Teaser extract from Bradley P. Beaulieu's TWELVE KINGS IN SHARAKHAI


Here's an extract from Bradley P. Beaulieu's upcoming Twelve Kings in Sharakhai, courtesy of the author himself. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

Sharakhai, the great city of the desert, center of commerce and culture, has been ruled from time immemorial by twelve kings — cruel, ruthless, powerful, and immortal. With their army of Silver Spears, their elite ompany of Blade Maidens and their holy defenders, the terrifying asirim, the Kings uphold their positions as undisputed, invincible lords of the desert. There is no hope of freedom for any under their rule.

Or so it seems, until Çeda, a brave young woman from the west end slums, defies the Kings’ laws by going outside on the holy night of Beht Zha’ir. What she learns that night sets her on a path that winds through both the terrible truths of the Kings’ mysterious history and the hidden riddles of her own heritage. Together, these secrets could finally break the iron grip of the Kings’ power…if the nigh-omnipotent Kings don’t find her first.

Enjoy!
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Wiping away her tears with one hand, Çeda pulled the black veil across her face with the other. The bazaar stalls were torn down, the bright canvas tents folded away for the night. Tulathan was already well above the eastern horizon, her silver face staring down over the desert, watching as the asirim stalked over the sands toward Sharakhai. Her sister, golden Rhia, was bright in the west.

Çeda listened for a moment before choosing her path. The wails were coming from the north, so she jogged southeast along the winding Serpentine and then onto the Trough, heading toward the southern harbor. As she ran, the buildings changed from simple dwellings and shops to stone mansions on either side of the street. As the Trough curved, the buildings shrank once more, but now they were of much older construction. This close to the edge of the city she had to be more careful. The asirim might enter Sharakhai from any direction, and if some had come from the south, they would be nearing the city’s edge by now, or they might already be within her borders, wandering, taking those marked by Sukru.

No sooner had she thought this than she heard a heavy knocking on her left. A more final sound she’d never heard. She cringed as her boots scuffed the dirt and the smell of the asirim came to her, that sickly sweet scent that had wafted from their King just before he’d kissed her. She pressed herself into an alcove in a wheelwright’s stables. It had suddenly become difficult to breathe. She could think of nothing but the asir’s warm lips pressed against her forehead.

The knock came again, the sound like a skull pounding wood. Çeda dared not move, and yet she found her right hand itching to draw her shamshir, an instinct borne of fighting in the pits, although she knew very well a blade would do her no good.

When the knock came a third time, it was accompanied by the sound of splintering wood. A thumping followed, the heavy tread of feet upon a wooden floor.

Çeda tried to control her breathing, but with the asir only paces from where she stood, she couldn’t. It came in deep, rapid gasps. She licked her lips, told herself to remain calm, but a moment later a scream tore through the still of the night.

“No!” A woman pleaded. “Not my son! Take me instead! Take me!”

Her shouts were cut off with a sound like the sledges butchers used to fell cattle. Çeda spun away, refusing to look back. If she did, she might be caught by its gaze. She would not be so lucky as she was last time, King of the asirim or no.

She sprinted down a narrow alley between two houses, flew along the street it led to, listening for sounds of pursuit. She could hear nothing—nothing save the pounding of her heart and the heaving of her breath. The petal’s energy carried her on. She made a turn at the old grain mill that always smelled of mule dung and hay, and then again at Kavi the jeweler’s.

Ahead, ships’ masts stabbed upward from beyond the row of warehouses. The harbor opened up before her. Çeda reached a set of stone stairs that led down to the sand, and there, with practiced ease, she slipped her zilij over her head and tossed it down. As it skimmed over the surface, she jumped upon it, her feet finding the boiled leather straps she’d nailed into the gently hollowed topside. She kicked with her left leg, which sent her sighing across the sand as easily as the sidewinding vipers that nested along the Haddah’s riverbed. Leaning this way or that to steer, she moved beyond the borders of the harbor and into a long inlet hemmed in by high stone outcroppings, barely wide enough for two ships to pass one another.

Within minutes she reached the desert proper, the Great Shangazi, where the dunes opened up before her. The dunes changed often, and tonight they were tall. High sands, they were called, the sort that would force ships to wait in harbor to sail, or if they were caught in the desert, to find higher ground or risk being washed under by the shifting sands.

For one lone woman with a zilij, however, they were easy enough to navigate. Çeda used her skimwood board to fly along the slope of a dune, allowing her momentum to carry her up the next one. The moment she slowed she would hop off and hike to the summit, and once there throw the zilij down, leap upon it, and race down, leaning into the curves to keep her balance or to steer away from the occasional outcropping of rock.

Time was already growing short. Tulathan was reaching her apex.

Çeda continued, skimming, climbing, skimming, climbing, for nearly an hour. When the sand became rocky ground at last, she slung the zilij over her back and jogged easily. Rhia stood over the western horizon, a twinkling eye in the distance. Tulathan was directly overhead, surrounded by a host of attendant stars.

The blooming fields soon came into view, the twisted forms of the adichara given definition by the light of the moons. At first they looked like little more than a mass of darkness huddling in patches, but as she came closer, details were revealed: a branch reaching toward the stars, a bough twisting around itself and others. The blooms glowed ever so softly beneath the moon, and when the breeze picked up, Çeda could see trails of shimmering blue pollen carried on the wind. She could smell it now as well, a scent like red wine, like powdered amber, subtle yet deeply powerful, as if these twisted trees somehow fed upon the stories of man throughout all the pages of time.

As she stepped closer, a buzzing filled the air—rattlewings moving drunkenly from bloom to bloom, oblivious to Çeda’s presence. Like hummingbirds, they collected nectar from the flowers, but only when the moons were brightest. Çeda approached two trees that looked like lovers entwined in one another’s arms. After hunkering down in the shadows, she pulled her slim kenshar from its sheath at her side. This close, the petals of the adichara blooms glowed a pale blue, almost white, not unlike bright Tulathan. The five golden stamen inside seemed to shiver, though perhaps that was merely a trick of the wind. She reached forward and slipped the edge of her knife beneath the flower and cut the stem. She cut a second and finally a third, stashing each in the leather pouch at her belt.

Then, after sliding the knife into its sheath, she stared at the other blooms, at the thorns that graced the length of their stems. In truth, these were what she had come for, not the flowers.

Ever since the sail back from Saliah’s, when she’d stared down at that drop of dried blood on her thumb, she’d known she would come to the adichara and taste of their poison. “What say you?” she said softly to the trees.

She held her hand out, saw her hand not merely quivering, but trembling, as if she’d been stricken by palsy. The branches wavered, but made no move toward her. The wind picked up, making the adicharas rattle, and still she waited, hoping it would accept her on its own.

She caught movement from the corner of her eye—a dark form off to her left—and the moment she did, she felt it: a pinprick against the meat of her thumb. Her breath drew in sharply, her heart went wild, not merely for the pain or the implication of what the poison would soon do, but for the sudden expansion of awareness that swept through her. When she took the adichara petals, she often felt as though she could sense the vast ring of trees around Sharakhai. Now she felt not only that, but also a deep, insatiable hunger. She had no idea what it might be, but could only think of the asirim, their anger bleeding through the poison to touch her heart, to infect her like a wound going septic.

A huff filled the cold desert air, the sound of a horse exhaling. She heard the thump of hooves in sand, though it stopped before reaching the rocky ground around the adichara—a clever move if one was wary of an interloper in the field ahead.

Already the poison was spreading. The skin around the thorn prick was going numb. Bakhi’s grace, could the poison lay her low before she could return to Sharakhai?

She listened carefully for the horse, or its rider, but heard nothing. Through the boughs of the adichara, though, she saw something: a woman moving with deadly grace. Her dress was cut in the style of the Blade Maidens, but, strangely, it looked a different color, perhaps purple—it was difficult to tell in the moonlight. She must be a Maiden, though, for she held an ebon blade in her right hand. Her face was covered by a veil so that the only skin Çeda could see was around her eyes and the backs of her tattooed hands. A glittering ruby hung on her forehead, just above the bridge of her nose, and she wore a necklace of sleek, finger-length thorns.

The Maiden had fouled everything.

She might kill Çeda outright or take her to the House of Kings to be questioned before being hung or drawn and quartered in the city square. What she might be doing out here, Çeda had no idea, but she knew this: if she didn’t leave now, it would mean her death.

The Maiden stalked through the adichara with slow and steady purpose, the ebon blade held easily in her hand. It did not gleam in the moonlight; instead, it shone dully, a wicked, dark smile in the night.

Çeda could already feel the skin along her thumb and the upper part of her wrist going numb. Breath of the desert, how quickly it was happening! As the Maiden tread softly through the twisted trees, the burning anger from the adichara intensified within Çeda, urging her to stand, to attack the maiden and drink of her blood. Çeda smothered the thoughts as well as she was able. She didn’t wish to give the Blade Maiden any sort of edge, but it was difficult; the feelings ran so very deep.

The Blade Maiden stalked closer, listening, hunting. Çeda hoped she would move toward the bulk of the adichara so Çeda could sprint north, over the dunes toward Sharakhai, but no. She was headed straight for Çeda’s hiding place, and she was no longer scanning the trees to discover who was there.

She knew, Çeda realized. She knew exactly where Çeda was.

So she ran.

The Blade Maiden called out, “ Lai, lai, lai!” Both a warning and a demand for her to stop.

She didn’t care. She sprinted faster, pulling her zilij off her back. But she was still on rocky ground, and the Maiden—gods she was fast!—was catching up. She shouldn’t have been able to, not with Çeda’s petal still giving her inhuman energy, but here she was, pacing Çeda like a maned wolf—indeed moving ahead to cut her off before she could reach the sands.

While drawing her sword from its sheath on her back, Çeda slipped her left arm through the straps of the zilij and held it like a shield. The Blade Maiden lowered into a fighting stance, advancing, dark sword at the ready.

Çeda darted forward, arcing her blade high. The Maiden blocked her stroke, but as she did Çeda snapped a kick into her gut. Çeda had only meant it as a warning, to give this woman pause, and indeed the message seemed to hit home. The Maiden’s kohl-rimmed eyes widened in the moonlight as she reassessed Çeda. She advanced more cautiously, while Çeda gave ground, hoping to slow her enemy down; she needed to reach the sands, where the zilij would be faster than a horse. But the Maiden guessed her purpose and advanced once more. They traded a flurry of blows that rang through the cold night air. Çeda blocked with her zilij, though the ebon blade bit deep into the wood, and the Maiden ducked one of Çeda’s high slashes, twisted in a blur of motion, and cut from the side.

Çeda barely managed to block it with her sword. It struck like a hammer, numbing her arm from the elbow down. She nearly dropped the sword, and she knew, as another blow came for her, that she couldn’t hope to win this fight. This woman was too good by far, and Çeda was having more difficulty simply retaining her grip on her sword.

She started to give ground faster after that, feigning weakness. The Maiden took the bait, but didn’t overcommit. She was steady and careful, firmly in control of a duel that favored the Maiden the longer it continued.

Knowing a retreat was hopeless unless she put the Maiden on the defensive, Çeda stopped near the edge of the sand and unleashed a vicious combination of blows, moves that had won her fights in the pits many times before. Never with a numb hand, though. The Blade Maiden blocked her blows and then kicked high, connecting with Çeda’s wrist, as if she knew about the poison.

Çeda’s shamshir went flying through the midnight air, flashing in the moonlight as it went. And in that moment, Çeda jumped onto the sand, spinning and holding the zilij by only one strap. She brought its tip across the sand, sending a spray up and across the Blade Maiden, who twisted away, raising her arm to fend off the spray. But she was too late and it caught her full in the face. She uttered not a sound, but she stepped back several paces, blade ready, shaking her head to clear her eyes.

It gave Çeda the time she needed. She ran, threw her zilij down against the sand, and leapt on it. In moments she was skimming down the flank toward the trough between the dunes.

She spared a glance behind her. The Maiden had initially given chase, but had already realized her mistake and was running back for her horse.

By the time Çeda reached the crest of the next dune, she saw the Maiden in the saddle, galloping forward. The horse would never catch her, though. It would plod through the sand and tire quickly, while she was able to fly down one side of the dune and sprint up the next.

When she’d crested two more, she stopped and looked back, holding her zilij by her good left hand. At the top of a dune, just north of the blooming fields, the Maiden was watching from horseback. Çeda waved, threw her board down, and was gone.


Win a copy of Robin Hobb's FOOL'S ASSASSIN


Thanks to the generosity of the folks at Del Rey, I have five copies of the mass market paperback edition of Robin Hobb's Fool's Assassin for you to win! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

Nearly twenty years ago, Robin Hobb burst upon the fantasy scene with the first of her acclaimed Farseer novels, Assassin’s Apprentice, which introduced the characters of FitzChivalry Farseer and his uncanny friend the Fool. A watershed moment in modern fantasy, this novel—and those that followed—broke exciting new ground in a beloved genre. Together with George R. R. Martin, Robin Hobb helped pave the way for such talented new voices as Scott Lynch, Brandon Sanderson, and Naomi Novik.

Over the years, Hobb’s imagination has soared throughout the mythic lands of the Six Duchies in such bestselling series as the Liveship Traders Trilogy and the Rain Wilds Chronicles. But no matter how far she roamed, her heart always remained with Fitz. And now, at last, she has come home, with an astonishing new novel that opens a dark and gripping chapter in the Farseer saga.

FitzChivalry—royal bastard and former king’s assassin—has left his life of intrigue behind. As far as the rest of the world knows, FitzChivalry Farseer is dead and buried. Masquerading as Tom Badgerlock, Fitz is now married to his childhood sweetheart, Molly, and leading the quiet life of a country squire.

Though Fitz is haunted by the disappearance of the Fool, who did so much to shape Fitz into the man he has become, such private hurts are put aside in the business of daily life, at least until the appearance of menacing, pale-skinned strangers casts a sinister shadow over Fitz’s past . . . and his future.

Now, to protect his new life, the former assassin must once again take up his old one. . .

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam)gryphonwood.net with the header "FOOL." 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!

Never Let Me Go


I originally bought this novel five or six years ago, based on a recommendation on a thread on Westeros, if I remember correctly. I kept meaning to read it, but something always got in the way. Knowing that the book was awaiting my attention, I resisted the urge to watch the movie, for I didn't want it to spoil the novel for me. And finally, once I returned from my hiking trip in the Canadian Rockies, I decided that it was high time to give Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go a shot. There seems to be a love/hate relationship between readers and this book, so I was looking forward to finding out what the hype was all about. As a Man Booker prize finalist, I knew this was a work that wouldn't leave me indifferent. And I was right. . .

Here's the blurb:

From the Booker Prize-winning author of The Remains of the Day comes a devastating new novel of innocence, knowledge, and loss. As children Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were students at Hailsham, an exclusive boarding school secluded in the English countryside. It was a place of mercurial cliques and mysterious rules where teachers were constantly reminding their charges of how special they were.

Now, years later, Kathy is a young woman. Ruth and Tommy have reentered her life. And for the first time she is beginning to look back at their shared past and understand just what it is that makes them special–and how that gift will shape the rest of their time together. Suspenseful, moving, beautifully atmospheric, Never Let Me Go is another classic by the author of The Remains of the Day.

This novel is often labeled as science fiction, but that's not the case. It can be described as dystopian fiction, true. But it has nothing that can inherently make it a scifi read. Beyond that, it's a hard book to put in a nutshell. If anything, it's a coming-of-age tale. The loss of innocence is one of the main themes explored within the pages of this book, which probably explains the sorrowful feel that permeates everything.

Although Never Let Me Go features the first-person narrative of Kathy, now a thirty-something woman whose tenure as a carer is about to come to an end and who is reminiscing about her childhood and upbringing at the mysterious Hailsham School, the book focuses on three distinct characters: Kathy and two of her friends, Ruth and Tommy. From the melancholy tone of the narrator, one immediately realizes that this is a tale that won't have a happy ending. My biggest disappointment was that Ishiguro wasn't able to play his cards as close to his chest as he likely wanted to, and you can see the end coming due to all the foreshadowing throughout the book. Having said that, regardless of the fact that it doesn't come as a complete surprise, the ending packs a powerful emotional punch that was quite satisfying.

The novel is split into three parts. The first one focuses on their early childhood at Hailsham and sets the mood and the tone for the rest of the book. Isolated and schooled by guardians who control everything they learn, the Hailsham students grow up socially inept and naive. The world outside of Hailsham is mysterious and beyond reach, and I found this portion of the book to be fascinating. You can't help but feel for those kids, who are unaware of what the future holds in store for them. Up until the second part began, a portion that deals with the teenage years of the three protagonists, it appeared that Kazuo Ishiguro was heading for a perfect score. I was totally enthralled by Never Let Me Go and was persuaded that I would finish it in short order. Alas, that second part drags and drags, focusing on the growing pains of adolescents and all that they bring. Yet at times it feels as though it's more about awkward moments between Kathy and Ruth than anything else. Though it features important scenes that set the stage for a lot of what will take place in the third part, the one exploring the characters' adulthood as carer or donors, the second portion of Never Let Me Go nearly killed the novel for me. Thankfully, though the tale suffers from several plot holes (the entire thing about carer driving all over the country to be with various donors all the time truly felt implausible to me, as such a process wouldn't make any sense and be so time-consuming), the final part, with all its revelations at the end, even if you saw it coming, with that scene in which Kathy and Tommy's illusions are shattered beyond repair, well that scene hits you like a punch in the gut and brings this book to a close with the sort of emotional impact that is seldom seen.

Weighing in at only 288 pages, Never Let Me Go is a relatively short work. And yet, at times it feels too long, especially in certain chapters of the second part. As crazy as it sounds, this book would probably have been even better if it had been a bit shorter.

Thoughtful, disconcerting, grim, and yet full of grace, Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go is a tale full of love and innocence that should be on everyone's reading list.

The final verdict: 8/10

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

Joe Abercrombie contest winner!

This lucky gal will get her hands on my ARC of Joe Abercrombie's Half a War! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winner is:

- Charlaine Mitchell, from Hartford, Connecticut, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


You can now download Ken Liu's The Grace of Kings for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Two men rebel together against tyranny—and then become rivals—in this first sweeping book of an epic fantasy series from Ken Liu, recipient of Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards.

Wily, charming Kuni Garu, a bandit, and stern, fearless Mata Zyndu, the son of a deposed duke, seem like polar opposites. Yet, in the uprising against the emperor, the two quickly become the best of friends after a series of adventures fighting against vast conscripted armies, silk-draped airships, and shapeshifting gods. Once the emperor has been overthrown, however, they each find themselves the leader of separate factions—two sides with very different ideas about how the world should be run and the meaning of justice.

Fans of intrigue, intimate plots, and action will find a new series to embrace in the Dandelion Dynasty.

Cover art for Myke Cole's JAVELIN RAIN


The cover art for Myke Cole's upcoming Javelin Rain was unveiled yesterday on barnesandnoble.com and it looks pretty damn good!

Here's the blurb:

Javelin: A code denoting the loss of a national security asset with strategic impact.

Rain: A code indicating a crisis of existential proportions.

Javelin Rain incidents must be resolved immediately, by any and all means necessary, no matter what the cost…

Being a US Navy SEAL was Jim Schweitzer’s life right up until the day he was killed. Now, his escape from the government who raised him from the dead has been coded “Javelin Rain.” Schweitzer and his family are on the run from his former unit, the Gemini Cell, and while he may be immortal, his wife and son are not. Jim must use all of his strength to keep his family safe, while convincing his wife he’s still the same man she once loved. Only what his former allies have planned to bring him down could mean disaster not only for Jim and his family, but for the entire nation…

Can't wait for this one!!!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


You can still get your hands on one of science fiction's most beloved classics, William Gibson's Neuromancer, for only 4.68$ here.

Here's the blurb:

The Matrix is a world within the world, a global consensus-hallucination, the representation of every byte of data in cyberspace . . .

Case had been the sharpest data-thief in the business, until vengeful former employees crippled his nervous system. But now a new and very mysterious employer recruits him for a last-chance run. The target: an unthinkably powerful artificial intelligence orbiting Earth in service of the sinister Tessier-Ashpool business clan. With a dead man riding shotgun and Molly, mirror-eyed street-samurai, to watch his back, Case embarks on an adventure that ups the ante on an entire genre of fiction.

Hotwired to the leading edges of art and technology, Neuromancer ranks with 1984 and Brave New World as one of the century’s most potent visions of the future.

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

In hardcover:

Ernest Cline's Armada debuts at number 4. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

Stephen King’s Finders Keepers is down six spots, finishing the week at number 13.

In paperback:

Andy Weir's The Martian maintains its position at number 2 (trade paperback).

George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones is up two positions, ending the week at number 6.

Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven is down one position, ending the week at number 9 (trade paperback).

Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One maintains its position at number 11 (trade paperback).

Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game is up three spots, finishing the week at number 14.

George R. R. Martin's A Clash of Kings returns at number 19.

Nice tribute to Hayao Miyazaki!



Enjoy! =)

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


For a limited time, you can get your hands on Sam Sykes' newest, The City Stained Red, for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

A long-exiled living god arises.

A city begins to break apart at the seams.

Lenk and his battle-scarred companions have come to Cier'Djaal in search of Miron Evanhands, a wealthy priest who contracted them to eradicate demons --- and then vanished before paying for the job.

But hunting Miron down might be tougher than even these weary adventurers can handle as two unstoppable religious armies move towards all-out war, tensions rise within the capital's cultural melting pot, and demons begin to pour from the shadows...

And Khoth Kapira, the long-banished living god, has seen his chance to return and regain dominion over the world.

Now all that prevents the city from tearing itself apart in carnage are Lenk, Kataria, a savage human-hating warrior, Denaos, a dangerous rogue, Asper, a healer priestess, Dreadaeleon, a young wizard, and Gariath, one of the last of the dragonmen.

Download the first three chapters of Bradley P. Beaulieu's TWELVE KINGS IN SHARAKHAI


You can now download the first three chapter of Bradley P. Beaulieu's upcoming Twelve Kings in Sharakhai on the author's website. This book has been garnering a lot of rave reviews, so hopefully it will live up to the hype. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

Sharakhai, the great city of the desert, center of commerce and culture, has been ruled from time immemorial by twelve kings — cruel, ruthless, powerful, and immortal. With their army of Silver Spears, their elite ompany of Blade Maidens and their holy defenders, the terrifying asirim, the Kings uphold their positions as undisputed, invincible lords of the desert. There is no hope of freedom for any under their rule.

Or so it seems, until Çeda, a brave young woman from the west end slums, defies the Kings’ laws by going outside on the holy night of Beht Zha’ir. What she learns that night sets her on a path that winds through both the terrible truths of the Kings’ mysterious history and the hidden riddles of her own heritage. Together, these secrets could finally break the iron grip of the Kings’ power…if the nigh-omnipotent Kings don’t find her first.

Follow this link to download the sample chapters.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


You can now get your hands on the digital edition of The Living Dead, an anthology edited by John Joseph Adams, for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

"When there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth!" From White Zombie to Dawn of the Dead, Resident Evil to World War Z, zombies have invaded popular culture, becoming the monsters that best express the fears and anxieties of the modern west. Gathering together the best zombie literature of the last three decades from many of today's most renowned authors of fantasy, speculative fiction, and horror, including Stephen King, Harlan Ellison, Robert Silverberg, George R. R. Martin, Clive Barker, Poppy Z. Brite, Neil Gaiman, Joe Hill, Laurell K. Hamilton, and Joe R. Lansdale, The Living Dead covers the broad spectrum of zombie fiction.

PJ Manney contest winner!

Our winner will receive a copy of PJ Manney's (R)evolution, courtesy of the folks at 47North. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winner is:

- Jamieson Cobleigh, from Ashland, Massachusetts, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

Extract from Gary Whitta's ABOMINATION


Here's an extract from Gary Whitta's debut, Abomination. The author is an award-winning screenwriter best known for the post-apocalyptic thriller The Book of Eli starring Denzel Washington. He was also writer and story consultant on The Walking Dead, for which he was the co-recipient of a BAFTA award. Most recently he served as screenwriter for the upcoming standalone Star Wars movie Rogue One, now in pre-production. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

He is England's greatest knight, the man who saved the life of Alfred the Great and an entire kingdom from a Viking invasion. But when he is called back into service to combat a plague of monstrous beasts known as abominations, he meets a fate worse than death and is condemned to a life of anguish, solitude, and remorse.

She is a fierce young warrior, raised among an elite order of knights. Driven by a dark secret from her past, she defies her controlling father and sets out on a dangerous quest to do what none before her ever have―hunt down and kill an abomination, alone.

When a chance encounter sets these two against one another, an incredible twist of fate will lead them toward a salvation they never thought possible―and prove that the power of love, mercy, and forgiveness can shine a hopeful light even in history’s darkest age.

Enjoy!
-----------------------------

Two horsemen arrived atop a gentle hill and looked down at the open country before them, a sprawling valley of fields and farmland, dotted by a few modest cottages that could barely be called a village.

“This can’t be it,” said the first rider.

“The bloke back at the inn said this was it,” said the other. “Five miles along the only road east, you’ll see it when you get to the hilltop.”

“I know what a knight’s estate looks like. If there were one here, we’d be seeing it, believe me.”

They saw a lone man below, pushing a plow through one of the small farm plots the land was divided into.

“Let’s ask him.”

They rode down the craggy hillside, careful to avoid the rocks and divots. Many parts of England’s rolling countryside were picturesque and pleasant to ride; this was not one of them. One wrong footing on this terrain could mean a broken ankle for a horse and perhaps a broken neck for its rider.

Arriving at the valley floor, they cantered over to the man working the field. A powerful sweat on him as he drove a deep furrow through the earth with the plow. Cast in heavy iron, it looked better suited to be drawn by a horse, but the man pushed it along unaided, as though he knew no better. The two men on horseback exchanged a look of amusement. Farmhands were not renowned for their intellect, but one that did not even know how to work such a basic tool? Wonders never ceased.

The peasant was turned away from the hillside and, consumed by his laborious task, seemed oblivious to the riders who had just arrived behind him, even as one of their horses gave a loud snort.

“Oi! You!”

The plow stopped. The peasant turned and raised his hand, both to shield his eyes from the sun and to wipe away the sweat that soaked his temple. He appeared a particularly uncivilized specimen, his face smeared with dirt, his long hair a stringy, tousled mess.

“What?” he said.

The two riders shared another look, this time not amused but annoyed. Did this peasant not recognize their uniforms? The royal insignia on their tunics?

“‘What?’” the first rider said. “Is that any way for a commoner to address two of the King’s men?”

The peasant took a step forward, out of the glare of the sun. He could see them better now.

“Oh. Right you are.”

The riders waited for some gesture of respect or humility to accompany the peasant’s realization of who they were, but none came. He simply stood there, squinting up at them, as though his original question still stood. Well, what?

Now the second rider spoke. “You do know that plow is meant to be pulled by a horse?”

“Of course. I’m not an idiot,” said the peasant. “The horse is sick. He has a bellyache.”

The first rider was growing impatient. “We are in search of—”

“I should have known those carrots were suspect.”

“Stop talking. Where is Sir Wulfric’s estate?”

The peasant chortled to himself. “I’d hardly call it an estate.”

“So you do know of it?”

The man turned and pointed to the far side of the field he was working. Smoke drifted from the chimney of a modest farmhouse at the edge of the village beyond. Both horsemen looked puzzled, and the first one spurred his horse closer, glowering down from the saddle impatiently.

“We are in no mood for games, friend.”

“What games? That’s his house there.”

Now the second rider spoke again. “That house is far too meager to be the seat of a knight.”

“Well, to be fair, Wulfric also owns this field, and that one there, and that one over there,” said the peasant, pointing. “All rich soil, good crops. Not bad if you ask me.”

“Sir Wulfric, peasant!” the first rider scolded him. “Be mindful how you refer to a Knight of the Realm.”

“And not just any knight,” added the second. “The greatest of all knights.”

“Yes, I’ve heard the stories,” said the peasant, who seemed to be growing tired of this conversation himself. “Greatly exaggerated, for the most part.”

The first rider had finally had enough. He dismounted and marched over to the man, giving him a black look.

“Now look, peasant. I’ve had about enough—”

The sun, still setting over the hill, now cast its light upon the silver pendant, wrought in the shape of a scarab beetle, that hung on a loop of leather around the peasant’s neck. It was a simple design, but one familiar to every man and boy sworn to the King’s service. That same medallion had been seen by all who had ever passed through the army barracks at Winchester, in a painting that hung in its main hall. It was depicted hanging around the neck of Sir Wulfric the Wild. Knight of all knights. The man who had saved King Alfred’s life and turned the tide at the Battle of Ethandun, and with it the entire war against the Norse.

The rider’s legs quaked, and for a moment he thought they might give way entirely. Instead he sank to one knee, bowing his head before the dirt-faced peasant. “Sir Wulfric, please accept my most humble apology.”

“Oh, shit,” the second rider exclaimed under his breath. He hurriedly dismounted and knelt at his comrade’s side.

“This field is too muddy for kneeling,” said Wulfric, who despite his station had never grown comfortable at the sight of any man subjugating himself before another. All men were equal in God’s eyes, so why not also in the eyes of men themselves? “Rise.”

And they rose, now regarding this grubby farmworker with the kind of reverent awe normally reserved for gods and kings.

“I apologize,” said Wulfric as he pulled a rag from his pocket and wiped the dirt from his hands. “But the long days in the field can grow dull, and I must find my amusements where I can. Now, what does Alfred want?”

***

Wulfric left the plow in the field and made his way back to the house as the King’s riders departed the way they had come. It was still early in the day and there was much land left to sow, which now would have to wait. As a rule, he had little time for the commands of kings—but Alfred was more than just a king. He was a friend, and one who had done more for Wulfric than he could ever repay. And so Wulfric, though he detested the thought of picking up a weapon ever again—and that was certainly the only purpose for which Alfred would call upon him—knew he could not refuse.

As a young man Wulfric had been a smith’s apprentice, learning how to forge a sword and make it strong, but not how to wield one. That was for others. The very thought of violence made his stomach roil like a live fish writhing in his belly. Like all Englishmen, he had been raised Christian, but his father had also encouraged Wulfric to think for himself, and so to take from the holy teachings what he would. Of what he knew of the Bible, a single verse had always spoken to Wulfric more than any other: Love thy neighbor as thyself. He wished no man to raise a hand against him, and so he would not against another.

That was until the Norse came.

He was raised in the town of his birth, a small place called Caengiford. London lay just a few miles to the southwest, and it was there, when Wulfric was seventeen, that the Danish marauders had come, smashing the great walls the Romans had built centuries ago, claiming the city for their own, killing anyone who did not have the good sense to flee before them. Wulfric could still remember the displaced and the wounded coming through Caengiford, horribly burned, missing entire limbs, mothers still carrying the bodies of babies that had been trampled or flung against the walls by the barbarians from across the sea.

Wulfric had refused to be shielded from such sights. He wanted to see. Though he did not understand the suffering he witnessed, he knew that turning away from it, trying to pretend it was not real, was somehow irresponsible. And he knew that these horrors could as easily be visited upon him and his. He just did not realize how soon.

The Norse arrived in Caengiford the next week. A raiding party sent to hunt down those fleeing the city found Wulfric’s village instead, and since their nature was to destroy all before them, they set about burning it to the ground. Wulfric barely made it out alive, slipping through an open window at his mother’s insistence while the Danish brutes outside hammered at the door. He escaped a moment before they burst through, and he ran into the forest as fast as he could, never looking back. Thus he did not see his mother’s and father’s fate, nor that of his four younger brothers, too little to run. But his imagination served well enough, and even years later, he could not bring himself to think of it but for when old memories came unbidden, in nightmares.

After escaping the destruction of his village, Wulfric stole a ride on a merchant’s cart until he was discovered and thrown off. After that he walked. He had no destination in mind, nowhere to go. Wherever the Norse were not, that was good enough for him. He lost count of the weeks he traveled alone, sleeping by the side of the road, eating whatever he could find in the woods or, on a good day, whatever might fall—or be encouraged to fall—from a passing cart. One day he asked a passerby where he was and discovered that he had wandered as far as Wiltshire. He made his way to a small town and, after demonstrating his ability with hammer and tong, was taken on by the local smith. There he earned his keep making farming tools and shoes for horses, and as time went on, ever-increasing numbers of swords. Alfred’s war against the Norse was not faring well, it was said, and weapons were needed to arm the men being pressed into service from every county. It was a smith’s job to check the weight and balance of every sword as it cooled from the forge, but Wulfric always found an excuse to leave that task to the other apprentices. Even holding a sword felt wrong to him; the thought of running a man through with one made him queasy. He tried to tell that to the King’s recruiters, when they rode into town to muster every able-bodied man they could find, but all he got was a firm clip round the ear and orders to report to the barracks at Chippenham by week’s end or be marked a deserter.

Wulfric weighed his options and thought briefly of running. But he knew of the army’s relentless pursuit of cowards who defied the King’s commission, and he did not relish living another long while on the run, much less the punishment were he to be caught. And so he arrived at Chippenham on the very last day before he would have been declared an absconder. There he was given livery and a wooden sword to practice with and thrown immediately into mock combat. In a time of peace, his training might have followed a more unhurried pace, but the Norse were advancing on every front, and there was little time to do else but throw new recruits into the thick of it and hope that they could fight, or learn to in short order.

Even a mock sword felt ugly in Wulfric’s hand, yet he found that although he had no wish to fight, he undoubtedly had a knack for it. More than a knack—an instinct. On his first day sparring in the training yard, he went right at the master-at-arms, a bearded, barrel-chested soldier with more years of combat experience than Wulfric had on this earth. Armed with only a blunted blade of wood, he fought with such speed and ferocity that the instructor wound up on his backside, stunned. The other trainees applauded and hollered, but Wulfric was more surprised than anyone; it was as though some other entity had taken possession of his sword arm, of his entire body, driving him forward. In those few seconds, he had become someone else entirely, someone ugly and brutal and merciless. In other words, exactly the kind of person his superiors were looking for. It was noted that while there was little artistry in the way Wulfric fought, there was a savage purity to it. He fought more like a Norse than an Englishman—a fact that would, in time, chill the blood of both alike. The Norse had a name for men like Wulfric, men who fought and killed without fear or mercy or grace. Berserker.

The nickname stuck fast. Throughout the Chippenham ranks he became known as Wulfric the Wild. Wulfric hated the name, but not the respect that accompanied it. Nobody cuffed him on the ear anymore. Instead, from then on, Wulfric was watched closely by his trainers, marked as one of a few who had something special, something that could be used to great advantage out on the field. When it came to battle, as it inevitably would, he and others like him would be placed close to the King to afford him the greatest protection.

Battle came sooner than expected, in the deep cold of midwinter and on Twelfth Night, no less. Wulfric and the other trainees had been enjoying the last of their Christmas rations on the night the Norse stormed the walls of Chippenham.

Alarm bells sounded, rousing sleepers from their beds as, outside, barbarians poured over the walls and battered down the gates of the English fortress. Officers rushed to the barrack rooms to mobilize as many men as they could. There, a sergeant who knew Wulfric grabbed him by the collar and sent him in the other direction from his young comrades. He went where he was bid and found himself outside the royal chamber itself, where Alfred’s personal guard and a troop of other heavily armed men were moving the King to safety.

It was the first time Wulfric had seen Alfred, though he thought he might have spied the King once before, looking down on the training yard from the parapets. But there was no mistaking this time: Wulfric was just a few feet away from the King as the man was bundled from his room half-dressed, having just moments before been roused from his royal bed.

“Wulfric, come here, lad!”

Wulfric’s master-at-arms, the man he had charged and put on his back that first day in the yard, was beckoning urgently. When Wulfric approached, he felt the leather bindings of a sword hilt pressed into his hand. It felt so much heavier than the wooden dummies he had been practicing with. He looked down and saw the metal blade glimmer in the torchlight. The first true sword he had ever held as a soldier.

“Stay with the King! Stay with the King!” the master-at-arms bellowed, and he pushed Wulfric along with the rest of Alfred’s company as they rushed the King along the hallway. It was all happening so fast. Outside could be heard the sounds of battle—the clash of metal on metal, the roaring of fires, the screams of wounded and dying men. Sounds Wulfric had not heard since fleeing his village two years before. It was outside that Wulfric killed his first man. He brought up the rear of Alfred’s protective huddle as they exited the hallway into the chill air of the courtyard. Wulfric’s first thought was how bitterly cold it was and how he wished he’d had time to grab his warmer tunic before he’d been herded out of his room. Then he heard a war cry that curdled his blood and turned to see a giant Norseman charging at him, face hidden behind a long, braided beard and a battered metal helm. The warrior was easily twice Wulfric’s size, and looked to him more like an ox that had learned to walk on its hind legs. But that was all the observation he had time for before the Dane was upon him, swinging an oversized hammer that was unlike any weapon of war Wulfric had ever seen—and he had forged many.

Wulfric jumped backward to avoid the first blow, but the Norseman was quicker than his size suggested, and his second attack came too fast for Wulfric to anticipate. This time he managed only half a dodge before the maul struck him in the shoulder and knocked him to the ground. He looked up, dazed, to see the great bull of a man bearing down on him, hammer overhead in preparation for the killing blow.

But Wulfric had not lost hold of his sword. He swung low, slashing the Norseman deep across the ankle. The Dane cried out and went down on one knee, dropping the hammer. He drew a knife from his belt, but now it was Wulfric who surprised with his speed. He leapt back to his feet and swung his sword upward like a farmer chopping wheat with a scythe. It caught the Dane on the underside of the neck and buried itself deep in his throat.

As the giant’s blood sprayed out onto the cobblestones, time seemed to slow, and Wulfric noted that it was curious how blood appeared black, not red, in the pale light of the moon. And then time resumed its normal rate again, and Wulfric drew back his sword. The motion pulled the blade free from the Dane’s neck and brought him crashing to the ground. Wulfric stepped back to avoid the dead man’s blood staining his boots as it pooled out toward him, then ran to catch up with King Alfred and his men.

***

The ox was the first man Wulfric killed in battle, but far from the last. Many more were to come in the months ahead. Alfred and his company, along with the rest of those who managed to escape the disaster at Chippenham, retreated south to the Isle of Athelney in neighboring Somerset. The small island provided a bottleneck that protected them from the type of frontal assault suffered at Chippenham, and afforded Alfred time to regroup.

Not that he had much left to regroup; most of his men had been killed or captured, and the small force that remained could scarcely defend itself, let alone stage a counterattack. But Alfred refused to be cowed, even after a crushing defeat and with so few resources at hand. He sent word to every nearby village and town, commanding men to rally to his banner. And rally they did. After several long months of rebuilding his army, Alfred took it back onto the field, and met the full might of the Danish host at Ethandun.

It was to be a bloody morning, not least for young Wulfric, who, since first drawing blood in the battle against the ox, had discovered that he now had not only a talent for killing, but a taste for it. After the fall of Chippenham, the Norse had hounded Alfred’s retreating army halfway across Wiltshire before finally breaking off pursuit. Along the way, there had been several bloody skirmishes, in which Wulfric had claimed many more Danish heads. In each battle, it was as though some inner savage that usually lay dormant within him awoke and asserted control until the fight was over. After the killing was done, Wulfric could feel nothing but remorse for the lives he had taken. But when he was in the thick of it, bloody sword in hand, it was as though he had been born to do this and nothing else. None who fought alongside him, who witnessed this transformation, could disagree. And over time, Wulfric’s nickname, given in jest after that first day in the training yard, began to strike his comrades-in-arms as wholly inadequate.

But on that day at Ethandun they saw something else entirely. Wulfric had already killed at least twenty Norsemen in the battle—the royal crest on his tabard had entirely disappeared behind a thick coating of Danish blood—when he wheeled around to realize King Alfred was nowhere to be seen. Lost in the reverie of slaughter, he had broken the one rule his master-at-arms had given him: Stay with the King! He searched the melee, cutting down any Dane unfortunate enough to stray within striking distance, until he caught sight of the King on his horse. And even from fifty feet away, Wulfric could see that Alfred was in trouble. The Norse were swarming his position, cutting down his personal guard, making their way closer to the man Wulfric had taken an oath to protect.

Wulfric surged forward, and reached the King just as a powerful Dane dressed in furs and mail reached up and pulled Alfred down off his mount. With the King defenseless on the ground, the Norseman drew back his axe for the killing blow. That was when Wulfric charged into the fray, piercing the Dane’s mail armor with his sword. The barbarian slid off Wulfric’s blade, dead, even as three more moved in to finish the job he had started. Wulfric, breathing hard, took up a defensive position between the Norsemen and his King.

The first man to attack went down quickly: Wulfric dodged the Norseman’s swinging sword and slashed him across the back with his own. The second and third came at Wulfric together, thinking to better their odds. It did, but not nearly enough. Wulfric ran his sword through the open mouth of one, but when the blade became stuck in the back of the man’s skull and could not be pulled free, he let it go, and took on the other man unarmed.

This one carried a crudely formed cudgel, little more than a heavy hunk of wood with iron spikes hammered through it, but deadly enough, especially at arm’s length. Wulfric, driven by the war spirit that possessed him in battle, knew that his best chance was to get in close. He waited for the Danish brute to take a big, lumbering swing, ducked under it, then charged at the man, tackling him to the ground. The Norseman was still by far the stronger and would doubtless prevail in a hand-to-hand grapple, but Wulfric would not let it come to that. He drew a stiletto from his boot and drove it into the barbarian’s right eye, deep enough to skewer his head to the ground beneath.

Wulfric fell back onto the ground, exhausted. More English soldiers now rallied to the King’s side, surrounding him. Two men helped Alfred to his feet. None did so for Wulfric. They had not witnessed the encounter; to them he was just another common infantryman, not worthy of their concern. But one man had noticed: Alfred. As he was escorted to safety, his eyes never left Wulfric, the young man who had just saved his life.

***

Alfred went on to a great victory at Ethandun, and the war turned after that. Alfred routed the Danish host and pursued the surviving rabble all the way back to Chippenham, where the rest of the Norse were by now garrisoned. With the Danish king, Guthrum, sequestered inside, Alfred saw his chance to break them once and for all. Thus, with his entire force arrayed around Chippenham’s walls, Alfred began a slow siege. After two weeks, the Norse within were starving, their will to resist broken. In desperation, Guthrum sued for peace, and Alfred offered the terms that would at last bring the war to an end.

After his triumphant return home, Alfred’s first order of business was to have the young infantryman who had saved his life at Ethandun brought before him. Wulfric had no idea why he had been summoned to the royal court, and so was surprised when he was told to kneel and felt the flat of Alfred’s sword touch first one shoulder, then the other. “Arise, Sir Wulfric,” the King said. And the young man who once swore he would never so much as hold a sword rose, a knight.

Wulfric was a common man with no noble heritage, and so it was explained to him that all knights must have a coat of arms to signify their house. With little heraldic precedent to draw on, Wulfric decided to take as the symbol of his house a cherished memory from his childhood. His father had taught him as a boy to identify all manner of curious beetles and bugs, and Wulfric’s favorite among all was the scarab beetle. His father had explained that its armored shell made it hardy and resistant to all manner of hostile conditions. Wulfric, who knew the hard life of a peasant, had liked that. He also liked that the scarab’s favorite pastime was to collect dung. And so it was that years later, wrestling with the fact that he was no longer a commoner but a Knight of the Realm, he thought it the perfect way to remind himself of his lowly beginnings. For what could be more lowly than an insect that spends its days half-buried in shit?

Once Wulfric had a coat of arms by which his house could be known, all he needed was a house. Alfred granted him his choice of castles and lands up and down the kingdom, but Wulfric would take none of them. Instead he settled on a house and a plot of land where he could raise turnips and carrots and perhaps find a wife for himself. If God were willing, perhaps he would even see fit to bless him with a son or daughter, but Wulfric would not ask for anything he had not yet earned. To his mind, all he had done of note was kill men in battle, and he did not see why that should ever be rewarded.

***

When Wulfric stepped through the door, Cwen, his wife, turned in surprise from the stove where soup was cooking. “You’re back early,” she said. “Did you forget something?”

By God, that soup smells good, Wulfric thought as the aroma hit him. Of all the reasons he had chosen Cwen for his wife, her cooking ranked only second. Well, perhaps third, he thought to himself.

“Yes,” said Wulfric wearily. “I forgot, if only briefly, that I will never be out of Alfred’s debt.”

Cwen did not appear to like the sound of that at all. She placed her hands on her hips and frowned at him. “Please, not that look,” Wulfric said as he sat. “How about some of that soup?”

“It’s not ready yet,” said Cwen, softening not even a little. “What do you mean? Those riders I saw on the hill, they were the King’s men?”

“He’s summoned me to Winchester.”

“And of course you said no.”

“I could hardly do that. Not after everything he has done for me. I must at least go and see what he wants.”

Cwen stepped out from behind the kitchen table. She was getting bigger every day. The child was due in only a few months. That was why Wulfric was out on the plow, though the horse was sick. When his son was born—somehow, Wulfric knew it was to be a boy—he would not want for food to eat, nor any of the things that Wulfric had gone without as a child. He would be the son of a knight. Perhaps Wulfric would ask Alfred for that castle after all, so that his son might grow up in it.

“You’ve got it backward,” Cwen said sternly. “You’ve always had it backward. It’s Alfred who owes you, not the other way around. He’d be dead if not for you.”

“I only did what I was sworn to do,” said Wulfric. “What any soldier would have done in my position. But Alfred did not have to knight me, nor set me up for life the way he did. Look at all that I have—more than I ever dreamed. My own house, my own land.” He rose from the table and took his wife by the hand. “My own wife, the most beautiful in the world.”

“Save your flattery,” said Cwen, though the faintest hint of a smile suggested that it had made its mark. “I am quite sure Alfred did not grant me to you.”

“True, but I would not have won you had he not made me a knight.”

“I didn’t know you were a knight when I agreed to marry you.”

“If I were not, I would never have had the courage to ask,” he said, close enough now to kiss her. And kiss her he did.

***

They kissed, and made love, and later Wulfric got his soup and they ate together by the hearth.

“Don’t think,” Cwen said, looking up from her bowl, “that with a few fine words and a quick roll on the bed you can buy me off. You’re not disappearing off on some campaign. I want you here when the baby is born. I need you here.”

“Who said anything about a campaign?” Wulfric replied.

“Do you take me for a fool? Why else would Alfred send for you? I’ve heard the rumors about the king in the Danelaw. They say he’s nearly dead and that the Norse may rise up again under some new warlord.”

“Rumors, that’s all,” said Wulfric. But Cwen knew him well enough to know that while he might wish that were true, he did not believe it. She reached over and took her husband’s hand.

“Wulfric, look at me. I know Alfred is your friend, but I am your wife, and this is your child.” She placed her other hand over her bulging belly. “I want you to promise me, here and now, that you will not let him send you on some new war against the Norse.”

Wulfric squeezed her hand tightly, met her eyes. “I promise.”

Satisfied, Cwen smiled and returned to her soup.

“I’m sure it’s nothing, really,” he said. “Maybe Alfred burned another batch of cakes and wants to borrow you for his new head cook.”

Cwen laughed, and kissed him on the forehead, and rose to fetch them both another bowl.

*** Early the next morning, Wulfric left his house with a saddle and provisions for a long day’s ride over his shoulder. He unbolted the door to the stable, and his horse, Dolly, peeked out from the gloom inside.

“How are you today, old girl?” he asked. Dolly did not reply until Wulfric brought the saddle down off his shoulder and slung it over her back. She stamped a hoof and snorted unhappily.

“Oh, stop complaining,” said Wulfric as he fed her a handful of oats. “You had all of yesterday off. Today, bellyache or not, we ride. We’re going to see the King. And I’ll bet you his carrots are a lot better than ours.”

Reprinted with permission of Inkshares, Inc. All rights reserved.

Coming attractions


Hey guys!

Not much happening on the Hotlist these days, I know. Returned from my hiking trip in the Canadian Rockies on the 7th and I've been working overtime since then to cover for colleagues who are themselves on vacation. Add to that the fact that this is the tourist high season, so I've been hosting a number of foreigners via couchSurfing. Which leaves me little time to read and review novels, and little time to keep track of everything that's going on in the genre.

I'm currently reading two books. The first is Sam Sykes' The City Stained Red, which I began in Jasper a while back after finishing Novik's atrociously boring Uprooted. It's a fun, balls-to-the-wall kind of book, which is exactly what I needed after the sleep-inducing Uprooted. Reading the ebook on my computer, which is why it's taking me longer than usual. Reading a book off a screen makes my eyes bleed. . . At work, I'm reading Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, which, after an excellent start, has begun to drag in the middle part. Still a very good read thus far.

You can expect reviews for these two works in the near future. In addition, since I've realized that I've only read one novel by a female author this year, I've decided that the next 4 or 5 works I read will be written by women. Of course, the female authors I enjoy appear to have failed to garner the feminists and the PC police's stamp of approval. Hence, this will in all likelihood not satisfy them and their ilk. . . :/

Be that as it may, with the last Kitty Norville installment coming out soon, I'm getting way behind in this series, so I'll definitely be reading one or two Carrie Vaughn books this summer. You can also expect a review for Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Chosen, which I should have read ages ago. Robin Hobb's Fool's Quest will immediately be moved up to the top of the pile as soon as it shows up in my mailbox! There are quite a few works by female authors I have an eye on, so I'll select one of them to join the list.

I have another two weeks of vacation coming in August. If I fly abroad, where I usually leave the books I read in hostels and guesthouses, I'll probably bring books I don't want to keep in my permanent collection with me. If that's the case, the aforementioned titles will be pushed back in the rotation and I'll get to them once I'm back home. If I stay here, it will be business as usual.

So there you have it! Hope you're enjoying your summer! =) Or your winter, if you live in the Southern Hemisphere!! ;-)

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


You can now download Glen Cook's opening chapter in the Starfishers trilogy, Shadowline, for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

The vendetta in space had started centuries before "Mouse" Storm was born with his grandfather's raid on the planet Prefactlas, the blood bath that freed the human slaves from their Sangaree masters. But one Sangaree survived—the young Norborn heir, the man who swore vengeance on the Storm family and their soldiers, in a carefully mapped plot that would take generations to fulfill. Now Mouse's father Gneaus must fight for an El Dorado of wealth on the burning half of the planet Blackworld. As the great private armies of all space clash on the narrow Shadowline that divides inferno from life-sheltering shade, Gneaus' half-brother Michael plays his traitorous games, and a man called Death pulls the deadly strings that threaten to entrap them all—as the Starfishers Trilogy begins.

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

In hardcover:

Stephen King’s Finders Keepers is down two spots, finishing the week at number 7.

Christie Golden's Star Wars: Dark Disciple debuts at number 17.

In paperback:

Andy Weir's The Martian maintains its position at number 2 (trade paperback).

Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven is down one position, ending the week at number 8 (trade paperback).

George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones maintains its position at number 8.

Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One is up two positions, ending the week at number 11 (trade paperback).

Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game is up two spots, finishing the week at number 17.

Stephen King's Mr. Mercedes is down one spot, finishing the week at number 20 (trade paperback).

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


You can now download Mark Lawrence's Prince of Thorns for only 4.44$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Before the thorns taught me their sharp lessons and bled weakness from me I had but one brother, and I loved him well. But those days are gone and what is left of them lies in my mother's tomb. Now I have many brothers, quick with knife and sword, and as evil as you please. We ride this broken empire and loot its corpse. They say these are violent times, the end of days when the dead roam and monsters haunt the night. All that's true enough, but there's something worse out there, in the dark. Much worse."

Once a privileged royal child, raised by a loving mother, Jorg Ancrath has become the Prince of Thorns, a charming, immoral boy leading a grim band of outlaws in a series of raids and atrocities. The world is in chaos: violence is rife, nightmares everywhere. Jorg's bleak past has set him beyond fear of any man, living or dead, but there is still one thing that puts a chill in him. Returning to his father's castle Jorg must confront horrors from his childhood and carve himself a future with all hands turned against him.

Christopher Golden contest winner!

This lucky gal will get her hands on my review copy of Christopher Golden's Tin Men! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winner is:

- Gabriella Hernandez, from Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


You can now download Brian McClellan's Promise of Blood, the first volume in The Powder Mage trilogy, for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

The Age of Kings is dead . . . and I have killed it.

It's a bloody business overthrowing a king...
Field Marshal Tamas' coup against his king sent corrupt aristocrats to the guillotine and brought bread to the starving. But it also provoked war with the Nine Nations, internal attacks by royalist fanatics, and the greedy to scramble for money and power by Tamas's supposed allies: the Church, workers unions, and mercenary forces.

It's up to a few...
Stretched to his limit, Tamas is relying heavily on his few remaining powder mages, including the embittered Taniel, a brilliant marksman who also happens to be his estranged son, and Adamat, a retired police inspector whose loyalty is being tested by blackmail.

But when gods are involved...
Now, as attacks batter them from within and without, the credulous are whispering about omens of death and destruction. Just old peasant legends about the gods waking to walk the earth. No modern educated man believes that sort of thing. But they should...

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


With the great trailer that was unveiled recently, interest in Terry Brooks Shannara series is sure to increase. And you can now download the digital edition of the first trilogy for only 8.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

BONUS: This edition contains an excerpt from Terry Brooks's The Measure of the Magic.

Twenty-five years ago, New York Times bestselling author Terry Brooks wrote a novel that brought to life a dazzling world that would become one of the most popular fantasy epics of all time, beloved by millions of fans around the world. Ten more Shannara books would follow. Now, for the first time in one elegant collector’s edition hardcover, and featuring an introduction by the author, here are the first three novels of that classic series: The Sword of Shannara, The Elfstones of Shannara, and The Wishsong of Shannara—the beginning of a phenomenal epic of good and evil.

The Sword of Shannara

Long ago, the wars of the ancient Evil ruined the world. In peaceful Shady Vale, half-elfin Shea Ohmsford knows little of such troubles. But the supposedly dead Warlock Lord is plotting to destroy everything in his wake. The sole weapon against this Power of Darkness is the Sword of Shannara, which can be used only by a true heir of Shannara. On Shea, last of the bloodline, rests the hope of all the races.

The Elfstones of Shannara

The magical Ellcrys tree is dying, loosening the spell that bars the Demons from enacting vengeance upon the land. Now Wil Ohmsford must guard the Elven girl Amberle on a perilous quest as she carries one of the Ellcrys’ seeds to a mysterious place where it can be quickened into a powerful new force. But dark on their trail comes the Reaper, most fearsome of all Demons, aiming to crush their mission at any cost.

The Wishsong of Shannara

An ancient Evil is stirring to new life, sending its ghastly Mord Wraiths to destroy Mankind. To win through the vile growth that protects this dark force, the Druid Allanon needs Brin Ohmsford—for she alone holds the magic power of the wishsong. Reluctantly Brin joins the Druid on his dangerous journey. But a prophecy foretells doom, as Evil nurses its plans to trap the unsuspecting Brin into a fate far more horrible than death.

Thus begins Terry Brooks’s thrilling Shannara epic, an unforgettable tale of adventure, magic, and myth.

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

In hardcover:

Stephen King’s Finders Keepers is down one spot, finishing the week at number 5.

In paperback:

Andy Weir's The Martian maintains its position at number 2 (trade paperback).

Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven is down two positions, ending the week at number 7 (trade paperback).

George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones is down seven positions, ending the week at number 8.

Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One maintains its position at number 13 (trade paperback).

George R. R. Martin's A Clash of Kings is down nine spots, finishing the week at number 16.

Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game is down nine spots, finishing the week at number 19.

Stephen King's Mr. Mercedes is up one spot, finishing the week at number 19 (trade paperback).

Musical Interlude



Since the French celebrated Bastille Day this week, I thought I'd go with a French pop classic! ;-)

À ceux et celles qui grognent, on ne me la fait pas. Vous allez tous et toutes fredonner ce véritable classique de la musique pop française pour le reste de la journée! :)

Sérieusement, j'adore cette chanson. C'est un tube!!

10 hours of walking around SDCC as a female cosplayer



The folks at Playboy were obviously hoping for something similar to that clip of the girl walking around the streets of NYC. What they got, keeping in mind that this is probably the worst of it, is pretty much a bunch of socially awkward guys asking rather politely if they can get their pictures taken with a beautiful girl. Other than the dumbass asking for a photo of her butt, I see nothing wrong with this video. . .

If you are as pretty and sexy as Lauren Francesca is and you dress like that, of course you'll get a lot of attention. But there's nothing to write home about in this video. She would have been sexually harassed a hundred times more on the streets of any big city around the world. This was pure click bait, as the male geeks at SDCC turned out to be a lot more respectful than I thought they would be when I sat down to watch this clip. . .

Good for them!

The Familiar: One Rainy Day in May


Although Mark Z. Danielewski has always been hit or miss with me, I knew I wanted to read The Familiar: One Rainy Day in May. It appeared to be yet another unique experimental work the author has accustomed us to; the sort of crazy fucked-up story that only Danielewski can come up with.

From a production standpoint, The Familiar: One Rainy Day in May is a work that's as beautiful as it is original. Everyone involved in the creation of the visual effects did an incredible job. The book itself is terrific and innovative.

Unfortunately, in terms of storylines, this novel fails to deliver on basically all fronts. Indeed, after more than 800 pages, I still have absolutely no idea of what this tale is supposed to be about. When I asked one of my friends how she would sum it up, she replied that it was about a sick girl who's supposed to get a dog, but she ends up with a kitten. I reckon this description is as good as any other.

Here's the blurb:

From the author of the international best seller House of Leaves and National Book Award–nominated Only Revolutions comes a monumental new novel as dazzling as it is riveting. The Familiar (Volume 1) ranges from Mexico to Southeast Asia, from Venice, Italy, to Venice, California, with nine lives hanging in the balance, each called upon to make a terrifying choice. They include a therapist-in-training grappling with daughters as demanding as her patients; an ambitious East L.A. gang member contracted for violence; two scientists in Marfa, Texas, on the run from an organization powerful beyond imagining; plus a recovering addict in Singapore summoned at midnight by a desperate billionaire; and a programmer near Silicon Beach whose game engine might unleash consequences far exceeding the entertainment he intends. At the very heart, though, is a twelve-year-old girl named Xanther who one rainy day in May sets out with her father to get a dog, only to end up trying to save a creature as fragile as it is dangerous . . . which will change not only her life and the lives of those she has yet to encounter, but this world, too—or at least the world we think we know and the future we take for granted.

(With full-color illustrations throughout.)

Apparently, Mark Z. Danielewski is planning twenty-seven volumes in this series. Which might explain why so little actually takes place in The Familiar: One Rainy Day in May. Yes, the book is ambitious and sprawling. Yes, it is experimental and impressionistic in form and approach, and hence a challenging read. And yet, as far as storylines are concerned, not a whole lot occurs over the course of those 800+ pages. It's not that this book is an introduction for what will follow. I can't even go that far. It feels more like an introduction to the introduction. Trying to make sense of what the tale is all about and where it's going is an impossible endeavor.

Hardcore Danielewski fans might be able to let that slide and just buckle up and enjoy the ride. But those readers expecting things to make at least a little bit of sense might find the going to be a lot more arduous. That I was totally clueless as to what this story was supposed to be about after 250 pages or so, it was no problem for me. Given the author's style and imagination, that was to be expected. But feeling the same way once I reached the end of the book was a disappointment. And a bit of a letdown, to be honest. How many installments will one need to read in order to have an inkling as to what the heck is actually going on and how the disparate plotlines are somehow connected? Five? Eight? Twelve?

Throughout The Familiar: One Rainy Day in May, the author introduces several themes and a completely diverse cast of protagonists from all over the world. The whole thing is as weird and creative as anything he has ever written, but it seriously lacks purpose. Xanther, a young epileptic girl, more or less takes center stage. Not only through her own POV, but also through the narratives of both her parents, Astair and Anwar. Theirs are the only POVs that have any emotional impact. Beyond this trio, the rest of the narratives are opaque and often hard to follow. I'm well aware that it's too early to tell, what with this being a series that will be comprised of 27 volumes, but I'm wondering if this book needed so many different perspectives. Could some of these storylines have been introduced in subsequent installments?

I mean, I'm all for complex and multilayered novels. But not when they engender more confusion than anything else. Pacing and characterization are serious issues that take a lot away from the overall reading experience. But it's the permanent confusion that permeates every single portion of the book that really kills The Familiar: One Rainy Day in May.

Will I read the second volume? As crazy as it sounds, I just might. Just to discover if things begin to make even a little bit of sense, or if it's another clusterfuck of a book. Having said that, it's not like I have much faith in the author at this point. . .

The final verdict: 4/10

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

Cover art and blurb for Guy Gavriel Kay's CHILDREN OF EARTH AND SKY


CBC just unveiled the cover art for Guy Gavriel Kay's forthcoming novel, Children of Earth and Sky. Looks pretty good!

Here's the blurb:

The bestselling author of the groundbreaking novels Under Heaven and River of Stars, Guy Gavriel Kay is back with a new novel, Children of Earth and Sky, set in a world inspired by the conflicts and dramas of Renaissance Europe. Against this tumultuous backdrop the lives of men and women unfold on the borderlands—where empires and faiths collide.

From the small coastal town of Senjan, notorious for its pirates, a young woman sets out to find vengeance for her lost family. That same spring, from the wealthy city-state of Seressa, famous for its canals and lagoon, come two very different people: a young artist traveling to the dangerous east to paint the grand khalif at his request—and possibly to do more—and a fiercely intelligent, angry woman, posing as a doctor’s wife, but sent by Seressa as a spy.

The trading ship that carries them is commanded by the accomplished younger son of a merchant family, ambivalent about the life he’s been born to live. And farther east a boy trains to become a soldier in the elite infantry of the khalif—to win glory in the war everyone knows is coming.

As these lives entwine, their fates—and those of many others—will hang in the balance, when the khalif sends out his massive army to take the great fortress that is the gateway to the western world…

Follow this link to read the whole piece.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


You can now get your hands on the digital edition of Brian Ruckley's The Free for only 1.99$ here. Reviewed it a few months ago and it's a good read!

Here's the blurb:

THEY ARE THE MOST FEARED MERCENARY COMPANY THE KINGDOM HAS EVER KNOWN.

Led by Yulan, their charismatic captain, the Free have spent years selling their martial and magical skills to the highest bidder -- winning countless victories that have shaken the foundations of the world. Now they finally plan to lay down their swords.

Yet when Yulan is offered a final contract, he cannot refuse -- for the mission offers him the chance to erase the memories of the Free's darkest hour, which have haunted him for years.

As the Free embark on their last mission, a potent mix of loyalty and vengeance is building to a storm. Freedom, it seems, carries a deadly price.


Don't know for how long, but you can also download Jim Butcher's Working for Bigfoot for only 6.99$ here. Reviewed that one last month and it's a fun and entertaining read!

Here's the blurb:

Chicago wizard for hire Harry Dresden is used to mysterious clients with long hair and legs up to here. But when it turns out the long hair covers every square inch of his latest client’s body, and the legs contribute to a nine-foot height, even the redoubtable detective realizes he’s treading new ground. Strength of a River in His Shoulders is one of the legendary forest people, a Bigfoot, and he has a problem that only Harry can solve. His son Irwin is a scion, the child of a supernatural creature and a human. He’s a good kid, but the extraordinary strength of his magical aura has a way of attracting trouble.

In the three novellas that make up Working For Bigfoot, collected together for the first time here, readers encounter Dresden at different points in his storied career, and in Irwin’s life. As a middle-schooler, in “B is For Bigfoot,” Irwin attracts the unwelcome attention of a pair of bullying brothers who are more than they seem, and when Harry steps in, it turns out they have a mystical guardian of their own. At a fancy private high school in “I Was a Teenage Bigfoot,” Harry is called in when Irwin grows ill for the first time, and it’s not just a case of mono. Finally, Irwin is all grown up and has a grown-up’s typical problems as a freshman in college in “Bigfoot on Campus,” or would have if typical included vampires.

New York Times bestseller Jim Butcher explores the responsibilities of fatherhood and the difficulties of growing up with the elements Dresden Files fans crave—detection, adventure, humor, and magic.