Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Coffee break with Mark Charan Newton

Mark Charan Newton, the author of three fantasy novels, “The Reef”, “Nights of Villjamur” and “City of Ruin”, accepted my invitation for a coffee. Virtually for now, but I hope that someday I’ll have the chance to invite him to a proper coffee meeting. Until then:

Mihai (Dark Wolf): Mark, thank you very much for accepting my invitation.
Your third book in “Legends of the Red Sun” is called “Book of Transformations”, am I right? How did Mark Charan Newton, the author, transform from his first novel, “The Reef”, to his latest, “Book of Transformations”?
Mark Charan Newton: Yes, that’s right. The Reef was written back when I was 23, and was something that I think is very much a young person’s novel. I never expected it to be published, but a couple of years later a UK small publisher picked it up and put out a couple of hundred copies. So, due to those reasons, I think I don’t treat it with too much seriousness; it’s a rough novel, hard to find, but seems to have a decent value to collectors! I’ve learnt a huge amount since writing Nights of Villjamur, City of Ruin, and now The Book of Transformations. The most essential thing is that I always want to improve on my failings. Every writer has them – even though we’ve egos to hide such things away! – but I hope by now I’ve ironed out many of my flaws. The editorial process is an essential guide, and I’m lucky to have such a great team involved, and who have helped steer me on the right track. Also, they permit their authors a lot of creative freedom, and the list shows they look for variety – something which only a few publishers seem to do these days.

Mihai (Dark Wolf): How does a writer measure performance? What matters most in your opinion: awards, good reviews or public success?
Mark Charan Newton: Perhaps because I’ve worked in the book industry as a bookseller, I know that awards generally result in a negligible increase in sales. Ultimately, I’d like my books to be read as widely as possible, though the kudos from awards would, of course, be lovely. The things that make a book a success are little to do with the content: getting the right cover, the right release schedule, having a publisher that forks out thousands of pounds/dollars to get your book on table displays… That’s how the industry works, and that’s how careers are shaped. For those reasons I can’t use sales as a measure of my own performance. So, I think good reviews – in terms of interaction with the text – is possibly the best measure. And not even getting great reviews, but getting reviews that say the book made contemplate something in their own lives or their own attitudes – that’s what makes me think, ‘Yes – I’ve done something right.’ As long as I’m stirring up some kind of varied emotion, I think I’m doing something right.

M(DW): Your latest novels “City of Ruin” features a clash of civilizations. With a rise of globalization felt on every day basis, do you believe that the clash between cultures can bring an improvement to the fantasy genre?
MCN: As in, the fact that people are more aware of other cultural influences? Well globalization is quite often a case of dodgy Western foreign policy coupled with the World Bank screwing over some other sector of the world in the name of supposedly ‘free’ trade. I don’t think anyone learns from that.
We’re better travelled generation, and certainly in many cities there is a state of multiculturalism. But even within those cities there are tensions. It isn’t harmony by any means. Foreigners are among the first to be blamed for most economic ills, rather than the real issues being addressed. Racism is a symptom of recessions.
Does fantasy even address or respond to concerns in the real world? I’ve thought about this subject a lot, and though I’ve not read a huge amount of the current genre (due to the writing taking up time), I get the impression – from the barometer of the blogosphere – that stories are still very much dominated by white people or that misogyny is common place (for example, that women exist solely to be saved by The Hero). Though thankfully, at least much of this is being flagged up these days.

M(DW): In one of your blog posts you say that the new published titles get much more attention than the classic and older works of fantasy. Do you believe that the fantasy genre is confronting a certain stereotype? Do you believe that the genre is on the need of new and fresh ideas?
MCN: No, the ideas are out there – they’re just over shadowed when publishers start splashing cash and seducing folk with review copies to ensure the commercial stuff shifts units. It’s inevitable. Everyone likes free books, and people want to discuss a current trend. There was a spark – a few years ago – when I genuinely thought the internet could free up the genre and allow customers / readers / reviewers to be genuinely anarchistic and celebrate the more obscure/arty/weird novels. Perhaps that was rather quixotic of me, but that’s certainly not the case today. Publishers are very savvy. They’re fighting for people to talk about frontlist titles, which is understandable, because that’s what they’re being paid to do.

M(DW): With an increase in the involvement of the authors in the promotion of their own works nowadays, do you believe that one day the writers would opt for self-publishing more often? Would such an option be a viable course for an author’s career?
MCN: Self-publishing – not in the general sense of cutting out editors and publishers. That way would be career suicide – editors help make a book better and spend many hours/days/weeks doing so. Publishers stump up cash and have the infrastructure (real people – reps, art directors, etc) to help make a book attractive to consumers so it will sell lots. Without that, you’re simply lost in all the white noise out there. Now of course, there are exceptions that people will cling on to for dear life – authors who are established and wish, for example, to release some self-published short stories. That would work. But an author needs to spend most of their time writing. Editors create the conditions that allow authors to keep doing that.

M(DW): If you were given the chance to live in Villjamur or Villiren which one would you chose? Why?
MCN: Villjamur, probably! It’s less corrupt, and there’s a lot more history in the architecture. I’m a sucker for old places – crumbling stairways or lanes that lead to nowhere. Such things can inspire the imagination…

Thank you very much for your time and answers :)
Thank you for asking them!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Cover choice: "The Book of Transformations" by Mark Charan Newton

Mark Charan Newton in today’s post of his blog asks us for our help. The third novel of his “Legends of the Red Sun”, “The Book of Transformations”, has a cover art draft already. On Mark’s blog we can see two different crops of the artwork and he wants to know which one works the best for us.

Well, I have to be honest and say that neither works for me. I do like the background scenery, the city spires and towers, especially how they are seen in the second image. I like the mountains and the setting sun behind the city too, because it works best with the title of Mark Charan Newton’s series, although I have to admit that I would like the colors to be a bit more balanced. But I do not like the central character, I rarely do on a book cover. The central character is too clearly outlined, without leaving anything to the imagination. I also am not quite sure how the character works on the setting, but that remains to be seen when will get the chance to read the novel. Therefore, I personally would like a cover artwork without the central character, concentrated on the setting and scenery.

Leaving the cover aside a bit, it is nice to learn though that “The Book of Transformations” will feature a new character.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Back to the regular schedule

After quite an exhausting, but equally fruitful week, I’ve returned yesterday from my business trip. One of the results might be another upcoming trip, this week or the next, but that remains to be seen. I have a few things to put on order now and also to catch up on other ones, among them writing the reviews of my latest readings. Because although it was a busy week I still had some time for finishing K.J. Parker’s “The Folding Knife” and Alden Bell’s “The Reapers are the Angels”. I am also thinking of writing a review of S.J. Bolton’s “Sacrifice”, which I read on my summer vacation, because although it is a different genre than the works usually reviewed on my blog, it will be an interesting and equally different experience for me.
I hope that your week was great and you are well too :)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Away for a bit

This week my presence is required in another business trip and since once again my Internet access will be limited I will not be able to make any posts. I had a few posts in mind, but the schedule of the last days didn’t allow me to make them in advance. But I’ll be back on Monday and we will see each other again then. Until next week have a marvelous time and take care of yourselves :)

Monday, September 20, 2010

2010 British Fantasy Awards

This week-end, in a ceremony held at the FantasyCon 2010, at the Britannia Hotel in Nottingham, the winners of the 2010 British Fantasy Awards have been announced:

Best Novel – the August Derleth Fantasy Award: “One” by Conrad Williams (reviewed here on my blog) (Virgin Books)

Best Novella: “The Language of Dying” by Sarah Pinborough (PS Publishing)

Best Short Fiction: “What Happens When You Wake Up In the Night” by Michael Marshall Smith (Nightjar Press)

Best Anthology: “The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 20” edited by Stephen Jones (Constable & Robinson)

Best Collection: “Love Songs For the Shy and Cynical” by Robert Shearman (Big Finish)

The PS Publishing Best Small Press Award: Telos Publishing, David Howe

Best Comic/Graphic Novel: “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?” by Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert (DC Comics/Titan Books)

Best Artist: Vincent Chong for work including covers for “The Witnesses Are Gone” (PS Publishing) and “The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 20” (Constable & Robinson)

Best Non-Fiction: “Ansible” by David Langford

Best Magazine/Periodical: “Murky Dephts” edited and published by Terry Martin

Best Television: “Doctor Who” head writer: Russell T Davies (BBC Wales)

Best Film: “Let the Right One In” directed by Tomas Alfredson (EFTI)

Best Newcomer – the Sydney J. Bounds Award: Kari Sperring for “Living With Ghosts” (DAW)

The British Fantasy Society Special Award – the Karl Edward Wagner Award: Robert Holdstock

Congratulations to all the winners!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

In the mailbox

Here are the latest arrivals in my mailbox:

- "The First Collected Stories of Bauchelain & Korbal Broach" by Steven Erikson (through the courtesy of Transworld Books);

BLOOD FOLLOWS - In the port city of Lamentable Moll, a diabolical killer stalks the streets and panic grips the citizens like a fever. As Emancipor Reese's legendary ill luck would have it, his previous employer is the unknown killer's latest victim. But two strangers have come to town, and they have posted in Fishmonger's Round a note, reeking of death-warded magic, requesting the services of a manservant.
THE LEES OF LAUGHTER'S END - After their blissful sojourn in Lamentable Moll, the sorcerers Bauchelain and Korbal Broach - along with their manservant, Emancipor Reese - set out on the open seas aboard the sturdy ship Suncurl. Alas, there's more baggage in the hold than meets the beady eyes of the crew, and unseemly terrors awaken. For Bauchelain and Korbal Broach, and Emancipor Reese, it is just one more night on the high seas, on a journey without end.
THE HEALTHY DEAD - The city of Quaint's zeal for goodness can be catastrophic, and no one knows this better than Bauchelain and Korbal Broach, two stalwart champions of all things bad. The homicidal necromancers - and their substance-addled manservant, Emancipor Reese - find themselves ensnared in a scheme to bring goodness into utter ruination. Sometimes you must bring down the name of civilization.

- "Prospero in Hell" by L. Jagi Lamplighter (through the courtesy of Tor Books);

The exciting, suspenseful story of Miranda’s search for Prospero, the fabled sorcerer of The Tempest.
The search of a daughter for her father is but the beginning of this robust fantasy adventure. For five hundred years since the events of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Miranda has run Prospero, Inc., protecting an unknowing world from disasters both natural and man-made. Now her father has been taken prisoner of dark spirits in a place she could only guess. Piecing together clues about her father’s whereabouts and discovering secrets of her shrouded past, she comes to an inescapable conclusion she has dreaded since Prospero was lost.
Prospero has been imprisoned in Hell, kept there by demons who wish to extract a terrible price in exchange for his freedom. As the time of reckoning for Miranda draws near, she realizes that hundreds of years of their family’s magic may not be enough to free her once-powerful father from the curse that could destroy them...and the world.

- "Haunted Legends" edited by Ellen Datlow and Nick Mamatas (through the courtesy of Tor Books);

Darkly thrilling, these twenty new ghost stories have all the chills and power of traditional ghost stories, but each tale is a unique retelling of an urban legend from the world over.
Multiple award-winning editor Ellen Datlow and award-nominated author and editor Nick Mamatas recruited Jeffrey Ford, Ramsey Campbell, Joe R. Lansdale, Caitlin Kiernan, Catherynne M. Valente, Kit Reed, Ekaterina Sedia, and thirteen other fine writers to create stories unlike any they've written before. Tales to make readers shiver with fear, jump at noises in the night, keep the lights on.
These twenty nightmares, brought together by two renowned editors of the dark fantastic, are delightful visions sure to send shivers down the spines of horror readers.

- "The Technician" by Neal Asher (through the courtesy of Tor UK);

The Theocracy has been dead for twenty years, and the Polity rules on Masada. But the Tidy Squad consists of rebels who cannot accept the new order. Their hate for surviving theocrats is undiminished, and the iconic Jeremiah Tombs is at the top of their hitlist.
Escaping his sanatorium Tombs is pushed into painful confrontation with reality he has avoided since the rebellion. His insanity has been left uncured, because the near mythical hooder called the Technician that attacked him all those years ago, did something to his mind even the AIs fail to understand. Tombs might possess information about the suicide of an entire alien race.
The war drone Amistad, whose job it is to bring this information to light, recruits Lief Grant, an ex-rebel Commander, to protect Tombs, along with the black AI Penny Royal, who everyone thought was dead. The amphidapt Chanter, who has studied the bone sculptures the Technician makes with the remains of its prey, might be useful too.
Meanwhile, in deep space, the mechanism the Atheter used to reduce themselves to animals, stirs from slumber and begins to power-up its weapons.

- "The Scarab Path" by Adrian Tchaikovsky (through the courtesy of Tor UK);

The war with the Wasp Empire has ended in a bitter stalemate, and Collegium has nothing to show for it but wounded veterans. Cheerwell Maker finds herself crippled in ways no doctor can mend, haunted by ghosts of the past that she cannot appease, seeking for meaning in a city that no longer seems like home.
The Empress Seda is regaining control over those imperial cities who refused to bow the knee to her, but she draws her power from something more sinister than mere armies and war machines. Only her consort, the former spymaster Thalric, knows the truth, and now the assassins are coming and he finds his life and his loyalties under threat yet again.
Out past the desert of the Nem the ancient city of Khanaphes awaits them both, with a terrible secret entombed beneath its stones...

- "Temple of the Serpent" by C.L. Werner (through the courtesy of The Black Library);

After a series of failures, Grey Seer Thanquol is offered a chance to redeem himself by going to the island of Lustria to kill the Prophet of Sotek. Dogged by assassins and stranded in a foreign land of giant lizards, temple cities and endless jungle, Thanquol must use all of his cunning and magic if he is to come out alive.

- "Wulfrik" by C.L. Werner (through the courtesy of The Black Library).

Emerging from the mists, Wulfrik the Wanderer brings destruction and death everywhere he treads. Cursed by the Ruinous Powers, the champion must travel across the Old World and seek prizes to appease the forces of Chaos. But now dark forces plot against Wulfrik, and he must discover the enemy within or else his soul will be lost to the Dark Gods forever.

Thank you all very much!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

"The King's Bastard" by Rowena Cory Daniells

"The King's Bastard"
Format: Paperback, 448 pages
Publisher: Solaris Books
Review copy received through the courtesy of the publisher, Solaris Books

Cloaked in silent winter snow the Kingdom of Rolencia sleeps as rumours spread of new Affinity Seeps, places where untamed power wells up. Meanwhile, King Rolen plans his jubilee unaware of the growing threat to those he loves.
By royal decree, all those afflicted with Affinity must serve the Abbey or face death. Sent to the Abbey because of his innate Affinity, the King’s youngest son, Fyn, trains to become a warrior monk. Unfortunately, he’s a gentle dreamer and the other acolytes bully him. The only way he can escape them is to serve the Abbey Mystic, but his Affinity is weak.
Fiercely loyal, thirteen year-old Piro is horrified to discover she is also cursed with unwanted Affinity. It broke their mother’s heart to send Fyn away, so she hides her affliction. But, when Fyn confesses his troubles, Piro risks exposure to help him.
Even though Byren Kingson is only seven minutes younger than his twin, Lence, who is the king's heir, Byren has never hungered for the Rolencian throne. When a Seer predicts that he will kill Lence, he laughs. But Lence Kingsheir sees Byren’s growing popularity and resents it. Enduring loyalty could be Byren’s greatest failing.

Unfamiliar with Rowena Cory Daniells and her works the first thing that caught my attention at “The King’s Bastard” was the beautiful cover artwork of the novel. I know better than to judge a book by its cover, but worse criteria of picking a book for reading come to mind and therefore I don’t have anything in particular against it.

Lately I discovered that fantasy literature tends to be much darker and grittier than before and I have to admit that this trend is very much on my liking. However, it is wrong to say that all the recently published fantasy novels are inclined towards the darker side and one novel among those that level the balance is Rowena Cory Daniells“The King’s Bastard”, the first in her trilogy, “King Rolen’s Kin”.

Not only the atmosphere of “The King’s Bastard” is light, but also the writing and setting are light, Rowena Cory Daniells uses a friendly language that makes it easier for the reader to engage with the story and a setting that although it is traced, but not excessively detailed. The world built by Rowena Cory Daniells is a pleasant one however and I could find elements of interest quite often. The base and the more complete details come from the history of this world, the novel providing enough moments and elements for the setting to be established through the forays into the world’s past. The theological aspect offers a very interesting and attracting perspective. There are two gods, Halcyon and Sylion, who find themselves in opposition, one female and one male figure, each one represented by half of a year. They also inflict a balance since each one becomes the main worshipped deity during their associated half of the year and each served by the opposing gender, Halcyon, the female, by monks and Sylion, the male, by nuns.

The theological aspect is related to the magic, but the Affinity, as the magic is called in “The King’s Bastard”, although plays an important role within the story is not as clearly defined. I could find that the magic ability can be inherited, but how it is used and why, sometimes, it is strictly necessary, remains more of the mystery. Still, I have hope that the magic element will be touched more in the novels to follow since two of the storyline within the novel are close related to magic. The magic is related to the fauna and flora of this setting and those enrich the world, the reader having frequent chances to encounter animals during the reading.

“The King’s Bastard” is as much a family story as it is a story of a country, respectively Rolencia. The main characters are the royal family of Rolencia, King Rolen and his wife, Myrella, their three sons, the twins Lence and Byren, Fyn and the youngest child, their daughter Piro. I must honestly say that neither of these characters, or the supporting ones, drew my affection. The story clearly divides the characters between good and bad ones, this aspect playing in their disadvantage. Too often I felt that the characters are too good to be plain good and too bad to be plain bad. The humans are generally more in the grey zone and there are many reasons behind their actions that are buried closer or deeper beneath the surface. There are a few supporting characters, but they tend to accentuate the tendency of the major one towards the good or the bad side. I also couldn’t escape the feeling that the world is slightly uninhabited, because the cities, not many of them present, seem to be lifeless, missing more minor presences to create a sense of movement on the locations.

The politics are the main feature of the plot, on a grander scale when it comes to the kingdom of Rolencia and its relationship with the neighbours, on a smaller scale when it comes to the Halcyon Abbey and the events within it and on personal scale when it comes to the ties between the twin brothers, Lence and Byren, and their surfacing rivalry and conflict. With the plot focused on politics, stratagems and machinations the reader still can find action scenes. These scenes, however, consists mostly of hunting moments, a different encounter between human and beast. The action scenes involving only humans are fewer and a bit too dramatic. Come to think of it, almost every connection and engagement between humans has a deeply emotional side and in places becomes melodramatic.

I still prefer much more the darker and grittier side of fantasy, but “The King’s Bastard” was a relaxing break from that particular type of fiction. And although I cannot place the first book in the “King Rolen’s Kin” among my top favorite readings, Rowena Cory Daniells’ high fantasy novel made me curious enough to eventually see the outcome of her series.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cover art - "The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 21" edited by Stephen Jones

“The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror” is one of my favorite collections of short stories and although I discovered it long after its initial release I collected all the yearly volumes I could find. Stephen Jones makes some excellent choices for these anthologies and I always enjoyed a lot the short stories collected in “The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror”. This year the collection reaches its 21st volume, with the edition which Constable & Robinson will release on October 28th and once again the anthology’s cover benefits from the artwork of the very talented Vincent Chong. The artwork of Vincent Chong makes this edition look great (not that I need another reason for purchasing this collection), with an atmospheric, disturbing and haunting image, as Vincent used us with in the past.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Title spotlight - "Autumn" by David Moody

Among the most unexpected and very pleasant surprises I had in my recent reading years are the two excellent novels in David Moody’s “Hater” trilogy, “Hater” and “Dog Blood”. Both of them deserved every second of the time I invested in their reading and offered a fresh and thrilling perspective of the apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic scenarios. Another interesting element of “Hater” is that David Moody first published the novel in July 2006 through his own publishing house, Infected Books, and within a few months not only it reached commercial success, but also a contract was made for “Hater” to be adapted into a movie, with Guillermo del Toro and Mark Johnson producing and Juan Antonio Bayona directing.

But “Hater” was not the first novel of David Moody. Before this excellent novel David wrote in 1996 “Straight to You” and “Trust” in 2005, but also the “Autumn” series that contains four novels, “Autumn”, “The City”, “The Human Condition” and “Purification”. These novels were also published through David Moody’s own Infected Books, but not before he released “Autumn” as a free online download, with an impressive more than half a million downloads. Like “Hater” the rights for “Autumn” were also bought and in October this year St. Martin’s Press, in the US, and Gollancz, in the UK, will release a new edition of the David Moody’s novel. Since I did love “Hater” and “Dog Blood” I am looking forward to explore David Moody’s “Autumn”, more so because of the novel presentations on both David Moody and Gollancz’s websites:

In less than twenty-four hours a vicious and virulent viral epidemic destroys virtually all of the population. Billions are killed, within minutes. There are no symptoms and no warnings; within moments of infection each victim suffers a violent and agonising death.
At the end of ten minutes, only a handful of survivors remain. By the end of the first day those survivors wish they were dead.
By the end of the first week, as the dead get up and walk, they know they are in hell.
AUTUMN, the classic free underground novel finally bursts into the mainstream. It is cold, dark, relentless - and uncomfortably plausible, a NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD for the 21st Century. Amazon said: 'The perfect zombie story, nothing written in the genre has grabbed me in the same way as AUTUMN, an equal to Romero's Night of the Living Dead'.

A bastard hybrid of Day of the Triffids and Night of the Living Dead, the AUTUMN books chronicle the struggle of a small group of survivors coming to terms with a world torn apart by a deadly disease. More than 99% of the population of the planet are killed in less than 24 hours. Days after the initial outbreak, the dead begin to rise. At first slow, blind, dumb and lumbering, over time the bodies gradually regain their most basic senses and abilities… sight, hearing, basic motor skills… Trapped by the restraints of their rapidly decomposing shells, the bodies gravitate towards the survivors – the only remaining attraction in the silent, lifeless world. Unable to understand what is happening to them or to communicate, the dead become increasingly violent and aggressive. The survivors are outnumbered more than 100,000 to 1.
Without ever using the ‘Z’ word, the AUTUMN books offer a new perspective on the traditional zombie story. There’s no flesh eating, no fast-moving corpses, no gore for gore’s sake. Combining the atmosphere and tone of George Romero’s classic living dead films with the attitude and awareness of 28 Days (and Weeks) later, these bleak novels are filled with relentless cold, dark fear.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

"Grimblades" by Nick Kyme

Format: Paperback, 416 pages
Publisher: Black Library
Review copy received through the courtesy of the publisher, Black Library

When orcs and goblins invade the Empire, the Emperor Dieter IV does nothing. While the other elector counts bicker, Prince Wilhelm is left to defend the Reikland alone. The Grimblades are among his brave army that opposes the greenskins. Amidst desperate war across the Empire and a plot to kill the prince, the Grimblades must survive this orc invasion and be victorious.

Among my small pleasures, I cannot name them guilty because they are not, are the tie-in novels of Warhammer and Forgotten Realms. Every once in a while I feel the need to immerse myself within these two universes and then there is no other better opportunity to pick one of these novels. With the summer holiday in prospect I started to select the books I wanted to take with me on vacation and I immediately picked a Warhammer one, in this case Nick Kyme’s “Grimblades”.

The Warhammer universe is rich in wars, skirmishes and tension and “Grimblades” writes another page of conflict on the Old World. Reikland is invaded by the green horde of orcs and goblins but not everyone in the land will see the threat the greenskins pose. Old and new political conflicts will not help Reikland to raise a proper defensive force in the face of this invasion. Nick Kyme doesn’t concentrate his work on the political aspects of the story, but they are present. With a rather background presence they will set a proper stage however for the conflicts and battles that make the bulk of “Grimblades”. Still, to make the story remove the monotonous cadence of constant violent collisions and battles between the engaged forces, Nick Kyme makes use of a conspiracy scheme. Although the respective plot is not an overly complex one, together with the political conflicts will add a new dimension to the general conflict and will give the reader a welcomed respite between the energy brimming fightings.

The defensive force is small, but fierce, and among it we can find one of the Empire army corps, the 16th Halberdiers, known as the Grimblades and from among them only nine or ten lead by Sergeant Feder Karlich form the main cast of the novel. I believe that it is for an author to deal with a large cast of characters and this aspect makes itself felt in this novel. Nick Kyme sketches his characters, some of them with a more prominent outline than the others. There are small glances that we can throw into some of the characters past and these give them identity and a certain density. Not all held my interest for a long time though and it took too long for the entire group to engage me in its destiny, although in the hindsight I think it left me rather indifferent. The secondary characters play their part in the story, but they suffer more and are easily forgettable.

The main feature of the novel is the fighting and battle scenes and the reader will get those a lot. From the small skirmishes to the battles of grand proportions Nick Kyme will not waste any occasion for action packed and tensioned conflicts. The scenes of smaller proportion appealed to me the most, such as those from the small and recently ransacked village or that when the Grimblades found in a recognition mission discover a spy, and hold more tension than those with a greater setting, but most of the time all quite entertaining. It is true that at some points the scenes seem repetitive and the author uses almost the same description, but that happens only on a few occasions. I believe that the battle scenes in general and the story in particular would have benefited more if the reader had had access to them. This way Grom the Paunch and his green horde play only the role of the opposing force, without imposing a consistent threat and diminishing from the menace they are supposed to be.

I would not recommend “Grimblades” to a reader who is unfamiliar with the Warhammer universe, because the novel can make a wrong impression about this setting. But Nick Kyme offers a light and quite entertaining novel, full of fighting, if you are in search for such a reading.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Fantasy Art - Didier Graffet

© The artwork presented on this post is used with the permission of its author. All the artwork is copyrighted. Please do not use the images without the permission of the artist or owner.

Didier Graffet is a French artist, born near Lyon in 1970. He studied art at the Dupere School and at the Cohl School in Lyon. From 1994 Didier Graffet started his career as an independent illustrator and he is one of the top artists of imaginary in France. Throughout his career Didier illustrated role-playing games, adventure books, playing cards, CD covers and posters, but also numerous covers of fantasy and science fiction novels and many editions of Jules Verne’s novels. In recognition of his career he received in 2002 the Grand Prix de l’imaginaire for the Best Illustrator, the public award Visions du Futur in the same year, once again the Grand Prix de l’imaginaire in 2003 for his illustrations of Jules Verne’s “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” published by Éditions Gründ and the 2010 Ravenheart Award for the Best Cover Art together with Dave Senior for the cover artwork of Joe Abercrombie’s novel, “Best Served Cold”, published by Gollancz. In 2007 Didier Graffet released an art book featuring his works, “Mondes & Voyages”, and in 2009 he took part at the Maison d’ Ailleurs exhibition in Switzerland.

Interview with Didier Graffet

Mihai (Dark Wolf): Didier, thank you very much for the opportunity of this interview.
How did you start to draw? What is your first recollection of art?
Didier Graffet: Early on, I was about 3 years old. I liked to create small universes like The African Savanna with all kind of animals or the Inuit Universes with sea lion hunters as an example. Also child universes like we see in children’s books.When I was growing up, there were a lot of Art books around me. I always liked pictures of any kind.

Mihai (Dark Wolf): Among the painters who influenced you are William Turner, Gustav Klimt and Vincent Van Gogh, but also contemporary artists such as Philippe Druillet, John Howe and Alan Lee. How did your favorite painters influence your career? Are you more attracted by the classical art or by the contemporary one?
Didier Graffet: I don’t have any favorites. I love them all for different reasons: Turner for the power of skies and drama. Klimt for his symbolism. Van Gogh for his honesty as a painter, his naiveté touches a part of me. I discovered the comic strip work of Philippe Druillet when I was a teenager, and appreciated afterward the variety of his work. I like John Howe for his strong illustrations and Alan Lee for the sensitive nature of his drawings.

Mihai (Dark Wolf): Speaking of classical and contemporary art what techniques do you prefer, the classical ones (acrylics, pencil, ink) or the modern ones (digital tools)? Do you start an art piece in a technique and finish it in another?
Didier Graffet: The technique I prefer is traditional paint. It’s much more sensitive than digital media. The support, wood board, cardboard or paper doesn’t always react in the same way and that can create some interesting “accidents”.

M(DW): You have studied at the Dupere School and specialized in the abstract, but that wasn’t your area of interest. However, how did your studies at the Dupere School help in your artist career? Did this experience help you improve your art technique?
DG: In fact, I only stayed three weeks at the Dupere School. The curriculum was too conceptual, too abstract for me. As the school year started, I chose to work at an advertising agency for the rest of the year, and then I matriculated to another school, the Emile Cohl School. It is a school of illustration, cartoons and comics. It was there where I learned the acrylic painting technique, the one I prefer today.

M(DW): What role does an art school have in artist development? Do you consider that a self-taught artist can have the same technique as an artist that attended an art school?
DG: A school of art gives one the opportunity to test many techniques and to compare different points of view, without risk. When you start in active life you must be efficient immediately. It must be successful, for if not, you will have no job!I had the opportunity to start many years ago, and was fortunate the publishers took an interest in me. Today you must be very good right away in order to garner the success you can build upon...

M(DW): You started your career as an independent illustrator in 1994. How difficult was to start as an independent artist? With your present experience and if it were possible what would you change in the beginning of your career?
DG: When you start, you have a few handicaps. You lack confidence in your technique, and when you are young, your experience is a bit on the short side. I would approach a project from my own point of view and sometimes that would eclipse the actual text you have to illustrate. Sometimes you’re right, but it’s rare in the beginning. The secret is to work again and again, to accumulate experience with different themes, and never refuse work, even if you don’t know if you can visualize it! Many times I accepted some work from just a ring of the phone. Afterwards, I would wonder how I was going to create the illustration! I always like the challenge. Of course this is my own experience, and with communication changing, it is now easier to find projects that fit one’s expertise… It makes me who I am today as an illustrator. I have no regrets.

M(DW): On your biography you say that among your favorite themes are imaginary travels. Where does this attraction come from? How do your personal travels influence your art representations?
DG: I think the power of imagination has no limits. You can go anywhere in your head. You can create a world with just pen and paper. I always like to look to the sea. It contains the promise of future travels, the first one begins in my mind. I went to Scotland on three different occasions, and I like this country because of its mystery. The fog there obscures visibility and allows the imagination to work, and a window may open a world of fantasy in one’s mind…

M(DW): You are attracted by the places you cannot see, that leave much to the imagination. Do you tend to keep that mystery in your paintings too? Do you want to leave much on the imagination of the viewer in your paintings?
DG: It’s the most important part of the picture, to stir one’s imagination, to give the keys to open this door. I try to let a part of the picture open on somewhere else. I’d like to go to abstract painting, with less details, more free, but I must do that in parallel with my job.

M(DW): With such a passion for travels do you have a passion for maps too? Would you like to work on a commission involving the drawing of a map?
DG: No, the only maps I draw are about Fantasy Worlds, the ones I prefer.

M(DW): With such an attraction for the imaginary, do you feel that your works in the fantasy genre comes natural? Do you prefer to work on illustrating fantasy worlds?
DG: I like when the stories begin in reality, or else have a connection with reality. For example, a story with an historical base that the author distorts and makes fantastic. I like to mix real things and make something else with it.

M(DW): May I ask if you have a favorite fantasy author? Would you like to illustrate a novel in particular in the future?
DG: I think the most popular and the best was Frank Frazetta. I and many other illustrators are indebted to him, myself included.

M(DW): Among my favorite cover illustrations made by you are the ones made for K.J. Parker’s “Fencer” trilogy (La Trilogie Loredan). Do you have an attraction for armory and weaponry too? Is the painting of such items heavily documented or do you use your imagination more?
DG: I like medieval weapons, more than weapons that use ammunition. You give your enemy a chance! I also like to render a steel aspect through painting various objects. Before I begin an illustration of a weapon or armor, I research much more now than when I first started working. I want to learn as much as I can about each subject I work on. It gives a new interest to my work, every time. After I digest the information, I attempt to create my own interpretation.

M(DW): Another wonderful work of yours is the sketch of Nautilus, but also the cardboard model of the submarine. How did you make such detailed sketches of Nautilus? Where did the idea of cardboard model come from?
DG: The sketch was created with a fine pen, from the Jules Verne’s description. If you read the book, you will see that I attempted to incorporate all descriptions about the vessel, but I added some new details to render the Nautilus more fantastic. Working on “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” was my most satisfying experience, a fantastic voyage each day. When I finished illustrating the book, I wanted to stay in this universe and I built the model of the Nautilus in cardboard.

M(DW): I’ve seen that you are very passionate about your works and you love to work with passionate people, book editors included. May I ask if it happened to refuse to illustrate a cover or a book because it didn’t brought a personal implication from your part? If you don’t like a script would you refuse the commission?
DG: When I refuse a demand it’s either I don’t have time or because the theme is too far from what I want to follow, especially in the case of an illustrated book (with inside illustrations). For a book cover, to like or dislike the story is not the issue. The publisher who edits the text is a professional. After he asks me to create an eye-catching illustration for the cover to market the book, it is my hope that my illustration makes one desire to read the story.

M(DW): With such a praiseworthy passion and dedication for your work how important is to have freedom of creativity on your commissioned works?
DG: I like working on commissioned works because it’s always different, but in fact in this restrictive frame, I find my liberty. It is a challenge each time, a challenge against myself, to make each project interesting.

M(DW): You published a personal art book in 2007 “Mondes & Voyages” (Worlds & Voyages). How difficult was to create a voyage through your personal art work for the book? Was it difficult to select the works that are featured in “Mondes & Voyages” (Worlds & Voyages)?
DG: This book is like a voyage I was on for fifteen years, the date of my first commissioned work. In this book you will see many different illustrations, with the technique evolving year by year, with several Fantasy themes. The variety of those Fantasy worlds, given by the publisher and imagined by the writers is a voyage itself. Concerning the selection of pictures, I chose some, and my publisher, les Editions Bragelonne, chose others. Having a good publisher helped me to make objective choices regarding which illustrations were finally chosen.

M(DW): You also have a fantasy calendar for 2010 published. Would you like to repeat such an experience in the future and publish another art book or calendar?
DG: Yes, of course. A new calendar is on the way for 2011, published by the same editor, “Le Pré aux Clercs”. I do not have a new art book in the works at the present time. I will wait a few years to have some really new images to present.

M(DW): At what are you working at the moment and what future projects do you have?
DG: I am working on many projects currently. Paintings, books and character designs for movies, following my inspiration and making new voyages. Actually I’m creating images for a personal book, but it’s a secret! I can only say that it’s a book about travel!

Thank you very much for your time and answers. It has been a pleasure.

For more information about Didier Graffet and a comprehensive portfolio, please visit his website,, and the site dedicated to his art book, Mondes & Voyages.

© The artwork presented on this post is used with the permission of its author. All the artwork is copyrighted. Please do not use the images without the permission of the artist or owner.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Cover art - "The Gathering Storm" by Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson

Tor Books releases the ebook editions of Robert Jordan’s “The Wheel of Time” and each book benefits from a new cover, designed by a different artist. Since October 27th, 2009, each month, Tor Books surprised us with some beautiful artworks for the cover of these ebook editions. The impressive list of artists who worked on these covers includes David Grove, Kekai Kotaki, Donato Giancola, Sam Weber, Dan Dos Santos, Greg Manchess, Mélanie Delon, Julie Bell, Scott M. Fischer, Greg Ruth, Michael Komarck and continues this month with Todd Lockwood. With a great career and exceptional artworks behind him Todd Lockwood is one of the masters of fantasy art. His high standards of work can be easily seen in the cover art Todd Lockwood made for Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson’s “The Gathering Storm”. He made an amazing scene and one of the best covers of these ebook editions. It is difficult to choose one of them as the best one, because Tor Books did a great job with all the covers, but Todd Lockwood’s artwork stands out. As with each cover, on we can take a look on the process of creation of this artwork with the help of a great video.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

"City of Ruin" by Mark Charan Newton

"City of Ruin"
Format: Hardback, 480 pages
Publisher: Tor UK
Review copy received through the courtesy of the publisher, Tor UK

Villiren: a city of sin that is being torn apart from the inside. Hybrid creatures shamble through shadows and barely human gangs fight turf wars for control of the streets.
Amidst this chaos, Commander Brynd Lathraea, commander of the Night Guard, must plan the defence of Viliren against a race that has broken through from some other realm and already slaughtered hundreds of thousands of the Empire’s people.
When a Night Guard soldier goes missing, Brynd requests help from the recently arrived Inqusitor Jeryd. He discovers this is not the only disapearance the streets of Villiren. It seems that a serial killer of the most horrific kind is on the loose, taking hundreds of people from their own homes. A killer that cannot possibly be human.
The entire population of Villiren must unite to face an impossible surge of violent and unnatural enemies or the city will fall. But how can anyone save a city that is already a ruin?

With a constantly growing pile of books that I wish to read the choice for the next reading doesn’t come always easily. This situation leads to another aspect, the titles I most eagerly await to be published eventually end in the same pile and are read later then I would like. One such title is the “City of Ruin”, the second novel in the “Legends of the Red Sun” series of Mark Charan Newton, which although found its way on my pile of books for some time now, it took its place on the reading desk later then I hoped.

“Nights of Villjamur”, the first novel in Mark Charan Newton’s series, introduced the reader to a world in the brink of its collapse and focused mainly on the city of Villjamur, the capital of the mighty Jamur Empire. “City of Ruin” reflects the same collapsing world, crumbling from the inside, but focusing a bit more on the outside threats that excite further pressure on the world. Standing in front of this menace is Villiren, a city that is the smaller image of the world from which is a part, facing its downfall from the inside as much as from the outside.

As with Villjamur, Mark Charan Newton works his best on building a vibrant and dynamic city. More so, Villiren pulsates life from its every vein and every aspect of this life making the foundation of the city stronger. It is very true that not every prospect of Villiren molds a pleasant feature of the city, I even think that these are in preponderance, creating a rather similar image with the biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, but that makes the image even more powerful. The underground is entangled with the local authority each one in its personal interest, interests applied often through brute force, the rich tend to become richer and the poor poorer and the ethnic and sexual racism a constant presence. In fact, in many occasions Villiren seems to import the political, economical and social problems of our world, making the reader less comfortable and to reflect on the state of our reality.

With a new location “City of Ruin” introduces new characters, but without cutting from the presence of those with an important role in “Nights of Villjamur”. Brynd Lathraea, Rumex Jeryd, Randur Estevu or Eir Jamur will find their steps drawn towards Villiren and their destinies tied to that of the city, with Malum, Nelum Valore, Lupus Bel and Beami brining new threads and stories. Once again the reader will have a few storylines to follow, but every single one makes the general concept advance through its unique feature. Military elements make their presence felt, with invading forces, elite troupes, tactical decisions and battles. Mystery brings elements of surprise and tension, but also grotesque images in a strange mix that reminded me of the surreal song of The Cure, “Lullaby”. Romance is not forgotten, lovers rediscovering each other or continuing their sentimental relationship in different and personal ways. Adventure, quests, religion, magic and relics complete the entire image of “City of Ruin”.

I have to say though that “City of Ruin” not only follows the same approach as “Nights of Villjamur”, but also suffers at the same chapter. Like in “Nights of Villjamur” the storylines are intertwined, but once again some of the stories lie forgotten in the background for the span of a few chapters only to pop up again when the reader starts to ask where they disappeared. The rhythm of “City of Ruin” is slow, but I cannot make a complain here, because it can be seen that Mark Charan Newton allows his novel to grow in a natural way, without jumping over stages and therefore reaching the climax of the novel at its end. The final part offers plenty of action and fighting scenes, but nothing is taken for granted, situations shift, characters disappear and plenty of surprises await the reader.

Although “City of Ruin” is obviously connected to the first novel in the “Legends of the Red Sun” series, “Nights of Villjamur”, it can be read as a stand-alone novel without a problem. However, “City of Ruin” proves that Mark Charan Newton is growing fast as a writer, his prose, story and philosophical approach making his work more robust. I am certain that in this cadence Mark Charan Newton’s series can turn to be one of the landmarks of modern fantasy.

Monday, September 6, 2010

2010 Hugo Awards winners

Also at Melbourne, Australia, at AussieCon 4 the winners of the 2010 Hugo Awards have been announced yesterday. It gives me great joy to see China Miéville’s “The City & The City” winning yet another award. Also again on the list of winners we can find another novel that received a lot of recognition this year, Paolo Bacigalupi’s “The Windup Girl”.

Best Novel: TIE - “The City & The City” by China Miéville (Del Rey; Macmillan UK) & “The Windup Girl” by Paolo Bacigalupi (Night Shade)

Best Novella: “Palimpsest” by Charles Stross (Wireless; Ace, Orbit)

Best Novelette: “The Island” by Peter Watts (The New Space Opera 2; Eos)

Best Short Story: “Bridesicle” by Will McIntosh (Asimov’s 1/09)

Best Related Book: “This is Me, Jack Vance! (Or, More Properly, This is “I”)” by Jack Vance (Subterranean)

Best Graphic Story: “Girl Genius, Volume 9: Agatha Heterodyne and the Heirs of the Storm” written by Kaja and Phil Foglio; art by Phil Foglio; colours by Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: “Moon” screenplay by Nathan Parker; story by Duncan Jones; directed by Duncan Jones (Liberty Films)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form: “Doctor Who”: “The Waters of Mars” written by Russell T Davies & Phil Ford; directed by Graeme Harper (BBC Wales)

Best Editor Long Form: Patrick Nielsen Hayden

Best Editor Short Form: Ellen Datlow

Best Professional Artist: Shaun Tan

Best Semiprozine: “Clarkesworld” edited by Neil Clarke, Sean Wallace, & Cheryl Morgan

Best Fan Writer: Frederik Pohl

Best Fanzine: “StarShipSofa” edited by Tony C. Smith

Best Fan Artist: Brad W. Foster

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (presented by Dell Magazines): Seanan McGuire

Congratulations to all the winners!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

2010 Ditmar Awards winners

In a ceremony held on 3rd of September at AussieCon 4, the winners of the 2010 Ditmar Awards have been announced. The Ditmar Awards recognize the achievement in Australian science fiction, fantasy and horror and are awarded annually since 1969.

Best Novel: “Slights” by Kaaron Warren (Angry Robot Books)

Best Novella or Novelette: “Wives” by Paul Haines (X6/Couer de Lion)

Best Short Story: “Seventeen” by Cat Sparks (Masques, CSFG)

Best Collected Work: “Slice Of Life, Paul Haines” edited by Geoffrey Maloney (The Mayne Press)

Best Artwork: Lewis Morley - Cover art, “Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #42”

Best Fan Writer: Robert Hood for “Undead Backbrain” (

Best Fan Artist: Dick Jenssen for body of work

Best Fan Publication in Any Medium: “Steam Engine Time” edited by Bruce Gillespie and Janine Stinson

Best Achievement: Gillian Polack et al for the Southern Gothic banquet at Conflux

Best New Talent: Peter M. Ball

William Atheling Jr Award for Criticism or Review: Helen Merrick for “The Secret Feminist Cabal: a cultural history of science fiction feminisms” (Aqueduct Press)

Congratulations to all the winners!

Friday, September 3, 2010

"The Abbey" (Abația) by Dan Doboș available in English

Last year I read and reviewed with pleasure a Romanian SF novel, “The Abbey” (Abația) by Dan Doboș. “The Abbey” is the first novel in a trilogy, “The Trilogy of the Abbey”, published in 2002, named the Best Romanian Science-Fiction Novel of 2002 and with the entire trilogy awarded the Vladimir Colin Award in 2006. I am not certain if the first editions of the novels are still available, but I personally read a revised and added edition of “The Abbey”, released in 2008, and I am hoping that Millennium Press, the publishing house that republished the novel, will make the following two novels available soon, because like I said in my review “The Abbey” is an interesting novel and sets the premises for a captivating trilogy. Until then though I was very happy to find that Dan Doboș’s novel, “The Abbey” (Abația) is available in English since the end of July this year, published by Better Karma, an independent publishing house. I am happy because “The Abbey” truly deserves to reach the English market and that now more readers can explore the Romanian Science Fiction with the help of Dan Doboș’s “The Abbey”. As far as I could see the novel is available on Amazon and The Book Depository, with the following synopsis on the Amazon page:

Saint Augustine defined six periods of human life with the last being the Armageddon - when the armies of humans, lead by a Messiah who has again come down on Earth, will have to defeat the forces of evil. More than three thousand years after this prophecy was made, the Abbey is the only religious entity still standing. Radoslav, the Abbot who rules the Augustinian Order, knows that the Armageddon is about to break out soon but he can't decide what will trigger it. It might be the first contact with an extraterrestrial civilization; it is possible that the attempt of imperial administration to replace the clones from the Agricultural Worlds with aliens will degenerate into a cosmic conflict; and the super-soldier sent to spy on the Abbey is also a great worry. As this fascinating, complex plot develops, it becomes clear that the final fight is not between good and evil, but between those who believe in God and those who decline Him. The Abbey offers a unique perspective on how religion could develop and evolve in a far-away future. Is humanity's real purpose to protect God from reaching His own limits? The author offers daring hypotheses and original thinking in this multi-layered fantasy filled with spirituality and insight.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Cover art - "Caledor" by Gav Thorpe

Jon Sullivan is one of the best fantasy art artists and this is proved with each new work he makes. Such an example is the cover artwork Jon Sullivan made for Gav Thorpe’s “Caledor”, the final book of the author’s “The Sundering” trilogy. The image is impressive, the depth of the scene, the contrast between the colors and the excellent made dragon that dominates the center of the picture make for an admiring artwork. Unfortunately I have to say that I regret the choice of The Black Library for the final version of the cover. Although I do love the artwork, to feature only a detail of the scene drawn by Jon Sullivan takes away too much from the entire artwork and it is a loss since it is such a great scene. I personally would have chosen the entire scene unfolded on the both front and back covers, but maybe the art department of The Black Library had its reasons for its choice. On the publisher’s blog you can find Jon Sullivan’s artwork in full and also a close up on the detail featured on the cover. Gav Thorpe’s “Caledor” will be released by The Black Library on May 2011.