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Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Also Known As... Thoughts on Jessica Jones

Unlike many others I didn't binge-watch Netflix's latest Marvel offering, Jessica Jones, but savoured it like a fine wine (despite it being more ultra-strong Alcopop). Netflix had raised expectations with the phenomenal Daredevil, and in the interim I'd succumbed to watching Gotham- and loved that too.

So does it live up to expectations? Almost. For a start, I had lower expectations: my experience of the character was from her appearance as Luke Cage's missus in Bendis's New Avengers, rather than from Alias the distinctly mature series that preceded it. So I had a grasp of the character as a troubled, failed superhero who worked as a PI and had a thing with Cage.
And the essence of that character is here: Jess is a PI, with a rather jaded cynical outlook, who drinks hard and obsesses about Cage from afar. This is linked to actions she undertook whilst under the influence of Killgrave (the Purple Man), and this complex dynamic between her, Cage and Killgrave is the core of the series' story arc.

The acting is great: not everyone has taken to Krysten Ritter, but I really liked her portrayal (I liked her in Breaking Bad, before her ignoble end). She captured the anger, vulnerability and gallows humour well. Cage, played by Mike Colter, was a good contrast to Jones, and very well cast in the role. But it was David Tennant, as expected, who stole the show- grinning, joking, screaming and leering through the whole series in some demonic amalgamation of Dr Who and Barty Crouch Jr. He steals the scenes with such awesome menace that I weep for the Dr Who fans that can't dissociate David Tennant and his mockney accent from the Time Lord.

The plot is suitably adult: the sex scenes are a little heavier at the start, then back off a bit, but are distinctly 15+ and the violence escalates through the series from initial gun shot wounds, moderate gore, to rather more graphic by the end (head shot brain splat, as seems the vogue in TV at present; limbs being sawn off and fed into blender... Yes, really). It pushes the 15 certificate a little, moreso than Daredevil and Gotham, and indeed the sub-text is more adult: Killgrave is a psychopath with mind control and warped humour, so the theme of rape and abuse is key to the plot. In some ways I was disappointed that the attempts to take it down a legal route were doomed to failure, but I'm uncertain the Marvel Universe as depicted here would suit that.

Which brings me onto the Marvel Universe. Now the idea is that all the Marvel Franchise occur in the same world. At times you wouldn't know: the events seem to happen oblivious to the costume shenanigans of the high profile heroes in the Avengers. There are references to Avengers 1, references to big green Dude and Thor, yet nothing more. I presumed it happened prior to Avengers 2, but there was no TV background of superheroes (which would've been really easy to do). I'd forgive all of that if they tied it to Daredevil more- after all, it's in the same neighbourhood. There's a nice enough link in the last episode, but given the (i) finale of Daredevil and (ii) the Killgrave body count and crime, surely DD should be linked to this series more. I hope by either DD2, or Luke Cage, they'll get a grip on it as it would have made this series better if they did that well.

Overall, well worth a watch, and a bonus feature of Patsy Walker (Hellcat, miaow!!). Look forward to the next Netflix offering...

House Of Chains by Steven Erikson

House of Chains was the first of Erikson's series that I hadn't read previously, having previously lost momentum on the third book. So in many ways it was a good tester as to whether I've got into the series, and got on top of its intricate plot lines. And by and large I think I'm managing well, perhaps with occasional trips to Wikipedia. 

The story continues on from the rather misery laden finale of book two, with events also following book three (which ran in line with Bk2). You'll recall that Felisin, younger sister to Ganoes Paran (now master of the deck) and Tavore, adjunct successor to Lorn, has become the focus of the revolt of the 7 cities called the Whirlwind. She names herself Sha' ik, and is partly possessed by the Goddess of the  Whirlwind (which is a fragment of a shattered warren). With the ex-priest of Fenner, Heboric, she is part of a rather disparate pack of revolutionaries comprised of warlocks (two of whom are nasty pieces of work), a traitor Fist, and tribesmen. One of her bodyguards, Karsa Olong, becomes a key character and his somewhat grisly story occupies the first chapters of the book and throw some sense on prior events, not least in the Nascent. This fragment of warren also introduces us to the Tiste Edur, Trull Sengar, and latterly the Tiste Liosan. There's more with the undead warriors, the T'lan Imass, and some plot lines on how they've influenced various cultures.

One such cultural influence is on the Teblor, and we find gradually about this sub-species of  thelomen toblakai that are essentially huge barbarians, like Bharghast, or Trell. Erikson's anthropology comes to the fore here, as it does when we get some strange almost time travel scenes later in the book.

Image from Deviant Art 

It'd be easy with all the background to stifle the book with history and legend. Erikson avoids this in the main part, although there are sections in which the info dump gets too heavy handed. His main virtue is writing down to earth falable characters, and interacting them with gods and epic heroes. I found greatest interest in former Bridgeburners, Kallam and Hedge, and to a lesser extent, Pearl and Cutter. Hedge definitely carries a good part of the book, and given Erikson's habit of doing a George RR Martin I did read his chapters with anxiety. Yet Erikson clearly likes writing his foot soldiers caught up in the epic struggles, and didn't start bumping off characters I like! 

As a book it reads well, with enough pace to keep the reader engaged. The resolution had the typically chaotic finale that Erikson likes, as he illustrated in book 3 especially. Plenty of floating plot threads and story arcs are ongoing, although I think book 5 is a sideline into the Tiste Edur. Looking forward to it fleshing out the world a bit more.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Of Ice and Air by Carlie Cullen: new release

My friend and fellow Myrddin author has followed the success of her paranormal trilogy Heart Search, by dipping her toes into the swirling waters of my favourite genre, fantasy.

I have my review copy of "Of Ice and Air" hot of the press, and am eager to get cracking on it once I've finished my latest Erikson book. In the interim, and pending the review I'll pen when I've read it, here's an excerpt:



“Please, listen to what I have to say. One person with sufficient magic at their disposal could sneak in and at least find out if mother is there. If so, she could be rescued and brought back before Gengaruk and his men even know she’s gone. There must be something in the magic you’ve set around the area which would prevent mother from freeing herself using her own gifts. This is where I have the advantage and the best of both worlds. Not only do I possess the magic of Idenvarlis, but Taivass-Maa also. So I would assume my air magic would not be affected by whatever you have in place to keep those animals trapped in that land.

“A battalion of your men would be seen and heard from a fair distance and unless you gave them bracelets to allow them immunity from the magic, they would get stuck there and besides, I’m guessing they don’t possess the full range of abilities we do, or am I wrong on that score?” Kailani’s voice was commanding and self-assured.

Silence so absolute you couldn’t even hear breathing suffused the throne room. Jaanis, Shivla, and Bellis looked thoughtful and Kailani breathed a sigh of relief. They were actually taking her seriously. Bellis was the first to break the silence. His voice sounded extraordinarily loud after the quiet, yet he was only speaking at his normal volume.

“You say you have all the magics from both worlds, how do you know this?”

Kailani unfastened the cape and pushed her hair to one side. Under her ear, indented into the skin, were three birthmarks: three wavy lines, a teardrop, and an icicle. Bellis bent closer to examine them and ran his finger over each one.

“Am I missing any?” she asked innocently.

“No, and they are genuine,” he replied, more for his parents’ benefit than Kailani’s, or so she felt. “What magics do you have from the air world?” She reached up and peeled back a little of her dress to reveal her left shoulder; goosebumps smothered her skin. Four raised birthmarks could clearly be seen: a star, moon, sun, and a flash of lightning. “What can you do with them?”

“I can teleport, I’m telepathic, I can shoot light rays from my eyes which have the burning power of the sun, and I can manifest blades of fire just by thought, to name but a few.” She covered her shoulder up quickly and pulled her cloak tighter around her.

Bellis turned to his parents. “Kailani must be the most powerful individual who ever came to Idenvarlis. As she said, she has the best of both worlds. I think she could stand a chance of finding Garalia if you could give her an immunity bracelet, Father.” Kailani gazed at Bellis in disbelief and was surprised to see something very different in his eyes to what came from his lips. A calculating look shone there and she knew something wasn’t right. Now wasn’t the time to find out more, although she vowed to herself that she would on her return. Her instincts were on full alert and they told her that Bellis wanted her gone. He didn’t want to share his parents’ attention with her, so would support any madcap scheme she came up with to rescue his sister in the hope she wouldn’t return.


If you can't wait for my review, you can read Carlie's book at:

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Steven Erikson: Memories of Ice

The third book of Erikson’s incredible series marks the point where I slipped away from the books about six or so years ago. It’s tricky with such a hefty series to keep momentum, and it coincided with me getting into more classic fantasy authors such as Vance, Zelazney, Moorcock and Anderson. But having completed book three I’m avidly now reading book four, enjoying the ping-ponging between story threads and characters. 

Memories of Ice picks up the story not long after Gardens of the Moon’s epic finale, and follows many of the characters from that book—namely Whiskeyjack and the Bridgeburners; Kruppe, Colle and Murillio; Toc the Younger, and Tool, the T’lan Imass. The new characters of Gruntle and Stonny, and the Grey Swords, notably Itkovian, are given sufficient page space for us to begin to care about them—always a risk when your dramatis personae runs to five pages! 

The gist of the book is the uneasy alliance between Commander Dujek Onearm, Whiskeyjack and Captain Paran, with the Malazan army, and the forces of Caladan Brood, and Anomander Rake’s Tiste Andii. They unite due to the concern of the Panion Domin, a fledgling coastal empire with cannibalistic troops, and mysterious links with an Elder race, the K’Chain Che’ Malle (bet he got sick of typing that). The tone of the book is similarly brutal to the prior one, with fairly full on violence, slaughter and warfare. The scenes involving the assault on Capustan are remarkable yet disturbing, and would it ever be filmed it would make Game of Thrones seem rather tame (as far as war scenes would go anyway). 

What really made the book for me, however, was the progression of the back story arc of the Chained God, and the marked fleshing out of Erikson’s world. From the origins of the T’lan Imass, to the revelations about Rake and his dreaded Stormbringer-esque sword, to the Deck of Dragons and the creation of houses, this book really aids the understanding of the milieu. The gods feature heavy in this book—Fener, K’rul, Hood, Burn, Trake, Togg and Fanderay. The manipulations of the mortals, their forms and their actions creates a very epic sense to this instalment, yet for me Erikson doesn’t lose track of the personalities and emotions of the characters. The impact of the horrors of war, and the sense of duty against all odds, is explored and although Erikson’s dialogue and humour can feel a bit clunky at times, there are some wonderful sections of fantasy prose. And, as with the prior two books, there is no patronising the reader—the book is unapologetically intricate. 

So onto book four, my first ‘fresh’ one for years, in the hope I can pick up the nuances and backwards-forwards timelines that have knitted the first three together. Totally recommend anyone reading the books, but be aware it’s a fair commitment!

Latter two images by JK Drummond, who you can check at 

Sunday, 6 September 2015

A World of Their Own: review of charity anthology

Anthologies are not everyone’s cup of tea, or in this case magic potion. Much like getting a box of chocolates and losing the little card that tells you what you’re devouring, the experience can be random in both a pleasant (strawberry cream) or not so enjoyable (coffee) way.

 This anthology was sent to me as an ARC (Advanced Review Copy) from one of the authors. There are a large number of contributors to the work, all who had at some stage a connection with a group of authors who met on the Harper Collins website Authonomy. The group, from a thread called The Alliance of Worldbuilders, shared an interest in speculative fiction and acted as a critique/support/social group before drifting from the aforementioned site into the realm of Facebook and, in a number of cases, publishing. 

 One of the reasons I rarely read anthology is that I’m not a huge short story fan. Often they feel incomplete, unsatisfactory, undeveloped, or lost in their own literacy—making up for absence of a good yarn with excess description or narrative. Flash fiction especially grates on my nerves, as it is rather tricky to do decently, and can feel pretentious. 

 So I’m happy to report that this anthology, and its fifteen or so contributors, entertained me immensely. Inevitably there were works that appealed to my tastes more than others, yet there were very few ‘coffee chocolate’ moments where I genuinely thought to skip onto the next story. There are a few that seemed to allude to other works, or to pre-existing fictions, that piqued my curiosity enough to investigate further. Let me bring a few highlights of those, and then note the others: 

 Will Macmillan Jones’s Dwarfs R Us is a pun-saturated tale of the awesome witch Grizelda returning her broom to the repair shop. I’ve read a few of the author’s books, and for fans of the lighter end of satirical fantasy this is good reading. Be prepared to groan out loud at the gags, though. 

 David Muir’s They Rise and We Smite is a longer paranormal fantasy along the lines of the Dresden Files and Aaronovitch’s PC Grant series. It’s tale of hidden wizard bloodlines descended from gorillas, and interaction with the world’s established religion, was very entertaining. The OTT battle scene at the end made me chuckle, and made up for the hefty info dump at the start necessary to establish the milieu. Muir returns to the setting in the Night of a Thousand Spells, with a rather unique baby going through dark mages like rusks. 

 Valerie Willis’s Destiny’s Game also had the feeling of being part of a greater work or setting. It would appeal to those with a taste in paranormal romance, a la City of Bones or Beautiful Creatures. The use of angels was nicely done, and the pace of the work kept me engaged, as did the light dialogue. 

 Jeremy Rodden’s How to Create a Villain is set in his cartoon world of Toonopolis, a fantasy setting populated by animated creatures. Despite the comical setting the story is quite serious, and a good introduction to Rodden’s style and quirky characters. As a short story it works well, and definitely intrigued me into reading more (or at least waiting for the exclusive Netflix series it probably deserves—LOL).  

In amongst the other stories with their speculative fiction feel there were a few clunkers and a few real standouts. Troll by KA Smith was superb—a reflection on urban decay mirrored by the physical and psychological deterioration of a homeless man. The language was skilled and the prose excellent, as was the story conclusion. The Thief Gets Away by TRM was a perfect fantasy short, with quirkiness, spot on dialogue and two cool little creatures living in someone’s hair. Lost Time Memory by Sam Dogra, again, was a perfect short story—great structure and characterisation. A good indicator of a successful short story is when you want the story to be expanded further, that there’s more to tell within the setting—namely it has hooked you into the milieu. Wyrm by AFE Smith was similar to the aforementioned pair in this—a great fantasy short, with solid plot, characters and a suitable twist (even if you guessed it half-way through—LOL). 

And finally, given that the anthology is dedicated to her, it would be remiss not to mention Lindsey J Parson’s contributions: Matilda, and Phoenix Feather. Of the pair, Matilda really enticed me—a poignant tale of a witch entering the twilight of her years, and her last adventure, with a companion demon. As an illustration of Lindsey’s talent it sits perfectly in this collection of fantastical tales.

 The anthology is raising money for the World Literacy Foundation and for that reason alone it’s worth a purchase—but more than that it’s an excellent collection of diverse speculative fiction stories with some talented contributors. Definitely recommended.

Links are: 

For the kindle US, kindle UK and print editions respectively.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

WH40K Batrep: Space Wolves vs CSM

Here's a quick batrep for my game with son, Charlie, last night. 


From the shadows of the ruined monorail bridge Rune Priest Jarl Frostblade could discern the ruins of the colonist town of Krul. Once a thriving industrial centre the ongoing battles between the heretical forces of the Lords of Abberation and the space marines of the Empire had taken their toll. Choking black smoke lingered like a a malovelent presence between the skeletal shells of habitation. To the west a half destroyed cathedral loomed as a last vestige of the faith the colonists once held; a faith now in tatters.
 'Air support won't make it, my lord,' Wolf Brother Sergeant Karl Bloodfist reported. 'We have Fenrir Frostreaver's tac squad ready to advance towards the heretics on your command.' 
'Are we certain the Ion Accelerator is in the ruins north of the cathedral?' Jarl asked. 
'Recon are convinced, my lord,' Fenrir said. 'Sergeant Bjorn Trueclaw has his Wolf Guard ready to advance in the razorback.' 
Jarl glanced at the tank, then up at the bridge. The comms relay was positioned atop the bridge for optimal reception. It had to be kept secure from any chaotic forces.
'Then give the order to...' 
A sudden pain tore through his body, working like an incandescent snake inside his glowing terminator armour. He moaned and crumpled before the shocked Grey Hunters. 
'My lord..?'
'Pain. The warp, it's... screaming. The chaos forces... there must be something terrible... something unholy...'
'Then it shall fall beneath the sacred axes and claws of the brothers!' Fenrir said. 'Krom shall be proud. I will signal the advance, and for Sven's descent.'
 'P-praise the Allfather,' Jarl said, and gripped his force sword a little tighter.

The Set Up 

Mission: The Emperor's Will 

Points: 760 

 Space Wolves 

 Jarl Frostblade: Rune Priest (HQ), Terminator armour; force sword; storm bolter; ML1. Psyker: living lightning; Fury of Wolf Spirits 

 Sven the Relentless: Dreadnought, assault cannon, DD close combat weapon; Drop Pod 

 Bjorn Trueclaw's Wolfguard: WGPL (wolf claw; combi-plasma); 4x WG (combi-plasma); Razorback : TL- Lascannon 

 Fenrir Frostreaver's Grey Hunters: WGPL (frost axe); 6x GH (one plasmagun; all with extra CCW) 

Karl Bloodfist's grey Hunters : WGPL (power fist); 5x GH (as above)

Chaos Space Marines 

Tyrik Gorespawn, Demon Prince of Khorne (DP; wings; Axe of Blind Fury; power armour) 
 2 mutilators (two seperate unit choices) 
 1 CSM squad (5): plasmagun; rhino 
1 CSM squad (5): plasmagun 
 1 Heldrake (Hades autocannon)

CSM (Charlie) win initiative 

Round 1 

 Chaos move the rhino forward from the north-west ruins to behind the ruined cathedral, with the CSM squad inside. 

Tyrik the DP flies (in glide mode) across to the top of the north-east ruins so as to better sight his prey. The second CSM squad stays with a mutilator guarding the Ion Accelarator hidden deep in the north-west ruins. 

 Bjorn's squad in the razorback race up the centre of the battlefield past the old town hall in the centre. They spot the DP and fire the lascannon, but he makes his cover save. Fenrir's GH squad run across the muddy land towards the Cathedral ruins to try and gain a view of the north-west ruins. 

 With a roar, Sven the Relentless arrives in his drop pod landing immediately adjacent to the north-west ruins and the chaos objective. Sven emerges and fires his cannon and storm bolter at the CSM squad inside. His cannon kills a marine in a shower of gore. 

Round 2 

 In absence of the reserves arriving, Tyrik takes flight and glides towards Sven, axe eager for blood. The mutilator in the ruins moves to try get within charge range for Sven. The encamped CSMs fire a plasmagun at the dreadnought, but it fails to penetrate his tough armour. 

The second mutilator lurks around the side of the rhino as it moved into the midfield, its eyes on the Razoback rumbling towards him. Amazingly both charges fail, and the overwatch shot narrowly avoids wounding the mutilator near Sven. 

 Fenrir's squad enter the Cathedral and move through the ruins towards it's shattered north facing windows. Jarl decides that it is not the Space Wolf way to lurk in cover under a bridge and signals an advance with Karl's Grey Hunters. They run in the wake of the Razorback towards the old town hall in the centre field. 

 Bjorn Trueclaw's Wolf Guard disembrak from the Razorback and fire a volley of bolter shots at the mutilator, causing one wound. The Razorback targets Tyrik, taking a wound from him with a lascannon hit. 

Sven moves towards the mutilator, hoping to increase the distance between him and Tyrik, the DP, and fires his AC and SB at the mutilator but fails to wound. 

 Round 3 

 Still no Heldrake! The Space wolves breathe a sigh a relief. Which proves to be short-lived, as the CSMs in the ruins open fire on Bjorn's wolf-guard and kill two. 

The chaos rhino shoots its combi-bolter and kills another. The CSM squad emerge from the rhino on the far side and open fire at the Razorback, with a plsmagun and Krak grenade, but fail to damage its armour. 

With a terible roar, the mutilator charges at the remaining two Wolf Guard. They fire overwatch with their comb-plasmas and score two hits and kill the unholy creature!! First blood to Space Wolves.

A transient victory as on the far side of the north-west ruins, both the remaining mutilator and Tyrik charge at Sven. Through the hail of overwatch, the Demon Prince gains nine attacks from his artefact axe. All nine hit the dreadnought, and with 5 penetrating hits and 2 glances, the mighty Sven the Relentless explodes.

Mourning the loss of his brother, Jarl's squad move past the town hall into sight of the chaos rhino. Jarl inokes the Fury of the Wolf Spirits against the rhino, taking off a hull point. Karl Bloodfist's squad fire plasma and throw a Krak greande and both hit and destroy the rhino. 

With no cover to aid them the CSM squad are shot apart by Fenrir's squad in the Cathedral, killing three. The remaining two CSMs fail their morale and run. 

Seeing the north-west ruins and the objective nearby, the brave Wolf Guard charge towards the CSM in the ruins. But a rain of overwatch shots kill another of the elite guard, leaving only one. 

 Round 4 

 With a creak of his ancient wings, the Demon Prince lands in the north-west ruins to aid the CSn squad against the lone Wolf Guard. The mutilator moves around the edge of the ruins and charges towards the razorback, his unholy flesh springing two whirring chainfists. In a ball of fire the razorback explodes. 

 The skies explode into fire as a terrifying Heldrake arrives from reserves. Its Hades autocannon tears through the Cathedral windows and kills Fenrir and one of his brothers. The Grey Hunters fail morale, and run through the Cathedral and out the south exit. Tyrik unleashes the Axe of Blind Fury on the lone Wolf Guard in the ruins and atomises him with six AP2 hits. Chaos seem to be gaining the upper hand in the battle!! 

 Calling upon their courage, the Grey Hunters rally and move around the edge of the cathedral. Eager to avenge Fenrir, they fire at the Heldrake, joined by Jarl's squad, who fire plasma and conjure Living Lightning. Despite two hits at the airborne monster, they fail to penetrate its armour. 

 Round 5. 

Tyrik explodes from the North-west ruins, and soars towards the remanants of Fenrir's grey hunters. The mutilator follows his lead and charges at the squad. The brave marines fire a volley of bolters and plasma overwatch and score two hits, but both fail to wound. The DP crashes into them, Axe cleaving and rending and killing the whole sqaud. 

 Jarl and his grey hunters fire everything they have at the Demon Prince, managing to strip another wound off the vile creature. But it still has two wounds left, and is easily within charging distance. 

 Round 6 

 In a last onslaught the Demon Prince charges into Jarl's squad. With his first blows he strikes down Jarl in his terminator armour, and then massacres Karl's squad. Truly the Blood God had been satisfied on this fell day. 


 As the dark veil descended across Jarl Frostblade's vision he could see the huge demon hacking apart the brave warriors of the Fang. The warp swirled around Jarl, easing the pain of his sundered limbs, and his passage into the great hunting grounds of the afterlife. His one consollation was that Krom Dragongaze would come to learn of the massacre, and revenge was a drink best served hot and red to the famed Wolf Lord. 


 So there you have it--defeated by my lad in round 6, with his hefty Chaos list. Tactical errors on my part were (i) I should have combi-plasma'd the DP on round two, although out of rapid-fire range. Those five shots might have finished him, even though he's have a 4+ jink. (ii) I should have ignored the Heldrake and shot at the DP or mutilator in round four, even though he was in the ruins. A great laught though. Next game probably White Scars vs Tau. For the Greater Good!!!

Monday, 13 July 2015

Deadhouse Gates by Stephen Erikson

The second instalment of Stephen Erikson’s epic Malazan series was a re-read for me, having first read the book in close succession to Gardens of the Moon perhaps six or seven years ago now. I’d read them in my return to fantasy literature following a good decade of reading other genres, alongside the first three Songs of Fire and Ice, the first Farseer book by Robin Hobb, Scott Lynch’s Lies of Locke Lamora, and the first two Dragonlance trilogies. 

 Erikson’s book compares well against them all. He strikes a good balance between dark mature fantasy and accessible narrative. He’s easy to read in terms of structure and dialogue, yet doesn’t shy from a remarkable intricate and complex world. The world in question has a history of hundreds of millennia, with ancient races and immortal protagonists (called Ascendants) and superb magic systems. No surprise that it evolved as a setting for his (and Esselmont’s) role playing game—many aspects (the magic, the elite groups of characters, the demons and monsters) are very DnD-style. So naturally, he’s on a winner with me. 

 The book establishes a parallel storyline to that created in Gardens of the Moon. There are some characters who journey from GotM into this book, acting as a continuity of the narrative, and then a host of new characters sufficient to make you spend many hours flipping back and forth to the dramatis personae. 

Essentially the book is set on the continent of the Seven Cities as the natives begin an uprising against the Malazan Empire referred to as the Whirlwind. There are at least five definite plotlines interweaving through the book. Firstly, we have Kalam, Fiddler, Crokus and Apsalar from GotM, initially travelling to return Apsalar home, but then getting caught up in the initiation of the Whirlwind. Naturally, Kalam, as a super-assassin, has another mission in mind, part of which involves locating a house of Azath (which we saw at the finale of GotM in Darujhistan). 

 Secondly we have two new characters, Mappo and Icarium, whom I must say I really loved. They are wanderers, Icarium being a half-Jhagut and thus near immortal, and Mappo being a Trell assigned to accompany him. They find that a convergence is due on Seven Cities of races of shape changers, and they are investigating the source of this (which ties in with the first plotline quite neatly). This ‘Path of Hands’ is a way in which the shape changers may seek immortality (i.e. Ascendancy). 

 Thirdly we have a disparate group of prisoners sent to work in the otataral mines north-east of Seven Cities. The key characters are Felisin, who is the younger sister of Ganoes Paran (from GotM) and the new Adjunct to the Empress, Tavore, and Heboric, a former priest of the war god, Fener. This plotline is quite a disturbing one as Felisin compromises more and more to survive, and becomes a difficult character to warm to and empathise with. 

 Fourthly, we have a veteran soldier turned Imperial Historian, called Duiker who is attached to the new Fist, Coltaine, in the northern city of Hissar. Coltaine is a horse-barbarian who previously fought the Empire but is now subsumed into it. He takes command of the Malazan 7th Army and leads a convoy of refugees across the entire desert continent towards safety in the city of Aren. It is this plotline that is the backbone of the novel, with the other plotlines dipping in and out the events along the way. 

 Against all of these plotlines are the rich complex history and the concepts of interfering gods, intricate magic, and ancient races. What I like about Erikson is that he doesn’t pander to the audience or indeed patronise them. He cracks on with the story as if you are totally familiar with his milieu, and indeed the fact this was my second reading of the book was a great help!! He manages to tie seemingly disparate plotlines together without resorting to naff coincidences or deus ex machina. The reference to past events allows a construction of a sense of history and past in the narrative, adding to the realism of the setting. 

 Any criticisms? The abundance of characters makes characterisation tricky, and even the more frequent POV characters (Kalam, Fiddler, Duiker, Felisin) struggle to develop. In truth, only the latter two make any ‘journey’ of sorts as characters, and neither particularly cheerful ones. The dialogue can feel stilted at times, but that’s not peculiar for fantasy novels, and the occasional episodes of humour revolve mainly around banter. In fact, the tone in this book felt far grimmer than the first book, possibly because we were lacking any lighter characters (such as Kruppe and the guys from the Phoenix Inn, and the Eighties-action-movie banter of the Bridgeburners). It never gets to the exhaust-in-car levels of George RR Martin, but it teeters on the edge of unrelenting for most of the book. As is increasingly common in modern fantasy we have increasingly morally ambiguous characters, treading a fine line between hero and anti-hero, but Erikson writes them well and offers out characters with moral integrity to anchor the plot (for me: Fiddler, Duiker, and Mappo). 

 The series continues in Memories of Ice, which advances the GotM plotline and the characters from that (the Bridgeburners, the Phoenix Inn regulars, and the Tiste Andii), as well as more with regards the Ascendants, the gods and the main story arc of the series (the Crippled God). I’m starting on that after two beta-read/reviews of fellow Myrddin authors: going to be a fantasy summer!!

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Cover Reveal: Girls Can't be Knights by Lee French

One of my fellow authors on Myrddin, Lee French, releases her latest YA fantasy book soon. I'm really pleased to be doing a cover reveal for the book, and hope to get a copy for review soon.

The book champions strong female characters in a contemporary fantasy with ghostly knights. 

Left with only a locket after the death of her father, Claire is hopeless – until she meets Justin, an actual knight. Things get complicated when a ghost tries to devour her soul.

Sixteenyearold Claire has a hard time trusting anyone as a result of years in the foster care system, but things change when she forms a new friendship. Justin, a Spirit Knight, rides in on an actual horse and transforms her outlook on the world, while also saving her life from restless ghosts. But one question remains – how does she bear the knights’ mark on her soul? Everyone knows girls can’t be knights.

“’Girls Can’t Be Knights’ is a story of camaraderie and friendship,” Lee says.  “It’s a story about finding your place in the world with people who understand you, but it’s also about finding inner strength and being whoever you want – even a girl who’s a knight.”

“Girls Can’t Be Knights” is another in the long line of books in Lee French’s impressive career, which includes nine books, one trilogy, one epic fantasy series and a short story. Her works are popular among fantasy and paranormal readers, with many rereading books several times after purchase.

From the back cover:

Portland has a ghost problem.
Sixteenyearold Claire wants her father back. His death left her only memories and an empty locket. After six difficult years in foster care, her vocabulary no longer includes "hope" and "trust".

Everything changes when Justin rides his magical horse into her path and takes her under his wing. Like the rest of the elite men who serve as Spirit Knights, he hunts restless ghosts that devour the living.

When an evil spirit threatens Claire's life, she'll need Justin's help to survive. And how could she bear the Knights' mark on her soul? Everybody knows Girls Can't Be Knights.

About Lee French:

Lee French lives in Olympia, WA, and is the author of several books, most notably the Maze Beset Trilogy, The Greatest Sin series (coauthored with Erik Kort), and assorted tales in her fantasy setting, Ilauris. She is an avid gamer and active member of the MythWeavers online RPG community, where she is known for her fondness for Angry Ninja Squirrels of Doom. In addition to spending much time there, she also trains yearround for the oneweek of glorious madness that is RAGBRAI, has a nice flower garden with one dragon and absolutely no lawn gnomes, and tries in vain every year to grow vegetables that don’t get devoured by neighborhood wildlife.

She is an active member of the Northwest Independent Writer’s Association and the Olympia Writer’s Coop, as well as serving as the coMunicipal Liaison for the NaNoWriMo Olympia Region.

More on the book at a later date, including the release schedule! 

Monday, 18 May 2015

Gardens of the Moon and Me

I've just finished reading Stephen Erikson's Gardens of the Moon for the second time, and I must say the re-reading was of great benefit.

GotM is the first of ten books set in the world of the Malazan Empire. The setting was derived from a shared fantasy world developed by Erikson and his mate Esslemont during their role-playing years (think for DnD then GURPS) and is a wonderfully intricate and realised world. The scope is awesome: the race of T'lan Imass are 300,000 years old, magical pre- humans preserved by magic; there are ancient non-human races (Tiste Andii, like talk blue kick ass elves ); and a vast history, which given Erikson's background in anthropology are intelligently done.

The book begins part of the way into a story. Prior to the start (and touched on in the prologue ) the Malazan Empire undergoes a coup wherein a former assassin overthrows the old Emperor ( a sorcerer). This change is still in process creating an unstable atmosphere and uncertainty as you read as to characters allegiances.

Although a sticking point for some readers, I like the way that Erikson drops you into it with the characters, the magic, the history and so forth. It's difficult to follow at times (although much easier second time around ) but I appreciate Erikson's desire not to patronise his readership.

Interestingly, although much fuss was made of it, the plot itself isn't too complex. It's constrained slightly by the fact the author wrote it initially as a screen play, making it feel rather odd in its flow at times. There are several key plot lines with essentially four key groups- the Bridgeburners ( an elite unit of soldiers, who felt very cool and very Eighties action movie); the dudes from the Phoenix Inn ( the best being Rallick, an assassin, and Kruppe, a thief and Mage); Paron (a new noble captain) and Lorn (the adjunct to the empire). They all interweave credibly, and the narrative is then made bonkers by about a dozen sub-plots and evolving story arcs.
Some of this is at the expense of character development. Erikson creates great characters, and awesome heroes and anti- heroes ( like Anomander Drake ). He pulls in half a dozen gods and wannabe gods called Ascendants, but in doing so limits his developing characters to a few (such Paron and Crocus). Is that a problem? A little, as sometimes you feel the characters are incidental to plot when development is stagnant or limited.

I'd first read Gardens of the Moon, and it's next two sequels, Deadhouse Gates and Memories of Ice during my early days of writing Darkness Rising. Along with Song of Ice and Fire, The Lies of Locke Lamora, The Dying Earth, and The Painted Man - all books I read at the time- they played a key influence on how I created the world behind my work. Erikson's books showed me that it was ok to create a complex world, with a long history, and not have to info dump everything in the first ten pages (such as the tendency for fantasy authors to have creation myth prologues). His mature characters and plot lines, where not as intricate and adult as George RR Martin, were a big influence - as was the excellent magic system (the manipulation of mystical sub-dimensions called Warrens). I took a lot of inspiration from the first three books, and for that reason more than any, I want to continue the series to its end.

Strangely reading it again has started poking my brain to create a new series, with a more adult tone. I created Darkness Rising with a desire to write a series with interesting characters, punchy modern dialogue, with full-on almost comic-book action and a nod to role-playing games. With the new series I'd like to try moral ambiguity, a more subtle magical system, and a few hints of classic speculative fiction (Jack Vance and Zelazny). So, second Nu-Knights book first, edit DR6, then... a new trilogy.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

A series without fear: reflections on Daredevil

I've just finished watching the new Netflix series, Daredevil, and thought it'd be good to review and share some thoughts on it. Take this as a (minor) spoiler alert, so don't read on if your worried about any reveals.

Attempts to get DD onto the screen have had a chequered past. Although a popular character, especially following the seminal Miller era (early 80s) his first TV appearance was during The Trial of the Incredible Hulk ( 1989 ). I remember watching this and liking DDs different costume (actually similar to one in TV series).

The next attempt was Ben Affleck's version in 2003, directed by Mark Stephen Johnson (who also did Elektra and Ghost Rider). Although panned, I did quite enjoy a lot of it- Jennifer Garner's Elektra was cool, Colin Farrell was funny as Bullseye, and Michael Clarke Duncan's Kingpin was very good.
But fans generally disliked it, and indeed capturing the comic's balance of noir, religion, superhero dudes, and realism is a tricky business.

And the new Daredevil seems to be getting it right. It comes with good geek pedigree: Drew Goddard (Buffy, Angel, Alias, Lost, Cabin in the Woods) kicked it off then handed over to Steven DeKnight (Buffy, Smallville, Angel, Dollshouse and-er-Spartacus). The writers have quite clearly taken the noir style of the seminal Miller era Daredevil- the original run in which Elektra was developed and DD starting chucking folk off buildings; the Born Again run; and the Mini-series Man Without Fear. It's fair to say Frank Miller's work lends itself to films (Sin City, 300) and the writers create a conflicted, unsettling almost anti- hero in Daredevil.

To say it is violent is an understatement. It's probably secondary only to Watchmen (and I suppose Kick Ass) in its visceral violence. Mostly the violence is fair enough- the fist fights are bone crunchingly spot on, lots of martial arts ( that fit with the origin in which his sensei, Stick, teaches him) and bloodied faces. There are times when it veers into the excessive: a murder with a bowling ball in part 3; the Kingpin, well, in about a dozen places (crushing someone's head repeatedly in a car door; hammering to death; battering a minion etc); knife through throat; impaling own head on spikes; fair bit of blood spatter.

Has it gone too far in its pitch to the more mature audience? Tricky. Certainly in places it fits with the mood and plot, but I'm not certain it's vital to the overall series. We didn't need the sound of a crushing skull and blood running in streams from the underside of a car to know what the Kingpin had done. And Vincent d' Onofrio is good enough to create a sense of tension and dread when he's on screen without the gore.
And Vincent really is the star of the series. His acting is incredible and the build up of Fisk's story and characterisation is great- powerful scenes, palpable tension, a surprisingly awkward and sweet start to his romance with Vanessa. Just fab. They'll do well to maintain the quality with the other sub plots in series 2.

The evolution of the story, the origin and childhood scenes, the developments with Foggy are also excellently written. I can honestly say it didn't bore me at all. The episode with Stick felt a slight speed bump in the series, but it was needed to embellish the origin and set up plots for series 2 (I assume with The Hand, and Elektra).

The tie ins with the rest of the Marvel Universe are subtle, in a similar vein to SHIELD, with references to the attack on New York in Avengers1, and jokes about guys in tin suits, or with big hammers. 
And the costume? I sort of got used to the ninja get up, but if they make it more like the film's suit then I'll be happier.

So, all in all, definitely recommended. An excellent series and representation of the comic. Plenty of plot strands for series 2, and linked series such as Jessica Jones, Power Man, Iron Fist etc. hopefully they'll be a bit more accessible for the younger viewers, with less violence, but I suspect not. And, what the hey, maybe it was time for superheroes for grown ups?

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Huw the Bard

My current reading speed is that of a five year old, what with extra work to fund the ongoing house patch up, and my addiction to painting plastic crack (warhammer minatures).

So it is with a satisfied grin that I have completed the excellent Huw the Bard by Connie Jasperson. Connie, as you may recall, is a writer and editor involved in Myrddin Publishing- in fact she edited books 3 and 5 of the Prism series. She is a major fantasy buff, and her clear intuition of the genre comes across in her work.

Huw the Bard is a prequel to Connie's The Last Good Knight, a book I hold in particular affection as it was one of the first Indie books I read several years ago when I first heard of self-publishing.

It follows the journey of Huw Olwyn, a bard fleeing the massacre of his fellows/family, as he escapes northward admidst political upheavals. The journey acts as a framework on which Jasperson fleshes out the history of Huw's world, and matures his character. The detail of the fantasy world is, as expected, very intricate and well constructed. The regional politics, the clans, how that sits with the feudal system and magic has enough detail to satisfy the reader without intruding on the flow.

The narrative is very cleverly done. I found it's style quite unique, almost as if the prose was part of a ballad that Huw was recounting. The humour is well done, and balances well with some fairly intense scenes of violence and sexual content. The fact these aspects are handled in a very sensitive and empathic way are a testament to Jasperson's skill as a writer. Personally I struggle with such scenes, and given one is a particularly harrowing marital rape, it is dealt with very adeptly. I do worry that such scenes have crept into modern fantasy works more since Game of Thrones, yet this aspect of the book is particularly key to Huw's maturation and vindication.

Inevitably the appearance of the various key characters in The Last Good Knight pepper the book, and help drive Huw's journey north. The encounters with monsters and creatures in the latter part of the book contrasts with the threats of evil nobles and their cronies in the earlier sections- and this progress in the story brought to mind elements of role playing games, and authors such as Jack Vance and Moorcock. A fitting pedigree for this excellent book to join.

Ultimately the book is a great introduction to the world, and a good fantasy read very different to many 'fantasy by numbers' currently out there now.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Da Secret Waaaggghhhh.

The ongoing addiction to plastic crack has meant that Charlie and I have six armies on the go in 40k. This means great variety to the games, and a great motivation to paint as when I get bored with one style is change to another.

The most recent pair are Space Wolves and Orks, via the Stormclaw box set I got for my birthday. Space Wolves are fab- I love the Viking ethos and the detail of the miniatures. But Orks are my fave at present- the style of the figures, the bonkers codex, and the flexibility during modelling and painting all appeal.

So here's the progress so far. The colour schemes of the main tribes didn't appeal, as they repeated colours from the other armies (yellow from Eldar, red/blue from Chaos) or was not to my taste (black for Goffs). So I did my own- purple and red, with a few chequers as I got more confident with it. 

Now purple to Orks is a colour of sneakiness, after all you've never seen a Purple Ork. Red is for speed- because it... Just is. So I present the fledgling Ork Tribe- Da Secret Waaagghh. An off-shoot of the Goff clan, so focused on big Choppas and Klaws, replete with huge Nobz, and a huge warboss.

Da Big Boss, Morgok Goregargler, leads the tribe. Formed from the remnants of a Goff horde slaughtered by Krom Dragongaze's Space Wolves, Morgok decided that his Orks needed to combine sheer strength and brutality with cunning. By painting their armour purple it would allow them to sneak close enough to the enemy to unleash a mighty Waaagghh and rip them to shreds. This purple was good enough to let them run down the middle of a battlefield without problem- at least in Morgok's twisted brain it was...


Morgok wears mega armour, with a massive Power Klaw and big shoota built in. He usually leads his trusted Nobz into the fray, laughing at the bolter rounds skittering off his armour. 

Although convinced of the might of Orks, Morgok's hatred of the Imperium has meant he has allied with Chaos Marines a number of times in the past.

Gort Da Shredda

Morgok's trusted lieutenant is Gort , a massive warboss with a huge buzz saw grafted into his cybork power klaw. Gort's love of pain means he shuns mega armour and sees each bolter hole in his green flesh as a medal to be proud of. His faithful attack squig, NumNum, drags him across the battlefield with zeal.

Morgok's Mutilators 

The elite Nobz are the backbone of Da Secret Waaagghh, whether kicking the Boyz into shape, or as a distinct unit charging by Da Big Boss's side. They carry a mix of Big Choppas and Klaws. Currently I have eight, one having a combi-flamer for fun, and the Boss Nob (yet to paint, has a Waaagghh banner for Da win).

Da Boyz

I've got 36 of these dudes now, and have made it through 9 so far- a quarter done!!
They are mainly Slugga Boyz, with some shootas and big shootas. Gonna foot slog them across the field with a mighty Waaagghh!!

Da Kanz

The only heavy support so far, the Killa Kans, I really enjoyed painting. I think the clunky home made style is v Orky, even if they're not so robust in games as Dreadnoughts.

The Kans are piloted by the Mucuz brothers, three Grots who are convinced they are triplets. Not renowned for their bravery, they prefer to hang back and fire at a safe distance.

Scuzbucket's Stormboyz

My fave unit so far, the Stormboyz roar through the air in clouds of smoke and fuel. Led by the fearsome Nob, Scuzbucket, whose power klaw has an affinity for Space Marines, they are the main strike force for Da  Secret Waaagghh.

And Da Rest

Left to paint (not including 20+ Boyz) are a Runtbot (probably proxy a Kan or DeffDread), a Commisar, a Deffkopta, Boss Zagstruck, and 10 Gretchin with their runtherd. I'll post those as I do them, although I might have an Ork break and paint Tau and Wolves next.

Next steps for the army are Lootas and maybe some Ork planes and more Deffkoptas. Also, a Mek and Nob Bikers... Gaaahhh, damn that plastic crack...