Friday, October 31, 2014

Short film - "The Body", directed by Paul Davis

For 24 hours, in celebration of Halloween, we have the chance to see for free Paul Davis’ award winning short movie, “The Body”. “The Body” recently won the prestigious Méliès d’Or, awarded by the European Fantastic Film Festivals Federation, for best short film.

A professionall killer (Alfie Allen, GAME OF THRONES) discovers he can get away with anything on Halloween night, including dragging his latest victim around as a prop amidst a sea of oblivious London partiers.

Happy Halloween!

Directed by Paul Davis
Screenplay by Paul Fischer & Paul Davis
Produced by Paul Fischer
Starring: Alfie Allen, Hannah Tointon, Jack Gordon, Christian Brassington

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Table of contents - "Imaginarium 3: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing" edited by Sandra Kasturi & Helen Marshall

I was relieved when finally news about the new volume of “The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror” reached me, not because there are no more such anthologies of year’s best out there, on the contrary I do have a couple I follow devoutly together with this one, but because this excellent collection showcased some wonderful fiction from Down Under. At a first glance, collections such the Australian Best Fantasy and Horror might seem as a narrowing in selection, but I actually find them a welcome expansion of similar anthologies that have a wider coverage. As time and the first three volumes of “The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror” proved there are plenty of talented voices and outstanding stories that deserved a presence in any year’s best but missed the more established ones due to the available space. Therefore I thrilled with the publication of yearly collection dedicated to a certain country or region, such as the already mentioned “The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror” and “Imaginarium: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing”. The latter sees this year its third edition being published and, after Sandra Kasturi joined forces with Halli Villegas and Samantha Beiko for the editing of the first two volumes, this year none other than the very gifted Helen Marshall is one of the editors. I am as excited as I was with the publication of the first “Imaginarium” two years ago, if not even more enthusiastic since I was rewarded with some high-quality stories in the first two volumes of this “Best Canadian Speculative Writing”. This year seems no different, there are a couple of my nowadays favorite writers on the table of contents together with some who are just waiting to be discovered. And with a release date set for November, 4th it appears that the end of this year I have my hands full with such yearly collections. I see no reasons for complaining however, in such cases the more of them, with such quality, the better.

“The Book with No End” by Colleen Anderson
“Frankenstein’s Monster” by James Arthur
“Social Services” by Madeline Ashby
“The Correspondence between the Governess and the Attic” by Siobhan Carroll
“Red Doc” (excerpt) by Anne Carson
“A Charm for Communing with Dead Pets During Surgery” by Peter Chiykowski
“Turing Tests” by Peter Chiykowski
“In the Year Two Thousand Eleven” by Jan Conn
“Jazzman/Puppet” by Joan Crate
“The Runner of n-Vamana” by Indrapramit Das
“Firebugs” by Craig Davidson
“By His Things You Will Know Him” by Cory Doctorow
“Lost” by Amal El-Mohtar
“:axiom: the calling” (excerpts) by Daniela Elza
“Trap-Weed” by Gemma Files
“Oubliette” by Gemma Files
“Ushakiran” by Laura Friis
“A Cavern of Redbrick” by Richard Gavin
“All My Princes are Gone” by Jennifer Giesbrecht
“A Tall Girl” by Kim Goldberg
“Ksampguiyaeps Woman-Out-to-Sea” by Neile Graham
“The Easthound” by Nalo Hopkinson
“Harvesting Lost Hearts” by Louisa Howerow
“Your Figure Will Assume Beautiful Outlines” by Claire Humphrey
“Salt and Iron Dialogues” by Matthew Johnson
“The Salamander's Waltz” by Catherine MacLeod
“Said the Axe Man” by Tamara MacNeil
“Nahuales” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
“The Fairy Godmother” by Kim Neville
“Black Hen à la Ford” by David Nickle
“Jinx” by Robert Priest
“Knife Throwing Through Self-Hypnosis” by Robin Richardson
“How Gods Go on the Road” by Robin Richardson
“Conditional Sphere of Everyday Historical Life” by Leon Rooke
“Stemming the Tide” by Simon Strantzas
“Book of Vole” (excerpts) by Jane Tolmie
“Fishfly Season” by Halli Villegas
“Lesser Creek: A Love Story, A Ghost Story” by A.C. Wise

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Uncanny Magazine starts its appearances next Tuesday

Following a successful Kickstarter campaign this summer a new professional magazine of speculative fiction was born, Uncanny: A Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Founded and edited by three-time Hugo Award winner Lynne M. Thomas and three-time Hugo Award nominee Michael Damian Thomas Uncanny Magazine wishes to showcase in each issue new and classic speculative fiction, fiction podcasts, poetry, essays, art and interviews. Each issue will contain at least 4-6 new short stories, 2 reprinted stories, 2 poems, 2 non-fiction essays and 2 interviews, written by award-winning contributors and emerging new talents, with a clear aim towards “intricate, experimental stories and poems with verve and imagination that elicit strong emotions and challenge beliefs from writers from every conceivable background. Uncanny believes there’s still plenty of room in the genre for tales that make you feel.” Uncanny Magazine’s issues will be published in electronic formats bimonthly and will be available on all major online ebook stores, but also for free online, with the first half of each issue available on the magazine’s website from the second Tuesday of the respective issue’s first month and the second half a month after that. The first issue, November/December 2014, comes with very interesting content and a wonderful cover art by Galen Dara and it will be available next Tuesday in ebook version and released for free online in two stages, the first half on the day of the ebook version release and the second half in December.

“The Uncanny Valley” by Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas
New Fiction
“If You Were a Tiger, I’d Have to Wear White” by Maria Dahvana Headley
“Migration” by Kat Howard
“Late Nights at the Cape and Cane” by Max Gladstone
“Celia and the Conservation of Entropy” by Amelia Beamer
“Presence” by Ken Liu
“The Boy Who Grew Up” by Christopher Barzak
Classic Fiction
“Her Fingers Like Whips, Her Eyes Like Razors” by Jay Lake
“Mars (and Moon and Mercury and Jupiter and Venus) Attacks!” by Sarah Kuhn
Worldcon Roundtable featuring Emma England, Michael Lee, Helen Montgomery, Steven H Silver, and Pablo Vazquez
“Does Sex Make Science Fiction ‘Soft’?” by Tansy Rayner Roberts
“The Short List – The Ten Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Shorts on the Web” by Christopher J Garcia
“Kissing song” by Neil Gaiman
“The New Ways” by Amal El-Mohtar
“The Whalemaid, Singing” by Sonya Taaffe
Maria Dahvana Headley, interviewed by Deborah Stanish
Beth Meacham on Jay Lake, interviewed by Lynne M. Thomas
Christopher Barzak, interviewed by Deborah Stanish
I wish Uncanny Magazine all the best and hopefully it would soon become one of the favorite places to visit by the fans of speculative fiction!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

R.I.P. Ştefan Ghidoveanu (1955-2014)

Unfortunately the Romanian speculative fiction lost one of its pillars these days. Ştefan Ghidoveanu was a writer, editor and translator, one who put great effort into the promotion and development of modern Romanian science fiction. He departs too early, leaving behind an important legacy to the local speculative fiction, but sadly not as rich as could have been. May his travels beyond be far and wide!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

"Barracuda - 1. Slaves" by Jean Dufaux (script) & Jérémy (artist)

"Barracuda - 1. Slaves"
by Jean Dufaux (script) & Jérémy (artist)
Publisher: Cinebook
The review is based on a bought copy of the book

Pirates have appeal, it seems they always had. It is a very interesting thing to observe for such a criminal, violent activity producing such an attraction, for such vicious villains becoming romanticized heroes more often than not. Yours truly is no exception, in historical books or pure fiction I surprise myself picturing them as valiant adventurers before starting to consider their savage nature and brutal acts. It is no different with the comics written and illustrated by the Belgian duo, Jean Dufaux and Jérémy Petiqueux, “Barracuda”.

The famed pirate ship Barracuda, led by the infamous captain Blackdog, seizes a vessel and capture some of the passengers travelling on it, Doña Del Scuebo, her daughter Maria and Emilio, a young servant boy who disguises himself as a girl in order to avoid being killed by the pirates, the fate of almost every man on board of the captured ship. The three of them are brought to Puerto Blanco and sold as slaves under the supervision of Blackdog’s son, Raffy.

There is nothing romanticized in the pirates of this first volume of “Barracuda”, they are a lot as vicious as they can be. Even from the beginning their courses of action lead to utter violence, exploitation and abuse. However, Jean Dufaux and Jérémy manage to keep the ugly side of the story in check, the ferocity of vile acts are more hinted at rather than treated in full graphic, verbal violence preceding the physical one and plenty of the misdeeds taking place off screen, sparing characters and readers alike from full front extreme brutality. The conflicts still escalate, but most often only into swashbuckling scenes typically associated with such adventures. “Barracuda – Slaves” is still a dark and fierce story, but nicely rounded so it cannot turn into an offensive tale.

Caught in this world of violence are three young people, Maria, Emilio and Raffy, the three characters that emerge as the main protagonists of this volume. Colliding here and there and ending up stranded in Puerto Blanco the three youngsters approach the story from different sides. And from different perspectives as well, since Emilio’s part is told from first person point of view and the other two from third person, yet it turned out that it didn’t exercise more sympathy from my part for Emilio and it does not make him a more developed character than Maria and Raffy. Crisscrossing paths these three characters seem to be heading towards a common point in the story, but this doesn’t happen in “Barracuda – Slaves”, the volume feels and is the introduction part. It is the starting point for a larger story, taking into account the initial details of setting, plot and characters.

The feeling of introductory part is felt even from the title of the series and the cover of the first volume, “Barracuda” sporting the portrait of Blackdog, the captain of the title eponymous pirate ship, on the cover of “Barracuda - Slaves”, but both making the slightest of appearances in the story of this comic. However the plot leaves plenty of room for the development. A map pointing the directions to a certain extremely valuable diamond falls into Blackdog’s hands and he sets sail in search of it at the end of the book. The pirate island’s governess has her own plans for Barracuda and its captain and together with her right hand starts a little game of politics. The mysterious figure, who exerts a powerful influence among Puerto Blanco’s pirates, entering into Emilio’s life promises interesting things for his story arc. Spread elements of a wider plot, but all very interesting and holding the potential for making the “Barracuda” series even better than it already started. Only one thing kept bugging me at the entire enterprise, although we are dealing with merciless scoundrels they seem to conceal an odd respect for the religious representatives. Blackdog’s crew spares for no reason the life of a priest when they seize the ship he is on, although Emilio needs to disguise himself as a girl in order to escape the pirates’ habit of killing every single man on the captured ships. And in Puerto Blanco, the harbor of a pirate island festering with villains, where even the governess rule is based on the principles of piracy, there is present a church that escapes unscathed although it plays a role into the island’s slave trading. I am aware of the place these elements have on the whole and the role they play within the story, but they do look awkward, especially when the cast is brimming with characters of low morals, farfetched from the pious bunch.

The art of Jérémy adds further vividness to the world of “Barracuda”. Battle scenes and settings nicely done, colors used with ability and above all, the excellent rendering of characters. Each and single one is portrayed with talent, each is given individuality and personality. Emotions are captured effortlessly, feelings are depicted with accuracy. Every panel would work wonderfully on itself as a small piece of art, but together with the story it creates an excellent combination, fusing Jérémy and Jean Dufaux’s efforts harmoniously, with the best possible outcome.

“Barracuda – Slaves” opens the road for a wider story, it is a mood setter, but it does so leaving the reader itching for Jean Dufaux and Jérémy’s continuation of this comic book series.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Cover art - "On a Red Station, Drifting" by Aliette de Bodard

I loved Aliette de Bodard’s “On a Red Station, Drifting”, it is a wonderful and touching story, but I still hold a regret at the time of my first reading of this short novel. I believed, and I still do, that the cover artwork for the hardcover edition of “On a Red Station, Drifting” was no match for the beauty of the novella. I felt that with more effort the cover could have been better, as it is proved by the artwork of the ebook edition. A far better choice and a more representative and engaging one. And since I do like quite a bit the books in physical form, especially those volumes I loved reading and cherish because of it, I do love them with beautiful cover artworks. Even more so considering that the cover of an ebook is easily left behind after opening the file, while that of a physical edition is met by the eye each time the reader picks up the respective book. Well, it seems that Aliette de Bodard’s “On a Red Station, Drifting” has the chance to have the beautiful cover of the ebook edition on a printed volume as well. Aliette de Bodard is publishing a new printed edition of “On a Red Station, Drifting” through Createspace and this volume comes with the cover designed by Nhan Y Doanh for the ebook edition. And since we are at this chapter, here is also the cover artwork for the Spanish edition of “On a Red Station, Drifitng”, published by Fata Libelli at the end of the year. The artist Omar Moreno went on a different road with his cover, coming with a more simple approach, more suited for the publisher’s line of book covers.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"The Invincible Sun" by K.J. Parker on the horizon

I find K.J. Parker to be one of the best and most original fantasy writers, her/his works have always surprised and thrilled me. And the form of the said works has little relevance, no matter if it is a series or a stand-alone novel, a novella or a short story, fiction or non-fiction K.J. Parker excels with every single one of them. Therefore each piece of news about a new book or short story signed by this excellent writer brings me nothing but delight, as it is the one hinting at K.J. Parker’s new novel. With a release date set for February 2015 “The Invincible Sun” is the first novel in a new trilogy by K.J. Parker. There is not much more information to be had at the moment and even the scarce one surfaced so far is pretty general.

The first in a epic trilogy from the acclaimed author of Sharps. K.J. Parker's new series is a perfectly executed tale of intrigue and deception that will leave you breathless. THE INVINCIBLE SUN tells the story of an empire. With an extraordinary cast of characters, from soldier and generals to politics and princes, THE INVINCIBLE SUN will appeal to a broad range of fantasy readers and is destined to become a landmark work in the genre.

However, I am certain there is nothing of standard issue about K.J. Parker’s “The Invincible Sun”. After all, I don’t have only my preference for K.J. Parker’s works to back me up, but also the short stories sharing the same universe as the upcoming novel. Three of which can be enjoyed for free online, “Amor Vincit Omnia”, “One Little Room an Everywhere” and “The Sun and I”, with the last one depicting the birth of the religion of the Invincible Sun.

For me, K.J. Parker’s “The Invincible Sun” is the most anticipated book of February 2015.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Cover art - "Aickman's Heirs" edited by Simon Strantzas

I must admit that I am not very familiar with Robert Aickman’s fiction, besides a couple of short stories I didn’t get many chances to read his works. However, I have full confidence in Undertow Books and Michael Kelly, my experience with “Shadows & Tall Trees” magazine has been nothing by the best, while the first volume of “Year’s Best Weird Fiction”, the latest release of this small publishing house, looks extremely promising. You may rightfully ask why I am talking about these two. Well, Undertow Books recently announced its next scheduled book, “Aickman’s Heirs”, edited by Simon Strantzas and due to be released on spring 2015. As the title suggests this collection of short stories is dedicated to Robert Aickman and his influence on the weird fiction and, like I said, while I am not familiar with his works I am very interested to see what Undertow Books has in store with this title. Not only that, but although there are not many more pieces of information about this anthology at the moment the cover artwork for “Aickman’s Heirs” sparked my imagination instantly and made it go wild.  Born from the talented brush of Yaroslav Gerzhedovich this is one of the most evocative covers I’ve seen lately, deeply atmospheric and utterly enthralling. Creating a complete story by itself Yaroslav Gerzhedovich’s artwork spellbound me into profound admiration. Add the excellent lettering and the final result is absolutely wonderful.

Speaking of Robert Aickman and cover artwork, Faber & Faber published this year new editions of four of Robert Aickman’s short stories collections, “Dark Entries”, “The Unsettled Dust”, “Cold Hand in Mine” and “The Wine-Dark Sea”, with some excellent covers as well. A bit more crowded than “Aickman’s Heirs” but very good nonetheless.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Vincent Chong's limited edition prints sale

© Vincent Chong & Subterranean Press
Vincent Chong, one of the favorite artists around this blog, launched a sale on all limited edition prints born from his very talented hands. Starting this week until December 31st the price of the limited edition prints drops with 25%. These include the wraparound dusk jacket art made by Vincent Chong for the limited edition Stephen King’s “The Shining”, but also several other cover artworks for limited editions of Stephen King’s “Doctor Sleep”, Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s “Locke & Key: Crown of Shadows”, China Miéville’s “Embassytown” or Martin Livings’ “Living with the Dead” among them. If you like to have one of these limited edition prints you can find all the available ones and more details about Vincent Chong’s sale on his personal website.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Table of contents - "The Year's Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2013" edited by Liz Grzyb & Talie Helene

As June came and go, with the initial release date of “The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror” fourth volume passing together with it without any news whatsoever about the 2013 collection, I was afraid that this excellent anthology had the faith of other several short fiction venues I loved. I understand that short fiction market is a very difficult one, such stories are harder to sell than novels, but I am still deeply saddened when these hardships lead to the disappearance of magazines or anthology series, such as “The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror”, excellent sources of wonderful stories and opportunities of discovering new, talented writers. With not only June passing by, but also July, August and September, in the face of “The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror” ceasing its existence my sadness turned into resignation, only to lead to a heightened joy when news of the fourth volume’s release finally broke forth. Delayed for quite a bit it is a relief to learn that “The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2013” is going to be released by Ticonderoga Publications in late November this year, it is a joy to see another strong line-up assembled the editors Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene, with my favorites Kaaron Warren, Deborah Biancotti and Angela Slatter making another appearance on this annual series of anthologies, and an absolute delight to discover that this wonderful, yearly collection of Australia’s and New Zealand’s finest short stories will add at least three more volumes to the four already published. For me these are as many reasons for celebration, because I do believe it would have been a shame to see this amazing series of year’s best anthologies going into oblivion.

“Disciple of the Torrent” by Lee Battersby (Tales of Australia: Great Southern Land)
“All the Lost Ones” by Deborah Biancotti (Exotic Gothic 5 Vol I)
“Camp Follower” by Trudi Canavan (Fearsome Journeys)
“Glasskin” by Robert G. Cook (Review of Australian Fiction Vol 5 #6)
“The Ways of the Wyrding Women” by Rowena Cory Daniells (One Small Step)
“The Sleepover” by Terry Dowling (Exotic Gothic 5 Vol II)
“After Hours” by Thoraiya Dyer (Asymmetry)
“A Castle in Toorak” by Marion Halligan (Griffith Review #42)
“The Boy by the Gate” by Dmetri Kakmi (The New Gothic)
“Harry's Dead Poodle” by David Kernot (Cover of Darkness Magazine)
“Black Swan Event” by Margo Lanagan (Griffith Review #42)
“Poppies” by S.G. Larner (Aurealis #65)
“La Mort d'un Roturer” by Martin Livings (This is How You Die)
“Caution: Contains Small Parts” by Kirstyn McDermott (Caution: Contains Small Parts)
“The Ninety Two” by Claire McKenna (Next)
“The Nest” by C.S. McMullen (Nightmare Magazine)
“By Bone-Light” by Juliet Marillier (Prickle Moon)
“Old Souls” by David Thomas Moore (The Book of the Dead)
“The Oblivion Box” by Faith Mudge (Dreaming of Djinn)
“Sticks and Stones” by Ryan O'Neill (The Great Unknown)
“Almost Beautiful” by Angela Rega (Next)
“The Raven and Her Victory” by Tansy Rayner Roberts (Where Thy Dark Eye Glances: Queering Edgar Allan Poe)
“On the Wall” by Nicky Rowlands (Next)
“The Silence of Clockwork” by Carol Ryles (Conflux 9 Convention Programme)
“Flight” by Angela Slatter (Once Upon a Time: New Fairy Tales)
“Bowfin Island” by Anna Tambour (Caledonia Dreamin')
“Born and Bread” by Kaaron Warren (Once Upon a Time: New Fairy Tales)
“Hell is Where the Heart is” by Janeen Webb (Next)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Premio Minotauro 2014

Yesterday, in a ceremony held in Sitges, during the 47th edition of the International Fantastic Film Festival of Catalonia, the winner of the Premio Minotauro, the International Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature Award, has been announced. The jury of the 11th edition of Premio Minotauro, formed by Adrián Guerra (producer), Ángel Sala (the director of the Sitges Film Festival), Marcela Serras (editorial director of Minotauro), Javier Sierra (writer) and Carlos Sisí (writer and winner of the 2013 Premio Minotauro), elected from a total of 450 manuscripts Carlos Molinero’s novel, “Verano de Miedo” (Summer of Fear), as the winner (submitted under the false title “Hermana Noche” (Sister Night), signed with the pseudonym Morgenstern). As usual, besides the prize of 10,000 euros received by the winner, the novel will be published by Ediciones Minotauro and it is due to be released on 28th October.

When his mother announces him that he’ll spend the summer melting his vacation in Vega Alta, the village of his grandmother, the first thought that passes through Juan’s mind is that he is going to die of boredom. But the construction of some villas in the outskirts of the village unearths a blood thirsty creature that from this point forward makes boredom impossible. Dying is another matter.

Juan faces the threat of the vampire together with Eva, an obese Goth girl, and Jairo, a former child lay brother of San Ildefonso. Against his inferior conditions he decides to use information as weapon, so he starts to write on his blog all the terrible things that are happening in Vega Alta. With only this he gets someone’s attention: the risen vampire who has a hard to imagine plan for Vega Alta…

“Summer of Fear” is not only a quick and refreshing novel, but also a homage of the classics of horror and of those summers, bloody or not, that change our lives.

Photo – SITGES, Festival Internacional
de Cinema Fantàstic de Catalunya
Carlos Molinero won in 2002, together with Lola Salvador, Clara Pérez Escrivá and Jorge Juan Martínez, the Goya Award for the best adapted screenplay for “Salvajes” (Savages), based on the homonym theatre play. In 2007 he directed, together with Lola Salvador, the documentary “La niebla de las palmeras” (The Mist in the Palm Trees). He wrote screenplays for TV series such as “Querido maestro” (Dear Teacher), “Paco y Veva” (Paco and Veva), “El comisario” (The Deputy), “La fuga” (The Escape), “Cuéntame” (Tell Me) or “Alatriste” (Alatriste). He is also the author of various short plays, in addition to “Verónica”, a piece of spiritualistic horror. (bio presented by Fantasymundo)


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

"The House of War and Witness" by Mike, Linda and Louise Carey

"The House of War and Witness"
by Mike, Linda and Louise Carey
Publisher: Gollancz
Review copy received through the courtesy of the author Mike Carey

In the year 1740, with the whole of Europe balanced on the brink of war, a company of Austrian soldiers is sent to the village of Narutsin to defend the border with Prussia. But what should be a routine posting is quickly revealed to be anything but. The previous garrison is gone, the great house of Pokoj, where they're to be billeted, a dilapidated ruin, and the people of Narutsin sullen and belligerent. Convinced the villagers are keeping secrets - and possibly consorting with the enemy - the commanding officer orders his junior lieutenant, Klaes, to investigate.

While Klaes sifts through the villagers' truths, half-truths and lies, Drozde, the quartermaster's woman, is making uncomfortable discoveries of her own - about herself, her man, and the house where they've all been thrown together. Because far from being the empty shell it appears to be, Pokoj is actually teeming with people. It's just that they're all dead. And the dead know things - about Drozde, about the history of Pokoj, and about the terrible event that is rushing towards them all, seemingly unstoppable.

The ghosts of Pokoj, the soldiers of the empress and the villagers of Narutsin are about to find themselves actors in a story that has been unfolding for centuries. It will end in blood - that much is written - but how much blood will depend on Klaes' honour, Drozde's skill and courage, and the keeping of an impossible promise . . .

It was “The Talisman”, the collaborative novel of Stephen King and Peter Straub, which made me consider such joint projects with great interest and fascination. Years later, I had the pleasant surprise of discovering a book written in three, “The Steel Seraglio” by Mike, Linda and Louise Carey. Of course, it was not only my curiosity for such endeavors, but as it was the case with Stephen King and Peter Straub’s “The Talisman”, my previous experience with Mike Carey’s writing was part of my attraction to this novel. Since “The Steel Seraglio”, or “The City of Silk and Steel”, as the novel was published in the UK, nothing much changed in my consideration for Mike Carey’s writings, I look at them with the same excitement, perhaps even with a little more. But it did change the list of authors I follow with interest adding among all those favorite writers of mine the team Mike forms with his wife and daughter, Linda and Louise. It wasn’t long before I welcomed another title from the said team, Mike, Linda and Louise Carey joined forces again and published a second collaborative novel, “The House of War and Witness”, two years after their first one.

It is the year 1740 and following Maria Theresa’s succession to the throne of the House Monarchy war is looming over Europe. A small company of Habsburg soldiers is sent to the border with Prussia, next to the small town of Narutsin, as a precaution in the eventuality of war. Upon arriving to the great house, Pokoj, where they are billeted Colonel August and his company found no trace of the militia previously garrisoned here and are led to believe that the villagers of Narutsin are holding secrets. Colonel August assigns a junior officer, Lieutenant Klaes, to investigate the matter and to uncover the truths the villagers keep hidden. At the same time, Drozde, a puppeteer part of the company’s followers, protected by the quartermaster Molebacher, discovers that Pokoj, the house where they’re stationed holds some secrets of its own. An entire host of ghosts along with them too and Drozde will begin soon to learn most of their stories, some of them with consequences on the company’s presence near Narutsin and the Prussian border.

The Careys place their new story on the brink of the first Silesian Wars in a village at the border of Austria with Prussia, but it is not the historical event that takes precedence within “The House of War and Witness”. They do capture some of the atmosphere, to the village are given nice specific details, the villagers are caught in a situation where survival is more important than the official delimitations between countries, the distinct company’s life, with some characteristics of the Austrian army at the time, such as the presence of soldiers gathered from all the empire’s corners within the company or the shadow of the recent defeats against the Ottoman Empire still weighting on the minds of the officers and troops. But it is the story of humanity and human beings at the core of the novel. A tale of the shining moments and the ugly face of human behavior, of best and worse in human nature, of selfish and selfless acts. Every emotion from joy to tears is captured within the pages of “The House of War and Witness”.

Mike, Linda and Louise Carey’s novel is seen through the eyes of two major characters, Drozde, the gypsy puppeteer, and Lieutenant Klaes, the junior officer of the company, masterfully built in a stellar characterization. As a matter of fact, I find Drozde to be one of the best fictional characters I’ve encountered in my readings. And it is such a rare sight in fantasy genre, a female character portrayed strongly and vividly, as Drozde is, it is unfortunately an uncommon treasure. It is very true, the Careys have done it before with the impressive, powerful cast of “The Steel Seraglio”/“The City of Silk and Steel”, but with Drozde they matched and topped extremely well that performance. With Drozde they conquer every little piece that makes a character, there is a solid groundwork behind this personage to be discover scratching the shallow perception of others. At the first glance Drozde is just one more woman of the ones with easy virtues following the company, but she is certainly more than that. She is a strong survivor, pragmatic and talented, a craftswoman with unique abilities and qualities. Drozde is also tough, but without losing any slice of her compassion. One of the most memorable characters of my readings.

Lieutenant Klaes is an oddball within the army corps, inclined more towards intellectual reflection rather than mindless action required from his superiors, Klaes is often caught between his principles and his training. Conflicted and uncertain at times, Wolfgang Klaes doesn’t come as fully rounded as Drozde at first, but grows with each new chapter until he becomes another strong presence within the story. As are all the other characters of “The House of War and Witness”, from the ones that have an important presence in the tale to those with the flimsiest of appearances. This ability to transform each and every single one of the characters into powerful, meaningful appearances demonstrates the potent ability of Mike, Linda and Louise Carey to instill life in the entire cast of the novel and make it believable to the smallest of details, proving they are master puppeteers, as is their leading character, Drozde. There are plenty of examples to be had, but in order not to stretch the space of this review too much let’s look at Lieutenant Tusimov for a bit, a character with something to say within the plot, but with only occasional appearances.

“Tusimov liked glory, and the radiant furniture of military adventure. But he was greatly deficient in physical courage, by means of which glory is usually procured. His beguiling fantasy, in moments of leisure, was a commendation for valour won without any personal risk at all. In the absence of that, he was happy to find himself defending a position that was unlikely to be attacked.”

It is a paragraph that showcases the treatment received by the personages of the novel even if their importance in the outcome of the story has greater or lesser significance. Taken individually each major or minor character is represented lively and vividly, but it is not only from here their authentic portrayal draws energy, but also from the excellent interaction they have with the other. The relationships and contacts made by various characters of “The House of War and Witness” are sturdy, making all the scenes feel natural. It is yet another demonstration of the authors’ ability of making their cast perform as seen in the most exquisite theatre plays.

The story of “The House of War and Witness” starts and develops slowly, it takes a little time and several chapters to get it going. It is not a critique, the Careys create ambiance and lay the foundation for the plot to unravel in a pleasant and captivating manner. The story moves at a foot’s pace in the beginning but it does so without stranding the reader to a forced march, it carefully constructs an interesting and mysterious plot. Even more, it insidiously crawls in the reader’s mind and soul until the registration of the plot unraveling is felt with every fiber. As it was for me chapter 27, for instance, the moment in which the point of the story that comes with the most emotional and effective impact. The story gathers speed constantly and gradually until it becomes a breathtaking run toward the final outcome. There is another element within “The House of War and Witness” that in the onset it appears to stray away from the main plot, Drozde discovering the ghosts of Pokoj and the ritual of listening to their stories seems at first detached from the essential story line. However, it proves to be just an impression, the significance of the stories is uncovered at the time when it connects perfectly with the entire plot. All the pieces involving the ghosts of Pokoj fall in place at the right moment, rendering credibility to the way the story unfolds. There is another aspect resulting from this side of Drozde’s tale, nobody is the owner of the universal truth within “The House of War and Witness”, there is no heaven or hell beyond the ones created by the human beings. It is also part of the comforting zone of the novel, Mike, Linda and Louise Carey’s book is very dark, but it is balanced nicely with the brighter elements. After all, we cannot have light without shadows and shadows without light.

“The Steel Seraglio”/“The City of Silk and Steel” was a delightful novel, a cracking parade of a powerful team of writers. With “The House of War and Witness” the teamwork of Mike, Linda and Louise Carey becomes stronger, their joint efforts coagulated even more. It leaves me wondering what their next collaborative novel would look like.