Saturday, 30 May 2009

Patrick Rothfuss book signing

I was hoping to blog sooner about Patrick Rothfuss's appearance at Manchester Waterstones last Thursday, but Friday night was a bit messy (there was alcohol involved) and then today was taken up with dozing off my hangover in the sublime weather we're having in England at the moment. And then there was the small matter of the FA Cup final...

Anyway, to the point. The Rothfuss gig was pretty well-attended, with about 40-45 fans turning up. Not the biggest crowd I've seen (GRRM attracted well over a hundred) but it was easily one of the most enjoyable author events I've attended.

Things I learned about Pat Rothfuss:

1) He's not quite as scary in real life as he looks in photos (and man, can he look terrifying in photos!).

2) He does, however, still look like the bastard offspring of Rasputin and a grizzly bear. Which is cool, let's be honest.

3) His beard is friggin' awesome.

4) He has this amazing Santa Claus laugh. Really, it's fantastic. When that lovely beard of his eventually turns to grey, he'll make an excellent Father Christmas.

5) He's a very, very nice guy. And very, very entertaining.

Seriously though, it was a great evening. Rothfuss is very down-to-Earth and has a great sense of humour, and provided plenty of laughs. One highlight was when a fan asked him: "Joe Abercrombie says you have the best beard in fantasy. What would you like to say back?" Pat thought about it, then eventually replied, "I'm a little jealous that Abercrombie's author photo is better than mine. I think someone should put a dent in his handsome face!" Much laughter at that, and no doubt this information will be fed back to Joe at his signing next week...

The structure of the event was pretty standard - Q&A for an hour or so, then a reading (from The Wise Man's Fear) and then the book signing. As you can see above, I managed to get my picture taken with Pat and he was kind enough to scribble on my first-edition US hardback copy of The Name of the Wind. I also picked up a paperback version, so I now have a copy I can take on the train - and thus read! Because - although there was no way I was joining the single brave soul who admitted to not having read the book when Pat asked) I still haven't read it. Must rectify that soon.

Pat confirmed that The Wise Man's Fear should surface next year. He also confirmed that there will be a third book to finish the trilogy, and then potentially a few stand-alone novels set in the same world. He said that he wouldn't have wanted the Wheel of Time gig for all the money in the world and that it's in very good hands with Brandon Sanderson, he very much enjoyed Abercrombie's trilogy, and that Nation by Terry Pratchett is a superb book. Ought to check that one out...

So overall, a great evening. Hopefully Pat will come back for another one once The Wise Man's Fear is done and dusted...

Friday, 29 May 2009

The Painted Man optioned for film

From Peter V. Brett's blog:

"I am pleased to report that I have on my desk a signed film option contract with a major Hollywood director for The Painted Man and subsequent books in the franchise.

Said director has asked to not be mentioned by name until midsummer when he is finished packaging his latest blockbuster, but rest assured, he has some serious SF movie cred. We met personally a few months ago and talked for hours about the book and how it might translate into film. I left feeling very confident that we were on the same page, and that he was genuine about his commitment to the project.

It is going to be AWESOME.

That is all for now."

That's pretty big news for a debut author, and no doubt will excite fans of The Painted Man. Funnily enough I'm actually reading this novel at the minute (about 150 pages in) so look out for a review probably around this time next week.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Tim Lebbon giveaway winner!

Apologies for the delay in announcing the winner of the Fallen giveaway - was meant to blog it up last night but the Champions League Final got in the way...

In any case, I can confirm that the lucky person who will be receiving a copy of Tim Lebbon's enjoyable adventure romp is...

Casey Buell!

Hard luck to the rest of you, and thanks for all of your entries.

Right, I need to go and get ready for the Pat Rothfuss gig. In true legendary style I've managed to leave my ticket at home... I'll hopefully blog about the event later tonight, or possibly tomorrow...presuming I actually get in. :)

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Book review: The City and the City

The City and the City

By China Miéville

(Macmillan, 15 May 2009)

China Miéville, with his novel The Scar (review here), single-handedly changed the way I viewed the fantasy genre. The sheer innovation and refusal to adhere to the norm made me realise just how much potential lies in the genre, while the superb prose meant the novel transcended the usual middle-of-the-road writing that characterises many of the genre's more popular novels. In short, I was massively impressed. Subsequently, I expected great things of his new novel The City and the City.

As some other reviews have noted, Miéville actually requested an embargo on revealing the key premise that underpins The City and the City, to avoid ruining the reading experience. Given that the book has now been released, I've no idea whether this embargo is still in place. In any case, I don't really have the patience to try and explain the premise (it's certainly not something you come across every day - some will see it as ridiculous, others as brilliant). It will suffice to say that one of the main themes of the novel is borders and identity, and this plays a crucial role in proceedings.

Intriguing premise aside, the actual plot boils down to a reasonably typical crime storyline: Inspector Tyador Borlú is called on to investigate the murder of a young woman in the fictional eastern European city of Besźel. It soon becomes apparent that sinister forces are at work, and that to follow the murder trail Borlú will have to cross physical and psychological borders, as his investigation leads him to the more exotic city of Ul Qoma, Besźel's neighbour and political rival.

Miéville has already proven himself immensely skilled at portraying urban environments (Perdido Street Station is probably the novel that springs to most fans' minds, but check out his short story The Tain as well). His talent for bringing cities to life and understanding of what gives them their characteristics - their soul - is on display here in full force. The cities of Besźel and Ul Qoma - so close together, yet so distant in their respective personalities - are well drawn and developed. Miéville's prose and dialogue (excellent, as always) is largely responsible, creating two distinct atmospheres - Besźel is wonderfully bleak and almost desolate at times, while Ul Qoma is beguilingly exotic.

With a typically innovative premise that offers so much potential, two detailed, atmospheric settings, and noir-soaked, stylish prose, the stage is set for a fantastic novel. Unfortunately (perhaps even surprisingly), it doesn't happen. Two main issues hampered my enjoyment of the book, and ultimately cancel out the fine work that Miéville's done with the premise and setting.

The first is the characters - they're shallow. Disappointingly so. Take the protagonist, Tyador Borlú. At the end of novel, we know precious little more about him than we do at the start. In terms of background, there's just not enough to flesh him out - he lives alone, sees two different woman that are not aware of each other. That's it. Sure, we see his various qualities, but for me he just wasn't a character that interested me, he had no vices or obvious flaws. There was no real personal struggle or sacrifice involved in the resolution of the plot. The same problem arises with the other major characters - they're fleshed out just enough to give them some sort of personality, but again there's no depth and no real connection between any of them. Perhaps this was deliberate, to further the isolated, paranoid nature of the setting, but it didn't work for me - I just didn't really care about any of them. Compared to the various personalities encountered in The Scar, the characterisation in The City and the City comes across as bland.

The other bone of contention I have is with the plot. While it kept me guessing, events unfolded so slowly that I struggled to maintain my interest. Events did eventually come to a head late on, but I would have liked more urgency throughout the novel, a bit more action, a bit more tension. Too much of the time Borlú just seemed to plod around talking to members of various political groups, with precious little of interest happening. Perhaps this is a realistic take on a police investigation, but it doesn't make for exciting reading. I was also rather underwhelmed by the eventual revelations as to who was behind the murder. While there was one good twist, I couldn't even remember who one of the main villains was - I think he appeared in one scene about 200 pages before, a fleeting appearance, and then disappeared again until the end.

You can level other criticisms at The City and the City - some of my fellow bloggers, for example, remained unconvinced by the behaviour of the citizens and the actual practicalities involved in maintaining the boundaries between the cities and their separate identities. While I did find it hard to suspend my belief at times, this wasn't really a problem for me - at least, not nearly as much as the lack of characterisation and the slow plot.

Verdict: The City and the City hasn't changed my opinion of China Miéville - I still believe he's hugely important to the genre, and that as an innovator he's without peer. It has made me realise, however, that perhaps he's better off sticking to secondary world fiction, where he's able to draw upon the full force of his imagination. The City and the City, while far from a bad novel, is ultimately just a pale imitation of the brilliance that can be found in the likes of The Scar. Perhaps it's unfair to compare the two, given their differences, but ultimately a novel - whatever genre its in - needs to have strong characters to succeed, and in my view this is where The City and the City falls short.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Thoughts on some films...

Thought I'd just give my opinion on some films that I've seen recently...

Quantum of Solace

I thought Casino Royale was a real triumph - a successful reinvention of the franchise (or, some would say, a reversion to a more accurate depiction of the Bond from Fleming's novels - minus the misogyny). Daniel Craig made for an excellent Bond - cool and collected, hard as nails, yet compassionate as well. I liked the new focus on realism rather than on pithy one-liners and ridiculous gadgets (I don't care what anyone says, that 'invisible' car was the dumbest thing I've ever seen in a film).

I expected good things of Quantum of Solace, so was extremely disappointed to find that it didn't meet my expectations. Craig once again turned in an admirable performance as Bond, but the weak plot and lack of any real connection between Bond and Camille undermined the film for me. It just came across as a series of gunfights linked by tenuous plotting, and had me hankering for a gadget or two and a bit of the old banter again.

If you want to see how a spy action thriller should be done, check out the Jason Bourne films - they do everything the Bond films do, but much, much better. The third one in particular, The Bourne Ultimatum, is superb.

Star Trek

I've never been into Star Trek, so a new film aiming to re-introduce the franchise to the unconverted was a good opportunity to see whether I was missing out.

Overall this is a watchable film, but certain aspects let it down. I didn't like the huge gap in the timeline for a start - one minute our young heroes are joining up at Starfleet Academy, the next minute they're well into their third year. So three years disappears in a flash, and for some reason this bothered me. I would have quite liked to see the sort of stuff they got up to there, a bit like how in Starship Troopers we get to see how the recruits are put through their paces.

I thought Zachary Quinto was very good as Spock, though Chris Pine as Kirk didn't quite work - not sure whether this was Pine's fault or due to the script, but Kirk in this film is a walking caricature - a bland, cocky local-boy-come-good. There are hints of a deeper characterisation, but not enough. His difficult relationship with Spock is reasonably well handled though.

The film's plot is also a bit weak, a little underwhelming. I really liked the Romulans - their spaceship is extremely cool - but we don't really see or learn much about them. Still, it's far from a bad movie and if they make a follow-up then I expect I'll check it out.

Angels and Demons

Probably the most positive thing you can say about Dan Brown's hugely popular, much-derided novel The Da Vinci Code is that at least it's better than the dull film version. Yet as bland as the film was, it unsurprisingly made a load of cash and so another film was inevitable.

Angels and Demons isn't much better. I've read the novel, and if you can ignore the total lack of characterisation and wooden prose, and suspend your belief enough, it's a reasonably enjoyable read. The film manages to replicate the non-existant characterisation (there's absolutely no connection of any sort between Langdon and Vittoria, nor any depth to them individually) but somehow manages to lose whatever it was that made the novel vaguely entertaining.

It's watchable bubble-gum fare, but nothing more than that. Still, at least they changed the ludicrous helicopter scene from the novel to something a little more believable.

Some upcoming signings at Manchester Waterstones

There's some pretty cool book signings lined up for the next two weeks at Manchester Waterstones in Deansgate.

First up is Patrick Rothfuss, who shot to fame with his much-lauded debut novel The Name of the Wind in 2007. Pat will be appearing on 28 May at 7 pm for some chitchat and book-signing action.

He's followed by Joe Abercrombie, who will be signing copies of his well-received new novel Best Served Cold on 4 June.

Finally, Guillermo del Toro (director of Pan's Labyrinth, the two Hellboy movies and the upcoming Hobbit film) will be signing copies of his novel The Strain, written in collboration with Chuck Hogan. Del Toro will be appearing on 8 June.

I've picked up my tickets for the Rothfuss and Abercrombie events, which will hopefully be lots of fun. Not sure if I'll make the del Toro signing.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

European adventures: Venice, Verona and Lake Garda

Finally managed to find the time to post up some photos of my recent jaunt to Venice and the Veneto. I originally intended to just post up a few snaps, but it was such an awesome trip with so many cool sights that I've ended up posting far more. We spent three days in Venice, three days in Verona and four days in Lake Garda. This part of Italy is just as beautiful as I remembered; I totally recommend this trip. Travelling around is made easy by the Italian trains, which are cleaner, cheaper and faster than the crap relics we have shuddering along the tracks in the UK.

Anyway, enough rambling. Here's the photos, with captions underneath. As usual the formatting is a little uneven, but it's the best I can do. Sort it out please google... ;)

View of the mouth of the Grand Canal, from the top of the Campanile in Piazza San Marco

The Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, probably my favourite building in Venice

View of the Grand Canal, taken from the Rialto Bridge (note the gondola in the centre)

Another view of the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute

Gondola on a typical Venice canal

Entrance to the Doge's Palace

Front of Basilica di San Marco

Close-up detail of one of the reliefs on Basilica di San Marco

Porphyry statue (4th century) of the four Tetrarchs that co-ruled the later Roman Empire, stolen from Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade in 1204. And me :)

The entrance to the Arsenal, the key to Venice's naval power in the sixteenth century. Here, the 16,000 workers could allegedly turn out a ship a day

Lion statue (circa first/second century AD) outside the entrance to the Arsenal, stolen from Piraeus, Greece, in 1687 during the Great Turkish War against the Ottoman Empire

Random building on the Grand Canal

Classic view of hillside in Verona

Houses in Piazza delle Erbe

The balcony where Juliet is meant to have waited for Romeo (a totally false historical connection, but it's a nice scene)

Graffiti in the entrance to Juliet's balcony

Verona's Roman arena, completed 30 AD. Third largest in Italy, and could seat 25,000 people. What you can see here is actually the internal support structure - most of the actual exterior no longer remains

The Arco dei Gavi, a Roman triumphal arch built in the 1st century AD. Reconstructed in 1932 after being destroyed by French troops in 1805

The Italians love their ice cream, and damned good it is too. The blue variety you see here is called puffo, which I think is bubblegum flavour (at least, that's what it tasted of)

The Giardino Giusti, a fantastic Renaissance garden in Verona

Me, with lemon tree :)

The Scaligeri castle at Sirmione on Lake Garda (13th century)

Me at the ruins of the (huge) Roman Villa to the north of Sirmione. Seriously impressive. Said to have been owned by the Roman poet Catullus, this is in fact impossible as he lived before the villa was constructed

A view of the main entrance to the Roman villa

One of the towns on Lake Garda - can't actually remember which one!

The Scaligeri castle (13th century) at Malcesine, Lake Garda. This was actually the view from our hotel balcony

View from the top of Monte Baldo - note the cable car cables

Another view from Monte Baldo

Me atop Monte Baldo - you can see the northern edge of Lake Garda in the bottom left

Another view from Monte Baldo
Argh, looking at all these pictures has got me hungry for some more travelling... I'm hoping to head back to Italy in September to visit Pisa, Florence and Bologna, but we'll see...

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Tim Lebbon interview + giveaway + excerpt!

Today I'm pleased to host UK author Tim Lebbon at Speculative Horizons, as part of his blog tour. This is the fifth stop on Tim's tour, so do check out his other appearances at My Favourite Books, the Allison and Busby website, Highlander's Book Reviews and Falcata Times.

Right, let's get started. I've conducted an exclusive interview with Tim about Fallen and the genre in general, but before we get onto that, here are some bonus extras:

First up, I have a copy of Tim's novel Fallen (review here) to give away to one lucky person. Normal procedure - just shoot an email to speculativehorizons AT googlemail Dot com, with your full name. As usual, no need to provide your address - I'll contact the winner and obtain that later. The deadline is midnight next Wednesday (27 May). I'll pick the winner at random on the Thursday. Best of luck...

If you fancy being in with a chance of winning a copy of Tim's latest novel The Island, his publisher is running a giveaway here. The code to enter is LULAH.

If you've read my review of Fallen and are not sure whether it's your cup of tea, then you can check out an extract here. This extract is the fifth in a sequence, following on from those released on Tim's previous blog stops. The next will be made available when Tim visits FantasyBookSpot (BSCreview).

If that wasn't enough Lebbon goodness, here's the interview!

Fallen takes place 4000 years before the events of Dusk and Dawn, while you've also mentioned that you have an idea for a post-apocalyptic novel, called Lost Times, set in the same world but thousands of years in the future. That's quite a lot of timeline jumping - what attracted you to writing stories set in these different time periods?

After DUSK and DAWN, I wanted to move away a little from that particular time in Noreelan history. I'd created a whole new world, and the more I wrote the more I realised there was a vast history here to tap into. In DUSK and DAWN I mentioned the Sleeping Gods (and for those who've read DAWN, you might remember Hope's encounter with one), and these beings really intrigued me ... I wanted to go back closer to the time when they went down to sleep, examine what the people of Noreela back then might think of the Sleeping Gods. And there were also lots of other asides in the first two books that planted ideas in my mind ... writing those books was like dipping into the history books of a real world, and I wanted to find out more.

Writing novels set in the same world but at different times must surely mean quite a lot of worldbuilding on your part. Where do you stand on the old worldbuilding versus characterisation argument? Which is more important to a story, or are they both of equal value?

Interesting question, but I think they're two disparate aspects of writing any novel. Set a book in contemporary Wales and there's still world-building to do ... you need to make the world real and believable to the readers as it applies to the novel, because your story has to play out against a certain backdrop. A fantasy world is a step onward from that, of course, but in some ways it can be easier. This is my world, I make it all up, so I can't get anything wrong! The world itself becomes a character, and I like to think Noreela is a fascinating, complex land – it was great fun creating my own flora and fauna, landscape, people, religion, drugs, booze, and history.
As for characterisation ... it's just as important in a fantasy novel as any other. Characters bring a book to life, and the world you build for them is their backdrop. Great world, crap characters, and the book won’t work.

One of the aspects I liked the most about Fallen were the characters of Ramus and Nomi - their relationship was extremely realistic and intriguing. How do you go about creating believable characters?

I've written elsewhere about how these two characters were the initial inspiration for this novel – they introduced themselves to me, and the rest of FALLEN built itself around them. So from the very beginning they seemed like very real characters, even before I'd written their names down for the first time. I think liking your characters is important for writing them realistically, even if they're the most evil bastard ever. And real characters have both good and bad sides. Other than that ... I try not to analyse how I create my characters, in case thinking about it too much changes how it works.

While I hesitate to refer to Fallen as a 'quest fantasy', it's in many ways a traditional adventure story. What are the drawbacks of this format? Given that you're focusing on a handful of individuals, how do you stop proceedings from becoming a little stale?

Writing a quest novel doesn’t necessarily make it a cliché, I don’t think … any journey novel can attract such comments, but what sets it apart is the characters, plot, background, the soul of the novel. I think FALLEN has soul, and that resides mainly in the conflict between the two main characters. Setting them out on a quest give me an opportunity to explore Noreela some more.
As for the book not becoming stale, it’s the story that keeps it running. I think Ramus and Nomi are two of the best characters I’ve ever written, and they’d easily carry the book on their own, if I’d chosen to write it that way. But I didn’t … had far too much fun having those Serians along for the ride!
Interestingly, the fourth novel in the Noreela sequence, THE ISLAND, is set entirely in a coastal fishing village. Maybe I’m getting comfortable enough with Noreela to not have to explore it every time.

In my opinion, too many fantasy authors seem content to trot out the same bog-standard story in bland, copy-cat medieval worlds. How important therefore is innovation to the genre? Does fantasy need to become more innovative to truly thrive? Or is nothing truly original anymore?

I often hear the ‘nothing is original’ argument, and I think it’s sometimes used to criticize lazy writing or sub-standard plotting. When I set out writing books set in Noreela, I was excited about creating this new world, and also keen to not mine the usual fantasy tropes such as elves, unicorns, dragons etc. Not that there’s anything wrong with these, in the right hands … I just didn’t think my hands could carry them. So I set myself a challenge, I guess. Really enjoyed it, and I hope it paid off.
Innovation is obviously a good thing for any genre, because some people like reading new, fresh ideas. Some people, however, like reading stuff that’s quite familiar. I think FALLEN is a little different, and I always set out to try and be original. I write what interests me, what I want to write, and it usually turns out OK.

The mainstream view of fantasy generally tends to be negative. As a fantasy writer, does this bother you? Furthermore, does it even matter?

It’s a pigeonhole, and for those outside who don’t read this particular genre, it’ll always be viewed in a certain way. Horror gets the same treatment—I don’t know how many times I’ve told people I’m a horror and fantasy writer and they say, “Oh, monsters and dragons?” and then admit they’ve never read either. You can’t alter perception (which in these people is usually dictated by how horror and fantasy are represented in cinema, anyway, rather than a result of genre books they might have read), other than by forcing them to read something they wouldn’t otherwise. I’ve given my books to loads of people around my village, and inevitably the response is, “Wow, that wasn’t what I expected.” Preconceptions exist, and always will. Does it matter? Of course … if everyone was a little more open-minded, we’d all sell more books.

Going back to Fallen, I was intrigued by the Serians and their dangerous homeland of Mancoseria. Can we look forward to seeing more of this wild land and its people in future novels? Surely there's a story in there somewhere?

Never say never. I’ve nothing planned at the moment, but they do intrigue me (I’ve been accused of examining their background a little too much in FALLEN, but I think the Serians and their history are fascinating). Maybe one day.

Moving on to writing in general, what does you daily routine look like? Do you have a daily word-count that you strive to meet come what may, or do you just take it as it comes?

I’ve got a wife, two kids and a dog, so I tend to work ‘normal’ working hours, from 9 to 5-ish. I work evenings as well, much of the time, and sometimes early in the morning. As for word count, if I’m stuck into a novel I aim for 4,000 words per day. Occasionally I write more than that, sometimes less, but setting a target helps. I work well to deadlines, so I’ll set a personal one if there’s no contractual deadline yet in writing.
I also quite enjoy days like today … doing this interview, a novel proposal to work on later, and a short story to polish before sending off. But in a few days I’ll be keen to get back into the novel I’m currently writing with Chris Golden.

All writers seem to have different methods of writing. Some outline in great detail, some in a little detail, and others don't bother at all. What's your preferred method?

I start a novel with an idea, then a few pages of random notes, and from this I’ll come up with a proposal (which my publisher usually needs to make an offer). I then completely ignore this and launch into the first chapter. There’ll be a vague shape in my head, and I plan a few scenes or a couple of chapters ahead as I go. So there’s never a detailed, overall plan … writing a novel for me is often like reading, and I’m always keen to get to the end to see what happens.

What has been your biggest mistake that you've made as a writer?

I’ve no regrets. But I have great plans.

- - -

Many thanks to Tim for the interview and to his publisher for giving me the chance to take part in his blog tour! Check out Tim's website here.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Book review: Fallen


By Tim Lebbon

(Allison & Busby, 11 August 2008)

Tim Lebbon's one of these interesting cases: a New York Times best-selling author, a winner of multiple awards including a British Fantasy Award for his novel Dusk, and yet his name rarely seems to crop up in online discussion.

I'd been meaning to check out Dusk ever since I read part of an excerpt and quite liked it. I was therefore pleased when Lebbon's UK publisher, Allison & Busby, kindly offered to send me a copy of his latest book, Fallen.

Taking place in the world of Noreela - the same world that features in Dusk and its sequel Dawn - Fallen is both an adventure story and an examination of how sometimes the personal psychological journeys we undertake are more significant than the physical.

Ramus and Nomi are members of the Guild of Voyagers, an organisation that seeks to explore the untamed wilds of Noreela and reveal them to the rest of civilisation. When they obtain some obscure documents from a mysterious traveller, they set about preparing for the voyage of a lifetime. Their destination is the Great Divide - a massive, sheer cliff that borders one edge of Noreela and rises up into the clouds. They're travelling into the unknown, as no one has ever scaled the cliff. While the thrill of discovery is a motivating factor, it's the promise of what is hidden away atop the Great Divide that drives them on. If the ancient documents are accurate, then what they will find at the top of the Great Divide - if they ever reach the top - will change the world and re-write history.

I think what attracted me to Fallen was the adventure angle. I wouldn't go as far as calling it a 'quest novel' (why does that term seem so negative these days?) but it's certainly a book about journeys, both mental and physical, which is a throwback to the kind of stories I read when I was younger. It had been a while since I'd read a novel that focused solely on the travels of a group of companions, so I was eager to see what Lebbon could do with the idea.

The crucial thing for this sort of story, in my opinion, is to get the characterisation right (of course, this is crucial for all novels - but particularly so when the entire story focuses on a handful of people). Sure, the characters can battle all sorts of monsters and explore cool exotic locations, but if there's no conflict within the group, no friction in their relationships, then the whole novel is going to fall flat.

Fortunately, Lebbon does a commendable job here. The relationship between the two protagonists, Ramus and Nomi, is both complex and believable. I very much enjoyed seeing them struggle with their feelings towards each other, and the problems that were caused by the involvement of a third party (which resulted in an intriguing triangle of emotion). Ramus and Nomi's relationship is really what drives the story on in the earlier part of the novel. You know an author is doing something right when not a lot is really happening, yet you're utterly hooked. It only becomes more intriguing as dark secrets start to be revealed.

With the strong characterisation firmly in place, the stage is set for a decent adventure. Lebbon delivers again, giving us some exotic locations and plenty of confrontations with nasty flora and fauna. He also drops a few interesting hints of worldbuilding into the mix that I would like to have seen more of - the wraiths, for example (perhaps these appear more prominently in Dusk and Dawn, or if not then maybe they will appear in future books). There's even a Mieville-esque aspect concerning a multi-limbed character, with reference to a 'chop-shop' which I really liked, and again would like to see/hear more of.

Another strong element is Lebbon's prose. Rich and fluid, his action scenes are tense and gripping, while his descriptive writing benefits from his ability to throw in a bit of lyrical verve. Fallen is subsequently a joy to read - I flew through it at rapid speed, which doesn't tend to happen a lot these days. Character introspection is present and correct, adding depth without hindering the flow of the story, and exposition likewise (one of my pet peeves are authors that can't handle exposition properly - more than a few popular new writers seem to have no idea how to do it).

Unfortunately, despite the novel's strong start, it unravels in the final third. I once remember reading someone's complaint about the inevitable moment in adventure fantasies where the group of companions splits up, and how the story often seems to nosedive afterwards. This is not a complaint I would level at Fallen, though it does happen and I must admit I enjoyed the story more pre-split than post-split. Hard to say why without giving spoilers, but I felt the split had a negative impact on the characterisation of the novel, which for me is its strongest point in the first third.

The main complaint I have with Fallen concerns the events in the final third of the book - it just felt like a bit of an anti-climax. Again, it's hard to say why without spoiling the story, but I felt like the whole book was building up to what they might find at the top of the Great Divide, and most of what they did find just seemed to fall a little flat. That's not to say that the ending isn't suitably epic (it is), but even here we have a problem in that there's no real resolution, and this rankles.

Verdict: Despite the anti-climax resulting from a weaker final third, Fallen is still an enjoyable and very well written novel. Lebbon's skilled characterisation adds serious depth to a standard adventure story and his accomplished prose means the story flows well and is hard to put down. He also shows flashes of worldbuilding that possibly hint at more intriguing things to come, and I for one will definitely be checking out his next novel in the Noreela series, The Island.

Want a second opinion? Then check out Graeme's very recent review.

In addition, I'm pleased to be hosting Tim on his blog tour. Check back on 20 May for an interview. Um...hopefully. I've not actually sent over the questions yet, so no surprises as to what I'll be doing this Sunday afternoon!

Friday, 15 May 2009

Be afraid, be very afraid...

...because the US cover for The Gathering Storm is even worse than we anticipated. There was a big internet shit-storm when a 'rough mock-up' of the cover was somehow leaked onto the interwebs, leading to Tor denying that it was the final cover. The good news? They were telling the truth. The bad news? The final cover is even shitter than the mock-up.

Here it is in all its glory:

Now, there are some hideously bad US covers for Jordan's books (half of them have been featured on here at some point!) but in my opinion this is the worst. Seriously, I don't know what Tor are thinking. Seems they finally unleashed the full 'talents' of Darrell Sweet for this one. There's just nothing positive to say about it. The scene itself is dull (Rand shaking his fist at the sky after a meteorite just owned his house?), the colours are bland and, well, it once again proves that Sweet just isn't a very good artist. How he even got the Jordan gig in the first place is beyond me.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter - the book will sell in its millions even if it had a picture of a dogshit on the front cover (it comes close enough as it is). But you'd think Tor could at least be arsed to make some effort.

I'll echo Aidan's call here - new art department at Tor, please. The current crew should be arrested for crimes against fantasy book covers, and for making everyone's eyes bleed.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Neil Gaiman: "GRRM is not your bitch!"

Neil Gaiman, in response to a question from a fan, has waded into the debate about GRRM and the delays with ASOIAF. While this is a stale topic, it's certainly worth listening to what Gaiman has to say.

His message to GRRM's detractors is simple: "George R. R. Martin is not your bitch."

Gaiman goes on to elaborate: "People are not machines. Writers and artists aren't machines...if you're waiting for a new book in a long ongoing series, whether from George or from Pat Rothfuss or from someone else... Wait. Read the original book again. Read something else. Get on with your life."

It's good to hear such a respected and prominent fantasy writer slap down all the bullshitters and whingers. Check out the full post on Gaiman's blog here. Thanks to Realms of Spec Fic for the heads-up!

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

The "omg so much happened while I was away" edition of linky-links!

Arrived back home at 1 a.m this morning, after an excellent ten days of backpacking around north-eastern Italy (pizza and ice cream diet = WIN). I'll probably get around to posting a few snaps of my travels later this week. Also appearing at some point will be a review of Tim Lebbon's Fallen. For now, linky-links to stuff of interest that occurred while I was away.

As reported by some of my blogging colleagues, Mark Charan Newton has signed a two-book deal with Del Rey. I know that many of you US readers were disappointed that Nights of Villjamur had not been picked up by a US publisher, so now you can rest easy! In my opinion it was only a matter of time, and it's a brilliant deal for Mark. I was aware of the offer from Del Rey before I actually left for Italy, but of course couldn't say anything until a deal had been struck (which it has, and for a goodly sum). Del Rey sound excited about their latest acquisition, and Mark is clearly chuffed to be working with them too, so it's a perfect match. In related news, Pat has reviewed Nights of Villjamur. Interestingly, like with many of the other 'hyped' releases that have gone before, his reaction is decidedly lukewarm. To be fair it's one of Pat's better reviews, although I disagree with most of his criticisms.

Joe Abercrombie is set to embark on a UK tour, with the first appearance taking place in good old Rainy City (Manchester, in other words) on 4 June. I expect to attend - if anyone will also be attending the Manchester gig and fancies going for a beer or whatever afterwards, let me know!

In a truly craptastic bit of news, it's been revealed that Stephenie Meyer's 'novels' account for 16% of all books sold in the USA in 2009. FAIL.

The first official casting for the TV adaptation of ASOIAF has been confirmed (it's for the role of Tyrion, and it's a good choice).

The UK front cover for The Gathering Storm has been released, and it's very nice indeed:

Right, that's about it I think. As I said, look out for a review of Tim Lebbon's Fallen later this week.

Monday, 4 May 2009

One to watch: The Dog of the North

Here's the blurb for Tim Stretton's debut novel, forthcoming from Tor on 5 June 2009:

"Winter on the lawless plains of the Emmenrule. En route to her wedding in the fortified city of Croad, the beautiful Lady Isola is kidnapped. What is worse, her captor is the infamous Beauceron. But, ruthless as he may be, Beauceron is no ordinary brigand: it is his life's ambition to capture Croad itself – and he will stop at nothing to achieve it.

Mondia, though, is a continent of many stories, and in Croad, a young man named Arren has been taken under the wing of the city's ruler, Lord Thaume. Although of low birth, Arren is destined to become a knight of valour and renown. But as his fortunes rise, so those of his childhood friend Eilla fall.

Beauceron has returned with his human plunder to his home – the exquisite frozen city of Mettingloom. There, the imperious Isola finds herself reassessing her former loyalties as she struggles to adapt to her new life. Beauceron, meanwhile, is manoeuvring to raise an army. He is determined to defeat his enemies, both inside and outside Mettingloom – and to capture the city he loathes.
But what is the source of Beauceron’s obsession with Croad? Can Arren reconcile his youthful ambitions with his growing feelings for Eilla? And just who is the Dog of the North?

Tim Stretton’s debut novel is a spellbinding tale of loyalty and betrayal, homeland and exile, set in a brilliantly imagined world of political intrigue, sorcery, and warfare on an epic scale."

To be honest, the blurb doesn't really grab me - there's nothing about it that particularly stands out. Nevertheless, Tor UK have published some good debut novels in the past few years (Scar Night, Empire in Black and Gold, Nights of Villjamur) and have forged something of a reputation for publishing more innovative fantasy. The Dog of the North sounds more traditional (and dare I say, more commercial) than these earlier releases, but there's a solid foundation here for a decent tale.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Off on my travels again...

My trip to Budapest only temporarily soothed my itchy feet, and so now I'm off again on another European jaunt. This time its to Italy for 10 days - Venice, Verona, and Lake Garda.

I've done this trip before, but I was only about 14 years old and so didn't really appreciate it that much (rather strangely, I can actually remember what I was reading at the time - The Long Patrol by Brian Jacques). This time, I'm going to pay a little more attention :)

It was my intent to blog up some content and have it publish automatically while I was away, but given the last-minute nature of this trip I've found myself with far too many things to do in too short a time period, and no time for blogging. The book review of Tim Lebbon's Fallen sadly will have to wait. Still, I did manage to do another 'one to watch' feature, which will appear some time next week, so make sure you check back for that. I get back on 12 May, so normal blogging service will probably resume around then.

Cheers and have a cool week!

- J