Wednesday, July 16, 2014

New Books on the Radar

2014 has been turning out to be quite a stellar one in terms of my reading.
I've never felt so good about my reading - I guess with my writing having now entered the second stages ( where the first draft is done and dusted, second and third rewrites are in progress and you can hear the editing axes chopping away in full glory )

Having set myself a target of close to 60 books to complete on Goodreads - I think I'm very comfortably close to punching above my weight. Say wohooo.

Alright coming back to the year of 2014 - Quite a few - in fact a handful - of good, gooder and grand fantasy books have released. Words of Radiance, The Emperor's Blades, Prince of Fools, Half a King, Breach Zone - forming just the first line of that leading pack and many more yet to come ( Some mind-bogglingly good titles like Smiler's Fair by Rebecca Levine ) It's as good as it gets and heck, it keeps on getting only better.

So here's my bid to direct you to some more. In my sweep of the Grand Internet, I found these gems sparkling and twinkling in the far horizon. And I wish to keep them for mine.


Of Bone And Thunder by Chris Evans.

I haven't yet read anything by Chris Evans - but the new novel that is coming out from Gallery books in 2014 looks to be spectacular add to the genre. Dropping our favorite sword/sorcery story right into the mutinous deadly jungles of Vietnam. Booyah! exciting times.

Channeling the turbulent period of the Vietnam War and its ruthless pitting of ideologies, cultures, generations, and races against each other, military historian and acclaimed fantasy writer Chris Evans takes a daring new approach to the traditional world of sword and sorcery by thrusting it into a maelstrom of racial animus, drug use, rebellion, and a growing war that seems at once unwinnable and with no end in sight. In this thrilling epic, right and wrong, country and honor, freedom and sacrifice are all put to the ultimate test in the heart of a dark, bloody, otherworldly jungle.
In this strange, new world deep among the shadows under a triple-canopy jungle and plagued by dangers real and imagined, soldiers strive to fulfill a mission they don’t understand and are ill-equipped to carry out. And high above them, the heavy rush of wings slashing through the humid air herald a coming wave of death and destruction, and just possibly, salvation.

The Incorruptibles by John Hornor Jacobs

John Hornor is a new name to me. But the blurb blew my socks away. A weird western set in lands of Romany ? Guns based on Daemonic technology? This review by Mihir of Fantasy Book Critic got me super excited. And now I can't wait.

In the contested and unexplored territories at the edge of the Empire, a boat is making its laborious way upstream. Riding along the banks are the mercenaries hired to protect it – from raiders, bandits and, most of all, the stretchers, elf-like natives who kill any intruders into their territory. The mercenaries know this is dangerous, deadly work. But it is what they do.
In the boat the drunk governor of the territories and his sons and daughters make merry. They believe that their status makes them untouchable. They are wrong. And with them is a mysterious, beautiful young woman, who is the key to peace between warring nations and survival for the Empire. When a callow mercenary saves the life of the Governor on an ill-fated hunting party, the two groups are thrown together.
For Fisk and Shoe – two tough, honourable mercenaries surrounded by corruption, who know they can always and only rely on each other – their young companion appears to be playing with fire. The nobles have the power, and crossing them is always risky. And although love is a wonderful thing, sometimes the best decision is to walk away. Because no matter how untouchable or deadly you may be, the stretchers have other plans.

What are you looking forward to read next ?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Smiler's Fair by Rebecca Leven: Epic Fantasy as it ought to be.

Once in a blue moon, comes along a book – first volume fantasy – that is so accomplished, bold, wildly imaginative and completely entertaining that it evokes….begs.. comparisons to the greats of modern Fantasy that includes GRR Martin and others.

Smiler’s Fair is a book that does all this with effortless elan and beguiling ease. Enfolding the readers into a brilliantly fascinating world where the Moon God killed eons ago is reborn among people and this cataclysmic event, prophesied and foreseen turns into a vicious web – ensnaring the lives of five ordinary people – all of this happens in the backdrop of a vivid, gorgeously realized milieu of an arcane nomadic circus group called the Smiler’s Fair.

The manner in which Rebecca Levene reimagines this tale of a God being reborn is punchy and absolutely delightful – with its fair share of deceit, sex, violence and the wildly fantastical, Smiler’s Fair is vast in its scope and spot-on in terms of executing a plot that wrestles all this – along with a wide cast of characters. None of them likeable really but ones that you cannot ignore under any circumstances. And Rebecca is an expert in creating those treacherous circumstances where the slightest misstep could lead to your doom. Every character – there are about six main POVs that we switch between – is struggling with their own personal demons and wrong choices made under pressing circumstances.

So – without being any vaguer – getting into the details of the story:
Yron the Moon God is now dead. A lover of chaos, he was killed by the Sun God – Mizhara (that’s a She by the way. A clever reversal of tropes I thought) who likes order and rules over the world now. But the prophecies claim that Yron will return – reborn in this world. And there are still Yron’s followers and ardent worshippers waiting for this calamitous event to happen. That is when the King of Ashaneland – where the whole book one of Hollow Gods is set – has a child; born with the grey eyes of Moon God. Prophecy has that the Yron’s Heir will kill the king and naturally the King wishes to have his child killed as soon as he is born. But fates intervene and the child is saved. Left to be raised for sixteen years as a goatherd – Krishanjit or Krish.

In the meanwhile – Smiler’s Fair has come back to Ashaneland. A travelling group of performers; Something like Erin Morgenstein’s Night Circus that appears magically and has vices enough to satisfy the most crooked of them all.  It’s no paradise. On the contrary, it is a grey dark morbid place really – with taverns running to rot, whorehouses promising all kinds of pleasures, animal shit that layers the streets and all kinds of degenerates running around. But it attracts the world to come over and have a taste of the forbidden. Likes flies can’t resist filth.

So to this madhouse congregate the weirdest of the world –
Marvan ( a warrior, a sell-sword? I really didn’t figure out what he was?) a twisted psychotic man so attracted to the idea of killing that he even gets off like that. The body count keeps going up.

Nethmi, the princess of a shiplord ( yeah – if they don’t roam the world, then the rest live on huge ships inside lakes being carted around by mammoths!) gets married off against her wishes to one of the highlanders lord. Married into domesticity to a husband who doesn’t love her, Nethmi’s days are hell on earth until the day the king’s soldier’s arrest a young boy and his mother. And the boy convinces her of the prophecy coming true.

Frankly Nethmi and Marvan are a bit of an oddball to be main protagonist in a fantasy setting. But Rebecca spins a compelling web of intrigue around them and it’s their actions ( maybe more of Nethmi’s) that really catapults the story forwards. Like strung in the back of an arbalest and let loose.

Dae Hyo – one of the tribesmen whose whole tribe is slaughtered by a wandering tribe called Chung – is now an alcoholic in need of a purpose. The Moon god’s heir might just be the one that changes his life. The quintessential action man, Dae brought a grace to the action sequences and a vibrant energy to the whole plot. Especially towards the second half.

Eric, a male prostitute finds out that the price for true love is too cruel. Having fallen in love with one of his clients, Eric decides to take the next step and leave Smiler’s Fair to follow the shiplord home. His life goes out of whack, in ways he never imagined. Nor did we, frankly.

And there is Krish – the goatherd who hates the fact that his father never really accepts him. One night the hate takes him over the edge and then he is on the run. Not for reason he thinks though. His acceptance of his fate as the King's son - wanted and hunted by huge parties - is gradual and sometimes unconvincing. 

All their fates collide at the Smiler’s Fair in an explosive lead-up that will blow your socks off. Rebecca peppers her story with twists and surprises – the fates of the above five are lines that entwine and entangle more than once across each other with some serious stunning aftermaths. Truly I was pleasantly surprised that Rebecca pulled this off with this diverse a cast and a plot that keeps wheeling on and sucking you in. The names – for some reason – reminded me of Indonesian influences – Mahesh, Thilak, Krish? Are you kidding me – if the settings and world had not been so exotic, I would almost have put my bets on thinking this is based on Ancient India. But no – it’s an entirely original setting – exciting, gorgeously detailed and clearly with a lot of thought having gone into even the minor details that smacks of wild imagination. Prow Gods, Shiplords, Servants of Mizhara, the worm-men who shun the light, woolly mammoths and lots more.

It’s a delightful mix of things in the extreme. Lust and betrayal are strong themes. So what is Smiler’s Fair all about? God’s rebirth and man’s degeneration. Yeah sure. But Smiler’s Fair is a whole lot more than that. It’s a slow meandering exploration of the dark. Written in compelling lucid prose ( a bit that reminds you of GRRM’s protégé – Daniel Abraham!), this book is a brilliant opener to a series ( Hollow Gods from Hodder books is a quadrilogy) that might just give Song of Ice & Fire and The Dagger & the Coin [ both arguably the BEST Ever running epic fantasy today ] some serious competition. And yes, I am willing to bet on this one.

Monday, July 7, 2014

California Bones by Greg Van Eekhout - Refreshing take on urban fantasy.

Greg Van Eekhout was not a name familiar to me when I started reading California Bones but I swear to amend this mistake soon. Boy can this guy write!

So here's the blurb:

A novel of magic, a heist, and the unexpected things that change your life.

When Daniel Blackland was six, he ingested his first bone fragment, a bit of kraken spine plucked out of the sand during a visit with his demanding, brilliant, and powerful magician father, Sebastian.

When Daniel was twelve, he watched Sebastian die at the hands of the Hierarch of Southern California, devoured for the heightened magic layered deep within his bones.
Now, years later, Daniel is a petty thief with a forged identity. Hiding amid the crowds in Los Angeles—the capital of the Kingdom of Southern California—Daniel is trying to go straight. But his crime-boss uncle has a heist he wants Daniel to perform: break into the Hierarch's storehouse of magical artifacts and retrieve Sebastian's sword, an object of untold power.

For this dangerous mission, Daniel will need a team he can rely on, so he brings in his closest friends from his years in the criminal world. There's Moth, who can take a bullet and heal in mere minutes. Jo Alverado, illusionist. The multitalented Cassandra, Daniel’s ex. And, new to them all, the enigmatic, knowledgeable Emma, with her British accent and her own grudge against the powers-that-be. The stakes are high, and the stage is set for a showdown that might just break the magic that protects a long-corrupt regime.

Extravagant and yet moving, California Bones is an epic adventure set in a city of canals and secrets and casual brutality--different from the world we know, yet familiar and true.

California Bones was an e-galley from Tor books released in June this year. So why read this one? Imagine the original Ocean’s Eleven – An Urban Fantasy about a heist-adventure featuring a stunningly original magical system. With a bone-eating magician in the lead role set in a magical South Cal where the future of this city rests on a heist of fantastic proportions.

That actually doesn’t do the book justice. It’s an absolute roller coaster fun read – a thrilling adventure of sorts that takes no prisoners. Daniel Blackhand, the osteomancer around whom the whole story revolves is not the most interesting of characters. He’s something of an escapist. Having escaped his fate when he was hardly nine – when he watched the Hierarch, the ruthless tyrant ruler of South California, kill and eat his father to ingest his magic – and surviving in hiding making small time petty crime and generally keeping a low profile for the past ten-twelve years. But then an opportunity pops up to make it big. A single grand sweep that requires him to break into the Ossuary – the secret keep of the Hierarch – to steal the magical sword that the Hierarch once stole from his father that has magical bits of himself embedded in it – and thus right a wrong done many years ago. And even save himself as well in the process.

Daniel assembles a crack team – a shape-shifting illusionist, a self-healing tough guy, an all-round specialist who can crack safes and shoot targets blind and who also happens to be his ex-lover. And attempts to break into lair of the spider. Only to have things go spiralling wrong as they should.
It’s a fast-paced novel and there is no break in the proceedings. And it reads like one heist movie. Choosing the team. Practising the strike. Going through with the strike. And Wham! Hell breaks loose.

I ain’t saying I saw the twists coming from a mile off but the breakneck pace of the plot sweeps you through and yes while you would be nodding in familiarity, it is still as enjoyable as ever. The plot is energetic, filled with action and unexpected setbacks for the caper, setting things up for a fast-paced narrative mined up with high-strung tension. Greg’s writing is refined and a dash of quick humour lightens up the dark mood of the heist-story.

Now the most striking aspect about this wonderful new world that Greg has built or should I say, converted the near-future Los Angeles to, is of course the magic. Osteomancy. Magic from bones.
“Our bodies are cauldrons and we become the magic we consume.”
Explains Daniel’s father about the same to a six-year old Dani who witnesses one of the first experimentations that his dad does with him. That of ingesting Kraken bone – thus investing Dani with the power of calling forth lightning shots through his body. It is stunningly original and yet not so outlandish so as to “circle around the perimeter of us readers’ understanding and then sink into oblivion”. Meaning it is accessible and Greg works wonders.

As I said before while Daniel may not be the most endearing primary character, his gang – all of them childhood cronies – make for an interesting ensemble. Cassandra, ex-flame and all-rounder comes close to being a well-rounded character. Emma Walker, the inside mole within the Hierarch’s organization makes for an unexpected twist and is an intriguing character that will have you guessing. While for the rest, the past-story gets only a fleeting glance, their roles in the current caper keeps things interesting. I especially found Moth – the muscle-man who is quite “un-killable” to be very intriguing.  The most under-played character is actually the second lead, Gabriel Argent. A far-removed grand-cousin of the Hierarch, Gabriel nurses his own ambitions and is a determined man – hot on the trial of Daniel Blackhand, believed to be dead while a child long time back. Gabriel, sadly gets short-changed in terms of characterization towards the end of the book, ceding all guts and glory to our heist-leader and magical genius, Daniel. I am hoping to see more of Gabriel in the next books.

Another fun element in the book is of course the alternate reality that Greg has built around LA. A city filled with canals and water-systems. Roping in luminaries like Walt Disney who is an aged Osteomancer using magic to entertain and animate and weaving in real famous places in LA into the narrative to strike that nostalgic balance. Very succinctly done.

My only complaint would have been the predictability and the rushed job towards the climax where things fall in place so easily. But don’t get me wrong, this is a book you must try.
Especially, if you love your heist stories and a blistering-paced action novel that challenges the boundaries of what urban fantasy is capable of doing and especially if you like your magical systems unique and original, then California Bones is your answer.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Chasers of the Wind: Giveaway Contest Winners!

Alright, as promised here are the lucky three who get to own brand new copies of The Chasers of the Wind by Alexey Prehov, Book one of a new series by this best-selling Russian maestro of epic fantasy.

1. Taryn Hill
2. Lori Vandenburg
3. Farhad Amani

Congratulations winners! Your copies of the books will be on their way soon!