31 January 2010

A very thought provoking review of the shortlisted entries for the David Gemmell award

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Nic Clarke from Strange Horizons (an online magazine dedicated to fantasy art and fiction) has posted a very in depth review of the entries that were short listed for the 2009 David Gemmell awards [link]. He says that, while the awards choose their novels according to world building, characters and good pace, but there is no thought for the quality of writing. To do this, he says, you need to compare and contrast the books that you are considering. You can read the review in full here [link].

He makes a good point. There seem to be a number of things in certain novels that don't read well (whether or not it is because these examples are taken out of context, I don't know) but the case stands that if you're going to elevate one fantasy over another, there needs to be a level of comparison between them, with the quality of writing taken into consideration. Clarke best expresses this when he says,

"writing that makes me want to stab my own eyes out tends to interfere with my desire to still be reading at three in the morning. I'm fussy like that."

Click on the banner below to go to the Strange Horizons Magazine site.

30 January 2010

Trudi Canavan's 'The Magician's Apprentice' wins Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy

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Congratulations to Trudi Canavan on winning Best Fantasy Novel at the 2009 Aurealis Awards! Her latest novel, The Magician's Apprentice, won a unanimous vote among the judges. Canavan was pitted against Peter Ball's Horn, Glenda Larke's The Last Stormlord, K.E. Mills' The Witches Incorporated and K.J. Taylor's The Dark Griffin. Here's what the judges had to say about The Magician's Apprentice:

"Magician’s Apprentice was a unanimous winner. A traditional high fantasy, the great strength
of this book is in the wonderful characters, the development of their relationships and the
characters’ growth within the story. The quality of the writing is strong and it was a clear
champion in our field. The development of a young apprentice magician, with her background
in medicine and passion for healing as she is drawn into a complicated world of politics and
war, is well told and developed, with the depth of characters drawing us in and compelling us

Other shortlisters:

Congratulations again, Trudi!

I'm half way through The Magician's Apprentice, and so far it's been very difficult to put down. I'm really liking her magic system, and the intricacy of politics in her world is outstanding. But enough of that for now, you'll get the full breakdown when I finish and review it.

27 January 2010

Season of the Witch 2010 trailer

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So Nicholas Cage is dipping his hand into another fantasy movie this year, this one somewhat darker than The Sorcerer's Apprentice [link]. This movie follows a 14th Century knight (Cage) who returns home to find the land in the grip of a plague. A woman is blamed as the source of it and is accused of being a witch. The knight has to capture and deliver the witch to a monastery where she is to be executed, but things go wrong as the forces of darkness attempt to thwart their efforts;.

I'm not sure what to make of this one. It sounds like a really good idea for a movie, and a lot of the casting choices seem solid (Ron Perlman from Hellboy, Robert Sheehan from E4's Misfits and the legend that is Christopher Lee to name a few). I'm not sure how Cage will fare in a movie of this nature, since he does have a penchant for going between nonchalant whispering to overacting and yelling. The trailer, while looking pretty cool, feels like there's something in the film that will leave me disappointed. It may be that the trailer feels disjointed as they opted for the punchier scenes to wow the viewers (which doesn't usually work when it comes to showcasing paranormal/fantasy movies). It still looks worth checking out in the cinema though (UK release date March 19th).

26 January 2010

Review - The Debt of Nelira by Peter Leonard (self-published)

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The Debt of Nelira by Peter Leonard
Self published

eBook - 59 pages
Published January 2010
Personal copy of book
I bought this book online after a friend of mine recommended it to me. The pitch that I was given was that it was a very good fantasy novel, and one that would pique my interests (at this time I was a big fan of Terry Goodkind and Ian Irvine) so I readily bought the book. After reading through it I was, I'm sad to say, disappointed.
I think the main reason for this was that I was expecting a fantasy novel, and what I had instead is best described as a children's adventure novel.

The story follows four school children who travel the length of their island (Zephis - conveniently shaped like a Z) in order to return a lost cap to their hero and guardian of the world, Zephyr (a being who seems to be a mix of the coolness of Bart Simpson along with the appearance of Rayman). Along the way they meet and help a number of island residents and creatures, who in turn show up at the end to help them out in their final battle. The antagonists to the story are a group of school bullies who want to steal this cap in order to demand a reward.

From the beginning, The Debt of Nelira reads like a children's book. That in itself is not a bad thing by any means, but when you are expecting to read a book of one genre and are confronted with something else entirely, it is very frustrating (see my earlier post about The Law of Nines by Terry Goodkind for more on this). The story is your basic questing adventure in the style of The Lord of the Rings (I was annoyed that there is a   line that is more or less directly lifted from The Fellowship of the Ring, 'one more step and this is the farthest away from Leafana I've ever been'.)

The characters manage to travel the length of their land to their destination with seemingly blinding speed, and though the book is short (59 A4 pages) they only spend half of that actually on their quest. The characters are fun in that they are children acting like children, as are the bullies who are against them. These characters are what would make this novel better suited for children rather than adults.

The world itself doesn't feel very fantastic. There are places with odd names, the land has two suns, there are creatures with extra limbs and the land has a superhero for a guardian, but the people and their culture seems a carbon copy of our own. It could even be argued that this story is more akin to science fiction than fantasy (people seem to have electricity, modern schools are in place, someone owns a light that dissolves dirt). It doesn't seem as if the world itself had been thought out beyond points on a map as opposed to a living land of people and the individual cultures.

In conclusion, The Debt of Nelira could have done with a rewrite or two before being put out to sale, and I would have found it a lot more readable if I had known what kind of story I was following. Still, this may be an exciting read for children, but an an adult reader would find it frustrating.

22 January 2010

A weekend of WAR!

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Slightly off topic, but just to say that I'm away this weekend to a friend's in Chippenham for a Warhammer 40k battle. Not fantasy, I know, but it's in the realm of speculative fiction so I'm covered. I'm normally a Warhammer fantasy player, but most of the people that I know are 40,000 players and so that's the game I end up playing most of the time. It's going to be a huge Apocalypse battle, where we basically use every model we own on the battlefield (for those of you not familiar with Warhammer, go take a look here [link]). It's a very good game, one that I sadly don't get to play that often anymore).

So I'll be out of commission until Monday, but there'll be a fresh (semi) review then. Until next week!

21 January 2010

The Left Hand of God: First Thoughts and art competition from Penguin Books

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I'm getting rather excited about getting my hands on this book. The free preview that I downloaded from iTunes was a great way to hook me in to the story, and I am definitely left wanting more.

For those of you who haven't read the extract yet (or who can't get it from iTunes) the freebie has the first three chapters of The Left Hand of God. The story centres on Thomas Cale, an initiate at a monastery like place called the Sanctuary of Redeemers. His life is one of constant abuse and neglect at the hands of his masters, who are self righteous and overzealous holy men who take children from a young age and 'bring them up' at the Sanctuary of Redeemers. What follows is a life of violence and fear. These introductory chapters show Thomas Cale and two of his friends sneaking through the forbidden areas of the Sanctuary where they discover something very dark and sinister, darker even than their own fears and experiences.

I can't wait to get my hands on this book, from what I've read so far it's going to be a fantastic read. The atmosphere of the Sanctuary is dark and foreboding, and the character of Thomas Cale is a very strange yet wonderfully defiant one.  You'll be hearing more from me about this, I guarantee that!


And now, as promised, a competition! Penguin Books and Don't Panic are hosting an art competition to coincide with the release of The Left hand of God. What you need to do is read the extracts on the Don't Panic website and design some artwork based on what you've read to bring Thomas Cale and his world to life. The first prize is a signed copy of the book, £200 worth of Penguin Books, plus you'll get your work printed with the promotional material for the book. You can get full details about the competition by clicking the banner below.

19 January 2010

Comments on Terry Goodkind's 'The Law of Nines'

This isn't a review, since the book isn't technically fantasy, but that's kind of what I want to talk about. Despite Goodkind insisting that his Sword of Truth series was done and dusted at the end of his novel Confessor, we can see his world, and therefore heavy elements of fantasy. Allow me to elucidate (if you want to read the book and don't want spoilers, please stop reading now).

First of all, the lead character is called Alexander Rahl, (the lead in The Sword of Truth is called Richard Rahl) so from the get go we either assume it's a homage to his own work or that there's a continuation of this series in some way. Also, lead female character is called Jax Amnell (from Kahlan Amnell, the female lead in the Sword of Truth). Any doubts about where the book is going with these links are quickly proven because is turns out that the world that we live in is the world that a number of people were banished to at the end of Confessor.

There are also a number of things that mark Alexander to be more or less the same person that Goodkind wrote in The Sword of Truth, not least of which is his strange ability to suddenly be experienced in whatever he sits down to do; be it fighting, sword play or magic. There are also some elements of the novel which, given the definite link to the world in The Sword of Truth, don't make sense (but to talk about these here will border on a fanboy rant, so I'll stop there).

So, is The Law of Nines a fantasy? It certainly has a lot of elements in it, even if these elements are almost identical to those used in Goodkind's previous works? Should we take it, as Goodkind wants us to, as a paranormal thriller? I don't think we can, and the problem that arises out of this is that those who aren't familiar with Goodkind's previous work i.e. the people his publishers are most likely aiming for (that 'hitting a new corner of the market' schtick) will be a bit confused as to what the hell they've gotten themselves into. On the other side, the people who are familiar with his fantasy work will probably be, like I was, a mixture of excited at the mention of the elements of The Sword of Truth and the reappearance of something you weren't expecting and feel doesn't quire belong.

Don't get me wrong, I love Terry Goodkind's work, and I think his writing and his worlds and his characters are excellent. It's just that this sudden injection of the fantastic into what was given the pretence of a paranormal thriller hit a bit of a sore spot with me (more on this in my next review).

Damn, this ended up almost as long as a review, so I'll end here. By all means go and read The Law of Nines. It's a great read and for the most part you'll enjoy it. Just prepare to be slightly confused and/or disappointed depending on how familiar you are with the author's previous material.

17 January 2010

Read an extract from Paul Hoffman's "The Left Hand of God' on your iPhone

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  I was just browsing through my iPod's App Store and I came across a free extract for The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman (Click the image to take you to the Amazon store). Hoffman is also known the his novel The Wisdom of Crocodiles (also a movie starring Jude Law). I haven't had chance to read the extract yet so the blurb from publisher Penguin Books is at the end of this post.

For a freebie it can't be beat. I wish more fantasy authors did the same thing. You can get it free from the App Store here [link]. You can also download the book in its entirety for £7.99 (or get it for just over a fiver from Amazon).

In other news (not MW related, but I need to vent) I ordered an awesome new laptop, but the courier decided that he didn't want to deliver it to me and instead sent it back to the depot. Now I have no idea if or when I'll actually get the damn thing. I've sent lovely emails of complaint to said courier (City Link) and the website I bought the laptop from (HP) so hopefully there'll be light at the end of that little tunnel. 

The Sanctuary of the Redeemers is a vast and desolate place - a place without joy or hope. Most of its occupants were taken there as boys and for years have endured the brutal regime of the Lord Redeemers whose cruelty and violence have one singular purpose - to serve in the name of the One True Faith.
In one of the Sanctuary's vast and twisting maze of corridors stands a boy. He is perhaps fourteen or fifteen years old - he is not sure and neither is anyone else. He has long-forgotten his real name, but now they call him Thomas Cale. He is strange and secretive, witty and charming, violent and profoundly bloody-minded. He is so used to the cruelty that he seems immune, but soon he will open the wrong door at the wrong time and witness an act so terrible that he will have to leave this place, or die.
His only hope of survival is to escape across the arid Scablands to Memphis, a city the opposite of the Sanctuary in every way: breathtakingly beautiful, infinitely Godless, and deeply corrupt.
But the Redeemers want Cale back at any price… not because of the secret he now knows but because of a much more terrifying secret he does not.

15 January 2010

The 10 Greatest Fantasy Series of All Time

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I have a confession to make: I'm a StumbleUpon addict. For those of you who don't know StumbleUpon (read 'those of you with real social relationships with actual people') you can take a look at it here [link]. On one of my many trawls through the Internet I came across this link:

The 10 Greatest Fantasy Series of All Time

This seems a pretty good list (though 'Of All Time' is a bit much) but I'm sad to say that I've not even touched anything by most of the authors. Pratchett I know well, and I've read through the Harry Potter series. That's as far as it goes. I've flicked through some Tolkien and Robert Jordan, but stopped before I got to anything meaty (and I am ashamed for it). This will at least give me a decent starting point for a reading list for 2010, since there is so much to choose from. I'll most likely start on some Robin Hobb or Robert Jordan, then actually read through Lord of the Rings at some point (so far my greatest achievement is watching all three extended movies back to back).

What do you think? is this list comprehensive? What would you add/change/remove? If there's enough feedback I'd love to repost a new version of this list later on in the year.

Until then...

13 January 2010

The British Fantasy Society 2010 Short Story Competition

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I keep meaning to enter these things and I never do. Maybe 2010 will be the year I finally get off my backside and submit a story to one of these things. In short:

The British Fantasy Society [link] is offering a cash prize for the best three short stories relating to fantasy, science fiction, horror, paranormal romance (*shudder*), any kind of speculative fiction. The word limit is 5,000 words, but beyond that you've got free reign to write whatever you like. The deadline for the competition is May 31st. This will be the 6th year of the competition so far.

The only downside to this is that there's a £5 submission fee (but it's free to enter if you're already a member of the BFS). But I suppose with the chance to get your work published with the British Fantasy Society and get a cash prize (plus this year they're throwing in a year's subscription to the society as well) it's most definitely worth it. So what are you waiting for? Here's the link for the competition details:

British Fantasy Society Short Story Competition 2010

Get writing!

12 January 2010

Avatar: Just a pinch of the fantastic?

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There's been a crazy amount of hype over the past few weeks about James Cameron's Avatar. I managed to get out and see it on New Year's Day (I strong urge you to go watch it in 3D. It's not in your face like almost every other 3D movie out now, it's subtle enough that you feel that it's an actual 3D object). Added to this hype have been claims that Cameron ripped off the idea from Disney's Pocahontas [link].

It's obvious that the movie is a sci-fi. There's a new planet, there's guns, there's space ships etc. However, when the movie shifts to the Na'vi tribe (off-topic: does anyone else get reminded of Link's annoying companion from Ocarina of Time whenever that name is said?) you see just a small glimpse of the fantastic: mysticism, magic and (most importantly) dragons! Granted, a lot of things are explained by the science, but it's good to have just that little hint of fantasy in there, whether the producers were conscious of it or not. If there were to be any kind of spin off material (animations, novels etc.) a focus on the Na'vi would be a great place to start.

8 January 2010

Fading of the Cries 2010 Trailer

Okay, if someone can explain this to me, I'd be very grateful. I've watched this trailer a few times and I can't really understand what the hell the plot is (if there is one...) From what I can gather, there's a guy with some enchanted sword who takes it upon himself to slay a whole town's worth of demonically possessed people. There's also a slimy looking villain who reminds me a lot of Grima Wormtongue from The Lord of the Rings. The film itself looks as if it was directed by a sub par mix of Guillermo del Toro and M. Night Shayalaman (and with homage to the zombie flicks we love so much). I'm not convinced, it looks like a mishmash of things and nothing really coherent stands out. All the demon swordplay makes me think it would make a pretty exciting/mindless video game, but that's about it. Take a look and make up your minds:

Hogfather by Terry Pratchett [book review]

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Hogfather by Terry Pratchett
Published by Corgi
Paperback - 445 pages
Published December 1997
Borrowed copy

Okay, first review of 2010! I managed to read Hogfather before Christmas so I could have a clean slate for 2010 (I'm not reading much in the way of fantasy right now, I've got a ton of work to do, sadly) and so on that note I'll get the ball rolling:

Hogfather is the 20th novel in the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett, and it is a satirical take on British traditions at Christmas (Pratchett is famed for satirising the theme of each book with his distinct British humour). Hogfather follows a number of characters who attempt to save Hogswatch (read: Christmas) after an Assassin is hired to kill the Hogfather (Santa Claus). Enter the Tooth Fairy, bogeymen, wizards and a variety of magical entities including the Verucca Gnome and the Cheer Fairy to add in the funnies for which Pratchett is now world renowned.

It's difficult to review a Pratchett novel. I've been reading through The Discworld novels since The Colour of Magic and I've loved every one of them. What can you say about the only book series that makes you giggle out loud on public transport (without fail, every Pratchett novel I've read this has happened). Add to this that a 3 hour made-for-TV movie of the novel was made in 2006 and I've got a tough task on my hands. I'll give it a go, though.

The dialogue and character interaction in Hogfather is brilliant. The interaction between Susan and the Raven are witty and well executed, and the relationship between Death and his servant Albert is simply brilliant. At the same time, there's a certain level of cynicism and a culturally introspective eye that makes you realise a few certain truths about the holiday season (at least if you're a Brit, I can't vouch for Pratchett readers in other countries).

Pratchett's world is flawless. He knows the ins and outs of every place on the Discworld like his own back garden, and the level of detail within the city of Ankh-Morpork is astounding. Unlike many fantasy cityscapes, Ankh-Morpork feels like a real, living city. He also manages to keep the reader aware of the relationships between vastly different areas so you can easily follow how everything connects together.

That brings me to the master stroke of Pratchett's writing. In Hogfather, like many Discworld novels, Pratchett has the different characters (and there are many) whizzing off in opposite directions for most of the novel, then they all come together towards the end in a way that links up all of their motives and actions from the very beginning. It's coherent, it's immersive, and it's damn funny.

If there has to be a down side to the story (since nothing's perfect) it's that I made the mistake of watching the TV adaptation before reading the book. Although the adaptation did its best to get as much of the novel in as possible, there was a lot cut out and it all had a definite end that people come to expect from TV. Reading the book afterwards meant that I'd gone past that end point and was still reading for quite a bit, and there came a few points where I'd think "this seems like an end to it" and there would be more again. Instead of a big finale, there were a number of small, staggered endings that didn't really seem right.

So to conclude, Hogfather is another brilliant Pratchett novel, one for first timers and veterans of his work (I will say, though, that it's best to start from The Colour of Magic and read them in the order that they were written for a comprehensive view of the Discworld, plus this way you'll understand all the in-jokes that he puts in). If you've watched the TV version already, you may get a little impatient with the novel towards the end, but it's still a fantastic read.

1 January 2010

Happy New Year!

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Happy New Year 2010
Image source: Luke Hayfield Photography
So a new year and a new decade is upon us. if 2000-2009 was called the Noughties, what will they call this decade? The Teens? I hope not. Anyways, just a quick post to wish everyone a very Happy New Year, and I hope you're all plowing through those fantasy novels you had for Christmas! Here's a couple of books I plan to read this year:

The Debt of Nelira by Peter Leonard - This was a short E-Novel I bought back in 2007 that I still haven't read. It's not really available to buy anymore but if you fancy a copy after I've reviewed it I'll get you in touch with the author.

Azarii by Jamie D. Stacey - A first fantasy novel by Swansea author Jamie D. Stacey. There's been some good reviews in the local press so I'm interested to see what it's like.

The Magician's Guild by Trudi Canavan - I've been after this book for a while, I've not read many female fantasy authors and this one looks to be a good one.

That's it for now, at the moment I'm reading Terry Goodkind's Law of Nines (unlike his fantasy series The Sword of Truth, The Law of Nines is a paranormal thriller so I won't be reviewing it here) so hopefully there'll be some more fantasy to review soon after that.

Until then, have a great 2010!!