Sunday 31 January 2010

Vikings, werewolves, meddling gods...and huge axes!

If that sounds pretty good to you, then Wolfsangel by M. D. Lachlan is a book you might like to look out for.

Here's the blurb:

"The Viking King Authun leads his men on a raid against an Anglo-Saxon village. Men and women are killed indiscriminately but Authun demands that no child be touched. He is acting on prophecy. A prophecy that tells him that the Saxons have stolen a child from the Gods. If Authun, in turn, takes the child and raises him as an heir, the child will lead his people to glory. But Authun discovers not one child, but twin baby boys. Ensuring that his faithful warriors, witness to what has happened, die during the raid Authun takes the children and their mother home, back to the witches who live on the troll wall. And he places his destiny in their hands.

And so begins a stunning multi-volume fantasy epic that will take a werewolf from his beginnings as the heir to a brutal viking king, down through the ages. It is a journey that will see him hunt for his lost love through centuries and lives, and see the endless battle between the wolf, Odin and Loki - the eternal trickster - spill over into countless bloody conflicts from our history, and over into our lives. This is the myth of the werewolf as it has never been told before and marks the beginning of an extraordinary new fantasy series from Gollancz."

This novel has received a slew of positive comments from a number of other authors:

Part fantasy, part horror, part historical adventure, bound up with a tight, lean style and featuring some of the strangest and most sinister magic I've encountered. A dark and original book, recommended for people who like weird magic, unpredictable outcomes, gore, and vikings.


A unique take on the werewolf mythos, on the Norse pantheon and on magic itself. An enthralling, mesmeric book.


A spellbinding and unputdownable fusion of historical and fantasy fiction that is sure to enchant devotees of both genres.


A classic. Many cuts above the ordinary. Big axe cuts too. Brilliant stuff.


Sent chills down my spine, it was so good. Dark bloody and dangerous, you can almost smell the sweat and iron coming off the pages. There are a lot of werewolves coming our way this year, but Wolfsangel could well be the standard by which they will be judged for some years to come


Wolfsangel is published by Gollancz on 20 May 2010.

Friday 29 January 2010

Minor 'A Dance With Dragons' update

From GRRM's 'Not A Blog':

"Snowing like hell in Santa Fe today. I feel like Jon Snow on the Wall. White everywhere I look, and still coming down.

Of course, I'm writing about Meereen, where the weather is hot and muggy, oppressive. If the snow keeps falling, I better take it as an omen, switch to a Jon chapter tomorrow.

The good news: finished a chapter today.

The bad news: it's one I've finished at least four times before.

This time, though, I think I finally got it right. We'll see. Still whacking at the Meereenese knot.

I took an especially vigorous hack two days ago, by switching to a new POV. It seems to have helped. Helps to have a pair of eyes on the inside rather than the outside here. And back story works better in recollections than in dialogue.

Let's hope that when next week comes, I still like what I did this week.

Writing, writing..."

Mark Charan Newton signs new deal with Tor for two more books...

From Newton's blog:

Seems as though I’m late to my own party. Whilst the interwebs was busy fluttering with this news, I was getting my haircut and buying new shoes, and then I’ve got to cook dinner for four tonight. But anyway:


PRESS RELEASE – 28th January 2010


Julie Crisp, Senior Commissioning Editor at Tor UK at Pan Macmillan has concluded a second two-book world rights deal for UK fantasy author Mark Charan Newton, for an undisclosed five-figure sum. The agent was John Jarrold.

These books continue his Legends of the Red Sun series that opened with Nights of Villjamur, which Tor UK published 2009. The second title, City of Ruin, will be published in June 2010, together with the first in paperback. US rights to both those titles have been acquired from Macmillan by Bantam.

‘I’m delighted that we’ve been able to set up a second deal before Mark’s first novel is even out in paperback,’ said John Jarrold. ‘That speaks highly both of his writing and of Julie’s enthusiasm for the series.’

Julie Crisp commented: ‘Working with Mark on such an exciting series has been wonderful. Everyone here at Tor UK is thrilled that we’re able to continue with this talented author and we look forward to the fans’ reactions to the news that there are forthcoming titles.’

Mark Charan Newton is in his twenties, and lives in Nottingham. He previously worked as an SF buyer in a major bookstore chain.

- - - - - -

Congrats to Mark, this is really good news.

Monday 25 January 2010

Tasters of 'City of Ruin' and 'Farlander'

Mark Charan Newton has posted a two-chapter extract from his upcoming novel City of Ruin; here's a snippet:

It entered the deep night, a spider reaching taller than a soldier. Street by street, the thing retched thick silk out of itself to cross the walls, using the fibrous substance to edge along improbable corners. Two, then four legs to scale a wall – six, then eight to get up on to the steps of a watchtower, and it finally located a fine view across the rooftops of Viliren. Fibrous-skin tissue trapped pockets of air and, as tidal roars emerged from the distance, the creature exhaled.

A couple walked by, handy sized enough to slaughter perhaps, their shoes tap-tapping below – but No, not them, not now, it reflected – and it slipped down off the edge of a stone stairway to stand horizontally, at a point where observation took on a new perspective. Snow fell sideways, gentle flecks at first, then something more acute, adding to the brooding intensity of the streets.

Within this umbra, the spider loitered.

As people sifted through the avenues and alleyways, it sensed them by an alteration in the chemistry of the air, in minute vibrations, so no matter where they were they couldn’t hide. With precision, the spider edged across to a firm overhang constructed from more recent, reliable stone. Webbing drooled again, then the creature lowered itself steadily, suspended by silk alone, twisting like a dancer in the wind. Lanes spread before it, grid-like across a plain of mathematical precision. The frequency of citizens passing below had fallen over the last hour; now only a handful of people remained out to brave the extreme cold.

It could almost sense their fear.

One of them had to be chosen – not too young, not too old. The world collapsed into angles and probabilities as the creature made a controlled spiral to the ground.

Scuttling into the darkness, the spider went in search of fresh meat.

The opening lines remind me of Steven Erikson's Deadhouse Gates. I think this is a strong opening - you can't really go wrong with giant, flesh-eating spiders. :)

Last night I came across an extract of Col Buchanan's debut novel, Farlander, which is available on the author's website. Here's a sample:

Ash was half dead from exposure when they dragged him into the hall of the ice fortress and threw him at the feet of their king, where he landed on the furs with a grunt of surprise, his body shaking and wanting only to curl itself around the feeble heat of its heart, his panted breaths studding the air with mist.

He had been stripped of his furs, so that he lay curled in underclothing frozen into stiff corrugations of wool. His blade had been taken from him. He was alone. Still, it was as though a wild animal had been thrown into their midst. The villagers hollered through the smoky air and armed tribesmen jabbered for courage as they prodded his sides with bone spears, hopping and circling with caution. They peered through the steam that poured off the stranger like smoke; his breaths spreading in clouds across the matted lice-ridden surface of skins. Through gaps of inhalation, droplets could be seen to drip from his frosted skull, past ice-chips of eyebrows and the crease of eyes, from sharp cheeks and nose, a wedge of beard. Beneath the thawing ice on his face, his skin was black as night water.

The shouts rose in alarm, until it seemed the natives would finish him there and then on the floor.

“Brushka,” growled the king from his throne of bones. His voice rumbled from deep in his chest, breaking around the columns of ice arrayed along the length of the room, rebounding back at him from the high domed ceiling above. At the entrance, tribesmen began to shove the wide-eyed villagers back through the hangings of the archway. They resisted in the main, voicing their complaints; they had been drawn there in the wake of this old foreigner who had staggered in from the storm, and were compelled to see what would happen to him next.

Ash was oblivious to it all. Even the jabs of spears failed to draw his attention. It was the sensation of nearby heat that roused him at last, caused him to lift his head from the floor. A copper brazier sat nearby. Cakes of fat smoked and burned within its innards.

He crawled towards the heat as clubbing spears tried to stop him. The impacts continued as he huddled against the warmth, and though he flinched with every blow he refused to move from it.

“Ak ak!” barked the king, and his command forced the warriors to draw back.

A silence settled in the hall. The flames snapped. The tribesmen breathed as though only returned from a long run. Through it all, a groan of relief sounded loud and clear from Ash’s throat.

If I'm honest, this opening doesn't do a lot for me. I'm not a fan of long sentences, so the first thing I thought was that the opening paragraph is crying out for a full stop in the middle to break it up. The flow of the second paragraph is better, though the prose itself doesn't excite me. I also detest excessive use of invented language, mainly because unless you're Tolkien it invariably sounds crap. Unfortunately there's a lot of it in this opening chapter and I'm not a fan of it at all (it strikes me as unconvincing), though no doubt other readers may feel differently. I'll probably still give Farlander a go if I receive a review copy, though after reading this chapter I feel less inclined to buy it myself if I don't receive one.

Friday 22 January 2010

Another debut potentially worth watching...

Thanks to Neth for reminding me about this one, which slipped my mind and so didn't make it onto yesterday's list.

The Conqueror's Shadow

By Ari Marmell

(Spectra, 23 February 2010)


"They called him the Terror of the East. His past shrouded in mystery, his identity hidden beneath a suit of enchanted black armor and a skull-like helm, Corvis Rebaine carved a bloody path through Imphallion, aided by Davro, a savage ogre, and Seilloah, a witch with a taste for human flesh. No shield or weapon could stop his demon-forged axe. And no magic could match the spells of his demon slave, Khanda.

Yet just when ultimate victory was in his grasp, Rebaine faltered. His plans of conquest, born from a desire to see Imphallion governed with firmness and honesty, shattered. Amid the chaos of a collapsing army, Rebaine vanished, taking only a single hostage—the young noblewoman Tyannon—to guarantee his escape.

Seventeen years later, Rebaine and Tyannon are married, living in obscurity and raising their children, a daughter and a son. Rebaine has put his past behind him, given up his dreams of conquest. Not even news of Audriss—an upstart warlord following Rebaine’s old path of conquest—can stir the retired warrior to action.

Until his daughter is assaulted by Audriss’s goons.

Now, to rescue the country he once tried to conquer, Rebaine once more dons the armor of the Terror of the East and seeks out his former allies. But Davro has become a peaceful farmer. Seilloah has no wish to leave her haunted forest home. And Khanda . . . well, to describe his feelings for his former master as undying hatred would be an understatement.

But even if Rebaine can convince his onetime comrades to join him, he faces a greater challenge: Does he dare to reawaken the part of him that gloried in cruelty, blood, and destruction? With the safety of his family at stake, can he dare not to?"

I quite like the sound of this one, there's something quite Gemmellian about it - the old, flawed hero coming out of retirement to right a few wrongs. Plus 'Corvus Rebaine' is a cool name, so you know he's going to get medieval on a few asses. The cover's striking as well, which will do the book no harm at all (the burning trees are a nice touch). Although it does rather look like someone's just launched a ripe tomato at the dude with the helmet, and it's just exploded against his shoulder-guard. Question - would YOU throw a tomato at a guy wearing spiked armour and carrying a helmet shaped like a SKULL? Well? I know I wouldn't.

In all seriousness though, this does look like it could be a good debut - will most likely check it out.

Thursday 21 January 2010

So...what's going to be the 'hot' fantasy debut of 2010?

Every year there's one debut fantasy novel that garners more online hype/buzz than all the others: The Lies of Locke Lamora in 2006, The Name of the Wind in 2007, The Painted Man in 2008 (though some might argue Brent Weeks' The Way of Shadows was equally hyped) and Nights of Villjamur in 2009. This then raises the inevitable question - what debut is going to be the 'hot' release of 2010?

I wouldn't be surprised if it ended up being one of these five novels...

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

By N. K. Jemisin

(Orbit, 4 February 2010)


"Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky - a palace above the clouds where gods' and mortals' lives are intertwined. There, to her shock, Yeine is named one of the potential heirs to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle with a pair of cousins she never knew she had. As she fights for her life, she draws ever closer to the secrets of her mother's death and her family's bloody history. But it's not just mortals who have secrets worth hiding and Yeine will learn how perilous the world can be when love and hate - and gods and mortals - are bound inseparably."

This one's already received a very positive review over at Fantasy Book Critic. So far it's not yet received the coverage of some of the other debuts, but I have a feeling that might change. One thing that Robert's review praises is the prose, which I find encouraging - far too many fantasy books, especially debuts, are marred by wooden, dull writing. The premise is nothing new, but certainly sounds like it has potential. If I can get hold of a review copy, I'll be giving this one a go. The early release date is another aspect the book has to its advantage - plenty of time to generate buzz and generate a fan base before the enevitable 'Best of' lists at the end of the year.

One thing though - what's with the series title? Calling it The Inheritance Trilogy is a not a great idea, and one you'd have thought the editors would have changed (I certainly wouldn't want people to see my book and immedaitely think of Paolini's much-maligned series of the same name).


By Blake Charlton

(HarperVoyager, 8 July 2010)


"In a world where words can come to life, an inability to spell can be a dangerous thing. And no one knows this better than apprentice wizard Nicodemus Weal. Nicodemus is a cacographer, unable to reproduce even simple magical texts without 'misspelling' - a mistake which can have deadly consequences. He was supposed to be the Halcyon, a magic-user of unsurpassed power, destined to save the world; instead he is restricted to menial tasks, and mocked for his failure to live up to the prophecy. But not everyone interprets prophecy in the same way. There are some factions who believe a cacographer such as Nicodemus could hold great power -- power that might be used as easily for evil as for good. And when two of the wizards closest to Nicodemus are found dead, it becomes clear that some of those factions will stop at nothing to find the apprentice and bend him to their will!"

This one will probably prove popular, though I don't think it's for me. I read the opening chaper and it did nothing for me at all - I found the prose uninspiring and the dialogue rather wooden (I'm aware this was an unedited version, but even so...). Aidan enjoyed the book, but his review pretty much put me off the novel - he indicates that fans of Brooks, Williams and Feist will probably enjoy the novel, but fans of Lynch, GRRM and Abercrombie most likely wouldn't. That's the feeling I had as well, and since I'm firmly entrenched in the latter's camp, I doubt that Spellwright is going to work for me.

Yet plenty of readers love this more sort of traditional fantasy (boys with mysterious powers they can't control, demon hordes, etc) and so this book will probably prove popular, especially because the premise hints at some fresh ideas, mixing them up with one or two classic cliches tropes - Peter Brett's The Painted Man did something very similar, and look how popular that book was. So I therefore expect this to be - if not the 'hot' novel of the year - a success nonetheless. Which is certainly more than can be said for the horrific UK artwork, which really is a piss-poor effort.

Tome of the Undergates

By Sam Sykes

(Gollancz, 18 February 2010)


"Lenk can barely keep control of his mismatched adventurer band at the best of times (Gariath the dragon man sees humans as little more than prey, Kataria the shict despises most humans and the humans in the band are little better). When they're not insulting each other's religions they're arguing about pay and conditions. So when the ship they are travelling on is attacked by pirates things don't go very well. They go a whole lot worse when an invincible demon joins the fray. The demon steals the Tome of the Undergates - a manuscript that contains all you need to open the undergates. And whichever god you believe in you don't want the undergates open. On the other side are countless more invincible demons, the manifestation of all the evil of the gods, and they want out. Full of razor-sharp wit, characters who leap off the page (and into trouble) and plunging the reader into a vivid world of adventure this is a fantasy that kicks off a series that could dominate the second decade of the century."

Gollancz have a good track record with debuts, releasing both The Lies of Locke Lamora and The Blade Itself to critical acclaim in recent years. Tome of the Undergates is their big debut release of 2010 and they seem to have pretty high hopes for it. From flicking through my ARC, I was quickly reminded of Abercombie and Lynch, and that's certainly no bad thing. I think this debut will be aimed firmly at fans of those two writers, though whether it can replicate their respective success obviously remains to be seen. Wert's assessment was decidedly lukewarm, while another review is a little more positive but also mentions flaws that Wert picked up on - I'm interested to see if I think the same way. I certainly intend to read this one at some point, though given the size of the damned thing it's not going to be easy lugging it on my daily commute... Certainly a strong contender for 'hot' novel of the year - though will readers be expecting too much, given the quality of new talent that has emerged from the Gollancz stable in recent years?


By Col Buchanan

(Tor, 5 March 2010)


"The Heart of the World is a land in strife. For fifty years the Holy Empire of Mann, an empire and religion born from a nihilistic urban cult, has been conquering nation after nation. Their leader, Holy Matriarch Sasheen, ruthlessly maintains control through her Diplomats, priests trained as subtle predators.

The Mercian Free Ports are the only confederacy yet to fall. Their only land link to the southern continent, a long and narrow isthmus, is protected by the city of Bar-Khos. For ten years now, the great southern walls of Bar-Khos have been besieged by the Imperial Fourth Army.

Ash is a member of an elite group of assassins, the Rōshun - who offer protection through the threat of vendetta. Forced by his ailing health to take on an apprentice, he chooses Nico, a young man living in the besieged city of Bar-Khos. At the time, Nico is hungry, desperate, and alone in a city that finds itself teetering on the brink.

When the Holy Matriarch’s son deliberately murders a woman under the protection of the Rōshun; he forces the sect to seek his life in retribution. As Ash and his young apprentice set out to fulfil the Rōshun orders – their journey takes them into the heart of the conflict between the Empire and the Free Ports . . . into bloodshed and death."

There's more than a whiff of Steven Erikson about this novel, which is no bad thing in my opinion. Again, while the premise is fairly standard for an epic fantasy, it hints at some rich worldbuilding and a decent story. I've certainly got my eye on this one, though as of yet it's generated very little online buzz. Could turn out to be the sort of novel that snowballs in popularity as word spreads. It's certainly helped by a solid commercial cover. I expect to receive a review copy of this one, and will certainly give it a go.

The Left Hand of God

By Paul Hoffman

(Michael Joseph, 7 January 2010)


"The Sanctuary of the Redeemers on Shotover Scarp is named after a damned lie for there is no redemption that goes on there and less sanctuary. The Sanctuary of the Redeemers is a vast and desolate place – a place without joy or hope.

Most of its occupants were taken there as boys and for years have endured the brutal regime of the Lord Redeemers whose cruelty and violence have one singular purpose – to serve in the name of the One True Faith.

In one of the Sanctuary’s vast and twisting maze of corridors stands a boy. He is perhaps fourteen or fifteen years old – he is not sure and neither is anyone else. He has long-forgotten his real name, but now they call him Thomas Cale. He is strange and secretive, witty and charming, violent and profoundly bloody-minded. He is so used to the cruelty that he seems immune, but soon he will open the wrong door at the wrong time and witness an act so terrible that he will have to leave this place, or die.

His only hope of survival is to escape across the arid Scablands to Memphis, a city the opposite of the Sanctuary in every way: breathtakingly beautiful, infinitely Godless, and deeply corrupt. But the Redeemers want Cale back at any price… not because of the secret he now knows but because of a much more terrifying secret he does not."

This book has probably generated the most online hype so far, probably because it's already been released and so has a few reviews to its name (although it's also possible that the accompanying promotional media, like the YouTube video, may have helped). Early opinion seems split. Some readers loved it, while others criticised it for being fantasy-by-the-numbers. I was - and am - quite interested in this book, though some readers have slated the prose, and this is always a turn-off for me. If a book has bland prose, I usually really struggle to enjoy it. Still, the premise sounds interesting and there's something about this book that appeals to me, though I'm not sure exactly what it is. An outside bet for the 'hot' debut release of 2010? Possibly.

So, there we have it - five debut novels that, to varying degrees, will make waves this year. But which one makes the biggest wave remains to be seen...

Adrian Tchaikovsky announces UK book signings

Shadows of the Apt author Adrian Tchaikovsky has announced that he will be signing copies of his books on the following dates:

Weekend of the 5th February - SFX Weekender convention, at which I will be signing books, either at a pre-arranged time or just mug me as and when the opportunity arises. Mid-panel is probably not recommended.

Saturday 13th February - signing around lunchtime (figure 1.00pm start in all likelihood) at Waterstones, Broad Street, Reading (not the one in the Oracle). (Waterstones, 89a Broad Street, Reading, RG1 2AP, 0118 958 1270)

Saturday 20th February - signing at 11.00am in Garforth Book Shop, Main Street, Garforth (15 Main Street, Garforth, Leeds - 0113 286 3534) and then:

Saturday 20th February (again) - signing at 3.00pm at Travelling Man, Leeds (32 Central Road
Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 6DE, 0113 242 7227)

Saturday 16 January 2010

Another variation on the 'hooded figure' cover

This variant has been identified as belonging to the "portrait-of-evil-nun-clumsily-pasted-over-bland-background-in-futile-attempt-to-look-atmospheric" family of hooded figure artwork.

Apparently the publisher called Hoffman's novel "their biggest fiction debut of the decade" and that it is "the first installment in a GROUNDBREAKING NEW SERIES of imaginative fiction." It's odd then that they've slapped such a poor cover on the US release (the UK version is better, but still hopelessly derivative).

Thanks to Aidan and The Mad Hatter for the heads-up on this one.

Thursday 14 January 2010

Bizarre edition of 'Dante's Inferno' revealed

This is an odd one. Del Rey are publishing a new edition of the famous medieval poem Inferno by Dante, which would be strange enough as it is, but is made all the more bizarre by the fact that they've launched this edition in conjunction with Electronic Arts, the video gaming giant who just happen to have a game called - wait for it - Dante's Inferno. This new edition of the classic poem weirdly uses the video game's artwork, despite the fact that the original poem and the (allegedly mediocre) video game share very little in common.

So...what exactly is the point? Is the idea to try and get fans of the game to read the poem (no chance), lovers of the poem to play the game (no chance) or is it just an attempt to 'sex up' this classic piece of literature for a new audience? Either way, it's just bizarre. Still, the cover does look pretty cool.

Tuesday 12 January 2010

Scary alien + big gun = win

Nice. I've actually got a copy of Orbus, which I've had my eye on for a while since I quite enjoyed Asher's Shadow of the Scorpion. Not sure if I can read it on its own though, or whether I ought to check out the other Spatterjay novels first - I'm presuming the latter.

While we're on subject, here's the hardback cover. Prefer the paperback cover (above) myself.

Saturday 9 January 2010

Best books of the decade

Johnny from the excellent A Song of Ice and Fire website Tower of the Hand kindly asked me if I'd like to contribute to an article he was putting together on the best books of the last decade.

After some brief deliberation I nominated my five best books of the 00s, as did Aidan from A Dribble of Ink, Adam from The Wertzone and Eva from Evagation.

The final article can be found here. It's an interesting read, with some healthy debate already building in the comments section. Do check it out, since you might find some good recommendations.

Thanks to Johnny for the opportunity to get involved, and for his work in pulling it all together.

Friday 8 January 2010

Tim Lebbon signs deal with Orbit to release 'Echo City Falls'

According to British author Tim Lebbon's website, he's signed a two-book deal with Orbit for a "rich, gritty novel" called Echo City Falls and one other untitled book.

"Orbit are one of the biggest and best genre publishers in the UK, and I am so excited about this deal. I’ve already met up with my excellent editor Bella Pagan, I’ve been eager to spread the news, and I just know it’s going to be fun. Watch this space for more developments."

Here's the early blurb:

"It hides below Echo City, a threat that has been growing over generations deep beneath the streets. The corrupt wheels of commerce, the murky cycles of political rise and fall and the rivalries of religious and military sects have intersected efficiently over the ages, filling specialised niches in a rigidly organised society. But this is about to change. As darkness stirs in the depths, a stranger arrives from across the desert that isolates Echo City from the rest of the world. Watchers have long whispered of the destruction of their city and search for something that will keep them from it. Madmen and spirits of the dead have foretold disaster and looked for a saviour. But no one expected either in this lifetime.

Labyrinthine, steeped in violent history and hiding horrors far below, the city starts to unravel as the plot gathers momentum to reach a dramatic and compulsive conclusion."

Sounds promising! I've enjoyed the two books of Lebbon's that I've read previously, so have high hopes for this. Echo City Falls is due for release in 2011.

The New Weird genre - a marketable identity?

Decent article that gives a brief overview of the New Weird genre, looking at its origin and principle authors - worth checking out if you've heard the name bandied around, but are unsure exactly what it means.

"Early in the aughts, a new creative force emerged. Worldwide political events, crystallized by the 1999 Seattle WTO protests and the terrorist attacks of 9/11, energized a self-aware readership that embraced New Weird, the 21st century’s first major new literary movement. Books such as China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station (2000), Jeff VanderMeer’s City of Saints and Madmen (2001), Paul Di Filippo’s A Year in a Linear City (2002), K. G. Bishop’s The Etched City (2003), and Steph Swainston’s The Year of Our War (2004) birthed a revolutionary, real-world, postmodern literature that often included surreal elements found in urban fantasy, horror, science fiction, and political thrillers."

The article makes one point I'd seriously question:

"Of course the earliest New Weird authors began working in the style well before it was acknowledged as a movement. Miéville and VanderMeer, often seen as leaders of the movement, produced works containing New Weird concepts for smaller presses throughout the ’90s. The development of a moniker provided a marketable identity for publishers, which resulted in much larger venues for the work."

A marketable identity, leading to larger venues? Hardly. To quote Mark Charan Newton - a real fan of the subgenre - "no publisher anywhere in the world wants to touch [it]. The New Weird is dead. It was barely alive to begin with."

The problem with the New Weird is that it doesn't have a marketable identity - it's so hard to define, so abstract, that it effectively renders itself uncommercial. While this is attractive from an artistic perspective, it basically meant that publishers didn't know how to handle it and subsequently (and understandably) were reluctant to invest in it - one reason why the genre rapidly declined.

You can point to authors like Miéville and argue that he's proof of the New Weird's health, but this is papering over the cracks, and in any case Miéville is practically in his own unique subgenre these days.

To suggest, as the article does, that the New Weird is slowly seeping into popular consciousness, is in my opinion pretty wide of the mark.

Thursday 7 January 2010

Some cool book covers from the continent...

With all the debate surrounding UK and US book covers, it's easy to forget there's some excellent artwork to be found on European releases.

Here's some of the best European book covers I've come across recently.

Portuguese cover for Peter Brett's The Painted Man

German cover for Peter Brett's The Desert Spear (title changed to The Whisper of Night)

French cover for George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones (I think):

French cover for Patrick Rothfuss's The Name of the Wind

French cover for Brent Weeks' The Way of Shadows

French cover for Brent Weeks' Shadow's Edge

French cover for Brent Weeks' Beyond the Shadows

French cover for one of Gemmell's Jon Shannow novels (think it might be Bloodstone)

Wednesday 6 January 2010

'Watcher of the Dead' news and art

J. V. Jones, author of the Sword of Shadows series, has confirmed that the fourth instalment - Watcher of the Dead - is finished:
"Moving quickly along let’s talk about Watcher of the Dead. Yes, it’s finished and yes it will be published this year. April in fact. Not a very long wait at all. I hate to give anything away and spoil surprises but I will say that all those people who have been writing to me asking "What happens next with Angus Lok?" may well have their question answered. I’ll post more about the book in the coming weeks."
This is good news for fans of the series, given the seriously delayed release of the third book A Sword From Red Ice (which was published in paperback six years after A Fortress of Grey Ice). The reaction to the third book was mixed, with some fans feeling Jones had lost the thread of the story, so hopefully Watcher will return to the high standards of the first two books (which are two of the finest epic fantasy novels around). I've only read the first two novels, and am waiting for the series to be completed before reading it in its entirety - anyone know how many books Jones expects it to run to? I seem to recall five being mooted, but can't be sure.

While we're on the subject of Sword of Shadows, artist Marc Simonetti - whose excellent artwork for GRRM's A Song of Ice and Fire was recently revealed - has also been busy producing some art for Jones's series.

Here's my favourite picture, of Raif with the Forsworn Sword:

Love the colours and atmosphere of this piece. No wonder Simonetti is in demand...

Tuesday 5 January 2010


Speculative Horizons is two today (which in internet years makes it about 30) - happy birthday blog!

Hard to believe it was two years ago today that - after putting another writing project on hold - I figured there had to be a more productive use for my free time than trying to get little Biffy the halfling thief up to level 25 (disclaimer: I think I only ever played D&D as a halfling thief once, and it was a very short-lived experience; I was merely using this as an example. Ahem).

So, yeah. Two years. And it's been a very enjoyable, eventful two years: plenty of good books, frilly-cuffed rants and plenty of new friends made (as well as the odd enemy). For all my efforts, Speculative Horizons would be nothing without all of you, kindly taking the time to drop by (whether it's every day, or once a month). Hats off to all of you, along with my sincere thanks for your patronage. I do hope you'll all continue to visit in the blog's third year.

Now, onwards! Onwards, I say!

*Damn, just realised that the cake only has one candle on it. Ah well. :)

Monday 4 January 2010

Anticipated new releases for 2010 - part 1

Here's part one of my list of novels I'm looking forward to reading this year (subject to being released, of course!).

I imagine I wasn't alone in feeling a little disappointed that China Miéville isn't returning to his fascinating world of Bas-Lag with his new novel Kraken, but that disappointment didn't last long. Unlike the abstract The City and the City (a novel I happily admit didn't really work for me), Kraken promises to be vintage Miéville - dark, baroque and weird.

This novel had me at 'giant squid' (I have a strange fascination with huge sea creatures, which is maybe one reason why I enjoyed The Scar so much), while the mention of warring cults, surreal magic and assassins got me all hot and bothered.

Really can't wait for this one - roll on May!

The Republic of Thieves is surely one of the most anticipated books in the last couple of years - I tend to get at least 10 hits a day from people googling "Republic of Thieves release date" - more queries than any other upcoming book.

The delay to this novel is well known (I believe it was originally meant to be published in 2008). With Scott Lynch finally making a return to the online community, it seemed that he was fired up and ready to deliver the book fans have been growing impatient for. Then without warning he vanished again and once more we're in the dark as to when this book might appear. Given how long Lynch has presumably been working on it, you'd think it would have a realistic chance of appearing this year - but nothing's guaranteed.

Delay aside, I consider this a massively important release for Lynch. Like many people, I loved The Lies of Locke Lamora but was left unimpressed with Red Seas Under Red Skies. For me, The Republic of Thieves will hopefully indicate which of the previous books is more representative of Lynch's ability. Fingers crossed we'll find out in 2010.

Another book with a well-known history of delay. Sadly George R. R. Martin's A Dance with Dragons didn't materialise last year, but I firmly believe that us GRRM fans will finally get our greasy mitts on the long-awaited volume this year.

Much like Lynch, Martin's last book - A Feast For Crows - received a mixed response, and for the first time readers started to question whether Martin was losing the thread of his own story. Personally I think it's impossible to draw such conclusions from one book, especially one that stood almost no chance of living up to the unbelievably high standards of its predecessor (the simply stunning A Storm of Swords).

As I've stated before, I consider the abuse and vitriol aimed at GRRM by some of his 'fans' to be utterly pathetic, and am expecting A Dance With Dragons - when it's released - to blow everyone away and remind people what a massive asset GRRM is to the fantasy genre.

Mark Charan Newton's Nights of Villjamur was the best fantasy debut I've read in some time, and I'm expecting seriously good things from his follow-up effort, City of Ruin.

Newton, commendably in my opinion, publicly acknowledged that the more bizarre elements of his world were kept in check in his debut novel so as to make the book more attractive to publishers. However, with his new offering Newton's promised a darker novel with the weirdness turned up several notches - "I’ve let myself go a bit more. There are few clichés to be found in City of Ruin. It’s a very dark piece. I dislike the word gritty – since I think it takes away the emphasis from content, themes, and style. It’s a pigeon hole. But City of Ruin is certainly more the type of fantasy I want to write."

As I've mentioned before, I've been fortunate to have had the opportunity to read some of the early chapters (only a busy schedule prevented me from reading more) and can confirm that I'm impressed with what I've seen. Even though I only read a few chapters, I noticed that the writing is tighter and more confident, that the weirdness has indeed been ramped up, and that the characterisation is stronger.

Newton set himself pretty high standards with Nights of Villjamur, but I have a feeling he'll easily surpass them with City of Ruin.

Jasper Kent's Twelve made my top five reads of the year for 2009 - an impressive feat for any novel, but especially for a debut. Twelve wasn't everyone's cup of tea (Gav, I'm looking at you, sir!) but it worked for me and I'm eager to check out the next instalment in the series, Thirteen Years Later.

I'm particularly intrigued to see how Kent develops the central storyline over the course of a couple of hundred years as the series progresses - the changing historical periods should add an interesting dimension.

So, those are the first five novels I'm looking forward to this year - check back for the second part of the list, which I'll try and post as soon as possible! As always, feel more than welcome to list your own anticipated novels - i'm interested to see what books people are looking forward to in 2010!

Sunday 3 January 2010

Thoughts on Avatar

Had I seen Avatar before I did my end of year review, it would have replaced District 9 as the best film I saw last year. 

The opinion I'd garnered from the interwebs prior to seeing the film was mixed; there was a plethora of different reactions, ranging from hugely critical to gushing appreciation. It was hard to pinpoint a majority consensus, though the statement I saw most often was one along the lines of "Don't let the weak storyline and hamfisted ecological message ruin what is a visual, action-packed masterpiece."

I think that's roughly the opinion I hold of Avatar. The story itself has come under fire for being too simplistic, with the criticism that it was largely left undeveloped due to the focus on visuals. While this is largely true, personally I don't feel the film needed a more detailed story. Sure, it's a fairly simple plot, but I don't feel this detracts from the quality of the film. In fact, it can be seen as a strength - a more complicated storyline may have proved confusing and undermined the power of the film. I think the story suits the film's needs perfectly. 

As for the 'hamfisted' environmental message, I didn't have a problem with it. Some viewers suggested it was clunky and oppressive, but it wasn't for me. It's there if you want to embrace it, but it's no problem if you don't. It's not like the message is rammed down your throat. In any case, I think it's a decent statement and adds a nice thematic edge to the film. 

As you'd expect, the visuals are easily the film's strongest point. The world of Pandara is wonderfully realised and surely ranks as one of the greatest examples of world building in film history. I found it utterly convincing and absorbing, not to mention stunning to look at. The colours are beautifully done and there's some great ideas in terms of flora and fauna that make the film a really impressive spectacle (and the CGI is first class). These visuals, when combined with some thrilling action sequences, make for a seriously exciting watch. Make no mistake, this is a truly epic film and it is jaw-dropping at times. I'd recommend seeing it in 3D, which is what I watched it in, though I'd imagine it would be equally good in 2d (hard to judge how much the 3D elements really adds to it). 

Characterisation isn't a strong point, but it's satisfactory. There's one or two cliches, but it doesn't detract from a film which is all about visuals and action - and on these two elements it delivers with ease. I very rarely make a point of seeing a film more than once on the big screen, but Avatar is probably going to be one of the few exceptions. 

To sum up in one word - exhilarating. 

Friday 1 January 2010

New decade, new year...and a new look

Happy New Year to everyone! I wish you all a prosperous 2010.

Unless this is your first time visiting, you'll have noticed the new banner and colour scheme. While I liked the old banner and the green and black scheme, I felt it was getting a little tired and was in need of freshening up. I thought I'd go for something totally different in terms of colours, though the actual layout and template hasn't changed.

I'm pleased with the end result, and especially delighted with the banner which was designed by my brother Jelly. Despite being madly busy with his own art projects (not to mention being totally inexperienced with this sort of gig), he put in a heroic effort in his spare time to create this awesome banner, and I owe him many thanks. Cheers Jelly!

Anyway, I do hope you all like the new-look blog and continue to visit in what promises to be a great year for the genre. 

Here's to a genre-tastic 2010!