Slow Bullets

Alastair Reynolds is best known for his sprawling and complex space opera novels, yet I've always been impressed by his short fiction. So when the folks at Tachyon Publications offered me an early read of his upcoming novella, Slow Bullets, I was happy to oblige! Somehow, even with a much lower wordcount, the author is always able to come up with something that packs a powerful punch. And I'm pleased to report that the same can be said of his latest work.

Here's the blurb:

From the author of the Revelation Space series comes an interstellar adventure of war, identity, betrayal, and the preservation of civilization itself.

A vast conflict, one that has encompassed hundreds of worlds and solar systems, appears to be finally at an end. A conscripted soldier is beginning to consider her life after the war and the family she has left behind. But for Scur—and for humanity—peace is not to be.

On the brink of the ceasefire, Scur is captured by a renegade war criminal, and left for dead in the ruins of a bunker. She revives aboard a prisoner transport vessel. Something has gone terribly wrong with the ship.

Passengers—combatants from both sides of the war—are waking up from hibernation far too soon. Their memories, embedded in bullets, are the only links to a world which is no longer recognizable. And Scur will be reacquainted with her old enemy, but with much higher stakes than just her own life.

As stated above, Reynolds is known for his long and imaginative science fiction novels exploring various themes through multiple characters over convoluted story arcs. The novella format precludes something on such a grand scale, but that doesn't mean that Slow Bullets cannot be vast in scope and vision. True, the setting is more or less limited to what is essentially a closed society trapped aboard a damaged ship. But trust Reynolds to have a few tricks and unexpected surprises up his sleeve. Something went terribly wrong and everyone on board came out of hibernation far into the future, and they may not have that much time to try to find a way to repair the disabled vessel before it's too late.

The somewhat dark and melancholy tone sets the mood perfectly, and one gets the feeling that this won't be one of those "all's well that ends well" kind of tales. The story is told from Scur's first-person narrative. She proves to be an engaging main protagonist, if a sometimes unreliable narrator. She tells her story is a very dispassionate fashion, and yet you realize that she isn't always telling us everything. It's unclear whether or not Scur really suffers from widespread memory loss, and she appears to want to keep her dark past hidden from the reader.

Slow Bullets explores a number of themes such as religion, identity, and memory. Deep down, the novella is a reflection on how our personal memories shape our own identity and make us who we truly are. There is continuous suspense, as it dawns on everyone aboard the ship that their days might be numbered. Soon, they must make the decision to abandon their own pasts, their memories, and by doing so their own identities, in order to build any sort of future for mankind.

What starts off as a tale of revenge and survival evolves into something more poignant, more satisfying. Slow Bullets demonstrates yet again that great things do indeed come in small packages. This novella should please Reynolds' long-time fans and offers a good jumping point for newbies wanting to give this author a shot.

The final verdict: 7.5/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

You can also read an extract from the novella here.

Win an Advance Reading Copy of Anthony Ryan's QUEEN OF FIRE

Since I haven't read the first two installments, I'm giving away my ARC of Anthony Ryan's Queen of Fire to one lucky winner! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

In the thrilling conclusion to the “deftly and originally executed” (Booklist) New York Times bestselling trilogy, Vaelin Al Sorna must help his Queen reclaim her Realm. Only his enemy has a dangerous new collaborator, one with powers darker than Vaelin has ever encountered…

“The Ally is there, but only ever as a shadow, unexplained catastrophe or murder committed at the behest of a dark vengeful spirit. Sorting truth from myth is often a fruitless task.”

After fighting back from the brink of death, Queen Lyrna is determined to repel the invading Volarian army and regain the independence of the Unified Realm. Except, to accomplish her goals, she must do more than rally her loyal supporters. She must align herself with forces she once found repugnant—those who possess the strange and varied gifts of the Dark—and take the war to her enemy’s doorstep.

Victory rests on the shoulders of Vaelin Al Sorna, now named Battle Lord of the Realm. However, his path is riddled with difficulties. For the Volarian enemy has a new weapon on their side, one that Vaelin must destroy if the Realm is to prevail—a mysterious Ally with the ability to grant unnaturally long life to her servants. And defeating one who cannot be killed is a nearly impossible feat, especially when Vaelin’s blood-song, the mystical power which has made him the epic fighter he is, has gone ominously silent…

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam) with the header "QUEEN." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.

Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.

Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.

Good luck to all the participants!

James Dashner contest winner!

This lucky gal will get her hands on a copy of James Dashner's The Maze Runner Collector's Edition: The Scorch Trials! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winner is:

- Allison Carter, from Buffalo, New York, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

Quote of the Day

I would miss Edda, she really was a sweet girl. Also a demon in the furs. In fact I sometimes got the feeling that I was her foreign fling rather than the other way around. Never any talk of inviting me to meet her parents. Never a whisper about marriage to her prince. . . A man enjoying himself any less than I was might have had his pride hurt a touch by that. Northern ways are very strange. I'm not complaining. . . but they're strange. Between the three of them I'd spent the winter in a constant state of exhaustion. Without the threat of impending death I might never have mustered the energy to leave. I might have lived out my days as a tired but happy tavernkeeper in Trond.

- MARK LAWRENCE, The Liar's Key (Canada, USA, Europe)

If you enjoyed Prince of Fools, it looks as though this second volume will be as good! =)

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Other Worlds Than These, an anthology edited by John Joseph Adams, for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

What if you could not only travel any location in the world, but to any possible world?

We can all imagine such “other worlds”--be they worlds just slightly different than our own or worlds full of magic and wonder--but it is only in fiction that we can travel to them. From The Wizard of Oz to The Dark Tower, from Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass to C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia, there is a rich tradition of this kind of fiction, but never before have the best parallel world stories and portal fantasies been collected in a single volume--until now.

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (April 27th)

In hardcover:

Kazuo Ishiguro's The Buried Giant is down one position, ending the week at number 17. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

In paperback:

Andy Weir's The Martian is up three positions, ending the week at number 4 (trade paperback).

George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones is up twelve positions, ending the week at number 5.

Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One is down three spots, finishing the week at number 14 (trade paperback).

George R. R. Martin's A Clash of Kings returns at number 20.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can get your hands on the digital edition of J.M. McDermott's Maze for only 0.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

From every corner of time and space, sometimes people go missing without a trace. They never come back.

Get lost in the long stone halls of the maze with the ones that find each other, form tribes, scrape out a life from rocks and sand. Their stories interweave. Maia Station is a scientist ripped from stasis, but she has no tools to test the way things are. Instead, she raises her daughter as best she can and survives. Wang Xin once had his head dipped in water, and a djinni in the water entered his eye. He sees the future, exactly as it was supposed to be if he hadn’t seen the light, but it does him no good in the life he has. In a world much like our own, Joseph comes home from a ten year high school reunion and encounters a light in the darkness. The light speaks.

My name is Jenny. Put me in your lung.

Breathe deep.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can download Dan Simmons' Children of the Night for only 4.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

An evil legacy comes to life in this classic and ultimately human novel about believable vampires, featuring a brand-new introduction by Dan Simmons. Children of the Night will take you to a place that no one knows--yet all of us fear.

In a desolate orphanage in post-Communist Romania, a desperately ill infant is given the wrong blood transfusion--and flourishes rather than dies. For immunologist Kate Neuman, the infant's immune system may hold the key to cure cancer and AIDS. Kate adopts the baby and takes him home to the States. But baby Joshua holds a link to an ancient clan and their legendary leader--Vlad Tsepes, the original Dracula - whose agents kidnap the child. Against impossible odds and vicious enemies- both human and vampire - Kate and her ally, Father Mike O'Rourke, steal into Romania to get her baby back.

Peter Newman contest winners!

These lucky winners will get their hands on a copy of Peter Newman's The Vagrant, compliments of the folks at Harper Voyager. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winners are:

- Aleksandra Nakova, from Skopje, Macedonia

- Liviu Calin Hila, from Sibiu, Romania

- Shane McGrath, from Cork, Ireland

Many thanks to all the participants!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Glen Cook's The Tyranny of the Night, first volume in the Instrumentalities of the Night, for only 4.99$ here!

Here's the blurb:

Welcome to the world of the Instrumentalities of the Night, where imps, demons, and dark gods rule in the spaces surrounding upstart humanity. At the edges of the world stand walls of ice which push slowly forward to reclaim the land for the night. And at the world's center, in the Holy Land where two great religions were born, are the Wells of Ihrain, the source of the greatest magics. Over the last century the Patriarchs of the West have demanded crusades to claim the Wells from the Pramans, the followers of the Written. Now an uneasy truce extends between the Pramans and the West, waiting for a spark to start the conflict anew.

Then, on a mission in the Holy Land, the young Praman warrior Else is attacked by a creature of the Dark-in effect, a minor god. Too ignorant to know that he can never prevail over such a thing, he fights it and wins, and in so doing, sets the terrors of the night against him.

As a reward for his success, Else is sent as a spy to the heart of the Patriarchy to direct their attention away from further ventures into the Holy Lands. Dogged by hidden enemies and faithless allies, Else witnesses senseless butchery and surprising acts of faith as he penetrates to the very heart of the Patriarchy and rides alongside their armies in a new crusade against his own people. But the Night rides with him, too, sending two of its once-human agents from the far north to assassinate him.

Submerged in his role, he begins to doubt his faith, his country, even his family. As his mission careens out of control, he faces unanswerable questions about his future. It is said that God will know his own, but can one who has slain gods ever know forgiveness?

You can also get your hands on C. S. Friedman's In Conquest Born for 5.88$ here.

Here's the blurb:

In Conquest Born is the monumental science fiction epic that received unprecedented acclaim-and launched C.S. Friedman's phenomenal career. A sweeping story of two interstellar civilizations-locked in endless war, it was nominated for the John W. Campbell Award.

Braxi and Azea - two interstellar civilizations fighting an endless war over a long-forgotten cause; two peoples descended from the human species and bred over countless generations to embody opposing ideals, seeking opposite paths to power.

The Braxana - dominant tribe of the fierce Braxin Holding - are brilliant, powerful, and aloof from the society they rule. They were bred by their primitive forebearers to be aggressive, competitive, and secretive beyond all prior human norms. The mysteries of their internal society are legendary even among the people they rule.

The Azeans - masters of genetic science - have redesigned their own race to reflect ancient ideals. Now they seek to unlock the powers of the human mind, using telepathy to penetrate where mere weapons cannot.

But Zatar and Anzha - master Braxana and Azean generals - have exceeded all genetic expectations of their opposed cultures, and have made this endless war a personal vendetta. Who can say what will happen when these ultimate warriors use every power of mind and body to claim the vengeance of total conquest?

David Walton contest winners!

Our winners will receive a complimentary copy of David Walton's science fiction technothriller Superposition, courtesy of the folks at Pyr. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winners are:

- Janne Prusti, from Gothenburg, Sweden

- Michael Carter, from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Many thanks to all the participants!

Veil of the Deserters

Although Jeff Salyards' debut, Scourge of the Betrayer, showed some potential, its relatively short length, uneven pace, and lack of worldbuilding precluded the book from being a truly satisfying read. Indeed, it felt as though it was only part of a novel, with a somewhat arbitrary ending that did nothing to close the show with any kind of aplomb. Not a full novel, in and of itself.

In Veil of the Deserters, the author doesn't make the same mistakes twice and this one turned out to be a better read overall. Mind you, there are pacing issues throughout the book and the first person narrative of the archivist once again leaves a lot to be desired. But this second volume resounds with a lot more depth and actually makes you eager to find out how it will all end in the upcoming final installment.

Here's the blurb:

Braylar is still poisoned by the memories of those slain by his unholy flail Bloodsounder, and attempts to counter this sickness have proven ineffectual. 

The Syldoonian Emperor, Cynead, has solidified his power in unprecedented ways, and Braylar and company are recalled to the capital to swear fealty. Braylar must decide if he can trust his sister, Soffjian, with the secret that is killing him. She has powerful memory magics that might be able to save him from Bloodsounder’s effects, but she has political allegiances that are not his own. Arki and others in the company try to get Soffjian and Braylar to trust one another, but politics in the capital prove to be far more complicated and dangerous than even Killcoin could predict. 

Deposed emperor Thumarr plots to remove the repressive Cynead, and Braylar and Soffjian are at the heart of his plans. The distance between “favored shadow agent of the emperor” and “exiled traitor” is unsurprisingly small. But it is filled with blind twists and unexpected turns. Before the journey is over, Arki will chronicle the true intentions of Emperor Cynead and Soffjian. And old enemies in Alespell may prove to be surprising allies in a conflict no one could have foreseen.

As I mentioned in my review of Scourge of the Betrayer, the comparison with Glen Cook works only so far as the structure of the tale is concerned. Both the Black Company and the Bloodsounder books are military fantasy novels narrated by the person chronicling the deeds of their respective military outfits. That's about it, though. In style, tone, and substance, both series, regardless of a few similarities, are quite disparate.

Sadly, there was virtually no worldbuilding to speak of throughout the first volume. Other than a few brief revelations regarding the Syldoon toward the end, Salyards introduced a number of what seemed to be potentially fascinating concepts and ideas, but he never followed through and elaborated on any of them. This, understandably, was a disappointment. Which was mostly due to the fact that the story is told from the first person narrative of Arkamondos, a cowardly scribe who has seldom been out and about, and who seems to have very little knowledge of the world around him. Nevertheless, I thought that Salyards kept his cards way too close to his chest in that regard, which took a lot away from the overall storytelling aspect of the book. And yet, there were a few very interesting concepts that were unveiled in the first volume, and it was good to see the author finally expand on the Deserters, the Godveil, the Memoridons, and the Syldoon themselves in this second installment. Still, as captivating as those revelations were, I wish Salyards would rely less on info-dump conversations to share that information with his readers. Problem is, Arkamondos can be so dense and innocent at times that other characters have no choice but to spoon-feed him all this info in order to relay it to the reader. For that reason, I wish this tale was seen through the eyes of multiple POV protagonists, as Arkamondos' limited perspective fails to convey the full scope of what is taking place.

As an innocent and a nerdy sort of dumbass do-gooder, Arkamondos doesn't have much going for him. The events of Scourge of the Betrayer have shaken him, and he's no longer the outsider he was when he first joined the Syldoon. Yet he is a cowardly scribe, even if desperation occasionally forces him to show some courage. He remains true to himself and his convictions throughout the novel once more, which will create some complications for him and his companions. Because of this, Salyards' main problem remains the same. Indeed, readers might have a hard time identifying with someone like that. It's all part of the premise to have such an innocent protagonist chronicle and narrate what is essentially a dark and violent tale of military fantasy. I get it. I really do. But these books are grimdark offerings for the most part and they are aimed at that particular audience. Imagine if GRRM's A Song of Ice and Fire was told solely from Sansa's perspective. Wouldn't work very well, right? Now, keeping in mind that Sansa is more badass than Arkamondos, I'm sure you understand how having the first person narrative of a clumsy coward as the only POV in this series can be a problem. Especially given the fact that these books feature a number of endearing and intriguing men and women such as Captain Braylor Killcoin, Hewspear, Mulldoos, Vendurro, Soffjian, and Skeelana. Had there been any POV sections featuring any of them, there is no doubt in my mind that Veil of the Deserters would have been a much better and multilayered read. But Jeff Salyards told me that we're stuck with Arki until the end of this trilogy, so that's that. The next series will consist of a limited number of POV protagonists, however. Looking forward to that. . .

The rhythm can be an issue at times. This second volume is not a slow-moving affair, but nor is it a page-turning adventure either. It starts strong and then becomes a bit of a travelogue as the Syldoon are forced to leave Alespell in a hurry. The pace slows down quite a bit as they embark on a side quest before traveling to Sunwrack, where they have been recalled. Veil of the Deserters features a lot more action-packed choreographed battle scenes à la R. A. Salvatore than its predecessor. Sometimes these felt unnecessary and I thought that they got in the way of the storytelling. As was the case in the first installment, I felt that the ending was a bit rushed. But it does set the stage for the finale.

Reading Veil of the Deserters made me realize that it appeared to be the missing part of Scourge of the Betrayer. As a matter of fact, if you take away some extraneous stuff and a few battle scenes here and there, every plotline could have been combined to form a single novel that would have been stronger on every level. Splitting the tale into three books so that it could be a trilogy made for a weaker first volume, methinks, one that may not succeed in enticing readers to give the second one a shot. Which is a shame, as Salyards upped his game and Veil of the Deserters shows even more promise. Time will tell if the final volume will live up to that potential.

Fans of Mark Lawrence and Joe Abercrombie, Jeff Salyards' Bloodsounder's Arc series might be for you!

The final verdict: 7.5/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (April 20th)

In hardcover:

Kazuo Ishiguro's The Buried Giant is down seven positions, ending the week at number 16. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

In paperback:

Andy Weir's The Martian is down seven positions, ending the week at number 7 (trade paperback).

Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One is down one spot, finishing the week at number 11 (trade paperback).

George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones is up one position, ending the week at number 17.

Faith Hunter’s Dark Heir debuts at number 19.

Win a copy of John Birmingham's EMERGENCE: DAVE VS THE MONSTERS

I have two copies of John Birmingham's Emergence: Dave vs the Monsters for you to win, compliments of the folks at Del Rey. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

For fans of Jim Butcher and Kevin Hearne comes an action-packed new urban fantasy series featuring a tough, bleakly funny, down-on-his luck oil rig worker with an unlikely destiny as a monster-slayer and savior of the planet.

“Monsters,” said Vince Martinelli. “There are monsters on the rig, Dave.”

Dave Hooper has a hangover from hell, a horrible ex-wife, and the fangs of the IRS deep in his side. The last thing he needs is an explosion at work. A real explosion. On his off-shore oil rig.

But this is no accident, and despite the news reports, Dave knows that terrorists aren’t to blame. He knows because he killed one of the things responsible.

When he wakes up in a hospital bed guarded by Navy SEALs, he realizes this is more than just a bad acid trip. Yeah, Dave’s had a few. This trip is way weirder.

Killing a seven-foot-tall, tattooed demon has transformed the overweight, balding safety manager into something else entirely. A foul-mouthed, beer-loving monster slayer, and humanity’s least worthy Champion.

You can read the first 50 pages of this novel by following this link.

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam) with the header "MONSTERS." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.

Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.

Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.

Good luck to all the participants!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

All three volumes of C. S. Friedman's The Magister trilogy are available for 5.95$ or less. This is one of the very best SFF series of the new millennium and everyone should definitely check it out!

- Feast of Souls
- Wings of Wrath
- Legacy of Kings

Here's the blurb for the first installment:

C.S. Friedman, acclaimed author of The Coldfire Trilogy, returns to the epic style which has made her one of the most popular fantasy writers in the genre. In this first book of the trilogy, Friedman introduces readers to a world of high fantasy, replete with vampire-like magical powers, erotic interludes, treachery, war, sorcery, and a draconic creature of horrific power and evil that will have readers eagerly awaiting the next novel in the series.

Most of Glen Cook's Garrett, P.I. books can also be download for under 6$, starting with the series' opening chapter, Sweet Silver Blues, here.

Here's the blurb:

It should have been a simple job. But for Garrett, a human detective in a world of gnomes, tracking down the woman to whom his dead pal Danny left a fortune in silver is no slight task. Even with the aid of Morley, the toughest half-elf around, Garrett isn't sure he'll make it out alive from a land where magic can be murder, the dead still talk, and vampires are always hungry for human blood.

Win an Advance Reading Copy of Hannu Rajaniemi's COLLECTED FICTION

I'm giving away my ARC of Hannu Rajaniemi's Collected Fiction to one lucky winner! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

Inside the firewall the city is alive. Buildings breathe, cars attack, angels patrol, and hyper-intelligent pets rebel.

With unbridled invention and breakneck adventure, Hannu Rajaniemi is on the cutting-edge of science fiction. His post-apocalyptic, post-cyberpunk, and post-human tales are full of exhilarating energy and unpredictable optimism.

How will human nature react when the only limit to desire is creativity? When the distinction between humans and gods is as small as nanomachines—or as large as the universe? Whether the next big step in technology is 3D printing, genetic alteration, or unlimited space travel, Rajaniemi writes about what happens after.

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam) with the header "RAJANIEMI." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.

Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.

Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.

Good luck to all the participants!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on the digital edition of The Best of Kim Stanley Robinson for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Kim Stanley Robinson has been an ongoing force in the Science Fiction genre for over twenty years, with his novels (Year’s of Rice and Salt, Forty Signs of Rain) crossing over to the mainstream, and routinely appearing on the New York Times best sellers list. During the 80s and early nineties, his short fiction continued to push the boundaries of science fiction, defining the science-focused side of the science fiction genre.

Award-winning editor Jonathan Strahan worked with Kim Stanley Robinson to select the stories that make up this landmark volume. In addition to these reprints, The Best of Kim Stanley Robinson features a brand-new short story, "The Timpanist of the Berlin Philharmonic, 1942."

Kate Elliott contest winner!

This lucky winner will get his hands on a copy of The Very Best of Kate Elliott, courtesy of the folks at Tachyon Publications. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winner is:

- Brendan Hong, from Scarborough, Ontario, Canada

Many thanks to all the participants!

Alan Smale contest winners!

Thanks to the folks at Del Rey, our winners will receive a copy of Alan Smale's Clash of Eagles. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winners are:

- Pete Rauske, from Chicago, Illinois, USA

- Kendall P. Bullen, from Silver Spring, Maryland, USA

- Bill Philpot, from Franklin, Ohio, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on the digital edition of Andrzej Sapkowski's The Last Wish for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Geralt of Rivia is a witcher. A cunning sorcerer. A merciless assassin.

And a cold-blooded killer.

His sole purpose: to destroy the monsters that plague the world.

But not everything monstrous-looking is evil and not everything fair is good. . . and in every fairy tale there is a grain of truth.

The international hit that inspired the video game: The Witcher.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can download the first installment in K. J. Parker's The Two of the Swords serial novel for only 0.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

"Why are we fighting this war? Because evil must be resisted, and sooner or later there comes a time when men of principle have to make a stand. Because war is good for business and it's better to die on our feet than live on our knees. Because they started it. But at this stage in the proceedings," he added, with a slightly lop-sided grin, "mostly from force of habit."

A soldier with a gift for archery. A woman who kills without care. Two brothers, both unbeatable generals, now fighting for opposing armies. No one in the vast and once glorious United Empire remains untouched by the rift between East and West, and the war has been fought for as long as anyone can remember. Some still survive who know how it was started, but no one knows how it will end.

This serial novel from the World Fantasy Award winning K. J. Parker is the story of a war on a grand scale, told through the eyes of its soldiers, politicians, victims and heroes. The first three parts of The Two of Swords will arrive in April 2015, with further installments to be released monthly.

This is the first installment in the Two of Swords serialization.

And you can pre-order Part 2 and Part 3 for the same low price!

Win a full set of Melanie Rawn's Glass Thorns series!

To promote the release of the fourth volume in Melanie Rawn's Glass Thorns series, Window Wall (Canada, USA, Europe), I have a full set up for grabs, courtesy of the folks at Tor Books.

The prize pack includes:

- Touchstone
- Elsewhens
- Thornlost
- Window Wall

Here's the blurb for the last installment:

For nearly two years, Cade has been rejecting his Fae gift, his prescient Elsewhens--simply refusing to see or experience them. But the strain is driving a wedge between him and his theater troupe, Touchstone, and making him erratic on stage and off. It takes his best friend Mieka to bully Cade into accepting the visions again. But when Cade finally looks into the possible futures, he sees a royal castle blowing up, though his vision does not tell him who is responsible. But he knows that if it is in his visions, he can take action to stop it from happening. And when he finally discovers the truth, he takes the knowledge to the only man in the Kingdom who would believe him: his deadly enemy the Archduke.Melanie Rawn's delightful creation of the world of Albeyn is a place where the magical races have joined with humans in a melting pot of powers, and everyone loves the theater of magic. In Window Wall, her irrepressible cast of characters mature--at least a little. Not that they'll ever settle down.

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam) with the header "THORNS." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.

Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.

Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.

Good luck to all the participants!

UK cover art for Joe Abercrombie's HALF A WAR

Joe Abercrombie just posted the beautiful cover art for the forthcoming Half a War on his website! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

Words are weapons

Princess Skara has seen all she loved made blood and ashes. She is left with only words. But the right words can be as deadly as any blade. She must conquer her fears and sharpen her wits to a lethal edge if she is to reclaim her birthright.

Only half a war is fought with swords

The deep-cunning Father Yarvi has walked a long road from crippled slave to king’s minister. He has made allies of old foes and stitched together an uneasy peace. But now the ruthless Grandmother Wexen has raised the greatest army since the elves made war on God, and put Bright Yilling at its head – a man who worships no god but Death.

Sometimes one must fight evil with evil

Some – like Thorn Bathu and the sword-bearer Raith – are born to fight, perhaps to die. Others – like Brand the smith and Koll the wood-carver – would rather stand in the light. But when Mother War spreads her iron wings, she may cast the whole Shattered Sea into darkness.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Mark Lawrence's Prince of Fools for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

The Red Queen is old but the kings of the Broken Empire dread her like no other. For all her reign, she has fought the long war, contested in secret, against the powers that stand behind nations, for higher stakes than land or gold. Her greatest weapon is The Silent Sister—unseen by most and unspoken of by all.

The Red Queen’s grandson, Prince Jalan Kendeth—drinker, gambler, seducer of women—is one who can see The Silent Sister. Tenth in line for the throne and content with his role as a minor royal, he pretends that the hideous crone is not there. But war is coming. Witnesses claim an undead army is on the march, and the Red Queen has called on her family to defend the realm. Jal thinks it’s all a rumor—nothing that will affect him—but he is wrong.

After escaping a death trap set by the Silent Sister, Jal finds his fate magically intertwined with a fierce Norse warrior. As the two undertake a journey across the Empire to undo the spell, encountering grave dangers, willing women, and an upstart prince named Jorg Ancrath along the way, Jalan gradually catches a glimmer of the truth: he and the Norseman are but pieces in a game, part of a series of moves in the long war—and the Red Queen controls the board.

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (April 13th)

In hardcover:

Kazuo Ishiguro's The Buried Giant is down two positions, ending the week at number 9. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Peter V. Brett's The Skull Throne debuts at number 14. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

In paperback:

Andy Weir's The Martian is down one position, ending the week at number 5 (trade paperback).

Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One is up ten spots, finishing the week at number 10 (trade paperback).

George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones is up down positions, ending the week at number 18.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens teaser trailer


The Immortality Game

You guys are aware that my attempt to read and review a self-published SFF work sort of went down the crapper last year. I felt kind of bad, because I really wanted to give an indie speculative fiction author's book a fair shot and come what may. Most of the Hotlist's readers seemed to be against the idea, maintaining that it would likely be a total waste of time, that self-published novels sucked, yada yada yada. And yet, against my better judgement, I elected to do it anyway. Perhaps I should have listened to them. . .

Indie writer Ted Cross, long-time Hotlist follower, communicated with me last fall, touching base to see if perhaps I'd be interested in giving his self-published cyberpunk tale a go since I hadn't followed through with the experience in 2014. My curiosity was piqued when I discovered that he paid 2000$ out of his own pocket to have the gorgeous cover art done by the talented Stephan Martiniere because he wanted the novel to stand out from other self-published works out there.

They say that you can't judge a book by its cover and it's true in this case. Cross mentionned that he felt it was money well-spent, that it was maybe better than investing in a developmental editor. Having read the whole thing, I beg to differ. Although it's well-written, The Immortality Game wasn't ready to be published. Which, in light of the shortcomings on which I'll soon elaborate, is why agents and editors passed on the manuscript.

Here's the blurb:

Moscow, 2138. With the world only beginning to recover from the complete societal collapse of the late 21st Century, Zoya scrapes by prepping corpses for funerals and dreams of saving enough money to have a child. When her brother forces her to bring him a mysterious package, she witnesses his murder and finds herself on the run from ruthless mobsters. Frantically trying to stay alive and save her loved ones, Zoya opens the package and discovers two unusual data cards, one that allows her to fight back against the mafia and another which may hold the key to everlasting life.

One thing that most self-published authors appear to have in common is their low opinion of professional editors. Too often they are portrayed as evil monsters whose only desire in life is to make sure that said authors never get published. A minority expound on the fact that those same editors almost never take a chance on writers whose works don't fit within the confines of any of the popular speculative fiction labels. It's true that being an editor means that they must also wear a businessman or businesswoman's hat, as it's their job to buy and put together a novel that will sell, and that if one's work seems hard to market they may pass on it. But I feel that the bulk of self-published works don't fit in that category. Agents and editors are dying to find the next big thing, or any quality read that will sell for that matter. Ask any SFF authors and they will all acknowledge how their editors made their manuscripts better. True, publishing is a tough nut to crack, but that's the way love goes. Editors are there to make sure no author will release anything less than their best effort. If editors were just fucktards on power trips bent on dominating publishing and making it their life's work to prevent indie authors from ever ending up in bookstores, big names like Richard Morgan, Joe Abercrombie, and George R. R. Martin wouldn't praise Simon Spanton, Gillian Redfearn, and Anne Groell respectively for all the positive influence they have had on their many books. Nor would Patrick Rothfuss be professing his undying love for Betsy Wollheim for all that she has done for him since he signed with Daw Books.

The truth of the matter is that the aforementioned agents and editors are probably passing on these manuscripts because they are simply unfit to be published in their current form. Ted Cross' The Immortality Game sadly falls in that category. Like many other self-published works, Cross' novel contains the seeds of what could become a good and entertaining tale. But I fear that it needs a number of revisions and is probably quite a few rewrites away from ever being adequate to catch an agent or an editor's interest. Unfortunately, like many other writers before him, instead of going back to the drawing board and diving back into this manuscript to try to fix what isn't working, Cross took the path of least resistance and elected to self-publish it.

Now, Ted Cross' The Immortality Game could well be better than the majority of self-published books out there. But that's not saying much. It is extremely well-written and it's obvious that he polished this manuscript in a professional manner. The prose is fluid and easy to read, so there is no problem in that regard. Problem is, the storylines often make no sense and the characterization is at times mediocre and so-so at best. It's in those areas of the manuscript that a developmental editor could have helped Cross immensely. Authors are often too enamored with their works and aren't necessarily the best of judges when it comes to put their finger on what works well and what doesn't. A neutral party can usually focus on the strengths and weaknesses and offer constructive feedback on such matters. And evidently, Cross' test readers didn't do a good job in that regard. . . Indeed, the flaws that prevented him from getting an agent or an editor are quite flagrant. When I asked him about it, Cross replied that his beta readers didn't point out any such flaws. In which case, they did him a disservice. Needless to say, spending that 2000$ to hire an editor would have been a much better investment.

It appears that Cross wanted this one to read like a page-turning cyberpunk technothriller. Hence, for the sake of a crisp rhythm, it looks as though the worldbuilding was kept to a bare minimum. Trouble is, this robbed the story of any sort of depth, which doesn't work very well. Finding the right balance between good storytelling and a quick-moving pace can be tricky. But Ted Cross failed in that particular endeavor. The backdrop of this tale is a near-future world in which the proverbial shit has hit the fan. The bulk of the novel takes place in Russia, where various war lords have taken control of the country. On the other side of the Atlantic, it appears that Mormons now control a vast chunk of the USA. There are a few mentions of the Dark Times, the period during which everything collapsed around the world, but nothing which could give us a better grasp of what actually took place and why things are as they are now in 2138.

What truly killed the book for me was the characterization, especially the dialogue. The narrative itself isn't bad, but things immediately go downhill as soon as characters start to talk or think. To my dismay, the dialogue is full of exchanges worthy of B-movies featuring Steven Seagal or Jean-Claude Van Damme. Yes, it's that bad, especially any back-and-forth involving the scientist Tyoma or the mobster Tavik. I'm pretty sure that this is not what Ted Cross was aiming for. At first I thought that perhaps it was just me, so I did a copy-and-paste of a few scenes and sent them to six of my friends who are avid readers. I told them that I was beta reading a manuscript for my agent and didn't tell them that this was a self-published book that was already on the market. They (3 men and 3 women) opined that the dialogue was atrocious and the monologues going on inside the characters' mind brutal. Five out of six of them alluded to the B-movie-esque style of the exchanges, while another mentioned seeing better dialogue in a porn flick. . . Unless Cross was looking for something that could reach even the lowest common denominator, the dialogue truly kills this novel. Another major shortcoming of The Immortality Game is that the two main protagonists, Zoya and Marcus, never act the way genuine people would. I wouldn't call them dumb, but they excercise absolutely no judgement throughout the tale. They always make the wrong decision, and everything feels contrived to keep the story moving in the direction the author is aiming for. Unfortunately, by doing so they make the teenage cast of a Friday the 13th installment --you know, the ones running around almost naked, going down a dark cellar with the lights off, and getting murdered in the dumbest ways-- look like absolute geniuses. The storylines often make absolutely no sense. Especially Zoya's; this girl has such poor decision-making skills that she gets almost everyone she loves killed. And Marcus, sad puppie that he is, just goes along on this mad quest, putting his own life at risk at every turn for a girl he met a few hours before. The whole thing doesn't ring true and is hard to follow as nothing makes sense from the beginning. This is definitely something that an editor could have helped fix.

Another problem with The Immortality Game is that I feel it's a case of Cross biting off more than he could chew. His attempt to weave together this impossible love story with the cloning/immortality plotline, all the while involving the army and the Russian mafia, was just a bit too much. By exploring those various plotlines, the extraneous is often brought to the forefront and it feels as though the author often loses track of what matters. Once more, this is something an editor could have helped fix.

In the end, The Immortality Game is obviously Ted Cross' love child. It's the kind of tale he obviously loves and wants to read. And that's the kicker. His love for this story blinds him to its shortcomings and prevents him from seeing what's wrong with it. He came up with an interesting premise and the whole thing shows signs that with more work it could be a compelling and entertaining read. But in its current form, those shortcomings simply make it impossible for the book to stand well on its own. As such, paying 2000$ for that Martiniere cover turned out to be a mistake. He would have been better served with the services of an editor who would have helped him clean up his manucript and make everything better.

Normally, I would have stopped reading because I hate to waste time on inferior SFF works when my plate is already full with works from established authors. But I went public and I said I would do this, and I promised Cross to give his book a shot. I hate to give something a bad score, but the truth of the matter is that The Immortality Game wasn't ready to be published. It shows potential, true, but it's a number of rewrites away from being good enough to be read at large. Barring an editor, Ted Cross needs a number of honest and objective beta readers who are not afraid to tell him what doesn't work with his manuscripts. This guy has talent and good ideas. It's in the execution that he needs to improve.

The final verdict: 4/10

Thus ends my probably ill-advised self-published experiment. Hence, for better or worse, I will not be reading any other books by indie authors. . .

You can find more info about this title here.

Sebastien de Castell contest winners!

Our two winners will receive a copy of Sebastien de Castell's Knight's Shadow, compliments of the folks at Jo Fletcher Books. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winners are:

- Ron Fay, from Salem, Wisconsin, USA

- Mark James Schryver, from Pulaski, New York, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

For a limited time only, you can once again download The World of Ice and Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones at a discount! You can now get your hands on it for only 10.60$ here! It's a must read for all the big ASOIAF fans out there!

Here's the blurb:


If the past is prologue, then George R. R. Martin’s masterwork—the most inventive and entertaining fantasy saga of our time—warrants one hell of an introduction. At long last, it has arrived with The World of Ice & Fire.

This lavishly illustrated volume is a comprehensive history of the Seven Kingdoms, providing vividly constructed accounts of the epic battles, bitter rivalries, and daring rebellions that lead to the events of A Song of Ice and Fire and HBO’s Game of Thrones. In a collaboration that’s been years in the making, Martin has teamed with Elio M. García, Jr., and Linda Antonsson, the founders of the renowned fan site—perhaps the only people who know this world almost as well as its visionary creator.

Collected here is all the accumulated knowledge, scholarly speculation, and inherited folk tales of maesters and septons, maegi and singers, including

• full-color artwork and maps, with more than 170 original pieces
• full family trees for Houses Stark, Lannister, and Targaryen
• in-depth explorations of the history and culture of Westeros
• 100% all-new material, more than half of which Martin wrote specifically for this book

The definitive companion piece to George R. R. Martin’s dazzlingly conceived universe, The World of Ice & Fire is indeed proof that the pen is mightier than a storm of swords.