Saturday, August 20, 2011

Summer holiday

Finally, that time of the year has come. The first one. For a long time I didn’t expect the summer holiday with such impatience. It was a busy year so far, although I am not complaining, and it cut a bit in my free time. Anyway, I will be leaving on Monday and this time I will not pack any books for the holiday. Instead I will bring my Kindle with me, fully charged. I have the e-reader for month now and I became accustomed with it. I certainly didn’t expect such an experience. The holiday will give me plenty of chances to experience more with it and write my full feedback at my return. Also, I will certainly have plenty of reviews, because I do hope to catch up with the ones that remained behind and transform the notes I made for them in reviews. I hope that you will have a great time the next couple of weeks too and to see you back after the 5th of September :)

Friday, August 19, 2011

Arcane, Penny Dreadfuls for the 21st Century - Issue 1

Issue 1
The review is based on a bought copy of the magazine

For a period of time I drifted away from the short form of fiction, although I did enjoy it a lot before. As a matter of fact, plenty of the authors I favor today have been discovered through their short stories. After this period of time however I rediscovered the pleasure of reading short fiction and came back to it with renewed force. In one of my wanderings through the Internet in search of short fiction I stumbled upon a link that led me to the Arcane Magazine’s website. At that time I didn’t find much time to spend on the respective website though, but luckily the inspiration made me bookmarked it. And later on I thanked my inspiration, because I did come back and picked a copy of the first issue for a reading session.

“Hazards” by Justin Pollock – The narrator relates the strange events surrounding one of his attempts to help the passengers of a car pulled on the side of the road, with its hazards on. Told in the first person the story reveals a rather uncertain character, too eager to prove himself a good citizen, unsteady in his recounting and struggling for words on some descriptions. It gives him personality, but not a very sympathetic one. The main feature of “Hazards” doesn’t bring anything new or original, I’ve encountered the same idea in a form or another in a few occasions before. It is true that brings into attention some of the present social realities, but doesn’t save the story too much. Justin Pollock’s story being quite short it is suitable for a relaxed coffee break.

“Darnell Behind Glass” by Jeff Crook – Darnell Charles, who runs his small gas station and convenience store, finds in the hard way that the bums who frequent his business are more than what meets the eye. It is a character driven story, centered on Darnell Charles, a character successfully build by Jeff Crook. The atmosphere grows around the main character, as the plot gains momentum. Some of these elements reminded me, in the good way, of “The Sixth Sense” movie. The final touches of the plot are hinted in the beginning of “Darnell Behind Glass” and the finale comes with a philosophical conclusion. Overall, a well executed story.

“The Mine” by Jason V. Shayer – Two young men go to the local mine in hope of seeing some dead bodies, after one of them hears of a supposed gunfight between the local Sheriff and some outlaws hiding in the old mine. A western story backed by language, with a particular touch sustained by tension and atmosphere. Once Owen and Matt, the two young men in search of a thrill, step inside the mine I didn’t know what to expect next, Jason V. Shayer succeeding in keeping the tension at a high level. There are few surprises along the way and the story doesn’t end without a final, quite interesting twist.

“Ricky and the Elder Gods” by S.M. Williams – Ricky helps two elderly gods pickup people in their quest towards a special place and for a mysterious ritual only to find an unexpected obstacle at the last one. S.M. Williams offers a rhythmically balanced story, featuring mysterious books, secret societies and two elder gods with plenty of action scenes to keep it interesting. The end was a bit disappointing for me, because although it implies to future terrifying moments the reasons behind the story rivalry and the implied course of actions are ambiguous. Otherwise “Ricky and the Elder Gods” is a fast paced, entertaining story.

“Gingerbread and Ashes” by Jaelithe Ingold – When his sister disappears, Hansel goes back to the house of his notorious childhood tale, now found in a state of decaying, in search for her. It is one of the strongest stories of the debut issue of Arcane Magazine, if not the strongest. Jaelithe Ingold doesn’t reinterpret the Grim Brothers’ story, but follows its main characters long after it, at their elder age. I love it because it implies to some of the consequences that can result from the known fairy tale, because of its deep psychological aspects and because it centers on some human behavior and desires that are certainly more terrifying than any monster that can be spawned by the mind. Subtle and disturbing it also leaves a small sad feeling behind it.

“Dear Management” by Tom Wortman – A company’s new employee finds himself bothered by a strange smell in his new office and decides to investigate its provenience, only to discover a source as surprising as it is horrifying. The story is related through a series of letters that the new employed writes to the management of the company that offered him his job. It is an interesting choice for recounting the events of the story, although it might seem a bit misplaced in case of a couple of letters. There are also a few letters that seem repetitive and doesn’t help the story to advance. But it is a story that captures the attention of the reader, gathers momentum along its course for its climax and also comes with a humorous and light tone in some places.

“In the Place Where the Tree Falleth” by Michael Lutz – Henry Cudder is a bible salesman and he tries to make a last sale to the owners of a house surrounded by a strange looking gatherings of trees. Michael Lutz’s story is another personal favorite of mine from the current issue of Arcane Magazine. It has very good atmosphere, kept all the way to the final sentences. Every step, from the first word to the last, the atmosphere is filled with a strange and eerie sensation, leading to some uncomfortable moments as much for the story’s main character as for the reader. “In the Place Where the Tree Falleth” doesn’t reveal all of its mystery, insinuates aplenty, but in equal measure leaves the mind of each reader to take charge.

“Laundry Night” by Stephen Hill – Rita discovers that some of the clothes washed in the dryer room tend to disappear. One night Rita will discover the source behind these disappearances. I failed to engage with Stephen Hill’s story on any level. Actually, there was one aspect that did engage me, but in the end it was heavily underlined by the rest of the outcome. No terror or discomfort can result from such an ordinary source of meal, more so when it touches the disgusting. Not the disgusting or grotesque elements of horror, but of the unpleasantness for the reader. The end is predictable and drawn too much on the moral side to do the story any good. It is a shame though, because the tensed beginning and the condition of Rita’s marriage offer “Laundry Night” a good start, abruptly slipping on the downside for me though.

“Hello Operator” by Donny Waagen – The story’s protagonist finds himself in an unfamiliar neighborhood at night, but when he reaches a phone booth for a much desired call he’ll find himself in a totally different situation. Donny Waagen offers a few tensed moments for his story, a claustrophobic feeling and a fitting end. The fact that this is his first sold story might reflect on a few comparisons that felt awkward for me, but there are plenty of good things to compensate those and to keep the reader hooked to “Hello Operator”.

“Courting the Queen of Sheba” by Amanda C. Davis – When their circus acquires a new showing exhibit some of its performers will have a problem on their hands. The story induces the reader in a past period of time, it is truly evocative of that time and doesn’t falter in keeping it present through its entire course. Still, the apparent danger that threats the characters of the story doesn’t seem to be very serious at any point. The tone is a little too relaxed for the danger to be felt. As a matter of fact, the story has a different tone than the rest of the entries in the first issue of Arcane Magazine, it feels more like a pulp adventure. But this is more in the favor of “Courting the Queen of Sheba” than not.

“A Requiem for Tarsenesia” by William Knight – Tarsenesia must protect itself from the lurking monsters outside its gates through music. But when the master luthier Marcus finds trouble inside the city walls his daughter, Ishtra, discovers that Tarsenesia isn’t exactly the safe heaven it appears to be. William Knight creates a fantastic setting for his story and Tarsenesia is one of the main points of attraction for “A Requiem for Tarsenesia”. The setting is fantastical, but the conflict is not. It can be found throughout the history of the world or in the everyday life, but the fantastic setting takes it out of the ordinary and gives it strength. And as dangerous as it is the outside menace for Tarsenesia, it isn’t matched by the one born from the shake of hands between the sacred and profane when one part’s interest demands it. “A Requiem for Tarsenesia” is a tale of revenge, with a tint of poetical justice, and in the end the act of vengeance is as rewarding as it is cruel.

“The Hole” by Rob Errera – A hole deep in the ocean floor rises on land once the earth changes while it exercises its influence on everything that surrounds it. I am not exactly sure what to make of this story, but the truth is that it kept me reading until the end. It is also true that the humans in the story don’t behave in the most encouraging way, but that makes the story interesting. All in all “The Hole” is a nice way to draw the debut issue of Arcane Magazine to a close.

The short form of fiction struggles most of the times and I’ve seen at my time a good number of magazines dedicated to this form dying due to various reasons. “Arcane Magazine” is a new born and from the information I gathered it has a few difficulties standing on its feet. I believe that this piece of information is a sad thing to be learned, because although the first issue cannot be named a perfect start, “Arcane, Penny Dreadfuls for the 21st Century” offers plenty of quality fiction that would be a shame to see this magazine die after its first published appearance.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Guest post - Jasper Kent

Today, Bantam Press releases the UK edition of Jasper Kent’s third novel in “The Danilov Quintet” series, “The Third Section”. “The Third Section” is one of the titles I am looking forward to read this year, since I enjoyed a lot “Twelve” and “Thirteen Years Later”, but until I have that chance I am happy to have Jasper Kent as my guest on the blog with the occasion of “The Third Section” UK release day.

The Same – But Different
by Jasper Kent

Sound familiar?

It’s an answer that many an author must have heard. And the question? It comes after a novel has done reasonably well; a question that every author asks his (or her) editor: What next? The answer – the same, but different – is not plucked from the air. It’s a reflection of the views of the readership. If they wanted exactly the same, they could just read the book again. On the other hand, given that they liked the first book, what interest would they have in something totally different?

The author turns away, his lips intoning the counter-question: How different? He rarely bothers to ask the editor; the answer is obvious: Just different enough.

I think I err more towards the different than the same. As the name suggests, there will be five books in The Danilov Quintet, the last separated from the first by 105 years. If at the end things weren’t different from the beginning, then history would be failing in its duty. But if nothing remained the same, history would be unfathomable.

Just now we’re at the half-way point. From today you can (and should) buy the middle book of the series – The Third Section – and when you hit page 237 (out of 474) you will, in some sense, be exactly at the middle. Temporally, you’ll be a little earlier; 43 years from the beginning, 62 from the end. By the end of the book a conception and a death will have marked the true midpoint for the Danilov family. The first two books had one hero – the last two will have another.

The Third Section has a heroine.

Tamara Valentinovna Komarova, the central character of The Third Section, is the same, and is different. She has the same love of her country as Aleksei Ivanovich Danilov; the same faith towards her friends – often misplaced; the same cunning; the same hatred of the voordalak. But, unlike Aleksei Ivanovich, she is a woman – a woman in imperial Russia. She cannot rely on her physical strength, or even upon the respect of her fellow Russians. To defeat, or even survive, the enemy that Aleksei once faced; she can only fall back on her wits, her beauty and her guile. The problems she faces are the same – or at least similar; her solutions to them are quite, quite new.

Vive, as they must surely say in Russia, la différence.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Guest post - Daniel Polansky

Slums of the Shire
by Daniel Polansky

Occasionally you'll be with a group of people and they'll get to talking about their favorite historical epochs, nostalgic for lives they never led. One person will talk up their childhood love of the Wild West, another reveal a penchant for Victorian England. This last one just has a thing for corsets, but it's better not to call them on it.

When my turn rolls round I take a sip of whatever we're drinking and look at my shoes. “The mid 90's were pretty good,” I say lamely. “Slower internet and everything, but at least we had penicillin.”

Perhaps it's my being a history buff, but the past sucked. For about a millennium and a half after the fall of the Roman Empire, Europe just seems like a real shit place to reside. Lots of rooting in filth until you die at thirty a half mile from where you born. Nominally the nobles had it better, but still, your fever would have been treated with the application of leaches and your pretty young bride had like a one in two chance of surviving child birth.

This probably is why I don't understand fantasy—that is to say that collection of high medieval tropes collected by Tolkien and gleefully reproduced by two generations of descendants.

Take elves for instance—though perfectly capable of imagining a world where higher intelligence evolved in a species separate from humanity, my powers of make believe fail when positing that the relation between said species would be anything beyond unceasing warfare. Even a cursory glance at human history reveals our collective willingness to commit genocide on fellow homo sapiens—how much quicker would we have been to eradicate a separate species competing for identical resources? If elves existed, our ancestors would have hunted them down to extinction and erected a monument to the accomplishment.

But I digress.

Even when nestled comfortably in a quest to kill a dragon or overthrow a dark lord or what have you, strange thoughts plague me. What does the shady side of Gondor look like? How many platinum coins would a dime bag set me back? What is the point of hobbits? They're just short, fat people. People are plenty fat as it is.

Low Town is sort of my attempt to answer some of those questions (not the last one). It's the story of the Warden, a former intelligence agent and current drug dealer, whose gradual slide into self-destruction is briefly checked by the discovery of a dead body in the neighborhood he runs. An ill-timed bout of conscience rattles the easy cage of venality he's built for himself, and leads him on a collision course with the life he'd left behind. The Warden is a guy trying to survive the next few days, and not particularly squeamish as to what that requires—the sort of person more likely to populate a classic crime novel than to be found stocking the fantasy section of your local Borders (RIP).

More broadly, Low Town is an attempt to meld the best aspects of noir with a low fantasy setting—a meeting of tastes which I think complement each other nicely. The spare language and fast pace of good noir offers a pleasant counterpoint to the sprawling—one might even say bloated—length of much modern fantasy. On a somewhat broader level, the tendency of fantasy to focus on world shaking events often renders it irrelevant to the average reader, whose life relatively rarely devolves into single combat against vaguely satanic analogs. By contrast, noir is concerned with the individual, with greed and lust, sins all of us can comprehend to some degree. Low Town centers on the conceit that a world with magic wouldn't be altogether different from a world without it. People are still (on the whole) selfish, stupid creatures, focused almost exclusively on the immediate satisfaction of their basic desires, only now some of them can shoot fire out of their hands.

That's the idea at least. It comes out today (August 16th) in the US and Canada, and on Thursday (August 18th) in the UK and Commonwealth. I hope you check it out and see if I've succeeded, or if I'm just a pretentious clown. Or both.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Cover art - "Final Chronicle of the Dread Empire" series by Glen Cook

Recently I’ve posted the cover artwork for the new edition of the first volume of Glen Cook’s “The Last Chronicle of the Dread Empire”, “Reap the East Wind”, due to be released by Night Shade Books on October. Last week, Night Shade Books revealed the covers of the next two volumes of the “The Last Chronicle of the Dread Empire” series, the new edition of “An Ill Fate Marshalling” and the original and final “A Path to the Coldness of Heart” (scheduled to be released 20 years ago, but delayed so long because the manuscript was stolen). Once again the artist responsible for these beauties is Raymond Swanland and once again I found myself speechless before his artworks. Especially in front of the cover of “An Ill Fate Marshalling”, that looks absolutely gorgeous. I am eagerly looking forward to buy a copy of these volumes when they will be released, “Reap the East Wind” on October, “An Ill Fate Marshalling” on December and “A Path to the Coldness of Heart” on January 2012, to complete a series of excellent covers for Glen Cook’s “Dread Empire” novels.

It has ended. It begins again. In Kavelin: Lady Nepanthe's new life with the wizard Varthlokkur is disturbed by visions of her lost son, while King Bragi Ragnarson and Michael Trebilcock scheme to help the exiled Princess Mist re-usurp her throne - under their thumb. In Shinsan: a pig-farmer's son takes command of Eastern Army, while Lord Kuo faces plots in his council and a suicide attack of two million Matayangans on his border.
But in the desert beyond the Dread Empire: a young victim of the Great War becomes the Deliverer of an eons-forgotten god, chosen to lead the legions of the dead. And the power of his vengeance will make a world's schemes as petty as dust, blown wild in the horror that rides the east wind.

King Bragi Ragnarson decides to join Chatelain Mist's coup against the Dread Empire. Varthlokkur -- the King's wizard -- tries to dissuade Ragnarson from this chosen path, but only the drum-beat of war is heard. The King's Spymaster Michael Trebilcock joins with the wizard to stave off The Ill Fate Marshaling, to no effect.
Many of the characters from past volumes take center stage, and the climatic events of this book shake the world of the Dread Empire to its very core, creating A Path to Coldness of Heart.

At long last, the conclusion to Glen Cook's Dread Empire saga has arrived! King Bragi Ragnarson is a prisoner, shamed, nameless, and held captive by Lord Shih-kaa and the Empress Mist at the heart of the Dread Empire.
Far away in Kavelin, Bragia's queen and what remains of his army seek to find and free their king, hampered by the loss or desertion of their best and brightest warriors. Kavelina's spymaster, Michael Trebilcock, is missing in action, as is loyal soldier Aral Dantice. Meanwhile, Dane, Duke of Greyfells, seeks to seize the rule of Kavelin and place the kingdom in his pocket, beginning a new line of succession through Bragia's queen, Dane's cousin Inger. And in the highest peaks of the Dragona's Teeth, in the ancient castle Fangdred, the sorcerer called Varthlokkur uses his arts to spy on the world at large, observing the puppet strings that control kings and empires alike, waiting... For the time of the wrath of kings is almost at hand, and vengeance lies along a path to coldness of heart.

Friday, August 12, 2011

"Fingers and Other Fantastic Stories", Marian Coman's fiction available in English

“I am thinking sometimes that I am a chopping machine. A monstrous chopping machine from which, like endless worms, the words are crawling outside. I am a chopping machine, a silent mill that grinds memories, that crashes readings, music and people, I am a chipped mixer that mingles fragments of dusty myths and caught on the fly ideas, I am a neuronal grater that lays on the paper a compact paste in which the smiles of friends, the grins of strangers, the moans of lovers, the morning coffee or the breakfast eaten at noon can still be read.” (Marian Coman“White Nights, Black Days”)

The quote from Marian Coman’s “White Nights, Black Days” firmly touches autobiography, although it is from a work of fiction. One work of fiction that has a place high on my list of preferences together with the other Marian Coman’s published fiction book, “The Chocolate Testament”. Indeed the compact paste that Marian Coman lays on paper bares strong emotions and touches intimately the reader. It was the same case with his latest short story, “White Butterfly”, a new piece of fiction after two years of pause.

Still, it was the exclusive privilege of the Romanians to enjoy Marian Coman’s wonderful prose and overflowing imagination. Not anymore. Because for the first time Marian Coman’s fiction is available in English. In electronic format for the moment and I do hope that it will have the chance to be released on paper too. “Fingers and Other Fantastic Stories” features four short pieces of fiction, one better than the other. “Fingers”, “The Bathroom Door”, “Unwired” and “Between Walls” are beautiful choices, poised to make a mark on the reader. They left a mark on me. “Fingers” a fantastic story that shows you an image of a childhood spent under the Communist regime led by Nicolae Ceaușescu. The Romanians have different connections with this story and although others readers do not have the same purchase on its background I believe that they would still find its beauty. “The Bathroom Door” has accents of horror, but it is more than that, “Unwired” has elements of science fiction, while “Between Walls” journeys deep within one of the most essential Romanian myths, giving the respective legend a new dimension.

Marian Coman is part of the group of Romanian modern writers who fully deserve to make appearances on the English market and not only there. I am happy to see that Marian Coman made this first step and his fiction is available to a wider audience. And since I said in my review of “White Nights, Black Days” that: “It also made me think that if I had the power I would force Marian Coman to write more. Better still, I would pay him to do it.”, I opted for the later and bought an electronic copy of “Fingers and Other Fantastic Stories” because I know that those are money well spent.

“A flock of collared doves. Of albatrosses and finches that swarm croaking in an inextricable maze. That’s how the whole lot of children seemed to me, see from the balcony of the apartment I’m living in. I looked at them and I felt as if, as small as I saw them from above, I could catch and crush them between my nails like fleas. To hear their shell crack, with that noise of strawberry seeds stuck between the teeth”. (Marian Coman “Fingers and Other Fantastic Stories) – available on

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Cover art - "Dead Winter" by C.L. Werner

One of the best fantasy artists and one of my top favorites is Jon Sullivan. Jon Sullivan’s works are always making me lose time in their admiration, but it is time well spent. Among his wonderful works we can find the cover artworks Jon Sullivan made for The Black Library’s novels, series of covers which would make me buy the novels without much other consideration if I wouldn’t know better. In the near future The Black Library will offer the readers, once again, to delight in one of Jon Sullivan’s covers, realized for one of their Warhammer titles. This time it is C.L. Werner’s “Dead Winter”, due to be released on May 2012. I loved C.L. Werner’s “Grey Seer” and “Temple of the Serpent” novels, featuring the skaven Thanquol, and I am happy to see Jon Sullivan’s artwork on one of C.L. Werner’s novels. Especially since the artwork looks really great, with a terrific atmosphere, excellent details and some nasty looking elements (in the favor of the artwork, of course). A wonderful cover that makes me eagerly await the release of the novel. You can also find more close-up details of the cover on The Black Library’s blog and more amazing artworks by Jon Sullivan on his website.

As for C.L. Werner’s “Dead Winter”, it sounds threatening, but very interesting:

More than a thousand years after the Age of Sigmar, the Empire he struggled to create rests on the edge of destruction – the reign of the greedy and incompetent Emperor Boris Goldgather has shaken down the great and prosperous edifice of his erstwhile realm. Without warning, a terrible and deadly plague strikes, wiping out entire villages and leaving towns eerily silent through the long frozen months. As the survivors struggle to maintain order and a worthy military presence, vermin pour up from the sewers and caverns beneath the cities, heralding a new and unspeakable threat – the insidious skaven!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"Razumov's Tomb" by Darius Hinks

"Razumov's Tomb"
The review is based on a bought copy of the book

As the Chaos moon of Morrslieb veers wildly off course, the Old World is wracked by a series of bizarre plagues. From a lofty spire of the Celestial College, the Empire's Grand Astromancer, Caspar Vyborg, scours the heavens for an explanation, seeking guidance in the stars. But as the Empire sinks further into madness and violence, his order is forced to search stranger places than the night sky - the investigation leads them to the grave of a long-dead sorcerer named Razumov and an ancient, half-remembered prophecy. Caspar decides that his only hope is to complete the dark rituals that killed Razumov centuries earlier, but as Morrslieb waxes full and ferocious magical storms begin to tear the very fabric of reality, Caspar learns the true, terrible nature of Razumov's tomb.

The Warhammer gaming universe came to a turning point this July with the release of Storm of Magic, the largest expansion released to date for this game. The winds of magic blow through the Warhammer universe in great force and maelstroms shatter the world changing the land and unleashing new monsters in this vast setting. This brings major changes to the game, but it is not where my interest lies. Not because I would not be attracted by such a game, but because due to my location and difficulties resulting from it, the Warhammer game and accessories were inaccessible commodities for a very long period of time. However, I did follow the reflection of this universe in the world of fiction, reading as many Black Library’s Warhammer series of novels as possible.

The changes brought by the expansion of the Warhammer universe are only naturally felt on the fiction section too. Darius Hinks“Razumov’s Tomb” is the first in a series of three novellas released by Black Library this summer to capture the changes brought by the blowing of the Storm of Magic on the fiction universe of Warhammer. The reader discovers early on the changes suffered by the setting and the awakening of powerful magic. Magic, that comes out with all guns blazing, takes the major role in Darius Hinks’ novella by sheer force. Strange and new creatures roam the land surprising its inhabitants, barely remembered prophecies will come to pass, huge armies of beastmen or undead try to overpower their enemies, one long buried and asleep behemoth will be awaken, all succeed on the “Razumov’s Tomb” canvas to bring the reader a high-speed action story. There is a bit of fighting too, but only as garnish for the main course, the clash of magic.

Caspar Vyborg, Grand Astromancer of the Celestial College, follows a prophecy in the hope that its predicted outcome will not come to pass. Discovering the prophecy and an all too important location is his apprentice, Gabriel Bloch, with whom Caspar will face the blowing winds of magic in unexpected ways. A small conspiracy awaiting the two wizards brings them in plenty of difficult situations, but to some hilarious moments too. Actually, the entire Darius Hinks’ novella is a bit lighter than the usual fiction I read on the Warhammer universe. There is plenty of humor in “Razumov’s Tomb” that lightens the heavy atmosphere, but also a small measure of irony, which brought a great smile for me in the final sequences of the novella. As a matter of fact, the final moments of “Razumov’s Tomb” sweetens plenty of dark consequences left by the winds of magic on the story.

I am not sure how the Storm of Magic affects the Warhammer gaming universe, but on the fiction section it is an interesting change. And although Darius Hinks“Razumov’s Tomb” is not a memorable reading, it offers a fantasy story with a quick pulse, full of strange creatures and magic, for those looking for it.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Cover art - "Antiphon" by Ken Scholes (French edition)

The list of nominees for 2011 World Fantasy Awards contains a few very pleasant surprises for me, one of them being the nomination of Stéphane Marsan and Alain Névant from the French publisher Bragelonne for the Professional Special Award. I am very familiar with the work of Bragelonne, mainly because my love for cover artwork and it is one of the fields where the efforts of Bragelonne are truly exceptional. Some of my favorites cover artworks come from Bragelonne and one that immediately comes to mind is Marc Simonetti’s beautiful cover for Ken Scholes“Lamentation”. Bragelonne continued to collaborate with the talented Marc Simonetti for the second novel in Ken Scholes“Psalms of Isaak” series, “Canticle”, as well as for the third one, “Antiphon”, due to be released in France on 26th of August. Marc Simonetti made another wonderful cover, although the figure appearing on the “Antiphon” cover artwork isn’t very attractive for me. However, the scene and the general sense of the artwork are at a high level, as is the work of Marc Simonetti usually. Looking over this series of covers and considering the pleasant presence of Bragelonne on the list of World Fantasy Awards nominees I do hope that someday I will see the name of Marc Simonetti on the same list too and why not, on the winners list as well.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Cover art - "Reap the East Wind" by Glen Cook

I’ve talked about Raymond Swanland's artwork and book covers plenty of times before. So, without much comment here is another excellent mix of Raymond Swanland’s exceptional talent and Glen Cook’s “Dread Empire” series of novels, put together for us once again by Night Shade Books.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

"Thirteen Years Later" by Jasper Kent

"Thirteen Years Later"
Publisher: Bantam Press (UK) & Pyr (USA)
Previous novels in the series: "Twelve"
Review copy received through the courtesy of the UK publisher, Bantam Press

1825. Russia has been at peace for a decade. Bonaparte is long dead and the threat of invasion is no more. For Colonel Aleksei Ivanovich Danilov, life is calm. The French have been defeated, as have the twelve monstrous creatures he once fought alongside, and then against, all those years before. His duty is still to his tsar, Aleksandr the First, but today the enemy is merely human.
However, the tsar himself knows he can never be at peace. He is well aware of the uprising fermenting within his own army, but his true fear is of something far more terrible – something that threatens to bring damnation upon him, his family and his country. Aleksandr cannot forget a promise: a promise sealed in blood … and broken a hundred years before.
Now the victim of the Romanovs’ betrayal has returned to demand what is his. The knowledge chills Aleksandr’s very soul. And for Aleksei, it seems the vile pestilence that once threatened all he held dear has returned, thirteen years later …

Despite a long period of reluctance towards vampires I picked Jasper Kent’s debut novel, “Twelve”, a while back with interest and it proved to be the right choice. As much as I enjoyed “Twelve” and I was looking forward to its sequel, “Thirteen Years Later”, with a constantly growing personal library it took me longer than I expected to start reading the second novel in Jasper Kent’s “The Danilov Quintet”.

1825 finds Russia in the brink of tumultuous changes and Aleksei Ivanovich Danilov is found in the middle of it. However, not only the present keeps Aleksei’s hands full, but also the past with which he tries to find a small portion of peace and which will come alive again in an unexpected and surprising manner. The events that took place thirteen years ago come back into focus and Aleksei finds himself staring directly into his past. The readers unfamiliar with the respective events will find no problem in keeping pace with them, because Jasper Kent keeps track of the past story, without leaving anything aside for the new readers, but also without impending the reading of the present story for those who know them, introducing Aleksei’s past gradually.

I remembered Aleksei Ivanovich Danilov as a pleasant character and this aspect didn’t change. The years have passed over him, but that is only naturally and fortunately Jasper Kent keeps the natural course of life into account when he develops the main character of “Thirteen Years Later” further on. This aspect, but not only, makes Aleksei such a believable character. His interaction and relationships with the other characters add to the construction of his character. Especially those concerning his wife, lover, son, ruler and enemy enforce the outline of the “Thirteen Years Later” main protagonist. He is not a perfect character, but he has enough power to become a memorable one.

“Thirteen Years Later” has two prevailing ingredients, the historical and the speculative. Jasper Kent manages successfully to sustain both of them and to mix them when necessary without altering the result. The speculative aspects make their presence felt more than in the previous novel, “Twelve”, taking the place into the spotlight more often. There are few surprises that enrich the speculative elements, but also a few predictable ones that can be easily guessed. The historical part of the novel is very well executed. There is not one point in which I felt that the setting is misplaced and the story forced to fit the period when it’s taking place. “Thirteen Years Later” gravitates around the legend of the Alexander I of Russia’s mysterious death and Jasper Kent offers the reader his vision on the matter. The historical anxiety Russia passed in December 1825 is excellently captured and with great talent. The mix with the speculative elements of the plot gives Jasper Kent’s story a new dimension and an original interpretation for the legend of Alexander I’s death.

However, on both main ingredients of “Thirteen Years Later” there were a couple of things that didn’t fit into the story very well for me. First of all is the ease with which Aleksei confines in the tsar’s doctors about the voordalaki and the speed with which these two accept the supernatural presence doesn’t seem exactly right. Also, Jasper Kent doesn’t manage to raise the character of Aleksandr Pavlovich Romanov at any moment to the height where the ones surrounding the tsar elevates him to. Another uncomfortable side of the novel is its pace. As I said the readers unfamiliar with the story of “Twelve” and which has a major role in “Thirteen Years Later” will find themselves in no difficulty, because Jasper Kent introduces them to the past events. Although there are no long passages of recollections impeding the reader the past events are mentioned too often and the result is a constant break into rhythm of the story, slowing down its development. It will be an injustice to say that “Thirteen Years Later” is entirely slow though. Split into three sections the novel gathers momentum in each of its parts and each of the three final parts end in action scenes very well paced.

“Twelve” was a wonderful surprise for me at the time of its publication, but “Thirteen Years Later” didn’t rise to the same level with its predecessor. Still, I enjoyed Jasper Kent’s “Thirteen Years Later” for its historical flavor, supernatural twist and hard tried protagonist, Aleksei Ivanovich Danilov. Therefore, I will gladly buy a ticket for the upcoming ride in Jasper Kent’s “The Danilov Quintet”, “The Third Section”.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Title spotlight - "A Book of Horrors" edited by Stephen Jones

Stephen Jones starts his new anthology, “A Book of Horrors”, wondering about the present situation of the horror genre: “What the hell happened to the horror genre? Whatever happened to menacing monsters, vicious vampires, lethal lycanthropes, ghastly ghosts and monstrous mummies? These days our bloodsuckers are more likely to show their romantic nature, werewolves work for covert government organisations, phantoms are private investigators and the walking dead can be found sipping tea amongst the polite society of a Jane Austen novel.”

I have to say that these days, for me, vampires and zombies are totally lost. I very rarely tend to pick a book up that feature these creatures, mainly because their romantic side looks very odd and unappealing for me. Well, I also have to admit that I don’t mind a few hard boiled, monster private investigators, but only occasionally and I do hope that this doesn’t turn into a fashion as well, because I will see myself running away from it too in that case.

But this time there is no room for the soft part of these creatures, instead Stephen Jones, one of the most prolific editors of the horror fiction, brings this genre back on his rightful track. “A Book of Horrors” is an original anthology of horror and dark fantasy and features some heavy names in its line-up, such as Stephen King, Ramsey Campbell, Reggie Oliver, Michael Marshall Smith, Elizabeth Hand, Richard Christian Matheson, Caitlín R. Kiernan and John Ajvide Lindqvist, just to name a few. Stephen Jones“A Book of Horrors” will be hosted by the newly formed imprint of Quercus Books, Jo Fletcher Books, ran by the excellent former Associate Publisher of Gollancz, Jo Fletcher, and scheduled to be released around Halloween. However, Stephen Jones“A Book of Horror” comes in two limited editions as well, co-published by Cemetery Dance Publications and PS Publishing, one thousand copies signed by Stephen Jones and Les Edwards (who made yet another awesome cover) and one hundred copies of the traycased edition signed by all the contributors. I am not sure if I can afford one of these limited editions, certainly not the traycased edition, but I would certainly pick a copy of Jo Fletcher Books edition, because Stephen Jones“A Book of Horrors” looks too good to be passed by.

Open this book at your own peril! That is because this volume is exactly what it say on the cover—A Book of Horrors contains all-original stories by some of the most successful and exciting names in modern horror fiction. For the first time in many years, here is an original anthology of horror and dark fantasy in all its many and magnificent guises—from classic pulp-style tales of Dark and Stormy Nights, through more contemporary and psychological terrors, to the type of cutting-edge fiction that only the very best horror fiction can deliver. Brought together from around the world by World Fantasy Award-winning editor Stephen Jones, one of Britain's most acclaimed and experienced anthologists of horror fiction, here are many of the authors who have helped shaped the genre in all of its forms, along with terrifying tales of unease by a new generation of storytellers devoted to the Dark Side. But be warned: once you begin to delve within these pages, your imagination and senses will be assaulted by terrors both grim and gruesome, literary and lethal, that will stay with you long after you have closed its covers and tried to put aside the images and situations which have wormed their way deep within your mind. Don't blame us for the bad dreams or cold sweats that these tales will induce. We did tell you—this is A Book of Horrors, and once you open it there is no way that these scarifying stories will ever be forgotten... no matter how much you wish that the nightmares will just go away!

“Introduction: Whatever Happened To Horror?” by Stephen Jones
“The Little Green God of Agony” by Stephen King
“Charcloth, Firesteel and Flint” by Caitlín R. Kiernan
“Ghosts With Teeth” by Peter Crowther
“The Coffin-Maker’s Daughter” by Angela Slatter
“Roots and All” by Brian Hodge
“Tell Me I’ll See You Again” by Dennis Etchison
“The Music Of Bengt Karlsson, Murderer” by John Ajvide Lindqvist
“Getting It Wrong” by Ramsey Campbell
“Alice Through The Plastic Sheet” by Robert Shearman
“The Man In The Ditch” by Lisa Tuttle
“A Child’s Problem” by Reggie Oliver
“Sad, Dark Thing” by Michael Marshall Smith
“Near Zennor” by Elizabeth Hand
“Last Words” by Richard Christian Matheson

Monday, August 1, 2011

2011 World Fantasy Awards nominees

The 2011 World Fantasy Awards nominees have been announced, together with the winners of the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Angélica Gorodischer and Peter S. Beagle are the winners of the 2011 World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award. I am especially thrilled for Miss Gorodischer’s award since I loved her collection “Kalpa Imperial” published by Small Beer Press and I hope that this award will make available in English other works of her as well.

The nominees for the World Fantasy Awards, due to be presented at World Fantasy Convention held in San Diego CA between October 27th and 30th, are:

“Zoo City” by Lauren Beukes (Jacana South Africa; Angry Robot)
“The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms” by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)
“The Silent Land” by Graham Joyce (Gollancz; Doubleday)
“Under Heaven” by Guy Gavriel Kay (Viking Canada; Roc; Harper Voyager UK)
“Redemption In Indigo” by Karen Lord (Small Beer)
“Who Fears Death” by Nnedi Okorafor (DAW)

“Bone and Jewel Creatures” by Elizabeth Bear (Subterranean)
“The Broken Man” by Michael Byers (PS)
“The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon” by Elizabeth Hand (Stories: All-New Tales)
“The Thief of Broken Toys” by Tim Lebbon (ChiZine Publications)
“The Mystery Knight” by George R.R. Martin (Warriors)
“The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath the Queen’s Window” by Rachel Swirsky (Subterranean Summer 2010)

“Beautiful Men” by, Christopher Fowler (Visitants: Stories of Fallen Angels and Heavenly Hosts)
“Booth’s Ghost” by Karen Joy Fowler (What I Didn’t See and Other Stories)
“Ponies” by Kij Johnson ( 11/17/10)
“Fossil-Figures” by Joyce Carol Oates (Stories: All-New Tales)
“Tu Sufrimiento Shall Protect Us” by Mercurio D. Rivera (Black Static 8-9/10)

“The Way of the Wizard” edited by John Joseph Adams (Prime)
“My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me” edited by Kate Bernheimer (Penguin)
“Haunted Legends” edited by Ellen Datlow & Nick Mamatas (Tor)
“Stories: All-New Tales” edited by Neil Gaiman & Al Sarrantonio (Morrow; Headline Review)
“Black Wings: New Tales of Lovecraftian Horror” edited by S.T. Joshi (PS)
“Swords & Dark Magic” edited by Jonathan Strahan & Lou Anders (Eos)

“What I Didn’t See and Other Stories” by Karen Joy Fowler (Small Beer)
“The Ammonite Violin & Others” by Caitlín R. Kiernan (Subterranean)
“Holiday” by M. Rickert (Golden Gryphon)
“Sourdough and Other Stories” by Angela Slatter (Tartarus)
“The Third Bear” by Jeff VanderMeer (Tachyon)

Vincent Chong
Kinuko Y. Craft
Richard A. Kirk
John Picacio
Shaun Tan

John Joseph Adams, for editing and anthologies
Lou Anders, for editing at Pyr
Marc Gascoigne, for Angry Robot
Stéphane Marsan & Alain Névant, for Bragelonne
Brett Alexander Savory & Sandra Kasturi, for ChiZine Publications

Stephen Jones, Michael Marshall Smith, & Amanda Foubister, for Brighton Shock!: The Souvenir Book Of The World Horror Convention 2010
Alisa Krasnostein, for Twelfth Planet Press
Matthew Kressel, for Sybil’s Garage and Senses Five Press
Charles Tan, for Bibliophile Stalker
Lavie Tidhar, for The World SF Blog

Congratulations and good luck to all the nominees!