyant Englishman; one of them is a retired demolitions expert of indeterminate gender; one is a sweet-spoken BBW thief; and one is a very pregnant assassin. Only one fits the stereotypical mold, a hard-drinking cheat of a gambler, and as the gang's only white man . . . well, he doesn't stick around for long.

The story is a heck of a lot of fun, swapping Western deserts for Louisiana swaps, cattle and horses for hippos, and dusty little towns for elaborate riverboats. The dialogue is witty and fun, the narration perfectly pulpish, and the action intense. There's even a bit of shark-like drama, with feral hippos lurking just beneath the surface, ready to rip men apart and devour them for dinner.

I would be tempted to describe it as an Oceans 11 style Western caper except, as Winslow constantly reminds us, “it’s not a caper; it’s an operation.” What River of Teeth is, it's safe to say, is a diverse bit of alternate history fun, complete with some monstrous mayhem, and even some satisfying explosions.

Paperback, 152 pages
Expected publication: May 23rd 2017 by Tor.com

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Waiting On Wednesday: The Legion of Flame by Anthony Ryan

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

The Legion of Flame by Anthony Ryan
Expected publication: June 27th 2017 by Ace

Empires clash and a fell power stakes its claim in the second in a new series from the New York Times bestselling author of the Raven's Shadow Trilogy.

For centuries, the vast Ironship Trading Syndicate relied on drake blood—and the extraordinary powers it confers to those known as the Blood-blessed—to fuel and protect its empire. But now, a fearsome power has arisen—a drake so mighty that the world will tremble before it.

Rogue Blood-blessed Claydon Torcreek, Syndicate agent Lizanne Lethridge, and ironship captain Corrick Hilemore embark upon perilous quests to chase down clues that offer faint hopes of salvation. As the world burns around them, and the fires of revolution are ignited, these few are the last hope for the empire and for all of civilization.

It's no secret that The Waking Fire was one of my favorite reads last year, or that I've been anxiously awaiting the sequel. I've had a digital ARC in hand for a few weeks now, but I am trying to wait until closer to the release date to read it. We'll see how long I can hold out!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

#Fantasy Review: Tyrant's Throne by Sebastien de Castell

The Greatcoats is one of those rare fantasy sagas that just continues to get better with each instalment - an even more impressive feat when you consider Saint's Blood was a book I didn't think could be topped.

In fact, even though I wasn't consciously aware of it, I suspect I went into Tyrant's Throne looking to be disappointed. I felt it got off to a slow start, and I convinced myself it was lacking any sort of direction. It was simply not the book I expected to follow the killing of a God. I mean, honestly, how do you follow that up? In fact, chagrined as I am to admit it now, I may even have allowed myself to wonder why Sebastien de Castell dared to sully such an exemplary trilogy by stretching it into an unnecessary quartet.

And then we got to the other side of the mountain, saw what - and, more importantly, who -  awaited us, and I suddenly realized how many loose ends remained, how much of the story had yet to be told, and how desperately I didn't want it all to end.

If you'll allow me the Star Wars indulgence for a moment, Knight's Shadow was really the 'Empire' of the  The Greatcoats saga, just as Saint's Blood was its 'Jedi' (minus the Ewoks). So, where does that leave Tyrant's Throne? Well, I can think of no better way to describe it than as a second helping (or, rather, a second interpretation) of 'Empire'. It is dark, violent, and tragic, a painful story that seems entirely devoid of hope. For every heroic deed, every valiant act, there is an even larger betrayal looming. Time and time again it goes to the darkest of places, leaving us sure that Falcio and Aline have suffered the worst that the world has to offer, only to discover that there are even deeper, darker holes hiding in the shadows.

That's not to say this is a depressing book or even a frustrating one. Instead, it is an impossibly engaging piece of storytelling that demands you give everything of yourself, with no promise of a happy ending in return. It is a book that questions everything we know about the Greatcoats, including the Greatcoats themselves. For a series that has already seen Falcio val Mond tormented and tortured beyond the limits of all compassion, we have never seen him as fundamentally broken as we do here. Everything - literally everything - he has ever believed in is called into question. As heroic/tragic character arcs go, I am not sure there's a better one anywhere in epic fantasy today.

If this is the last we see of Falcio, Kest, Brasti, and the rest, then you couldn't ask for more than Tyrant's Throne. I hesitate to use the word 'perfect' but this is about as close as epic fantasy gets to that plateau. Character arcs, storytelling, world building, mythology, conflicts, and relationships - it all comes together in a brilliantly satisfying finale of fiction that keeps going right to the very last page.

Kindle Edition
Expected publication: June 6th 2017 by Jo Fletcher Books

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

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

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 trio of new review titles this week . . .

Army of Darkness / Xena, Warrior Princess: Forever and a Day by Scott Lobdell, Elliot Fernandez
[July 25th 2017]
How can Xena save the world when that chainsaw-wielding knucklehead's every temporal mishap threatens to unravel time itself? 

The New Voices of Fantasy edited by Peter S. Beagle & Jacob Weisman
[August 8th 2017]
Nineteen breakout writers bring you childhood stories gone wrong, magical creatures in heat, a building that’s alive and full of waiters, love, ducks, and a new take on a bloodsucking fiend.

The Emerald Blade by Steven Kelliher
[June 1st 2017]
The Dark Months have faded, but the light cannot last. The time for hiding is over. It’s time for the World to meet the Landkist.

I did make one purchase at the Nicholas Eames/Miles Cameron reading - a copy of The Red Knight (signed, of course).

And my dark half snatched up a few potential WTF Friday titles in The Sorceress Queen: Byron the Barbarian, Thee Order Ov Unholy Flesh, and Jennifer's Throbbing Intergalactic Dinosaur Black Hole Invasions.


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.

I'm still all over the map, juggling The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase by Greg Cox & River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey, but both got pushed aside when I started in on The Witchwood Crown by Tad Williams, which has since been eclipsed by Tyrant's Throne by Sebastien de Castell.

What's topping your shelves this week?

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday - The Curse of Oak Island by Randall Sullivan

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

The Curse of Oak Island by Randall Sullivan
Expected publication: July 4th 2017 by Atlantic Monthly Press

In 1795, a teenager discovered a mysterious circular depression in the ground on Oak Island, in Nova Scotia, Canada, and ignited rumors of buried treasure. Early excavators uncovered a clay-lined shaft containing layers of soil interspersed with wooden platforms, but when they reached a depth of ninety feet, water poured into the shaft and made further digging impossible.

Since then the mystery of Oak Island’s “Money Pit” has enthralled generations of treasure hunters, including a Boston insurance salesman whose obsession ruined him; young Franklin Delano Roosevelt; and film star Errol Flynn. Perplexing discoveries have ignited explorers’ imaginations: a flat stone inscribed in code; a flood tunnel draining from a man-made beach; a torn scrap of parchment; stone markers forming a huge cross. Swaths of the island were bulldozed looking for answers; excavation attempts have claimed two lives. Theories abound as to what’s hidden on Oak Island—pirates’ treasure, Marie Antoinette’s lost jewels, the Holy Grail, proof that Sir Francis Bacon was the true author of Shakespeare’s plays—yet to this day, the Money Pit remains an enigma.

The Curse of Oak Island is a fascinating account of the strange, rich history of the island and the intrepid treasure hunters who have driven themselves to financial ruin, psychotic breakdowns, and even death in pursuit of answers. And as Michigan brothers Marty and Rick Lagina become the latest to attempt to solve the mystery, as documented on the History Channel’s television show The Curse of Oak Island, Sullivan takes readers along to follow their quest firsthand.

If this week's selection seems at all familiar, it's likely because I featured it in my Most Anticipated Reads of 2017 post way back in December. If you're a fan of the show, then you likely already know that Randall appeared in season 4 as part of his research for the book. With season 5 still a good 6 months away, the timing for this couldn't be better.

#IWSG: Weird and Cool Research

The Insecure Writer's Support Group is a once-monthly blog hop aimed at sharing our doubts and concerns, while encouraging one another with assistance and guidance. As the lighthouse image suggests, it’s a beacon in the dark and a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

This month's IWSG Question: What is the weirdest/coolest thing you ever had to research for your story?
In working on the first draft of my novel, I did an obsessive amount of research into real-life ghost stories across Southern Ontario, Western New York, and even a bit of Eastern Michigan. I'm not talking one-off feelings of cold spots or poor quality photos of 'orbs' and phantom blurs, but full-bodied tales where you have an historical location with a violent history, a story that supports the experiences, and a history of documented sightings. It's what ultimately led me to rise above my introverted nature and social anxiety, spending 2 years as a tour guide in Canada's most haunted town. 
Nothing new to report on the writing front this month, but I'm still brainstorming at the most inconvenient times and in the most awkward places, taking notes on the back of receipts or emailing myself snippets of scenes from my phone.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Tough Travelling - Beginnings

Welcome back to Tough Travels! On the first day of every month, Fantasy-Faction leads us on a tour of the fantasy genre. From high to low, from classics to new releases, from epic to urban; each month, with the assistance of The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones, they guide us in search of a different trope, theme or cliché.

Last month, we looked at BEGINNINGS. This month, it’s ASSASSINS.
Assassins are ubiquitous throughout fantasyland. Sharp-eyed readers (or even dull-eyed ones) will notice that their hooded forms often adorn book covers, and that they frequently appear – rather improbably – not to mind being the sole focus of our attention. Whether they’re spotlight hogs or camera-shy and brooding, most assassins will have trained for years and are very, VERY good at their job (i.e. killing people for money).

If we're going to talk assassins, then we have to begin with Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen and Cotillion (The Rope), companion of Shadowthrone and the Patron God of Assassins. Hooded and dressed in black, his weapons of choice include the rope (naturally) and a dagger. The series abounds with assassins, including the crossbow-wielding Rallick Nom, former Claw member Kalam Mekhar, and the young fishergirl possessed by Cotillion at the start of the saga, Sorry/Apsalar.

Next, drawing upon recent reading experiences, we have to talk Skullsworn by Brian Staveley and those assassins who kill in service to the God of Death. Ostensibly the story of Pyrre, who we met previously in Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, it is also the story of Kossal and Ela, priest and priestess of Ananshael, who serve as witnesses to Pyrre's final trial. Forget what you think you know about assassins, because three more different killers you will never find.

Digging deep into the stacks, one of the first assassins to make an impression on me was Artemis Entreri, who first appeared in The Icewind Dale Trilogy by R.A. Salvatore, and later went on to take the spotlight in The Sellswords. A cold, cunning killer, he lives a life devoid of all comforts and pleasures, is armed with a jeweled dagger that drains the life of his victims, and later weilds Charon's Claw, a sentient sword as evil as he is. 

Another favorite assassin of mine, this time on the more heroic side, is Achmed the Snake, companion to Rhapsody in The Symphony of Ages by Elizabeth Haydon. Sarcastic and cynical, he is very much an anti-hero, one who deliberately provokes those around him, but whose loyalty is unquestioned. Due to his magical sensitivities, he dresses entirely in black, with a hood over his head, and wrappings covering his face. His weapon of choice is the cwellan, a crossbow-like weapon he created.

Finally, no list of assassins would be complete without the works of Robin HobbThe Farseer Trilogy, The Tawny Man Trilogy, and The Fitz and the Fool Trilogy. The books center around FitzChivalry Farseer, a royal bastard of Buckkeep Castle, who trains under the Royal Assassin, Chade Fallstar. Both men are what you'd call classic assassins, men of poison and daggers, secret killers striking from the shadows. Not surprisingly for one of the deepest, more morally complex sagas in epic fantasy, these are stories that examine the moral and political implications of assassination.

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