Saturday, August 29, 2015

Alice by Christina Henry

Retellings of classics have the potential to be spectacular or disastrous. Alice in Wonderland has been tried before - though I confess I haven't read the written form of such retelling but having watched a few adaptations on TV I came away sorely disappointed. Like the big screen never could justify that mad gleam in the Hatter's eyes - as matched perhaps by the twisty imagination of one such as Lewis Caroll.

And with this book, Alice - Christina Henry takes a swan dive into that deep dark rabbit-hole and definitely emerges a winner! A book that is dark as sin and racy as hell on jet-fire, Alice is a masterful and disturbing retelling of the classic laced over with many layers of darkness and intrigue. Magic is unexplained as in a fairy tale - but one for kids, this is not. It's a fairy tale gone horribly wrong - more a fantastical thriller set in a madman's darkest nightmarish setting called the Old City, a far cry from the Wonderland.

The story starts in a mental asylum deep in the bowels of the Old City; a broken down place where poverty and cruelty reside side by side. Territories are chalked up between gangster bosses - each one trying to outdo the other in terms of mindless cruelty and misery heaped on the hapless suffering to live in this place - a place avoided like plague by the rich and the 'good respectable citizens' of the New City. Alice has been trapped in this hospital for the past ten years without a memory of how she landed her except for snatches that hint at blood and gore and a certain rabbit. Her only connection to sanity is her friend and neighboring cell-mate Hatcher with whom she has long conversations trying to piece together reality. And then one night, when the asylum goes up in flames, she and Hatcher escape - Just as Hatcher has been hoping they would - to try and lose themselves in the nameless alleyways of the Old City, far away from the prying eyes of the law or authority. But things never go according to such best laid plans. Along with them, a being only known as Jabberwocky has also escaped into the world. And it plans to destroy the same, starting with the Old City.

Alice and Hatcher reluctantly get caught up in this prophecy - not of their choosing but with their past harboring secrets and many an interesting story that entwines their fates together, they embark upon a dangerous journey to stop the Jabberwocky. And to remember their past.

The story unfolds fast and furious - as everything is interconnected, individual threads forming a pattern and part of the larger canvas. It's bloody and gory - and definitely not for the fainthearted. Alice, the lead character is a girl of steely nerves and relentless pluck, a deliciously complex character mired in her own confused memories, and still managing to hold her own against the horrors of the Old City. She's such a wonderful character to get inside of - and having started the story with her scattered memory, Christina slowly unspools the reel - dropping hints and building up the fascinating backstory. A word about Hatcher - the strong silent companion to Alice (Mad Hatter?), he nurses enough grudge from his past against a lot of the Old City bosses that his anger and vehemence of his actions feels real and strong enough to almost bounce off the pages.

The thrill and suspense of the chase through the night alleys and abandoned tunnels inside the claustrophobic Old City is also well written. The territory bosses - who pop up one after the other as Alice's adversaries as she picks up the trail leading back to her old nemesis, the Rabbit - are all well fleshed out. Christina takes her liberty with the characterization of the old familiar names like the Rabbit, The Cheshire Cat and The Caterpillar - all caricatures of evil painted in different shades, giving them each a memorable character- quirk that is sticky and monstrous at the same time.

It's an addictive read and a fairly short one at that. This re-imaging is for adults - featuring some sexual violence, a lot of blood and gore - and that brooding dark atmosphere that never quite lifts off. The image of the Old city is haunting- Like a rabbit's warren drawn by a psychotic architect, be it the roiling wisps of fog or murderous denizens who reside inside or the poisonous river water that can melt a knife or the ever growing dark shadow of Jabberwocky, it's all wondrously depicted. There are dollops of unexplained events, magical and disquieting at the same time. In perfect sync with a fairy tale and Christina keeps the patina of horror alive right through to the end. And what an ending!

Once you blast through the book, you feel it all came together way too sooner - and you are left lamenting the size of this short book that promises to transport you away to a dark new wonderland for a few hours. Read this. Highly recommended to fans of dark fantasy and horror - come down this rabbit-hole if you dare!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Dawnbreaker ( Legends of the Duskwalker-3) by Jay Posey

Dawnbreaker, the third book in the Legends of the Duskwalker series by Jay Posey from Angry Robot was a much awaited book, personally at least. Marking an end to this intense and satisfying series where the world is quivering in the shadow of an unknown apocalypse, reduced to broken buildings and grey concrete ash and pockets of humanity huddled in fear of the dark.

I was blown away by the imaginative and new world that Jay (Posey) had built up in Three – a desolate landscape scarred by some unseen apocalypse where people live on the edge of danger on a daily basis, huddled within modest cityscapes surrounded by concrete desert-lands and hunted at night by cyborg-zombies. Jay draws up an exceptionally well thought out digital communication systems in place and then goes on populate this barren world with some hard-hitting realistic protagonists, flawed and vulnerable to a fault and living truly on the edge. The underlying human emotions that drive the characters to do what they do, though, still remains similar to the raw reality of our world today – greed, ego, honor, bravery, selflessness – thus establishing that connect to the reader.

While Book-one took us on the high of a road warrior tale – blistering action and an intense drama dripping with tension all through to an explosive climax, Book-two took on a more sedate pace. Without a strong single lead (spoilers for book-one!), we instead were focused on a whole military team – the security detail for Wren and Cass, intent on seeing them through to some place safe while the villains of the series mount an all-encompassing attack on the fortress-like city of Morningside.

Dawnbreaker picks up right after the events of book-two- Cass is still moving along with the military team under Gamble and co. just outside Morningside while Wren is safe with JCharles in this town called Greenstone. Asher – now a digital presence who can control the minds of Weir is still hunting them down both.

Inside Greenstone, Wren still the craven boy inflicted with self-doubts meets up with a stranger called Haiku who claims to be Three’s brother. And as the past is relived, Haiku promises to take Wren to meet their ‘Master’ who could probably train Wren to take on Asher. Wren after a strenuous journey across the Strand again, finally reaches the lair of the ‘Master’ – only to discover that maybe he has bitten off more than what he can chew. Old secrets about the world before are revealed, training starts in earnest and it’s a sort of coming-of-age for Young Wren.

In the meantime, Cass is on the run – a deadly cat-and-mouse game with Asher trying to keep ahead of him, leading him away from Wren and also keeping Gamble’s larger team safe. She is discovering secrets about herself in the process – and things are coming to a head with Asher bringing together all the Weir around for a final all or nothing attack – on the town of Greenstone.

The Greenstone folks, JCharles and the rest meanwhile haven’t been sitting idle. With his second innings at life painstakingly built up in this town and with a wife and kid to protect as well, he isn’t ready to fold up without a fight. Older favors are called forth – some old faces reappear while some new ones surface – Interesting cameos one and all and a rag-tag army hurriedly put together gets ready for that final showdown.

The book in some ways follows a predictable plot pattern – Wren has always been the center of the story and we knew that someday he is destined for greatness. In the Dawnbreaker, he finally gets a sensei to unlock all that potential. And who better than the one who brought up Three himself? Jay keeps the training episodes pretty interesting – and he also uses the ‘Master’ as a foil to reveal the secrets of an older destroyed world. Haiku while another interesting addition to the mix, sadly has little more to do than temper Wren's impatience and make sure he doesn't give up.The history and backstories kept things at a nice boil, the training was pretty innovative and Jay even hits us with the odd philosophical meanderings in the guise of the ‘Master’. And yet somewhere along the way, my issues with Wren, the ‘Gifted One’ never got resolved. He still remains a child, too young to take on the burden of saving the world. And while yes he tries, he remains riddled with doubts and confusion. A nine year old, who remains so except for the fag end wherein he redeemed himself in a hurried ending/climax.

Cass is the focal point for much of the action that unfolds in part-three. And yes, it is gritty, full of suspense and absolutely riveting. I got closer to Gamble and her company of ‘bruisers packing quite a bit of steel’ – folks like Mouse, the doc and Sky, the long-range shooter – the troubles and travails of the group helped us get past those brusque military like efficiency charade and take a peekaboo at the real people behind all that.

My personal vote among the characters here goes to JCharles. He came out as the most refreshing character, real, honest and up front – and he also brought in a motley bunch of thugs and do-gooders (some seriously interesting characters who probably deserve their own spin-off novellas at least) in the end in a bid to stave off the Weir attack on Greenstone.

Jay’s prose still remains top-class – he can create a compelling claustrophobic scene where the desolate barren landscape comes alive in front of you and the nerve-wracking tension of trying to get through a night filled with the cyborg-horrors out to hunt you is beautifully painted in the third book as well. Asked to choose, I would still choose Three as his best book till date. There are parts where Jay comes close to recreating the charm of his first book – with the training sequences and some claustrophobia-inducing realistic scenes featuring Cass and the Weir – but Dawnbreaker as a book that binds together a lot of perspectives and brings the overall story-arc to a closure is a pretty satisfying read. The book has a lot of heart and enthusiasm going for it – and I really appreciated the manner in which Jay ended the series. Not going for an over-the-top glorified end-battle but a pretty neat cerebral twist at the end.

Part science-fiction, part horror, all dark post-apocalyptic fiction, Legends of the Duskwalker is definitely one of the more fun, entertaining series out there – if you’re looking for something new – that promises to redefine the boundaries of genre fiction, then definitely try this one. It’s full of futuristic gadgetry, horrifying cyborg-zombies and filled with racy mind numbing shooter-game action-sequences. In other words,  it is non-stop fun. Recommended. 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

September Books I'm looking forward to!

September looks to be dishy month in terms of some great books coming out in SFF Genre. I've listed a few on my most-wanted list, top of the TBR pile.

Twelve Kings of Sharakhai by Bradley P Beaulieu 

Sharakhai, the great city of the desert, center of commerce and culture, has been ruled from time immemorial by twelve kings—cruel, ruthless, powerful, and immortal. With their army of Silver Spears, their elite company of Blade Maidens, and their holy defenders, the terrifying asirim, the Kings uphold their positions as undisputed, invincible lords of the desert. There is no hope of freedom for any under their rule.
Or so it seems, until Çeda, a brave young woman from the west end slums, defies the Kings’ laws by going outside on the holy night of Beht Zha’ir. What she learns that night sets her on a path that winds through both the terrible truths of the Kings’ mysterious history and the hidden riddles of her own heritage. Together, these secrets could finally break the iron grip of the Kings’ power...if the nigh-omnipotent Kings don’t find her first.

What's in it for me: Ah. Bradley has been known to bring in the sweet scent of exotic cultures into the Fantasy landscape. The russo-inspired Lays of Anuskaya was a breath of fresh air, adeptly drawn up and meticulously researched, a new fantasy world that we loved. In this one, he promises to take us deep into a desert warrior civilization. And a kickass heroine to boot. Whats not to love!

Coming out on Sept 1st by DAW

Abandon by Blake Crouch

A gripping thriller from Blake Crouch, internationally bestselling author of the Wayward Pines trilogy.

On Christmas Day in 1893, every man, woman, and child in a remote gold-mining town disappeared, belongings forsaken, meals left to freeze in vacant cabins—and not a single bone was ever found.

One hundred sixteen years later, two backcountry guides are hired by a history professor and his journalist daughter to lead them to the abandoned mining town so they can learn what happened. Recently, a similar party had also attempted to explore the town and was never heard from again. Now the area is believed to be haunted. This crew is about to discover, twenty miles from civilization with a blizzard bearing down, that they are not alone, and the past is very much alive.

Whats in it for me: Blake Crouch is probably now a household name. And the world is now clamoring to read more from him. After Wayward Pines hit the small screen, that is. My reviews on Wayward Pines series has been the highest hit posts ever on my blog ( Hooray!) - and with Abandon going the way of wayward pines as well now, it's a good time to jump onto the Blake Crouch party with this revised edition of Abandon coming out in September!

Coming out Sept 1st from Amazon Publishing imprint Thomas & Mercer.

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

The Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, one of the most respected organizations throughout all of England, has long been tasked with maintaining magic within His Majesty’s lands. But lately, the once proper institute has fallen into disgrace, naming an altogether unsuitable gentleman—a freed slave who doesn’t even have a familiar—as their Sorcerer Royal, and allowing England’s once profuse stores of magic to slowly bleed dry. At least they haven’t stooped so low as to allow women to practice what is obviously a man’s profession…

At his wit’s end, Zacharias Wythe, Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers and eminently proficient magician, ventures to the border of Fairyland to discover why England’s magical stocks are drying up. But when his adventure brings him in contact with a most unusual comrade, a woman with immense power and an unfathomable gift, he sets on a path which will alter the nature of sorcery in all of Britain—and the world at large…

What's in it for me: One of my hotly anticipated 2015 titles. They had me at Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers. I mean, what! Unnatural Philosophers? Magic and Mayhem in the British courts? Susanna Clarke? Damn, get me the book already.

Coming out on Sept 1st from Ace books.

Updraft by Fran Wilde

In a city of living bone rising high above the clouds, where danger hides in the wind and the ground is lost to legend, a young woman must expose a dangerous secret to save everyone she loves.

Welcome to a world of wind and bone, songs and silence, betrayal and courage.

Kirit Densira cannot wait to pass her wingtest and begin flying as a trader by her mother’s side, being in service to her beloved home tower and exploring the skies beyond. When Kirit inadvertently breaks Tower Law, the city’s secretive governing body, the Singers, demand that she become one of them instead. In an attempt to save her family from greater censure, Kirit must give up her dreams to throw herself into the dangerous training at the Spire, the tallest, most forbidding tower, deep at the heart of the City.

As she grows in knowledge and power, she starts to uncover the depths of Spire secrets. Kirit begins to doubt her world and its unassailable Laws, setting in motion a chain of events that will lead to a haunting choice, and may well change the city forever—if it isn’t destroyed outright.

Whats in it for me: Another book that pushes the boundaries of the genre scope. An entire airborne city? After reading this interview at Aidan Moher's, I am now super excited about reading this one.

Coming out on Sept 1st from Tor Books.

The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

THE TRAITOR BARU CORMORANT is an epic geopolitical fantasy about one woman's mission to tear down an empire by learning how to rule it.

Tomorrow, on the beach, Baru Cormorant will look up from the sand of her home and see red sails on the horizon.
The Empire of Masks is coming, armed with coin and ink, doctrine and compass, soap and lies. They'll conquer Baru’s island, rewrite her culture, criminalize her customs, and dispose of one of her fathers. But Baru is patient. She'll swallow her hate, prove her talent, and join the Masquerade. She will learn the secrets of empire. She’ll be exactly what they need. And she'll claw her way high enough up the rungs of power to set her people free.

In a final test of her loyalty, the Masquerade will send Baru to bring order to distant Aurdwynn, a snakepit of rebels, informants, and seditious dukes. Aurdwynn kills everyone who tries to rule it. To survive, Baru will need to untangle this land’s intricate web of treachery - and conceal her attraction to the dangerously fascinating Duchess Tain Hu.
But Baru is a savant in games of power, as ruthless in her tactics as she is fixated on her goals. In the calculus of her schemes, all ledgers must be balanced, and the price of liberation paid in full.

What's in it for meBeen a hotly anticipated title for long now - the couple of opening chapters at got my interest piqued and then when Kameron Hurley cautioned us to get ready to have your heart ripped through your throat, then I knew this is a MUST-READ!!

Coming out Sept 15th by TOR Books

Last Song Before Night by Illana C Myers

Her name was Kimbralin Amaristoth: sister to a cruel brother, daughter of a hateful family. But that name she has forsworn, and now she is simply Lin, a musician and lyricist of uncommon ability in a land where women are forbidden to answer such callings—a fugitive who must conceal her identity or risk imprisonment and even death.

On the eve of a great festival, Lin learns that an ancient scourge has returned to the land of Eivar, a pandemic both deadly and unnatural. Its resurgence brings with it the memory of an apocalypse that transformed half a continent. Long ago, magic was everywhere, rising from artistic expression—from song, from verse, from stories. But in Eivar, where poets once wove enchantments from their words and harps, the power was lost. Forbidden experiments in blood divination unleashed the plague that is remembered as the Red Death, killing thousands before it was stopped, and Eivar’s connection to the Otherworld from which all enchantment flowed, broken.

The Red Death’s return can mean only one thing: someone is spilling innocent blood in order to master dark magic. Now poets who thought only to gain fame for their songs face a challenge much greater: galvanized by Valanir Ocune, greatest Seer of the age, Lin and several others set out to reclaim their legacy and reopen the way to the Otherworld-a quest that will test their deepest desires, imperil their lives, and decide the future.

What's in it for me: This one caught my eye after a Goodreads recommendation and as I dug further in and read this first chapter on plus heard Brian Staveley talk rapturously about this one, I cannot wait to read it. 

Coming out Sept 29th from TOR books.

There are more gems of course! MyBookishways keeps a great list here. Do check it out.
What are you looking forward to read in September?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Giveaway Contest Winners: The Legends of the Duskwalker Series

Had recently run a giveaway contest courtesy the wonderful people at Angry Robot for the entire bundle of 3 books in the Legends of the Duskwalker series!!

And the two lucky winners are:

1. Adam Selby-Martin from United Kingdom

2. Sanju Puthiyandil from India

Congratulations to the winners! Your books will soon be on its way - and Many thanks for all the participants!!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Double Review : Phoenix Island & Devil's Pocket by John Dixon

I normally wouldn't have picked up a book like Phoenix Island. Or the sequel, Devil's Pocket. These are usually the kind of books that skip my radar. Which is why the reader-feed from Netgalley is definitely a blessing.

Devil's Pocket was released on Aug 4th and we're dragged headlong back into the brutal raw world of  Carl Freeman where violence is a way of life - first introduced with the phenomenally well written Phoenix Island. So I first got hold of Devil's Pocket and then the good folks at Simon and Schuster (Gallery Books imprint) were giving away Phoenix Island for a lark ($1.99 e-book sale) and I jumped for it. While the first book is the inspiration behind the CBS Show, Intelligence ( I admit I haven't seen that one), the sequel is prime material for a summer blockbuster. A darkly intelligent and ruthlessly violent version of Fight Club perhaps?

Pitched as an action blast with YA crossover appeal featuring a 16-year old protagonist, Phoenix Island introduces us to the willful and extremely stubborn Carl Freeman, junior boxing champion and orphan - who has got into one fight too many and is now sentenced to serve out the next two years in the isolated Phoenix Island -a sort of military boot camp for juvenile delinquents. The Island however is a completely different deal than what Carl hoped for. While he meets other juvenile delinquents here, all of them orphans like himself - as the days goes by and the training gets more intense and ruthless, there are secrets about the camp that are dark and guarded.

A chance discovery of a diary left behind by a previous orphan leads to dark secrets spilling out. While Carl does make friends at the camp, his enemies are too many. Including a deranged drill-sergeant who is out to 'nail' Carl and the recruits in his own batch, mean bullies out baying for his blood. And standing up for the meek has always been Carl's weakness. When one incident gets out of hand - with Carl finally deciding to throw caution to the air and literally letting it fly with his fists, things take a turn for the ugly and sinister. He is beaten up badly and thrown into the 'Sweat Box'. And when Stark - the deranged head of the Phoenix Island training facility finally takes Carl under his own wings - things spin the way of ugly and skull-splitting dangerous.

Phoenix Island while has a teen protagonist for a lead, is riddled with violence and blistering action that is just raw and bloody brutal. It is clear that this is perhaps a homage of sorts by John Dixon to the Lord of the Flies - but amp up LOTF a hundred-fold on the grim and hopelessness front, then throw in tonnes of knuckle-splitting non stop action and wrap it up with horror, coming-of-age and a smattering of science-fiction. You get halfway there in terms of describing Phoenix Island.

Personally for me, this book was a blast. It introduced me to Carl - whose wildly resourceful nature and never-say-die attitude armed with oodles of spunk and fortitude makes him a great lead to root for. Stuck in a terrifying island in the middle of nowhere surrounded by hammerhead sharks, the land covered by a canopy of jungle infested with creepy crawlies and left to the mercy of mad deranged lunatics who do not hesitate to maim or kill you for the slightest slip-up: Imagine a sixteen year old facing up such odds. It's terrifying and enough to make you mad with the grim hopelessness of such a situation. But the way Carl deals with these adversities, fights for his friends' and his own life and finally makes it through alive - the whole experience is like being stuck inside a cage while getting battered in a bare-knuckled slug-fiesta. Just like Carl, you long to get to the end of this nightmare.

The writing is top notch - paced to perfection with all stops pulled out and bringing the whole hellish experience alive. John Dixon himself is a boxer and the fight scenes were a rush of blood to the head, authentic and blisteringly brutal. Carl's exhausting journey - both mental and physical is a tale of blood, guts and glory - and John's kept it extremely entertaining throughout.

While the main focus in terms of characters are Carl and in the latter half, Stark - the sinister antagonist in charge of the camp - there are other smaller characters like Octavia ( the girl interest, albeit a weaker plotline, she forms an important pivot for the whole narrative) and Ross (Carl's friend, an orphan as well who cannot help himself from cracking jokes about anything) who stand out.  The first book is a winner of the Bram Stoker award and lights up the way for John Dixon's career - with Carl and his future.

Devil's Pocket ups the ante of the bleak hopelessness and mindless violence, if that were possible. While the sequel isn't as sharp as Phoenix Island, people who loved the first book will have plenty to cheer about in this book as well. The entertainment factor never dims.

When you thought the setting couldn't get any more bizarre than Phoenix Island, John goes ahead and gives us The Volcano and the Funeral Games. A sort of sporting extravaganza set deep inside a volcano sponsored and run by a sinister set of people called The Few. While I still love Stark for his deranged vision and being that tour-de-force on Phoenix Island running his Phoenix Force Troops around the world, The Few are still a formidable enough bunch of foes. Carl is now almost a free man - having gained Stark's interest - but the tests never stop coming. He is now packed off to the Funeral Games along with Agbeko, Davis and new guy Tex - to compete on behalf of the Phoenix Island. Life is cheap at this win or die boxing competition and Carl has a tough time just surviving - both inside the ring and outside of it.

John builds up the mystery around the Few, while keeping the suspense on a knife-edge about the various rounds of boxing competition. It's still knuckle breaking raw and mindlessly brutal. He brings back Octavia - with her mind-reading capabilities of mapping out faces under masks and psychic ability to sense future and the dangers associated - but frankly for me, Octavia was much of a wash-out. The romance still hasn't blossomed out fully - and sometimes during the book, it is hard to remember that Carl is still just a teenager. But yes, he still remains the main draw for why you should read this book - A true shining star still seeped in his own sensibilities of right, wrong, justice and hope. The others in the team, Agbeko and Davis also have their own tales of misery written in blood and tears to tell.

A very strong follow up to the Phoenix Island, this is yet another winner from the John Dixon stable. Tautly paced, extremely well written and terrifyingly atmospheric, Devil's Pocket gives us back our tough as nails teenager Carl Freeman in roaring form, baptized in blood and violence up against another set of terrible foes.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Q&A with Jay Posey ( Legends of the Duskwalker series)

Angry Robot recently came out with the Dawnbreaker, the last book in the Legends of the Duskwalker series by Jay Posey. I LOVED Three - and while Morningside Fall was a bit of a let-down, I am so looking forward to finish this exciting series - with the Dawnbreaker. The review is up next - but in the meanwhile, we got chatting with Jay about the inspiration behind the series, his favorite characters and the books that influenced him.

Hi Jay! Welcome to Smorgasbord Fantasia. Thank you for taking time out to connect with me and my readers.
[Jay P.] Hi, and thanks so much for having me!

Jumping straight into the Q&A:

1.Legends of the Duskwalker finally comes to an end, huh? Congratulations! How do you feel now that this series is completed?
a.[JP] Thanks very much! I feel very tired.Actually ... well, no, that’s very much true, but I also have a strange mix of emotion having finished the Duskwalker trilogy. It’s the culmination of about five years worth of work, so it’s almost hard to remember a time when I wasn’t working on the books or carrying around these characters and their world in my head all the time.

I feel very proud of the work I accomplished, and I’m really very content with the way the story turned out. It’s also a huge relief; I didn’t realize how much I had been constantly turning things over in my mind until I’d turned in the Final Final Final manuscript for Dawnbreaker. Once it was done and Angry Robot was happy with it, my brain felt like it had a whole bunch of extra space all of a sudden.

And of course it comes with a sense of melancholy, too. I love the people in those books, and I love the Duskwalker world (as broken as it is). It’s a bitter-sweet accomplishment to say goodbye to them. It’s like saying goodbye to dear friends and family, not knowing when or if I’ll ever see them again.(At least for however long that goodbye lasts.  I wouldn’t be surprised at all if I return to it again one of these days.)

2.With a series behind you now, was it easier to write each new novel? Or did each book come with its own challenge?
a.[JP] I sure thought each novel was going to be easier than its predecessor but BOY WAS I WRONG.
Each novel got progressively harder for me to write. I’m really glad no one told me that was going to be the case up front. I thought for sure that the second book (Morningside Fall) would be easier than the first, but it turned out to be a pretty brutal experience for me. Then I had some of my experienced writer buddies tell me that the second book was always the hardest.
So that gave me some hope for the third. Which turned out to be an entirely different sort of challenge. Dawnbreaker wasn’t as emotionally difficult for me to write as Morningside Fall had been, but knowing it was The End, I felt enormous pressure to Get It Right. At times I felt like I got lost in the book and couldn’t really tell if anything I was writing even made sense anymore. Which was mildly terrifying.
It also turned out to be much longer than I’d anticipated, so I blew up my deadline. Fortunately for me, the Robot Overlords at Angry Robot didn’t incinerate me as I deserved and gave me the time I needed to get it done right. Several of my early readers told me that Dawnbreaker was my best book yet, so that was very encouraging. I hope that holds true for everyone else!

3.Who is your favourite character from the series?
a.[JP] That’s like asking which of my children is my favourite, which of course I honestly must answer with “All of them!”
I do sincerely love Wren and Cass, and Gamble and her whole team. jCharles and Mol feel like family to me. It’s strange for me knowing these are all people I “just made up”, because they really do seem like real people that I’ve gotten to know and love. So it’s too much to try to pick one of them as my favourite.
There’s no doubt, though, that the character I’ll miss the most is Three.

4.Tell us a bit about the genesis of the Legend of Duskwalker series. Has it shaped up like you initially imagined it or has the story written itself over the series?
a.[JP] The series got its start in three parts.
The heart of the story started with Three. I knew I wanted to write a story about this lone wolf type getting into a situation where he had to care for a young boy; I knew it was a story about surrogate fatherhood, and relationship, and real sacrifice. I just didn’t know where it took place. I had a bunch of different settings I tried, but nothing really felt right.
A second part came from a lecture I had an opportunity to attend where the amazing Vernor Vinge spent about an hour talking about emerging technology, and where he saw things headed for us over the next few decades. That lecture sparked a lot of new ideas for me, and inspired a (still unpublished) short story I wrote about a near-future world where everyone took connection to the internet for granted. At some point, it occurred to me that I could take that world, throw it into an apocalypse, give it a few years to recover, and see what I was left with. That world formed the foundation for the Duskwalker one.
The final piece came as I was figuring out how Three fit into the Duskwalker world. I had so many different inspirations I wanted to explore, but I didn’t know which ones to focus on. So I took a page from George Lucas. I focused on them all! I had all these varied interests in Westerns and samurai and cyberpunk and anime and future tech, and I just decided I could create a world where all of these things could co-exist.
When those three things all snapped together in my mind, I knew I had something I wanted to write about.

Overall, the series arc went pretty much as I had expected; all the major events were ones I knew about from early on. The actual road to getting to them, though, was a different story. A lot of the details surprised me as the story unfolded, and there were several times where I expected characters to do one thing, and they ended up doing something else entirely.

5.How much of your gaming background experience has influenced your writing? Could you give us some instances?
a.[JP] I think there are two big contributions.
The first is in world-building. Games have such power to draw us into new worlds and they can serve as incredible engines for story. Though the Duskwalker series was birthed from a single character concept, developing the world showed me just how many stories could be told in that setting, and I think I looked at my career in developing games (and playing them!) as a rich history of experience I could draw on.

The second was in making me comfortable with leaving certain gaps for my readers. Before I got involved in game development, I always wanted to make sure my readers pictured things exactly the way I did. When I started working in the video game industry though, I quickly discovered that I was surrounded by some amazingly talented artists; sometimes I’d write up a description of a character or an environment in detail, thinking I’d explained exactly what I wanted to see, and a concept artist would come back with something that didn’t look like what I had imagined and was instead about a thousand times better.

The more that happened, the more comfortable I got scaling back on description and trying to focus more on capturing the right impression of a place, or a person, or a thing.

I think that helped me get over myself in a lot of ways, and helped me remember that a book is a collaborative process ... I may have written the words, but the readers are the ones creating the images in their minds, and I’m confident that however they’re imagining it, their way is most likely the right way for them.

6. What authors have influenced your writing? Who is your favourite one?
a. [JP] Far too many to list, and probably far more than I even realize. But a couple of the stand outs:
J. R. R. Tolkien is one for certain, though he has been more of an influence on how I think about writing rather than on my actual writing style. His essay “On Fairy Stories” is rich with thoughts on the power of creative fantasy, and the seriousness with which he approached his craft is a strong inspiration to me.
William Gibson is another one. When I read the opening line of Neuromancer I remember stopping and immediately re-reading it because it so perfectly captured tone and mood. It was elegantly crafted. And I’ve consistently admired his willingness to write what he wants to write, the way he wants to write it. I think he’s an exceptionally brave writer, and whenever I start to doubt whether my writing style is too weird or too me (which happens a lot), I can often find courage in his work.

And though I only recently discovered her, Helen MacDonald’s book H is for Hawk is one that reawakened me to the pure beauty that language can have. I don’t know that I’ve read a more exquisitely written book than H is for Hawk, and I tell my writer buddies all the time that reading it will make them better writers.

7.What are you reading now?
a.[JP] I tend to read a lot of books at once, depending on my mood at any given moment. My current stack includes:

·         Last of the Mohicans, by James Fenimore Cooper
·         Left of Bang, by Patrick Van Horne and Jason A. Riley
·         Prayer, by Timothy Keller
·         Okinawa: The Last Battle of World War II, by Robert Leckie

And I recently read an advance copy of Jason Hough’s Zero World, which is fantastic.

8.What is next for you?
a.[JP] I’m already at work on a new military science-fiction novel for Angry Robot at the moment, called Outriders, which I’m very excited about. I have a couple of other projects on the horizon that I can’t quite talk about yet, but I’m hoping I’ll be able to here in the relatively near future.

Thanks again for letting me visit! 

Friday, August 7, 2015

Giveaway - 2 Bundles of the Entire Legends of the Duskwalker Series by Jay Posey

Jay Posey's concluding book in the acclaimed trilogy Legends of the Duskwalker, Dawnbreaker was released on Aug 4th by Angry Robot. Now Jay Posey's debut, Three was a crack read and a massive hit among the readers when it launched in 2013 - this was followed by Morningside Fall, a slightly lesser intense follow-up to the tall act of the first book. Nevertheless, the whole series has this most amazing world-building going on for it - Add to it some really slick writing featuring enigmatic heroes, colossal conflicts and stunning action set-pieces, it is definitely a must-read! 

And the really cool folks at Angry Robot are doing a massive giveaway to celebrate the much-awaited conclusion to Jay's series: 

Two bundles of the entire series ( Three, Morningside Fall, Dawnbreaker - Legends of the Duskwalker series) open to all International Participants!

If that ain't the coolest thing ever. Here be the rules:

1. This is an international giveaway - so yeah, all ye residing across seven seas, rejoice!
2. To enter the contest each participant must provide their complete name, mailing address, and email address by emailing me at Just send me something on the lines of  - hi, I want that damn book and tell me why. Nice things about the blog won't hurt your chances :) 

        Increased odds if you would retweet this ( Please keep me informed @xenosach) - You get extra 1 entry into the draw. 
        Go ahead, yell about this on any social media links you frequent. One more extra credit. As usual, don't forget to let me know ( a link should suffice)!

3. This contest begins Aug 08, 2015 and ends in the morning Pacific Standard time on Aug 15, 2015. 

 4. Two winners will be selected in a random drawing on or about Aug 16, 2015.

You know you want it! 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Half a War by Joe Abercrombie: Stunning Conclusion to the Shattered Seas

The Shattered Seas trilogy that began with the ill-fated journey for Yarvi in Half a King - who then in Half the World travels to the ends of the world until the First of the Cities, with the youngsters Thorn and Brand, now comes around a full circle with Half a War - the shadows of Mother War has finally spread across the sea and land - And a war that is fought with not just the swords but with wit and wisdom and large dollops of backstabbing treachery. The trilogy ends with a flourish - neatly tying the strings of the story - with enough and more nooks and crannies in this beautifully developed world to be explored perhaps in the future. The end was gratifying enough for me, having stuck through the grand designs of Father Yarvi right from book-one when he swore a sun-oath and a moon-oath to be avenged on the killers of his father - till this grand war. And yet, somewhere something about the ending doesn't feel fully right - the final outing is a little less powerful than the previous two books in this series - But maybe that's just my personal opinion.

Gut-wrenching moments of tragedy and death, the unceasing baying for blood and vengeance, the grim and gritty fights, the sparkling aphorisms on life packaged with black humor and irony and the complex relationships between the characters - the staples of an Abercrombie novel, are all here in full display. His prose is sharper and the language to die for and the pacing remains upbeat - so the slim book wouldn't really take long to read. But surviving the harrowing twists and a huge emotional drain with some character-deaths, now that would take time.

Joe goes in for three POVs this time - and the structure while on the surface seems to work well enough ( starting with just Yarvi as the single POV in Book-one, Thorn and Brand as two complementing POV's ind book-two and now three in Book-three!) I personally thought this to be a wee bit weaker in execution. There's Skara ( Princess of Throvenland, a strong female protagonist whom I absolutely adored!), Raith ( a younger male version of Brand - bristling with violence and itching to fight at the drop of a hat) and then Koll, Father Yarvi's apprentice. ( remember the sharp tongued ever curious young boy from book-two who loved climbing masts and carving wood?) These guys don't complement each other's view-point and the narrative is scattered across multiple locations at the same time owing to this structure. Allows for great expansion of the world but inconsistent pacing. And well, they come across as more of spectators as opposed to drivers of the story here. Especially Koll and Raith. While I hated Koll's character, Raith was mildly irritating at his best. I was left figuring out his role in the larger plot till the end.

Anyways, the story this time begins with Princess Skara's life being yanked out of gear by the world dominating machinations of Grandmother Wexen and the High King vying to annexe Throvenland to their dominion. A fearsome killer, Bright Yilling who only worships Death, kills her grandfather and teacher Mother Kyre - forcing her to flee and seek refuge with Gettland - with King Uthil and Queen Laithlin. With the grand army of High King on the move against them, Father Yarvi has brokered an alliance with the great Breaker of Swords Grom-gil-Gorm,king of Vansterland. Now Princess Skara enters into a three way alliance and using her wit and wisdom ( far beyond her slight eighteen years of age!) she manages to convince the uneasy partners to fight to reclaim her lands.

But this brittle alliance groaning under the gaze of mistrust between the two traditional enemies won't be enough to stop the killers led by Bright Yilling. It calls for something more drastic and unholy - and Father Yarvi will not stop at anything to see Grandmother Wexen defeated and humbled. The talons of Mother War spread beyond the lands - out into the sea and even further into older forgotten cities of elf-lands.

Death and mayhem reign supreme in this book about war - a war that is only half fought with swords - and Skara, the reluctant leader and peacemaker between two grumbling factions plays the other half supremely well - maturity and wisdom beyond her age - growing quickly from a sniffling, fearful stick-thin young girl into a resolute, strong-willed and cunning queen who doesn't shy away from manipulations to save her small kingdom. And then again, Father Yarvi - the man whose ambitions knows no bounds and might stretch to cover more than just half this world - is firmly in the driver's seat here as well. While easily my favorite in the whole series, Joe's adroit writing mires every character in shades of grey.

Another striking aspect of the end of this trilogy is the introduction of elf-magic. or Technology with a capital T. We've seen hints and bits of the wonderful world Joe's built over the last couple of books - left over traces of elf-built cities. But in this one, Joe takes us deep into the heart of an elf-city and gives us much more details about the downfall of past civilization/world.

All in all, a fitting end to a wonderful series that sees Joe Abercrombie at the top of his game. The books are much shorter than his previous works but all the more powerful for it. Packing quite a wallop in these slim volumes, Shattered Seas ends on a veritable high with Half a War bringing down the curtains on the relentless plotting and intrigue that was built up over the last two books. I loved it - perhaps not as scintillating as its predecessors, Half a War is still a powerful and engaging end to this trilogy.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Hostile Takeover by Shane Kuhn

Hostile Takeover - Shane Kuhn's boisterous follow-up to the wildly popular The Intern's Handbook - apes the first book, a first class replica in every sense. Replete with Hollywood action movie cliches and snarky tongue-in-cheek references, our favorite intern John Lago is back to doing what he's best at. Shooting his way through any situation - this time though, he's blazing his way out from a matrimony. And he just might have met his match in his wife, Alice. Back from the dead after that hyper-violent climactic fallout at the climax of the last book ( and their last encounter!), she's a female Lago in every sense - out-thinking and outfoxing our hero in every Machiavellian schemes he draws up.

So is Hostile Takeover any good?

The concepts are the same old - ripening like pungent French cheese and smelling just as bad. Play the intern to get up close and personal to the top dog and then smoke him/her. 

"Our specialty was our cover: the internship. HR, Inc. would place us in companies as interns . . . and we would use our wallflower anonymity to slither up the corporate ladder like ninja black mambas and smoke heavily guarded, high-value targets — mostly well-heeled Fortune 500 golf zombies."

At the start of the book, we find Lago cooling his heels in an FBI lock-up - recounting his marriage that went horribly wrong - when ego and ambition override the hot insatiable and kinky sex. When Alice and John celebrate their matrimonial vows by blasting through the floors of their HR inc. building to land fifteen feet below into the boardroom meeting and thus, kill the new top gun at their older establishment (Welcome to 'Hostile Takeover'), you know you're in for a wild Hollywood ride - zipping full steam with your brain stock thrown out the window.

But soon enough, their individual 'executive' styles being at loggerheads, Alice ousts Lago and shortly after, he is on the run - dodging not just Alice's deadly salvos but escaping into Mexico for anonymity. Armed with just his muscles ( now worked up to be as hard and unfeeling as hard blocks of wood with no nerve-endings of pain!) and his wit, the rest of the narrative is how John slowly climbs his way back into the thick of things. And in the process, kills a gazillion people with just his chopping fists.

Yes, the movie ( ah my bad! it's a novel, ain't it. grin!) runs along on no-brakes turbo-charged v-12 cylinders without taking any prisoners and each set-piece more outrageous than the last - the pacing is killer and the sheer amount of fun is unbeatable. There is no logic in here, so don't you go looking for a twisty Holmes-style plotting.

John Lago is again the shining centerpiece of this novel - zany wit and smoking aces with not just his guns, his character is the ultimate James Bond meets resilient Ethan Hunt dialed up to a hundred and bursting at the seam. His mind bending shenanigans would keep you turning the pages frantically - right from the tense opening pages to the climactic explosions.

Things that I got tired of : Lago's superhuman skills and his wisecracks. The action-movie cliches and Hollywood style gimmicks. and Alice as a character. The bitchy version of John Lago with her heart cut out and emotions freeze-dried inside her veins: Just couldn't get to like her! And yeah, the plot for this story is worse than paper-thin, perhaps why Shane peppers the narrative with action-kills from John's past, to keep things crunchy. Well, don't get me wrong, these above things are what made The Intern's Handbook such a great read. But relying again on this formula did get a bit tiring - the plot twists and shock reveals however kept the interest going.

But ultimately, the Mr and Mrs. Smith in thriller written format seemed to work for me. Frenetic in its pacing and weighing in at a slight 250-odd pages, Hostile Takeover is a breezy popcorn read: Showcasing John Lago's superman survival skills and Shane's energetic writing - laced with snarky trademark wit and blinding stunt-pieces that would look great on-screen - a worthy sequel to The Intern's Handbook. Just don't go looking for anything new here though.