Sunday 30 November 2008

Crap fantasy book covers #15

This is the third time the artwork of Darrell K. Sweet has appeared in 'Crap fantasy book covers' and it's certainly not third time lucky. In fact, this is probably the worst cover of the three, even blander than Lord of Chaos and Natural Ordermage (you at the back, stop sniggering at that book title!). 

Cover your eyes...

I don't even feel the need to say why this cover is crap, as it's self-evident. Fortunately, Wert - in his recent review of Knife of Dreams - has done so for us, suggesting that the cover is "possibly one of the worst fantasy covers in history" and "not Darrell K. Sweet's finest hour."

You won't get any disagreement from me.

Crap-o-meter rating: 9/10 

Thursday 27 November 2008

Blurb for 'The City and the City' by China MiƩville

Taken from the Sub Press website:

In such novels as King Rat, Perdido Street Station, and Iron Council, China Mieville established himself as one of the most original writers currently working in any genre. In his latest, The City & the City, Mieville has outdone himself, giving us a multi-layered urban fantasy of extraordinary complexity and depth.

The story begins when Tyador Borlu, senior detective in the Extreme Crime Squad of the city of Beszel, is called to the scene of a particularly vicious homicide. When the victim turns out to be a young female student with dubious political connections and a controversial history, the investigation spills over into the neighboring city of Ul Qoma. Once there, Borlu enters a labyrinth of violence and corruption that will alter the course of his career.

The City & the City is a brilliantly conceived, masterfully executed novel whose intricate plot encompasses myth and legend, political and cultural divisions, corporate greed, and the arcane forces that move behind the scenes of a beautifully realized urban landscape. Effortlessly blurring the boundaries between mystery, fantasy, and mainstream fiction, it is the most impressive, fully developed work to date by a writer of vast ambition and seemingly limitless gifts. has a different blurb:

When the body of a murdered woman is found in the extraordinary, decaying city of Bes el, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks like a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlu of the Extreme Crime Squad. But as he probes, the evidence begins to point to conspiracies far stranger, and more deadly, than anything he could have imagined. Soon his work puts him and those he cares for in danger. Borlu must travel to the only metropolis on Earth as strange as his own, across a border like no other. With shades of Kafka and Philip K. Dick, Raymond Chandler and 1984 , "The City & The City" is a murder mystery taken to dazzling metaphysical and artistic heights.

Sounds very promising indeed. No artwork as of yet, but a release date of 15 May 2009 is in place.

Wednesday 26 November 2008

Some more book covers...

The first is the UK cover for James Barclay's new raven novel, Ravensoul.

I have to admit that it doesn't do much for me. It's alright, but it seems a bit halfhearted compared to the excellent cover that Gollancz served up for Abercrombie's upcoming release. In addition, it's not nearly as good as the silhouette covers for the previous raven novels...

Here's another new cover, this one for Mark Chadbourn's Destroyer of Worlds. Not as cool as the recent covers for his Age of Misrule series, but still pretty striking.

Why is 'A Song of Ice and Fire' so popular?

Really interesting debate over at sffworld about why George R. R. Martin's epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire is so popular.

At least, that was what the discussion started as. But online genre forums being what they are, it rapidly descended into a heated argument about whether Martin's sex scenes are gratuitous or not, and whether Westeros is an accurate portrayal of the Middle Ages (minus the dragons, etc!).

I love seeing people get so passionate about this sort of thing; it's what makes the online genre community so absorbing. Not that I'm condoning personal attacks of course, but it's great to see someone throwing a proper frilly-cuffed strop about what constitutes 'gratuituous' sex.

For the record, I don't believe at all that Martin's sex scenes are gratuitous (Richard Morgan's favourite word) and I do believe that - if you take all the obvious fantasy stuff out - Martin's world is an accurate representation of Medieval Europe.

Saturday 22 November 2008

Linky links + update

Just got back from Manchester Christmas market, which was fun, but - in the words of Doc Emmet Brown - it was "cold...damn cold!" Plus it was absolutely heaving with people, as usual. Still, it was fun to check out all the stalls and soak up the scents of roasting chestnuts, mulled wine, etc. OMG SANTA. 

Anyway, back to business. I'm halfway through Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon, so anticipate a review at the tail-end of the coming week. I've also sent some questions to Ian Graham, so look out for what promises to be an interesting interview appearing in the near future...

Right, some linky-links for you all. Some cool/interesting stuff from around the blogosphere this past week. 

Jeff has posted a review of David B. Coe's The Horsemen's Gambit.

Graeme has been partially cured of his aversion to shared-world fiction, after reading and reviewing Paul S. Kemp's Shadowrealm.

John has also read and reviewed Shadowrealm over at Grasping for the Wind.
Those of you that are interested can check out a new trailer for the new Harry Potter film. Seems darker in tone, in keeping with the last couple of films. 

Adam's reviewed Scott Bakker's The Judging Eye, which has been getting cracking reviews in the blogosphere so far. One to watch for 2009.

Rob has posted his review of Brent Weeks' second novel The Shadow's Edge at sffworld, and has had plenty of books in the mail... 

Dark Wolf has got the winners of the 2008 International Horror Guild Award. Good to see Dan Simmons win 'Best Novel.' Damned good novel that. 

Joe Abercrombie has continued his series of posts about cover art (and very interesting they are too). The latest concerns the finished proofs of the artwork for Best Served Cold. Another book to watch for next year...

Right, that's shoulder's started aching - the legacy of a childhood spent hunched over a video game console...

Enjoy the rest of your weekend! 

Thursday 20 November 2008

The use of maps in fantasy

Interesting post by Joe Abercrombie over at his blog, where he discusses the inclusion of a map in his upcoming novel Best Served Cold. Joe also wrote a piece about maps in fantasy a year or so ago, which can be found here.

Joe indicates that while he loves maps as much as the next person, he's also wary that sometimes they're unnecessary and, at worst, can spoil a reader's perception of the secondary world in question. This is a view that I share myself.

On the one hand, I love maps. I like looking at them and I like drawing them. When I'm working on my own projects, I often feel that my secondary world doesn't feel real until I've drawn a map of it. I think when done properly, maps can be a valuable tool in lending further depth and weight to the world in question. It's a way of instantly making the place seem real before the reader has even read a single word of the novel. It's also a way of drawing readers in - I readily confess that in the past, an intriguing, well-drawn map has tipped the balance for me in terms of whether I bought a book or not.

For example, I picked up A Game of Thrones and - while I already planned to buy the novel - it certainly helped that one of the first things I saw was the map, more specifically the part that said 'The Haunted Forest' and 'The Wall.' That instantly appealed to me (namely, um, because I like spooky forests) and this sort of instant connection with the world can be invaluable. Maps can therefore serve as a real draw to potential readers - I think if someone picks up a book and the map within really appeals to them, then there's a stronger chance they'll consider purchasing the novel. In some ways it's like a second front cover, another chance to sell the book. Often, I'll look to see if a book has a map before I even sample the writing. From this perspective, maps can be invaluable.

Yet you do have to consider the other side of the issue. While a good map can draw readers in (and serve a more practical purpose during the reading of the novel), a bad map can have the opposite affect. Again, I'm happy to admit that if I'm undecided about whether to pick up a novel, a bad map can by the decisive nail in the coffin. The most recent example of a poor map I can think of is the one for Brent Weeks' debut novel, The Way of Shadows. I've already knocked this novel enough, but I have to say that the map is horrible. It's just a mishmash of names and boundary lines. It didn't instill any sense of awe or interest in me whatsoever, which I think is a fundamental failing. That said, it did serve its ultimate purpose as a reference, as I did refer to it once or twice during my reading of the novel.

As Abercrombie says, sometimes a map can destroy your personal imagining of a world. He cites the classic David Gemmell example, which I agree with wholeheartedly. Gemmell novels, for years, didn't have maps. There wasn't really any need for them, but eventually - for whatever reasons - a map was included with the Drenai novel White Wolf. All well and good, but it was crap. The world looked absolutely nothing like I'd imagined it, and other fans were also up in arms about it. The map had been drawn by a fan of Gemmell, which makes it all the more bewildering - if you're going to include a map, at least make sure the map has been drawn (or is based on a drawing) by the author! This sorry episode does serve as a warning that sometimes maps do more harm than good.

So, while I appreciate the potential drawbacks, I'm still in favour of maps in fantasy books.

What do you all think? Interested to hear other opinions!

Wednesday 19 November 2008

More artwork from Sub Press version of Gardens of the Moon

I've unashamedly stolen this beauty from Pat's Fantasy Hotlist...simply because it's too cool not to post here. I dribbled like the pathetic fanboy I am when I saw the below depiction of Anomander Rake. 'Awesome' doesn't do it justice...

Sunday 16 November 2008

Artwork for Abercrombie's Best Served Cold

I liked the covers that Gollancz did for Abercrombie's First Law trilogy, and this definitely meets the same standards. Good stuff. The fact that its got a map on the front is rather ironic though, given Simon Spanton's (Gollancz editor) anti-map stance... ;)

You can check out the full hardcover wrap-around cover in all its glory here. I tried to upload the picture, but Blogger didn't like it and refused to play ball. Damned technology...

Crap fantasy book covers #14

I stumbled across this rather horrific cover courtesy of Graeme's review

Graeme clearly found himself unable to review the book without first mentioning the cover: 

"Cover art is a funny thing isn’t it? It’s such an important part of the book as it’s the first thing you notice in the bookstore and could potentially put someone off buying the book itself. Everyone has different tastes though and this must make it difficult for a publisher to come up with cover art that will appeal to plenty of people... On this occasion, the cover art for ‘The Queen of Stone’ really didn’t work for me..."

It doesn't work for me either. No wonder people look down of fantasy when you have this sort of appalling cover on display. Those unfamiliar with the genre, after seeing this cover, could be forgiven for thinking that all fantasy fans are sexually-frustrated, pimple-faced loners. 

This is dumbed-down fantasy art at its best. Sure, maybe it represents the actual book accurately (Graeme's review seems to confirm this) but it's still a totally crap cover.

Crap-o-meter rating: 9/10

Thursday 13 November 2008

Book review: The Way of Shadows

The Way of Shadows

Brent Weeks

(Orbit 2008)

After releasing both books of Karen Miller's Kingmaker, Kingbreaker duology within the space of a few months (and, it must be said, achieving considerable success with such a method), Orbit decided to do the same with Brent Weeks' The Night Angel Trilogy: all three books are to be released within a month of each other.

This is a particularly clever marketing ploy, as it means that fans don't have to wait long for each instalment, while the author's reputation and presence is built all the more quickly (or destroyed, depending on the books!).

Quite a bit of buzz has been steadily growing online around The Way of Shadows, so it moved rapidly up my reading list. I must confess I had my doubts about this debut, one being that it might veer too far towards bubblegum fantasy territory. Having finished the novel, I've found that some of my concerns were justified while others were not.

In short, The Way of Shadows is something of a mixed bag.

The weakest aspect for me was the worldbuilding, or to be blunt, total lack of it. What we have is a standard medieval-esque world of kings, princes, assassins and soldiers. There's even a magic sword and a prophecy. In short, there is absolutely no innovation whatsoever. For some readers this is not a problem; the issue of worldbuilding vs characterisation is an old one, and many fans of the genre are quite happy as long as the story and characters are good. That's fair enough, but personally I like fantasies where the author attempts to push the boundaries a bit, do something a little different. Failing that, the world needs to at least come through well in the writing; I need to be able to become absorbed in it. Weeks' world fails on both accounts for me - it's neither particularly interesting and it just never reeled me in. There were hints of a more Asian influence (rice paddies, tantos, etc) but this was never built upon. Subsequently, the world became a backdrop and nothing more, rather than a vibrant, living place.

The writing at first seemed little better. Again, this may just be my personal taste, but I found the prose a bit simplistic. There was some really clunky exposition and I felt certain events badly lacked context. For example - without giving anything away - there's a scene early on where a certain individual overhears two men discussing the dynastic succession. Maybe it was just me, but I struggled to really grasp the importance of the situation or what was at stake - there were too many names flying around for me to really appreciate exactly what was happening. On top of that, certain words - Momma, helluva - are too modern and are subsequently jarring.

Having said that, the writing improves considerably over the course of the book and the final third displays some much better descriptive prose. There was one scene in particular that I thought Weeks handled extremely well and was clearly the stand-out moment in the book for me, though obviously I can't reveal what it is. While I never fully took to Weeks' style, it is at least accessible and I saw enough to believe that the next books in the trilogy will contain superior writing to this one.

The characterisation was a little bit hit and miss for me. Some characters - Durzo Blint, Azoth/Kylar, Momma K (still don't like that name) - were handled and developed well, but others (Solon/Feir/Dorian/Duke Gyre) were less so. Azoth/Kylar does make for a good, engaging protagonist, and Blint is a very strong support act, so ultimately Weeks does manage to create an entertaining cast that hold the reader's attention.

The plot is what really saves The Way of Shadows from total mediocrity. To his credit, Weeks has constructed a plot that generally moves at a good pace and has a high number of twists, some of which most readers will never see coming. It's been a while since I've read a novel with this many surprises, so credit to Weeks for that. On the other hand though, I do think the best authors are able to drop hints prior to the twist/secret being revealed. For example, George R. R. Martin is very good at doing this, so you're able to flick back over the novel and think "Yeah, all the signs were there - I just didn't see them." The twists in Weeks' novel aren't as subtle, and for me one or two of the twists seemed a bit hollow. Still, when all is said and done Weeks has created an absorbing plot.

I had one or two other minor complaints: I would have liked to have seen much more of Azoth's/Kylar's training, as the plot jumps ahead by two years more than once, which threw me a bit. I did at times feel that Azoth/Kylar was too skilled - to the point where it lessened the tension. Still, relatively minor complaints.

In all, despite the world being rather standard (and not coming through as well as I'd have liked), the writing being clunky at times and the characterisation blowing hot and cold, there was something that appealed to me about The Way of Shadows. I can't quite put my finger on it, though the plot certainly helped me to enjoy the novel. I've read much better fantasy novels, but then again I've read far worse. For a debut, it's not bad at all and I think it has all the right ingredients to appeal to a lot of readers.

I've heard Weeks compared to Scott Lynch, though I think that has more to do with the similar nature of their debuts - Lynch, for me, is a better writer in all departments. That said, I'll probably check out the next book in The Night Angel Trilogy, as I think Weeks does have potential.

Verdict: ddd

Wednesday 12 November 2008

Green light for HBO adaption of A Song of Ice and Fire

Awesome news - HBO have given the go-ahead for a pilot episode of George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones.

Details are scarce at the minute, though Martin has confirmed that the script is faithful to the book, which fans will be relieved to hear. 

While I don't think a TV series will ever be as good as the novels themselves, it could still be excellent if done properly. HBO have got a good track record, so we'll have to wait and see. 

Fingers crossed. Full article on GRRM's website.

Monday 10 November 2008

UK cover art for Rothfuss' 'The Wise Man's Fear'...

...and it's a bit of a stinker in my humble opinion.

UK cover art is usually regarded as being superior to the US equivalents, but this case is definitely an exception. I much prefer the US artwork for this novel.

What do you guys think?

Thursday 6 November 2008

US artwork for Chadbourn's 'Age of Misrule' series

Quite like these covers, for Brit author Mark Chadbourn's Age of Misrule novels, coming out in the US courtesy of Pyr, in 2009.

Wednesday 5 November 2008

Author Michael Crichton dies, 66

Sad news. :(

Full article. 

Crap fantasy book covers #13

Saw this artwork posted over at the hotlist as part of Pat's interview with Tom Lloyd, and immediately I knew it would have to feature here as a crap fantasy book cover.

It's just...I don't know. Tired. A bland image - some generic dragon throwing a frilly-cuffed strop, with Iron Man (wtf is he doing there?) holding a couple of those cheap plasma balls you can get from all tacky novelty shops.

What interested me though, was Lloyd's response to whether he liked the artwork:

"I’m very happy with both the covers he’s done; I think they’re perfect for the market and just great images in themselves."

Disagree with the last point, but Lloyd's probably bang on the money with the first - and that is perhaps why although this cover is awful, it might be suitable. The difference between the US and UK markets has been mentioned time and time again.

Still, however suitable the cover is, it's still crap.

Crap-o-meter rating: 8.5/10

Tuesday 4 November 2008

Book review: Rubicon

Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic

Tom Holland

Abacus; New edition (10 Jun 2004)

While I'm a fantasy kid at heart, I'm a historian by formal training and I've always had a deeply-ingrained love of history. For a long time I was something of a medievalist, with the Wars of the Roses a particular fascination, but gradually it's the ancient world that has become my main interest. The Romans have always fascinated me so I thought I'd better remedy the huge gap in my knowledge of them and their world.

Rubicon of course isn't suited to anyone wanting to learn about the entire Roman story, as it focuses solely on the Roman republic (509 - 49 BC), not the later Roman empire. Over the course of his book, Holland reveals how the Roman republic grew from being a regional superpower into the greatest power in the Mediterranean - and a it's a truly fascinating story.

It's certainly not a simple task to tell the tale of the Roman republic, but what Holland manages to do so well is to take an ungainly cast list and imbue each figure with real personality and resonance. With such an extensive number of participants, it would be all to easy to write a history of the republic where the names are just words and little more. Holland however manages to flesh out these great public figures - Pompey, Caesar, Cato, Cicero, etc - and restore them to life within the pages of his book.

Furthermore, Holland writes with a real wit and verve, spinning an absorbing tale that never lets up in pace or gets bogged down in detail. Sometimes you do feel that he's barely scratching the surface of certain issues (for example, the uprising of Spartacus is dealt with in just three or so pages) but given that he's covering a period of some 450-odd years, this is entirely understandable. What he does manage to do extremely effectively is paint a vivid picture of life for the Patrician classes in the Roman republic, and explain exactly how the politics of Rome worked. Rubicon is a political study first and foremost, because it was the politics (for politics, read backstabbing, open violence and even murder) that occurred in the Senate, rather than heroics on the battlefield, that really defined the republic.

The sheer intensity of Roman politics was what really enthralled me - reading Holland's accounts of all the political heavyweights squaring up to each other was simply fascinating. Modern politics might be seen as something of a cutthroat business, but it's nothing compared to the politics of ancient Rome. We're talking of an environment where alliances changed on an almost daily basis, where corruption was rife (almost anyone could be bought off) and where some members of the senate - quite literally - got away with murder. Political success and prestige was what every high-ranking Roman most desired and the force that drove them on. Failure simply wasn't an option. It was this collective desire for glory - and the fear of defeat - that enabled the Roman republic to become so great...yet also caused its downfall, as the old traditions got trampled beneath the power wielded by certain individuals.

Of course, ancient history wouldn't be ancient history without some nasty deaths, and there's a fair few in Rubicon. The young woman that killed herself by swallowing hot coals from a brazier deserves a special mention, but my favourite by some distance is the fate afforded by one Roman official (I can't remember his name). Said Roman official decided to instigate an invasion of Pontus - a kingdom in modern-day northern Turkey - simply to swell the coffers of the republic (and his own). When the invasion backfired, the official was captured by Mithridates, the King of Pontus, and had molten gold poured down his throat - so he literally choked on the very gold he had wanted to seize. Very droll, those crafty men of Pontus. You can also draw a parallel here with the fate of one of George R. R. Martin's characters...

The only real complaint I had with Rubicon was the lack of an appendix - it would have been extremely useful to have a list of all the figures to remind the reader who they are, as it's difficult to remember who is who at times, as the Romans seem to have had a real penchant for naming their sons - and daughters - names beginning with 'C.' Subsequently there were times when I found myself unable to remember who certain people were, but this is a reasonably minor complaint.

All things considered, Rubicon is an absorbing, accessible recounting of the rise and fall of the Roman republic, and offers an excellent oversight of the politics of the era, and the personal fortunes of all the major players of the Roman world.

Verdict: dddd

Monday 3 November 2008

World Fantasy Award Winners 2008


Novel: Ysabel, Guy Gavriel Kay (Viking Canada/Penguin Roc)

Novella: Illyria, Elizabeth Hand (PS Publishing)

Short Story: “Singing of Mount Abora”, Theodora Goss (Logorrhea, Bantam Spectra)

Anthology: Inferno: New Tales of Terror and the Supernatural, Ellen Datlow, Editor (Tor)

Collection: Tiny Deaths, Robert Shearman (Comma Press)

Artist: Edward Miller

Special Award, Professional: Peter Crowther for PS Publishing

Special Award, Non-Professional: Midori Snyder and Terri Windling for Endicott Studios Website

As usual I've not read any of the above so can't give any real opinion, though it's good to see Pete Crowther recognised for his hard work.