Jade City: A Rare Gem of a Novel

This could probably be a pretty short review. I’m half tempted to simply write ‘go read this book’ and call it a day. But I suppose I should work a little harder than that, and actually explain why I feel this way about the book. After all, it is clear while reading Jade City that it was a project of passion and painstaking craft; the end result deserves more than a sentence in review.

I think it makes sense to start with the premise. As described by the author, Fonda Lee, Jade City is essentially The Godfather with magic and kung fu” and honestly, that description hits the nail pretty well on the head (and for me basically sells the whole thing right from the start).

Add in a sort of post World War II modern, vaguely Asian setting, and you pretty much have all the ingredients for the novel’s success listed and defined. Each of these ingredients serve as excellent hooks, and any one of them draw the reader in, but as with all good recipes, I think it’s how these things are mixed together, which really causes the book to shine.

The two main things that immediately stood out to me upon reading Jade City was just how tightly plotted the novel is, and how deep the world building goes. From the very first scene, we’re exposed to the undercurrents of political unrest which will shape the main intrigue plot, a systematic but not overly (faux) scientific magic system, and some pretty exciting and harrowing action from the point of view of a seemingly minor character (who just keeps happening bumble into more and more important plot points). This could have been an absolute disaster of a first chapter in its ambition, but remarkably gets everything across to the reader in a way that draws us in, sets up the basic information that we need to continue forward, and leaves us with enough (and the right) questions to encourage us to continue reading. It really sets the tone perfectly for the novel, as the scenes which follow may not be as action packed, but they rely on the building blocks laid out here to keep the tension building throughout in a way that (to me) never felt slow or dragging.

I mentioned the worldbuilding before, and I’d like to circle back to it as it was certainly a main component of the book which really stood out. In a lot of fantasy novels, I feel like “Worldbuilding” with a capital W is often actually myth building. The author builds the setting and explains current conflicts through legends and history of the world. In a lot of fantasy, these histories are ancient, and there is often a remove of hundreds or even thousands of years between the events of the myths/legends, and the plot we experience. They are related, but there is something of a remove.

I think in a lot of stories that feature this kind of worldbuilding, the remove is (more or less) necessary in order to establish the magnitude of the stakes being set up. The epics we know in the real world are set thousands of years in our past, and so that kind of remove in a fantasy story will naturally give a kind of epic quality to the events we see in the story.

By comparison, the events of Jade City feel very young. We get a few interludes which give three parts of an old myth, but most of the history makers in this world are still alive, aging badly, and worse, are failing to live up to the myth and legend which has come up around them. To me, this was a nice contrast from more traditional fantasy, and I think only served to bring the drama of the story closer to its main actors, the No Peak clan, and specifically the Kaul family.

The next thing that stood out to me about the worldbuilding, I said in a tweet so I’ll just post that here:

“I’m not sure what I was expecting but I’m pretty much digging it. For such a deep setting it’s pretty quickly paced and (at least to me) there doesn’t seem to be much filler. I also really think the setting would make a fun board game or RTS. There so many definitions of winning.”@jamesweber16

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

I got about 75% of the way through this book and realized: “If so-and-so does this, that would be a satisfying ending to the story, but also if so-and-so does this, so would that.”

And of course, the ending was completely different from either of those things and still (to me) completely satisfying.

I attribute this to Lee’s story telling, but also must acknowledge that it was the depth of the world which provided the scaffolding for her to accomplish this. Each of the main characters seemed to have their own aspect of the world in which they were striving to create change, but all interlocked, and no one plot seemed to take the backseat to any other.

Finally, despite all that I’ve been going on about the worldbuilding and the setting, this story is primarily a family drama. The interpersonal relationships were what really drove so much of the tension in the story, but I was never frustrated by this. In a lot of family conflicts, issues that effect the character’s motivations can sometimes amount to very little more than shallow squabbles which any reasonable person would ‘suck it up’ and move forward from, especially when faced with world defining problems, and it can be very frustrating to see them fail to make these changes.

This was not the case in Jade City. The family conflicts seem deeply rooted in past history, and given the lives these characters have had to lead, seems completely reasonable. But Lee takes it one step further and also shows how they are still a family, and despite everything, seem to have a real familial love (or at least respect) for each other. I pretty much ate these scenes up (as well as all the others if I’m honest) and they were some of the scenes that stuck out to me the most.

TLDR

Anyway, please give this one a shot. There is so much more I could have written about but honestly, it would probably take more words than the book has in it already, so I think any readers still here should just go forth and read it. I’m really looking forward to the sequel, Jade War, and can’t wait to gush more about that here later.

If you’ve read Jade City, please let me know your thoughts in the comments. What did you love? Was there anything you hated? I’m excited to talk about this one.

Thanks again for reading! See you next time.

#WyrdAndWonder Wrap Up Post

Feels like the last day #WyrdAndWonder is an appropriate time to post something about what I was able to accomplish during this month long Fantasy Blog Party.

Here’s what I wrote (and didn’t write):

May 3rd – #MapMonday: Using Emerging Tech for Fictional Maps
May 5th – Should ‘Black Sun’ get a Hugo?
May 9th – Spine Poetry for Mother’s Day
May 10th – Mixed feelings: The Truth About Dinosaur Lords
May 12th – Review: Song of Achilles
May 17th – Can’t Wait to read! (twitter post) and Desert Island Reads (catching up from last Wednesday)
May 19th – Review: Silver in the Wood
May 24th – TBR: 11 Fantasy Books I should have read by now
May 26th – Review: Empire of Gold

My fav posts that #WyrdAndWonder people shared:

There were tons of great posts from all kinds of places during this event, but these are a couple and what I liked about them:

If I didn’t include your post here, that doesn’t mean I didn’t love it. I did! It’s just that I’m too lazy to hunt down more than five of these things, and “Top Five” kinda has a nice ring to it.

Farewell and Thank You:

Since it’s the end of the event, it also feels appropriate to say ‘farewell’. I’m not going anywhere, but I might not try to post as often (maybe back to twice a week, or even once since I don’t have a lot of fiction ready at the moment).

And of course, Thank you! to all the #WyrdAndWonder people who visited me, and inspired me to keep writing these posts. Thank you to Imyril, Lisa and Jorie for hosting this event. It’s badass.

And thanks to everyone who came by and interacted with my posts, it was great to hear from you!

That’s all for now folks. Hopefully I’ll still be doing this bloggo thing next year and can participate in a second year (5th! for the event! wow. Awesome).

Feel free to tell me your fav part of #WyrdAndWonder in the comments!

#WyrdAndWonder Kickoff post!

IMAGE CREDIT: pegasus images by Svetlana Alyuk on 123RF.com

Hey all, so there’s this thing that happens in May called Wyrd & Wonder, in which fans of Fantasy Lit from across the internet get together and celebrate this awesome genre. I’ve watched from the sidelines in years past, enjoying all of these wonderful blog posts and twitter threads, but this year, since I’m blogging again, I thought it might be cool to participate.

I typically post reviews on Wednesdays, so I’ll continue to do that, but I’ll try to keep them as Fantasy genre related as possible. For anybody following my long list of Hugo contenders, you’ll notice that most of them are on that list too (double duty!) and some are even Hugo Finalists (triple duty!).

I will also try to post a response to one of their challenge posts. Mostly this will be on Mondays, but there will be a couple other random days as well, if I have time, or because I thought the challenge prompt was cool.

Finally, if for whatever reason, you actually come to this blog to read my fiction, I’ll continue to post new fiction on Fridays. I cannot promise that these stories are considered ‘fantasy’, but most of them so far have involved made-up animals so . . . that seems pretty fantastical to me.

Below is my plan as it currently stands. I’ll revise the titles and provide links here as I do the writing for this. We’ll see how this goes . . . Very excited to be a part of it all. Thank you @deargeekplace, @imyril & @joriestory for putting this together! Can’t wait to see how this goes . . .

Here’s the list:
May 3rd – #MapMonday: Using Emerging Tech for Fictional Maps
May 5th – Should ‘Black Sun’ get a Hugo?
May 9th – Spine Poetry for Mother’s Day*Failed this one as alas, I spent the entire weekend at the beach with mom. Plus my book shelf is not suited for this challenge AT ALL. Gotta work on buying some Titles that aren’t so ‘in world’. Oh well.
May 10th – Mixed feelings: The Truth About Dinosaur Lords
May 12th – Review: Song of Achilles
May 17th – Can’t Wait to read! (twitter post) and Desert Island Reads (catching up from last Wednesday)
May 19th – Review: Silver in the Wood
May 24th – TBR: 11 Fantasy Books I should have read by now
May 26th – Review: Empire of Gold – deadlines are the worst. I spent the time I could have been working on this trying to finish up editing for my WIP to submit to critiques. I got it done (sorta) and sent it off . . . fingers are crossed it’s goes well. I’ll still review Empire of Gold at some point but just not for #WyrdAndWonder
May 31st – Wyrd and Wonder Wrap up Post!

Enjoy! and feel free to leave comments on what you’re most looking forward to this May for Wyrd and Wonder.

Get to Know the Fantasy Reader #BookTag

So this week, instead of new fiction, I’ve decided to try out this whole book tag thing. I ‘ve never done one before so hopefully it’s fun for you all. Feel free to try it out yourselves and tag me so I can read your answers!

Apparently there are some rules. Here they are . . .

Rules:

  • Make sure you give credit to the original creators of this tag – this tag was originally created by Bree Hill
  • If you want to, pingback to the post you first saw this tag – I first saw this at Paperback Tomes, and then read some more of it at Lost In Neverland.
  • Have fun!

What is your Fantasy origin story? (The first Fantasy you read)

Wow. First question and I’m already unsure how to answer. This will go well . . .

I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t reading Fantasy of some kind. I was only two years old when Dinotopia came out so I’m not sure how much reading I was doing at that point, but it was likely one of the first things I read. Probably the first book I read and was consciously aware of it “being fantasy” was the The Hobbit, and then Lord of the Rings. Of course I ate up all the Harry Potter books when they came out (except maybe the first two? I remember being slightly late to the game on HP)

If you could be the hero/heroine in a fantasy novel, who would be the author and what’s one trope you’d insist be in the story?

I’d want to be in a Terry Pratchett novel. I feel like my life already has enough ridiculous hijinks happening in it anyway, so why not just lean in and let crazy take the wheel. Make it weird.

And maybe to just really up the weird, we could have a multiverse trope, or a time travel trope like Ground Hog’s Day. Maybe both?

What is a fantasy series you’ve read this year, that you want more people to read?

The Daevabad Trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty. Technically, I read The City of Brass, last year, and just finished The Kingdom of Copper (the sequel), and loved it just as much. Started The Empire of Gold yesterday and it’s shaping up to be good as well. This series has been such a breath of fresh air for me. I hope to be seeing a lot more from Chakraborty in the future (put Daevabad in space! Ok I’ll be calm down now).

What is your favorite fantasy subgenre?

Without a doubt Epic Fantasy. One does not read as much Brando Sando as I do and answer some other subgenre. I would just be lying to myself and everyone around me. I can get behind High Fantasy (honestly this is shades of gray), Sword & Sorcery or even Grimdark, but I’m a real sucker for those EPIC STAKES. Drop me in a secondary world (aka someplace that’s not earth but can be similar), and turn everything up to eleven! Give me your weird mythical creatures (weirder the better), and your less-than-holy gods; give me your warring kingdoms (and political intrigue), your fake history, and made up customs. Dazzle me with your magic . . .

Wow. I think I need to calm down again.

What subgenre have you not read much from?

Steampunk. Really any of the punks, but I think steampunk is the one I’ve been let down the most by. Not sure why, but in my mind, I just want every Steampunk novel I read to be like watching Wild Wild West for the first time, and then when (literally) none of them are, I get disappointed. This is completely my fault as I probably just need to spend some time searching around, and figure out which book is considered the quintessential Steampunk book . . . and then READ THAT BOOK before being judgy, but so far it hasn’t happened. If you have a recommendation, please leave it in the comments.

In a slightly more positive tone, I discovered something called Bronzepunk exists. I would like to search out and find more of that. The fun example that got me hooked is Achilles vs Mecha-Hector, by Jesse-Beeson Tate. Go and read it. It’s a wild ride (I mean how could it not be?). Sadly I’m still waiting for a sequel. Please write more of this!

Who is one of your auto-buy fantasy authors

As mentioned earlier (and many many other times on this blog), Brandon Sanderson is definitely this for me. I’ve read like 30 of his books at this point and I’d probably read 30 more. I think Martha Wells is also achieving this status for me, though I’ve only read her Murderbot Diaries stuff. Hopefully I can visit some of her earlier stuff sometime soon.

So much! So little time!

How do you typically find Fantasy recommendations?(Goodreads, Youtube, Podcasts, Instagram. . .)

Recently? I get a lot of recommendations from my writing group. Like more than anyone can possibly read (which is wonderful). I am also signed up for about a billion newsletters from publishers. I try to keep up with industry awards, so if a book is doing well there, I’ll be more likely to read it. Goodreads also. Then sometimes insta.

What is an upcoming Fantasy release you’re excited for?

This is another tough question as I’m still trying so hard to catch up with last year’s releases that I haven’t payed much attention for what’s on the docket for this year (just look at that TBR).

BUT . . . I recently finished Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic (soo good) and while she seems to have plenty of titles I could go back and read (looking at you Gods of Jade and Shadow) I like reading new things too, so Certain Dark Things will probably be my next one. I’m sure there are some genre arguments to be made here, but I’m gonna consider it Fantasy and say that is the one I’m anticipating most at the moment.

What is one misconception about Fantasy you would like to lay to rest?

This is a tough question also, because I think the genre suffers from many misconceptions, but perhaps the most important to me, is that ‘Fantasy’ is just stories about white farm boys slaying dragons. This is just not the case anymore (though it may have been once). In a lot of ways, Fantasy has become something of a platform in which you can tell any story that you want. Want to read a mystery? Well what if it took place in post-Civil War Philadelphia from the point of view of a married couple working as conductors on the Underground Railroad. Well then check out Nicole Glover’s The Conductors.

How about a romance? Perhaps you should read Tasha Suri’s Empire of Sand inspired by the Mughal Empire.

Or maybe you WANT to read about dragons. Well there’s still plenty of fresh takes there (look at Johnathan Strahan’s Book of Dragons)

Anyway, there’s something for everyone here in ‘Fantasy land’ so come on down.

**Call back to earlier when I said I didn’t read enough Steampunk . . . Apparently there are STEAMPUNK DRAGONS! I guess I’ll be reading The Iron Dragon’s Daughter by Michael Swannick soon . . . this has been a fun digression.

If someone had never read a Fantasy before and asked you to recommend the first 3 books come to mind as places to start, what would those recommendations be?

I’ve seen Harry Potter on a lot of these kinds of posts and I would have to agree, it’s probably the best place to start (as mentioned before, it was one of the places I started). Depending on how old you are, you might be looking for something a little more ‘adult’ (although HP seems very mature by the end of the series), I would recommend Brando Sando’s Mistborn next. I’ve had pretty high success with that one. I’d probably go with The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin next. It’s truly fantastic, and I feel pivotal in a lot of ways for where the genre is (or could be). It’s not a popcorn read though so . . . fair warning.

Who is the most recent Fantasy reading content creator you came across that you’d like to shoutout?

I’ve been enjoying reading my friend Mary’s blog, The Inciting Event Blog. Recently, I feel like I’ve learned a lot from her post on maps called How to Build a World Part Two: THE MAP. She also has a super cute dog.

Welp that’s it.

I think that concludes my first foray into book tags. If you’d like to see more of this kind of thing, let me know in the comments. I’ve got a bunch of these lined up that I could do so you’ll probably being seeing more of them in the future. Anywho, thanks for reading this far. I’ll see you next time!

The Road to Empire (of Ashes): Review of The Waking Fire

Cover for The Waking Fire

Oooh Dragons

So this post will be a book review, but it will not be about Anthony Ryan’s¬†Empire of Ashes regardless of that book being mentioned in the title of this post.

This post will be about the first book in that series The Waking Fire. Essentially,¬†I was given an ARC of Ryan’s¬†Empire of Ashes, only to realize that it’s the third book in the series . . . and I haven’t read any of the others yet (well I suppose now I’ve read the first one).¬† So without further ado, the first step in the road . . .

To put it simply, The Waking Fire checks all of the boxes for an epic fantasy and then some. And then some more. Like I kinda imagine the writing process going something like this:

Dragons? Check. Is the fate of the world at stake? Yup! Is there magic? Yes! And it’s color-coded! Good Good. This is very good.

Then it starts to throw in some other elements which are not as ‘stereo typical’ (although I might argue still pretty common) as a tolkeinesque fantasy. Steam punk(ish) time period? Sure let’s do it! Large naval battles? Duh pirates are the best! But do you like spy novels? Uh who doesn’t? And you probably also like adventure stories too? We could throw in a lost civilization . . . Dude¬†The Mummy¬†is like one of my favorite movies.

Ok so we’ve got just a few more things to add. We aren’t done yet? Oh no sir buckle up. Do you like faceless hoards of enemies who’s only purpose is to be mowed down by really big guns? Great! and oh, no it’s not extra, we throw in a planetary alignment with every third trope, it’s destiny after all. Oh oh sorry, how do you like your MacGuffins? Unresolved? We got you fam.

I’ve probably overdone this just a bit. This book really does shine in the depth of its world and the interaction of its characters with each other. No detail about this world was forgotten and each of the characters felt alive and real (except for Clay’s main love interest who doesn’t have a speaking role until the last chapter of the book).

dragon about breathe fire as man watches

I suppose artwork is on the list of things this book does right. I mean just look at this dragon.

I suppose that all books are just a list of their component parts. It’s just unfortunate when the reader can see those parts so explicitly. Joshua S Hill over at Fantasy Book Review¬†addressed this issue as contrivance, noting that all books have parts that are ‘contrived’ but some authors are better at distracting you from it than others. I’m starting to think that Joshua and I have similar tastes and opinions.

Despite all of this, I’ll be reading the second book in the series,¬†¬†The Legion of Flame,¬†as I am quite curious as to what the next step in our journey will be. I’m not sure whether this will be a trilogy, or longer, but I’m hopeful that book won’t suffer from 2nd book syndrome.

I think that’s all for now.

Short Fiction Review: Mountain Dead

Truth be told, I’m a little surprised by the fact that I haven’t yet reviewed a piece from Apex Publications on this blog. From what I can tell, they are deeply immersed in the realm of Speculative Fiction. They publish Horror, Sci Fi, and Fantasy but also any mix and mash of those genres that make a great story. Their blog posts are insightful, timely and relevant to my tastes and interests. And of course their twitter account is updated frequently ¬†with useful insights about specials and promotions as well as a good dose of seemingly unrelated banter which is often quite amusing. Also zombies.

Cover!

Cover!

I first heard about Mountain Dead, a short (4 stories), short fiction anthology released as a supplement (sounds almost scholarly) to a much larger anthology (20 stories) called Appalachian Undead.¬† I saw the ad in the newsletter some time ago (maybe July?) and proceeded to read some post on the blog about zombies. I’m a sucker for anything zombies, but as I mentioned before, these posts were well written and insightful. Tipped me off to the whole Haitian zombie trope which I ended up researching a little further on my own and to great satisfaction. Then?

Sadly nothing. Sort of fell off my radar although I continued to follow their twitter feed, blogs, and other projects (looking at you War Stories Anthology). Then, Halloween came and with it, a free copy of Mountain Dead! Also, a good many kicks in the rear for not having ordered it sooner. So without further ado, please allow me an attempt at redemption for not reviewing an Apex short sooner . . . by reviewing the four shorts of Mountain Dead here.

The First Short: Deep Underground (Sara M. Harvey)

Alright. Here we go. The first of four. At this point, I don’t really know what to expect. I know that I’m expecting zombies, but that is pretty much it. Also, the zombies on the cover are playing banjos and violins respectively, so that’s a clue to . . . something? I’m not sure. So I start reading Deep Underground by Sara M. Harvey and . . . ?

I’m liking it!

The story starts explaining this little ‘oops’ that happened with the preacher’s daughter and goes on to tell of these two families that, for all intents and purposes, started a town. Now the town is named after one of the families and not the other, so obviously there is some conflict there, but you don’t realize just how deep the conflict (and the symbolism) is until the story approaches the end. I won’t say what happens because I want you to read it; however, I will say what I think my favorite part of this story was. I really believe that this story gets the reader set up for what these stories are supposed to be like. It sets up the small-town feel. The feeling that you’ve known all these characters since the day you were born (even though you’re just meeting them) because you grew up together. It makes it all so much more horrifying to see little Johnny climb from his grave and take a bite out of little Susie when you can ‘remember’ going to both of their christenings. That’s the type of feeling you get while reading Deep Underground. It’s hard to do, but here, it seems easy.

The Next Short: Unto the Lord A New Song (Geoffrey Girard)

For me,¬†Unto the Lord A New Song, provides a different feeling from the first short piece, but an equally relevant one. There is a certain desensitization in this story that seems frankly appalling (although I’m sure it’s meant to). I’ve read a few zombie stories (both short fiction and novels) that are ‘post-outbreak’ (or I suppose post-‘apocalypse’) and therefore don’t focus too much on what caused this frightening turn of events, or how people are responding to it. These stories skip over all that and place you in the aftermath. You’ve survived the initial onslaught but how you continue to do so is up to you.

These are fun stories because the author gets to let his imagination run wild and think of new and inventive ways for his survivors to dispatch zombies, rebuild etc. Some authors also use this setting to invent new challenges for the survivors to face and overcome, or perhaps tragically fail to overcome. In the case of of¬†Unto the Lord A New Song, I feel the author uses the ‘post-outbreak’ setting to demonstrate just how strange things will be after a zombie apocalypse . . . as in let’s tie vacuum tubes to a zombie’s vocal chords and make em sing during the next sermon strange. Yea. I think the horror here comes from the fact that people will have been forced to accept so much after an event like a zombie apocalypse that they won’t think twice (and they don’t in the story) about hiking all day to see a horrifying spectacle like this and when they do, they’ll see the work of God in it and call it Church. Not sure if that’s where the author was going with this story, but that’s where I went with it and it was definitely an eye opener. Well played sir, well played.

Another good looking anthology from Apex

Another good looking anthology from Apex

The Short After That: Let Me Come In (Lesley Conner)

I can’t profess to have any sort of deep analysis on any moral or thematic issues at play in Lesley Conner’s¬†Let Me Come In. It’s not that I don’t think they are there, they might be. It’s just that I was having too much fun to look. Let Me Come In is something of a re-imagining of the Big Bad Wolf and Three Little Pigs¬†fairy tale that we are all familiar with. I won’t say more except that I really enjoyed this piece. Very clever. Probably my favorite of the four. A must read.

The FINAL Short:¬†And It’ll Haunt Me (For Long Days to Come) ¬†K. Allen Wood

¬†This final short was another hard hitter. Very good. Very enjoyable. You’re put across the table from a suspected criminal as he goes to make his confession. He weaves his tale like a spider’s web and you can’t help but become hopelessly engaged in what he has to say. Is what he says real? Could these horrible things really have happened? He seems to believe it himself.

I go on about Denny (the convict) like he wrote the story. ¬†I think that is a tribute to the author’s subtlety. You don’t notice the author’s presence. You’re Jack (the detective) and Denny is telling you a story. It’s that simple. I liked that a lot about the story. Some things I read these days feel like the words are just barely holding back the author’s ‘message’, which is so overpowering that you don’t even want to hear it. This short doesn’t seem to bother with any of that. Just a good story.

No I do not like your hat! Goodbye. Goodbye.

Apologies for the P.D. Eastmen reference in that last header but I couldn’t think of a clever way to end the review section and the post without an abrupt pause so . . . that is what you get. Also, definitely thought that was from Dr. Suess, but apparently it’s Eastmen¬†(so glad I looked it up). Anyway,¬†Mountain Dead¬†appears to still be free on Amazon so definitely give it a look if you liked any of what you’ve just read. Until next week.

Goodbye . . .

Goodbye . . .

Short Fiction Review: The Way of Cross & Dragon!

Oh man. Another doozy from George R. R. Martin. This week’s short fiction review is about his The Way of Cross & Dragon.¬†At least this one wasn’t completely revolting¬†(I found Meathouse Man pretty disgusting but still worth reading). However, it was certainly another ‘Thinker’. I suppose that is good. Why read if you don’t want to think?

So what did this story make me think about?  A couple things really:

1) People really shit on the Catholic Church

In my mind I want Damien to look like one of these guys!

In my mind I want Damien to look like one of these guys!

I suppose I’m just tired of this motif. There is no doubt in my mind that the One True Interstellar Catholic Church¬†is supposed to revert us back to a period in the Catholic Church’s history,¬†probably the late 1100’s and¬†early 1200’s (really it’s the¬†Inquisitors that give it away).¬†And even though this story is supposed to take place in the future, it feels like we are in the past. It also feels like¬†any form of organized religion is fake or¬†inauthentic, and that belief is for fools. That it is¬†simply constructed to distract us from the harsh and terrible world we live in, or to control the dimwitted masses. I’m kind of over that¬†twist.¬†I’d like to see the Church¬†catch a break once in a while.

Of course I could be misinterpreting the setting. I’m open to suggestions. AKA please comment.

2) Entropy: Really interesting way to look at the world

Entropy is 100% my favorite theme in Sci-Fi and Fantasy literature. Not so much from the everything breaks down and nothing lasts perspective. That’s pretty depressing and not a whole lot of fun. More from the perspective that things must be torn down to be built up. That the universe is constantly changing and from the ruins of something that once was, something else will be. Pretty dramatic stuff right?

The Way of Cross & Dragon seems to frame entropy as a contradiction. After listening to a huge speech about how everything eventually breaks down, the main character seems to be stuck in a seemingly everlasting cycle which will continue on forever. Pursuit of truth is the only true constant.

Is it possible that she's better looking as a brunette?

Is it possible that she’s better looking as a brunette?

3) This story has to be the precursor to GoT

Also, this Judas Iscariot fellow (at least the way he is constructed in The Way of Cross & Dragon) seems to resemble Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones an awful lot. Actually, the only difference I can see is that Judas is a dude. Anyway, I haven’t been reading GoT but I’ve been trying to keep up with the HBO series. Obviously, now I’m going to start looking for any type of biblical references in her character (although at present they are eluding me) as the story progresses. Maybe I’ll find something, maybe not.

Again, if you already know of some of these please comment.

And finally:

4) I think this is as happy as an ending gets for George R.R. Martin

I’m really starting to feel like George R.R. Martin just doesn’t do happy. I sincerely hope that he’s more cheerful in person than some of his writing. This is the second short fiction piece I’ve read by this author and for the second time I’ve need to put it down and go do something else to distract myself. He gets heavy and he does it quickly too.

Anyway, reading back over this post again, it would seem that I didn’t enjoy The Way of Cross & Dragon. That isn’t true. I did enjoy it and would certainly recommend it to anyone reading this post. I really liked the juxtaposition of elements in the story which were supposed to represent Entropy, with those elements which were supposed to represent Immortality. Order from chaos, chaos from order, etc. I think he could have pushed a little harder on in the setting. The inauthentic church motive seems a little tired to me, but this story was written back in the 80’s so maybe it was a fresher idea¬†in that time. I think that’s all for now. If I find any good GoT tidbits relating to this story I’ll be sure to add them. Or maybe just do another post.

Bye!

  

Highmage’s Plight by D. H. Aire

Aww yea. Cover yea.

Aww yea. Cover yea.

Looking back through my notes on this one, it appears that my initial reaction to this novel was:

Unicorns? Really?

All joking aside, that addition to the story was actually pretty great as far as fantasy creatures go. My prior experience with unicorns is effectively zero (actually it is zero) so I was (and still am) interested to see where that piece of the story goes and how it will develop.

Anyway, before I get into the meat of the review I’ll give you a quick set up of the story so you can decide whether or not you might be interested in reading further. Essentially, our main character, George or “Georj” as most of the other characters call him, is an ordinary Archeologist (for the future anyway) concerned with seemingly ordinary archeological problems (dating the site, continuing funding etc.) when he stumbles across a magic gate which transports him through time and possibly to another planet.

In this time (or on this planet) magic is an important part of the society, its cultural hierarchy/power structure etc. George and his computer, shaped like a large walking staff, must navigate through this new world, learn and use magic, and fight the attempts of an evil elf king to thwart their movements and destroy the world as we know it!

Why couldn't it have just been snakes . . .

Why couldn’t it have just been snakes . . .

Not just another day at the dig site huh?

Highmage’s Plight is interesting in a variety of ways. First, in some aspects Highmage’s Plight functions as a normal story. It has characters and plot, a climax etc. However, this isn’t the whole story. It is actually meant to be an interactive, or perhaps ‘intra-active’ series in which fans and other story tellers alike can make decisions about the plot, and imbue the characters with¬†their own individual spirit and personality. I’m hosting the author,¬†D.H. Aire, on the site Friday and we’re going to discuss the process some more, so make sure to stop by then as well. In the mean time, you can take look at it yourself at DHR2Believe.net¬†It’s pretty cool.

The second is in the way the story’s world is structured. Magic and technology¬†compete in stark opposition. Both are real, and affect the world in very real ways. George and Balfour (his Healer guide) meet, and are married to four Cathartan women (2 apiece) which serve as bodyguards along the quest. These women were born into a society in which a plague ravishes the male population (definitely some evil magic going on here). Of course typical gender roles are non-existent in favor of a society where women occupy almost every role available. It’s a strange dynamic in that you have strong, ultra competent women who are still beholden to men because of their rarity. However, George arrives on the scene¬†with the aid of technology on his side and seems reluctant to wed them or bed any of¬†them. I sense social upheaval, the likes of which have only been propositioned in the most epic of fantasies (I’m thinking Wheel of Time here).

As far as the story elements are concerned, I feel that this piece was something of a foundational work. It set the stage for more writing to follow. The characters are interesting and have lots of room to develop. Also, it seems there are wuite a few characters to work with. Many heroes but also a great many villains. It will be interesting to see the way these threads are woven together and what the end result will be.

I’m gunning for more Unicorns! Bye all.

This one almost looks real!

This one almost looks real!

This Week’s Short Fiction Review! Paladins of Shannara: Allanon’s Quest

I seem to be on a fantasy thing lately. If it has swords and magic then I’m game. I want to read it. I would say that I’ve read a lot of fantasy in my reading career and I keep coming back for more. Spend enough time in a genre and you start to know the major authors whether or not you’ve read them. But given the nature of Fantasy literature, it seems difficult to be well versed in the plethora of authors this genre has simply because it isn’t easy (for me at least) to hop between series, worlds, magic systems etc. Also, some of the volumes can be quite lengthy so if you’re going to try an author for the first time, you probably aren’t going to bother unless you get a pretty huge recommendation from someone you know and trust, that has similar tastes in reading as¬†you do.

Oooh Cover

Oooh Cover

This is not why I picked up Paladins of Shannara: Allanon’s Quest. To be honest, I can’t give you a particularly good reason as to why I went ahead and jumped into¬†Shannara at all. I think I’ve just seen the name Terry¬†Brooks (and by association Shannara as well)¬†around¬†for¬†many years and figured¬†I should take a gander at¬†the work.¬†It’s funny though, now that I write this post,¬†I realize that this isn’t my first exposure to Terry Brooks at all. I read his adaptation of Star¬†Wars Episode 1:¬†The Phantom Menace when I was a¬†younger (it came out in ’99 so that would make me exactly nine when I read it).¬†I remember loving that book (I should probably read it again), so I suppose my expectations of Terry Brooks should have been pretty high.

But they weren’t. I had read a few reviews of Paladins and wasn’t expecting much. It turns out, Allanon’s Quest is the first in a series of shorts, set in the world of Shannara (the others being The Weapon Master’s¬†Choice and The Black Irix). I’m told that long time fans of the series will recognize characters¬†and gain a better understanding of the events happening in Shannara’s history (I’m also told these shorts contradict some of the other Shannara Novels but I don’t know this for a fact). For a newbie though, it was a good way to kill an hour or so.

It’s pretty classic stuff. There’s a prophecy, a sword (the sword which I’m assuming The Sword of Shannara Trilogy is all about), and an evil warlock bent on harming Shannara in anyway possible. Of course lineage is important and is the call to action for our formidable druid, Allanon. He must seek out the last remaining descendent of some king and protect him from harm until it is time for him to take up the sword and defeat the Warlock. Granted, this was only a short story, so all of these things don’t come to pass in the 30-40 pages which make up Allanon’s Quest. Really, all that happens is Allanon drinks at an Inn, interrogates an old man, is nearly killed by a Skull Bearer,¬†and finally discovers that the lead he¬†was pursuing was not¬†meant to bear fruit but there is still another chance to succeed with a young boy named Shea who the warlock has not discovered yet. I’d say it was a pretty good appetizer and I’ll probably pursue the whole course later. Maybe I’ll take a few more samples before I dive in to Shannara full though. After all, there are still two more shorts that I can read to get my feet wet.

In all, as I said before, it was a good way to kill an hour, and if you are not familiar with Shannara at all (like I wasn’t) I think it could be a useful introduction to the world without having to commit to reading a full novel. I had heard some complaints about Terry’s writing style. Complaints that said that he was getting lazy and really only writing these shorts to feed the commercial side of what is now Shannara as a business. I didn’t feel that the writing was lazy or overly “commercial”. He has a good command of language and doesn’t dwell on unnecessary details. This seems important to me in a genre that is prone to over description. Perhaps¬†his other work is better but¬†Allanon’s¬†Quest is good enough.

Lastly,  I really wished there had been more description of the Skull Bearers. These guys seemed curious and made me wish I had read more of the series so I could have had a  better picture of what these creatures were actually like. I suppose that was my only complaint.

I’d say if you’re into fantasy, take a look at this one. It’s only a dollar. Anyway, until next time . . .

I Dreamed a Dream . . .

In times gone by . . .

Fantasy was high and it was still worth reading. I dreamed this golden age would never die. And if I saw tropes I’d be forgiving. For I was young and unafraid. Archetypes were made, and used and wasted. Around $7.99 was all I’d paid. Left no healing chant unsung, no gleaming sword untasted . . .

I was in 6th grade when I first read¬†Lord of the Rings. Likely younger than that when Harry Potter¬†first arrived on the scene. I conquered realms in¬†Warcraft III¬†and read the tie-in novels. I’m pretty sure I read all of the ‘Lore’ in the instruction manual too. And¬†whether I played ‘Human’, ‘Orc’ or ‘Undead’ (yes I also played ‘Night Elf’) I waged war upon my enemies with the utmost fury. I sought every tome and magic ring, every¬†cloak of invisibility etc . . . etc.

No lie. It's hard to find an old Merlin on Google these days.

No lie. It’s hard to find an old Merlin on Google these days.

And as I got older so did the tales. King Arthur and his table of knights, MERLIN, and of course Guinevere. It didn’t stop there either, I kept going further back. Beowulf (eww), Grendel (more gross), Grendel’s Mother (can you tell I didn’t like this one? I mean he does slay a dragon at the end so I guess that redeems it). But I kept reading more contemporary (ish)¬†writers as well. Brandon Sanderson, and Robert Jordan. I’ll say Christopher Paolini though I don’t really want to admit to reading him.

But the tigers come at night . . .

But eventually, it all began to run together. The constant ‘Epic’ of such obvious good, versus those who where so obviously evil.¬† Always a dark lord or demon and without fail a young peasant who’s circumstance leads him on a quest against this evil. A quest against the longest, most impossible¬†odds. But it’s ok. Our young hero will develop through the course of his journey with the help of a few unlikely companions who’s various skills will serve to teach and guide him. And if that journey should take us through nearly a thousand page volume or two . . .¬†or four, or twelve, then so be it. After all, if you are going to tell the tale of one great hero, isn’t it necessary to give the history of an entire race of people in the next town over? (For some good farces of Fantasy I’d recommend Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett and Orcs, Bears, and Assholes by Robert Bevan. I’ve linked to my reviews.)

For me,¬†Fantasy as a genre had¬†become stale. I’d say stagnant even. It had become so formulaic that¬†an entire industry of card games, guidebooks and roleplaying¬†games¬†formed¬†so that individuals could perpetuate the formulas and mistake subtle variations in their content for true innovations.¬†And so,¬†I read page after page of tales filled with ‘magic’ and ‘wonder’,¬†but all I wondered was where the magic had gone.

The part of the post where my metaphor fails me.

But seriously, how sad is this?

But seriously, how sad is this?

It’s true. The last lament of a dying prostitute is simply too depressing to continue on with. Especially because it would imply that I feel that my dream of Fantasy (Insert some quip about Fantine sounding similar to Fantasy) is going to die on some street, with but a single outlaw to mourn¬†her passing. In fact I feel quite the opposite.

Why?

Because I’ve discovered a new well from which to draw forth water. A new spring (Not to be confused with New Spring). A new source of Fantasy Literature¬†from which I can read and enjoy and dream . . .

Yes, BCS or Beneath Ceaseless Skies is that source. They are an online magazine specializing in ‘alternate world’ fantasy. Perhaps their own website describes it best:

” . . . adventure fantasy plots in vivid secondary worlds, but written with a literary flair. Beneath Ceaseless Skies will feature exciting stories set in awe-inspiring places that are told with all the skill and impact of modern literary-influenced fantasy.” – About BCS

And that is exactly what they do.

Take for example A Sword of Love and Kindness?

Yes, you read correctly. A Sword of Love and Kindness. Don’t make it weird. Just let it happen. This is a little story by author Chris Willrich that was featured in the Best of BCS, Year One. It tells of two thieves (well one is more of a poet) who break in to a bank, not to steal its contents but deposit some of their own. Of course they are caught and their punishment is to take an evil sword to the City of Pain. Sounds like a pretty nefarious and world ending plot to which they must agree or be killed. It is¬†slowly¬†revealed what power the Sword of Love and¬†Kindness possesses over those who¬†wield it. The master thief wonders at his rugged life style.¬†Wonders that he should never have raised¬†a child or run for civic office.¬†The¬†Poet is also¬†effected by the¬†sword. They are nearly killed by a group of spiders after Gaunt (the poet)¬†admonishes the disorderly fashion in which they have constructed their webs.

But as we finally reach the City of Pain, it becomes apparent that while the sword pushes virtues of love, kindness,¬†cooperation, etc.¬†those who wield it to do not necessarily affect ‘good’ in¬†the world.

Pretty clever right? I thought so too. And I can’t say enough about Willrich’s characters. Specifically Guant and Bone, but they are all well done. Expert descriptions, and great development. It’s easy for writers to get lazy with character back stories, alluding to them whenever it’s¬†convenient for a turn of phrase or bit of rhetoric but never really giving you the whole picture. It is much more difficult to write with a character’s background firmly in place, then give it to your audience a morsel at a time, until eventually you understand the motivation between each character’s thoughts and actions. It is even more difficult to write plot which changes those motivations¬†because of past events, or¬†better yet,¬†in spite of them. Willrich does all of this¬†and in a short story to boot.¬†Well done.

Anyway, I think this post has gone on long enough. If you haven’t already, please¬†start reading¬†Beneath Ceaseless¬†Skies, and¬†pay attention to Chris Willrich. He’s got a new book coming¬†out (featuring Gaunt and Bone) in¬†September I believe.¬†Order it now. I’ve already¬†ordered my copy.

Remember all, fantasy is not dead. It was just sleeping. Or something like that. Bye all!