Tuesday 30 June 2009

Provisional top 5 reads this year...

All the cool kids over at the Westeros forum have been discussing their top reads so far this year, and some bloggers such as Pat and Darkwolf have also chimed in with their favourites. So I thought I might as well give mine. I'll be interested to see how much this provisional list changes by the end of year. I'm hoping to read a few real heavyweight novels (in terms of critical acclaim!) such as The Name of the Wind, Best Served Cold and Lamentation, so I expect this list will bear only a partial resemblance to the final one.

Anyway, here's my top five reads so far this year (in no particular order):

Dragonfly Falling, Adrian Tchaikovsky

Ravenheart, David Gemmell

Twelve, Jasper Kent

Nights of Villjamur, Mark Charan Newton

Retribution Falls, Chris Wooding

Feel free to list your own!

Monday 29 June 2009

Book review: Retribution Falls

Retribution Falls

By Chris Wooding

(Gollancz, 18 June 2009)

Every now and then a book comes along that's a bit different, something refreshing, quirky even, a change from the norm. The Lies of Locke Lamora springs to mind, as does The Blade Itself. Both those novels breathed some fresh air into the genre. Not only were they a bit different, they also happened to be a hell of a lot of fun as well.

Retribution Falls is very similar in this respect - it's fresh, it's funny and it's an excellent reminder of what you can do with the genre when you actually try and invoke a bit of originality in your writing.

The novel follows the various misadventures of the crew of the Ketty Jay, a modified airship. Captained by the selfish womaniser Darian Frey, the crew includes a surgeon more competent with a shotgun than a scalpel, an aristocrat with a flair for daemonology, a secretive navigator who is clearly more than the sum of her parts, two support pilots (one with a deathwish, the other with a fear of anything that moves), a silent, brooding engineer, and a cat with an amusing name that has a tendency to suffocate crew members by sleeping on their faces.

They're a varied bunch, but they have one thing in common - they're all on the run, for one reason or another. The action starts when Frey receives an offer that's too good to be true - 50,000 ducats for a simple bit of piracy. Naturally, the offer is to good to be true...because it's not true at all - it's merely the first part of a sinister plan that threatens to plunge the entire continent of Vardia into civil war. With what seems to be half the civilised world after him, Frey leads his unlikely band of heroes on a merry chase to clear their names and avoid the noose...

Retribution Falls is FUN. Note the use of capitals there. That's what the book is really about; a ripping yarn of dogfights, piracy, double-dealing and double-crossing. It's often easy to forget that reading is meant to be entertainment, and as much as I like deep, meaningful novels, sometimes I just like to kick back and be entertained. Retribution Falls is perfect in this regard, and for several reasons.

The first is that Wooding has absolutely nailed the characters. For all the exciting dogfights and action sequences, this is actually a story driven by its characters. Darian Frey is superbly crafted, and his journey of self-discovery is fascinating to watch unfold. I can only speak for myself, but if a protagonist hasn't changed over the course of the book, I find myself wondering what the point of it all is. Frey changes - a heck of a lot, and Wooding deserves credit for the way he slowly reveals Frey's background, explaining why he became the man he is, and for making his gradual change so believable.

The support cast are equally well crafted, and Wooding takes care to ensure that the story of each crew member is carefully explored - and what fascinating stories they are. While the tone of the novel is decidedly light-hearted, there's a surprising amount of darkness and angst lurking at the heart of these characters. But none fall under the cliche of 'token-person-with-a-dark-past' - yes, they are all on the run from their respective pasts, but their stories are so well constructed that it gives them real depth and resonance instead of making them tired cliches. I particularly liked Crake's story, which provides a delightful twist - one of the sort that you realise just before it's revealed.

Wooding's masterclass in characterisation doesn't end with the crew of the Ketty Jay, however. Frey's arch nemesis, Captain Dracken of the Delirium Trigger (yep, we have plenty of aircraft with cool names) is excellently portrayed, as are the Century Knights and various other characters that pop in and out of the story. I really like the way Wooding attempts to inject personality into characters that only appear in the story for one scene, and here his efforts really come to fruition.

The characterisation is matched by the plot. In short, it's superbly crafted and keeps you guessing. Wooding clearly decided that pace was the name of the game, and subsequently Retribution Falls rips along at breakneck speed, barely allowing you to pause for breath. Put simply, there's not a dull moment. This is aided by the fluid, accessible prose that is perfect for this sort of story. Now, I'm not familiar with Wooding's other novels, though I have had a flick through his The Braided Path trilogy (which I was rather pleased to find that I own, though how it came into my possession remains a mystery). The writing style in that trilogy seems completely different from the wry humour of Retribution Falls, so from what I can see Wooding made something of a departure from his earlier works and tried writing in a style that is totally different from anything he's done before. It works - very well indeed.

Another positive aspect is the world Wooding has created - a strange, retro-future world where airships, guns and electricity sits happily alongside daemons and 'magic' swords (yep, there's a magic sword in there - but it works really well). The pace of the plot doesn't leave much room for that much exposition regarding the world, yet Wooding manages to imbue his world with both a distinct character and history. There's plenty more to come in subsequent novels (the world seems vast) but there's plenty of cool elements that surface in this novel. I particularly liked all the references to 'The Wrack' (there's one flashback chapter concerning the inhabitants of this part of the world which had me giddy with excitement) and also the way the demons are summoned and controlled (by sound frequency as it happens - a really nice idea).

Drawbacks? Can't think of any. Honestly. The only thought that nagged me was that Malvery needed a little more development, but that - pleasingly - was addressed right at the end of the book. My only complaint is that the book had to end. Wooding has already mentioned that a follow-up is due next year, and believe me - that will be one of the first books on my list for 2010.

Verdict: Retribution Falls is a superb, ripping yarn. Great characters, tight plot, relentless pace, and a fascinating world full of promise for future instalments. Prepare to be entertained.

Friday 26 June 2009

Friday linky links + Terry Goodkind piss-take

Some Friday linkage...but first, as always, a funny:

funny pictures of cats with captions

Now linky links :)

Terry Goodkind is loathed and ridiculed in equal measure in the online genre community, and with good reason - not only are his books a load of pompous philosophical toss, but some of his remarks about former fans - and anyone that just doesn't like his books - were totally disgraceful. After he finished inflicting his crap-tastic Sword of Truth novels on the world, Goodkind stated that he was going to write a mainstream thriller. This was hardly a surprising move, since Goodkind has hilariously always claimed that his books are not fantasy (despite being set in a secondary world and involving wizards and dragons. Hmmm).

It seems though, that Terry can't leave fantasy behind - not only does his 'mainstream' novel clearly fall under the fantasy genre, but amusingly it seems to be a continuation of his Sword of Truth novels. Quite ironic that for a guy who claims to have so much to say on the human condition, he can't even think of a new story and has to dredge up the ashes of the old one. Anyway, Wert has the full details.

Oh, and you can never have too many Goodkind piss-takes.

Anyway, moving on.

Aidan has reviewed Blood of Ambrose by James Enge. He didn't like it.

Graeme has reviewed Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding. I've almost finished this novel, so look out for a review soon!

Fantasy Book Critic has reviews of Mark Chadbourn's Lord of Silence and Jasmyn by Alex Bell.

Thursday 25 June 2009

Book review: One


By Conrad Williams

(Virgin Books, 2009)

My first taste of Conrad Williams' work came in the Solaris Book of New Fantasy, with his story O Caritas, of which I said at the time: "O Caritas by Conrad Williams takes place in a post-apocalyptic London, where the rich live closeted away in their towers and the rest of the city's inhabitants are engaged in a constant struggle for survival amid the ruins of the past. Williams manages to imbue the piece with real tension at times, and his visceral portrayal of the ruined London is hugely atmospheric."

It was enough to keep Williams' name in my memory, and subsequently when I recently found myself unable to settle on a book, I happened across a copy of his recent novel One. The premise - man somehow survives global holocaust and treks hundreds of miles across a post-apocalyptic landscape in search of his son - instantly appealed to me. Fortunately, I like this sort of story/setting enough to not be put off by the slightly cheesy cover and the even more cheesy tagline: This is now. This is you. And our number is up (I can't read that without hearing a ridiculous Hollywood voiceover saying it in my head at the same time...).

One follows the struggles of Richard Jane, a deep-sea diver/engineer working off an oil rig in the North Sea. He's deep underwater when an unexplained event fries the whole world to a crisp, and is subsequently protected from the horrific deaths visited upon his colleagues. Making his way to dry land - the east coast of Scotland - Jane finds himself alone in a new, terrifying world. Driven on by his desire to be reunited with his son (whom he refuses to believe is dead), Jane embarks on a long trek to London, where he learns that the cataclysm brought something rather nasty with it...

One is a brutal, harrowing novel. The ordeal that Jane goes through is nothing short of horrific, and Williams doesn't hold back - my mouth fell open more than once. Yet the novel never strays into pulpy territory; Williams' prose is far too sophisticated for that - fluid and visceral, it lends the novel a bleak atmosphere underpinned by a growing tension. Some of the descriptive prose is simply superb, lending the novel an unnerving degree of authenticity.

Richard Jane makes for an engaging protagonist, with the novel told entirely from his point of view. Williams subtly reveals the key events in Jane's life bit by bit until we have a clear idea of what makes him tick. I particularly liked the wry comments about his failed relationship and the fall-out from it; these observations indicate that Williams has a deft grasp of human mentality and adds a real depth and personal resonance to both Jane and the story itself. The secondary characters that Jane encounters are all fleshed out well and his interactions with them are believable. Williams creates a few well-judged situations to illustrate the idiocy of human personality - such as the alpha male complex - and the irony (sometimes even humour) adds a nice counterpoint to the overwhelming sense of desolation.

I did have some reservations. I found the plot didn't quite match the excellence of the prose and characterisation. The pace during first two thirds of the novel stumbles now and again, and I did find myself thinking "Do we really have to have another 'let's-explore-the-abandoned-house' scene?" The considerable chronological jump in the final third was somewhat jarring, and I found that for some reason I didn't enjoy this third of the book as much as the others. It's almost like the book makes a stylistic change, becoming a bit more action-orientated, and for some reason this seemed a little at odds with the style of the rest of the novel. In addition I did find the ending to be rather weak, and I still had several questions that hadn't really been answered (though that might well be my own fault, rather than the book's). As a minor point, as good as the descriptive prose is I did feel that sometimes it got in the way a little - there's only so many times you need to be told what the sky looks like, and so on.

Verdict: Weak ending and chronology-related issues aside, One is an engrossing account of one man's determination to survive despite the odds. Williams creates a superbly bleak atmosphere punctuated by moments of visceral detail, while his clear grasp of human mentality - and the little nuances that often go unnoticed - inject realism into the story, making it somehow more personal. One is a brutal, harrowing and terrifyingly authentic read.

Wednesday 24 June 2009

Blood of Elves extract and Gemmell Award photos

If you fancy a taste of the novel that won the first Gemmell Award, Andrzej Sapkowski's Blood of Elves, then you can check out an extract here. I've only read a few pages, but straight away you can sense a certain Gemmell-esque feel to the writing, so perhaps this book was a worthy winner.

Photos of the event have started to pop up in various places across the interwebs, but the best selection can be found here.

Tuesday 23 June 2009

£1m Alastair Reynolds deal - a shot in the arm for Space Opera?

As reported all over the blogosphere, SF author Alastair Reynolds has signed a £1m deal with UK publisher Gollancz for ten books.

It's a staggering figure, make no mistake. The only deal it reminds me of is the one Steven Erikson signed for his Malazan series, which was £675,000 for ten books. The Reynolds deal dwarfs this.

I've heard one or two folks suggest that Gollancz are taking a huge risk with such a deal, but I disagree. £1m is a huge amount of money, sure, but it breaks down to 100k a book. With world rights, Gollancz can sell into numerous territories and the money these foreign deals brings in will recoup much of their expenditure. On top of that, Reynolds is a popular writer who is clearly going places, so Gollancz's faith seems well-placed. Good on them for showing such support.

On another note - what does this deal mean for the Space Opera genre? I must admit I know next to nothing about this genre, so I can't comment on what this deal means for it. Anyone care to enlighten me? Surely it's a massive boost for the genre to see such a deal being made.

Abercrombie Scandinavian tour reminder

Since I get quite a few hits from Scandinavia, I thought visitors from that part of the world would like to be reminded that Joe Abercrombie is making a series of appearances in Norway and Sweden.

Here are the dates/locations:

25th June 18.00 - Stockholm SF Bokhandeln, Vasterlanggatan 48, 10317 Stockholm

26th June 18.00 - Gothenberg SF Bokhandeln AB, Ostra Larmgatan 16, 41107 Gothenburg

27th June 14.00 - Oslo Outland, Ostbanehallen, Jernbanetorget 1, 0154 Oslo

As reported recently, I had an excellent time at Joe's signing in Manchester, and definitely recommend going along if you can make it.

GRRM announces progress with ADWD...

George R. R. Martin has given his first update on ADWD for a while. Actually, it's not really an update as such...but it's still a positive bit of news for fans:

"I almost hate to say anything here, for fear of jinxing it... but for what it's worth, the last six weeks or so have been the most productive period I've had on A DANCE WITH DRAGONS in... well... a year at least, maybe several. In the last three days I've completed three new chapters. Not from scratch, mind you, these were all chapters that had been partially written, and in some cases rewritten, for months if not years. But they're finally done, and I've just reread them, and I'm almost convinced that they're Not Crap.

I'm feeling rather jazzed right now, and for the first time in a very long while, I think I can see a glimmering that might just be a light at the end of the tunnel."

Sounds like the end is just about in sight, meaning that a 2010 release should still be on the cards.

Monday 22 June 2009

Now that the dust has settled...what did the Gemmell award achieve?

As most of you are probably aware by now, the first annual Gemmell 'Legend' Award was won by Polish fantasy author Andrzej Sapkowski for the English translation - released by Gollancz - of his novel Blood of Elves

For all the criticism aimed at the award, one thing most of us agreed on was that it was great to have an award that celebrated the epic fantasy genre, which is too often neglected by other genre awards. Yet is this celebration of epic fantasy enough to change the perception of the genre held by Joe Public? 

Not if The Guardian is anything to go by, where a rather patronising article denotes fantasy fans as "the people Red Dwarf fans sneer at for being nerdy. They are the zit-ridden little brothers of the SF geeks, whose even-less-healthy obsessions include trolls, giving Anglo-Saxon names to phallic weapons, and maidens with magical powers."

This, from someone who actually attended the Gemmell Award ceremony. Sure, while I suppose we should be grateful for the coverage and the fact that the article does have one or two positive things to say, it's still an overwhelming indication of the effect the first Gemmell Award had on public perception: not a lot. A shrug of the shoulders at best. 

Now, it's early days - we mustn't forget that. Public perception isn't going to change overnight. But it is going to be interesting to see how much of an impact the Gemmell Award will have in this regard in future years. 

What does it need to do to achieve wider recognition and respect from outside the genre - indeed, to change the way the genre is perceived? And is there anything us readers can do? 

Well, perhaps we need to worry less about the aesthetics of the genre and instead think more about the books themselves - their content, their prose, and so on. This is a point that Mark Charan Newton makes in a recent blog entry - "So where is the wider analysis of the Gemmell Award books? Why hasn’t anyone cranked-open these bad boys (and girls - we are gender neutral here!) to open up a wider discussion on the merits of the books against each other, a real show-down to get people talking about what’s in the books, rather than talking about the people holding them?"

It's an interesting point - the mainstream always seems so concerned about the image of fantasy and the characteristics of fantasy readers, rather than actually bothering to delve beneath the covers of the books. Perhaps this is something we're guilty of ourselves at times. Maybe this is the key to changing how the genre is perceived. 

The Gemmell Award could prove to be a real turning point in this particular battle, although it's far too early yet to expect any sort of result. Perhaps in years to come we'll see its true value. 

Saturday 20 June 2009

More Saturday morning book pr0n

Just like last week, I get to start my weekend with some book pr0n. Thanks very much to Allison and Busby, who were kind enough to send me a secksy hardback of Tim Lebbon's latest Noreelan novel, The Island.
And while I remember, here's a photo of a really cool hardback edition of Gene Wolf's Book of the New Sun that I picked up in an Oxfam shop - it's a first edition Science Fiction Book Club printing. Pretty cool.

Hope you all have a good weekend. If you fancy catching a film but are not sure what to watch, I highly recommend The Hangover. Very good fun.

Thursday 18 June 2009

Miéville on Tolkien: "Tolk gives good monster!"

After Richard Morgan's 'essay' on Tolkien (you know, the one that completely fails to take The Silmarillion into consideration and insinuates that anyone who likes Tolkien is intellectually-challenged) I suspected it would only be a matter of time before another author wrote some sort of response.

However, I didn't think it would be China Miéville that would do so - the same man who infamously dismissed Tolkien as "the wen on the arse of fantasy literature." Recent years have witnessed a gradual change in Miéville's opinion of Tolkien, culminating on his new article Five Reasons Tolkien Rocks.

Although he doesn't directly state that this is a response to Morgan's piece, Miéville seems to indicate that it is, by saying, "every few years, certain as tides, someone will write a splenetic screed against the Professor, explaining why he's the devil/ worst things to happen to fantasy/voice of reaction/zomg most boring writer EVER /etc. The Oedipal Resentment motivating many of these attacks may be trivially obvious, especially in those from within fantastic fiction..."

Anyway, it's a well-written article that's definitely worth a read. I particularly like the moments where Miéville's inner geek breaks loose, such as where he discusses the Watcher in the Water - "Dude. That totally was cool. I mean, say what you like about him, Tolk gives good monster. Shelob, Smaug, the Balrog...in their astounding names, the fearful verve of their descriptions, their various undomesticated malevolence, these creatures are utterly embedded in our world-view. No one can write giant spiders except through Shelob: all dragons are sidekicks now. And so on."

Wednesday 17 June 2009

Tchaikovsky's 'Shadows of the Apt' to be released in US!

Exciting news for all of you folks on the other side of the pond...Pyr have just announced a deal to publish the first three books in Adrian Tchaikovsky's Shadows of the Apt series in the United States.

Pyr intend to publish the three novels - Empire in Black and Gold, Dragonfly Falling and Blood of the Mantis - in three consecutive months next year (hopefully March - April - May).

Editor Lou Anders is clearly unable to conceal his delight, as he says, "Shadows of the Apt is a fantastic fantasy, with steampunk elements, that absolutely blew me away when I read it. Airships, steam trains, giant insects, fantastic characters, great action..."

He's right, you know.

Anders also confirmed that all three US books will boast brand-new artwork from Jon Sullivan, who also did the excellent UK covers for Dragonfly Falling and Blood of the Mantis.

Personally I'm really pleased for Adrian, as he seems a thoroughly nice bloke and in any case I'm a big fan of The Shadows of the Apt - can't wait for my review copy of Blood of the Mantis to turn up (any day now, any day...).

Check out my reviews of Empire in Black and Gold and Dragonfly Falling, as well as the interview I did with Adrian some time ago.

Monday 15 June 2009

God of Clocks - UK cover vs US cover

I remember seeing - and liking - the UK artwork for Alan Campbell's God of Clocks quite a while ago, but I only appreciated how nice it really is when I received a copy in the mail the other day (sometimes you really do have to look at the actual book itself to fully appreciate a cover, as the online images fail to some covers justice).

Anyway, here it is:

And here is the US version (with the almost inevitable chick-with-sword in the foreground).

To be fair, the US version isn't too bad at all. I do prefer the UK version myself though.
Really need to read this series actually...I started reading Scar Night (the opening is brilliant) but put it down because it wasn't quite what I was in the mood for. Will definitely pick it up again soon.
Anyone prefer the US cover?

Saturday 13 June 2009

Saturday morning book pr0n

Nothing like a filthy bit of book pr0n to kick off your weekend...

Many thanks to Gollancz for Consorts of Heaven, Retribution Falls and Jasmyn; and to Tor for God of Clocks (in teh shiny hardback 4tw) and Orbus - yet another Neal Asher book (how quickly does this guy write? I seem to get one of his books every month!).
Right, coffee...

Wednesday 10 June 2009

Book review: The Painted Man

The Painted Man

By Peter V. Brett

(HarperVoyager, September 2008)

Peter V. Brett's been one of the success stories in the genre in the last year or so, with his debut fantasy novel garnering plenty of critical acclaim not to mention numerous foreign rights deals. And as reported recently, there's a movie in the works too. Still, as we all know a novel's popularity is not always indicative of its quality. It was with some interest though that I finally got round to picking up The Painted Man (or The Warded Man, to use the inferior title that Brett's US publisher gave it - let's not even get started on that).

What immediately grabs you - and what the publishers were keen to emphasise - is the simple, but interesting premise: when darkness falls, demons emerge from the 'Core' and hunt the night for prey while mankind cowers behind magical wards - ancient symbols that keep the demons at bay. Humanity is fighting a losing battle, as the ancient wards that can actually harm demons are long forgotten, and entire communities are paralysed with fear of the night and the creatures that dwell in it. Yet perhaps the balance of power is shifting, as a young country boy decides it's time to fight back...

Yes, country boy. One of the oldest clichés of the fantasy genre rears its head in the first few pages of the book. It's not alone either. If you take the premise out of the equation, Brett's world is pretty much a standard feudal medieval world without an awful lot to recommend it (although there are one or two hints that the setting is post-apocalyptic). On top of that, the three POV characters all grow up and take on roles that wouldn't be out of place in a D&D adventuring party. To put a cherry on top, there's a prophecy as well - noooooo! - although admittedly this serves a different purpose.

To criticise the inclusion of such clichés, however, is unfair. After all, it's not which clichés you use that matters, but how you use them. It will suffice to say though that their presence does lend a rather familiar air to much of the first half of the book. The village of Tibbet's Brook, where Arlen's early chapters take place, reminded me of Emond's Field from The Wheel of Time. In fact, Brett's novel starts in a remarkably similar fashion to Jordan's first work in his epic series. To be honest, it was only the constant threat of the demons that held my interest as Brett slowly revealed and developed his three child protagonists.

While Brett does construct some believable characters and relationships, the first half of The Painted Man is not particularly remarkable. What we essentially have is three kids growing up in communities paralysed by fear, and learning a few harsh life-lessons along the way. It's well-handled and eminently readable, but not particularly exciting or absorbing. Furthermore, the credibility of the premise was damaged somewhat by Arlen's actions: if a young boy can survive a night in the wild by scratching runes in the earth, subsequently protecting him from the demons, then what exactly is everyone so terrified about? Sure, you can argue that Arlen's a gifted youngster and better than many adults at using wards, but I found it hard to suspend my belief here.

So, halfway through the novel and so far, so average. Then it slowly changes. It's subtle at first, so much so that I wasn't even sure at which point I started caring about the characters or when I realised for the first time that I was eagerly anticipating what happened next. All that matters is that it did happen, and I'm glad I managed to get through the early stages of the book because the rest of the novel was well worth it.

I think the catalyst for this change is the fact that in the second half of the book, the characters are older. The novel subsequently takes on a darker tone. Whereas the prose in the first half of the novel - while perfectly readable - does lend itself to one or two rather cheesy moments, in the second half it's noticeably edgier, more mature. The second part of the novel also bears the fruits of all the characterisation groundwork Brett lays down early on. Arlen, Rojer and Leesha become well-rounded personalities with plenty of depth; they inspire genuine involvement on the reader's part. Brett creates believable relationships between the three, and this strong characterisation really is the driving point of the novel later on. In fact, Brett's presentation of human emotion is commendable and sometimes even Gemmell-esque, which is one of the highest compliments I could pay to any author, let alone a new one. In addition, he explores a number of themes such as the role of religion, with Arlen a significant critic of how his people rely on age-old prophecies rather than taking action themselves. The idea of fear and how it must be confronted is another theme that underpins the story.

Brett's writing ability is also deserving of praise. Despite the fact that only a couple of chapters take place in the desert fortress city of Krasia, Brett nonetheless manages to bring the place to life to such an extent that these chapters were probably my favourite in the entire novel (by the sounds of it, plenty of the action in The Desert Spear is set there, so I'll look forward to that). Brett also proves adept at writing absorbing combat scenes, with the final confrontation at the climax of the novel particularly gripping.

I did have some complaints though. There is one particular sexual encounter that just seemed totally out of character (I won't say who was involved; suffice to say that I've noted other readers were critical of it as well). Brett actually explained the reasoning behind this scene, and while I accept his argument I still felt it was not at all in accordance with the character's personality or earlier actions.

In addition, it could be argued that the people of Krasia (clearly a society based on the Islamic Republics of the Middle East) were perhaps portrayed in an unfavourable light, with the more negative aspects of Islamic culture being highlighted. This wasn't really a problem for me, though I did feel Brett was perhaps sailing a little close to the wind, and could have used the opportunity to promote what is positive about Islamic culture. Then again, maybe I speak too soon and we'll see further development on this point in The Desert Spear.

A minor criticism that I have centers on a later scene where two characters were rescued from demons in the nick of time. This scene had a whiff of deus ex machina about it, and as it was clearly crucial to the plot that it happened, it just felt contrived.

Verdict: The Painted Man is ultimately a book of two halves. The first is unremarkable and overly-familiar at times, held together only by Brett's solid writing and the excellent premise. The second half is where the novel matures into an exciting, very well-written story featuring strong characterisation and gripping action scenes. If you can get through the first half, you'll be well rewarded. And if The Desert Spear is more like the second half of The Painted Man as opposed to the first, then fans have much to look forward to.

Friday 5 June 2009

Joe Abercrombie book signing

Had an excellent time at Joe Abercrombie's Manchester book signing last night.

As with the Rothfuss gig last week, there was a decent turn-out. Joe kicked things off with an entertaining account of how he got into writing, bringing us right up to date with his latest novel Best Served Cold. This was followed by a Q&A session, which - as is usual at Manchester signings - was lively and a lot of fun. I can't recall much of what was said...let's see...oh yeah - Joe's favourite Streetfighter 2 character is Guile "because of the hair", although he's also rather partial to Blanka, "again, because of the hair."

Trust me to remember the most random answer of the night and not much else... Ah, a couple of other things - Joe hinted that we may see a jump in the timeline of his world, with gunpowder and other technologies making an appearance, and that he'd like to try his hand at a historical novel at some point. He also admitted that he enjoyed writing the torture scenes in Best Served Cold "more than I should have" and that he was unhappy with the first half of the book during the writing process, and this did affect his confidence a little (something that people might find hard to believe!).

Anyway, the signing came next. In my infinite wisdom I hadn't thought to charge my camera the night before, and the sodding thing decided to pay me back by turning off while I was trying to have my picture taken. Gah. Fortunately Jon from Gollancz was on hand to save the day, and took the pic you can see above on his blackberry - cheers Jon! I had a brief chat with Joe; it was cool that he knew Speculative Horizons - "Oh, yeah!" he exclaimed, "the black and green one!" Colour scheme win! Awesome.

Even more awesome was the fact that I was kindly invited to join Joe, Jon, Darren from Orbit/Little, Brown and Darren's lovely other half for drinks in a local pub. And even more awesome still, Joe bought me a pint. Now that is a win of the purest, rarest kind. Seriously though, we all had an excellent couple of hours of 'geek talk' - video games, history, books and publishing, and so on... Brilliant stuff.

So, thanks to Joe and Jon for an excellent evening. Look forward to doing it again next time around, though next time I'll be buying the drinks...

Reminder - Nights of Villjamur released today!

If you've not already ordered your copy of what is a very strong contender for debut of 2009 (hell, maybe even best novel of 2009) then get yourselves over to Amazon, where you can order a hardback copy of Nights of Villjamur for the very reasonable sum of £8.49.

While I think of it, you can also order Joe Abercrombie's Best Served Cold for £8.57, again in hardback.

Speaking of Mr Abercrombie, I attended his maiden UK signing in Manchester last night, and much fun was had by all. I'll try and blog about it as soon as I get the chance...

Wednesday 3 June 2009

David Eddings passes away

David Eddings has passed away at the age of 77. Good article over at the Crowsnest.

I only ever read Eddings's Belgorath the Sorceror, but it's always a sad day when the genre loses such a well-known author.