Title revealed for Sanderson's Stormlight book 2

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Tor.com posted the news for the title of the follow-up to The Way of Kings (my review), Words of Radiance, the second novel in the Stormlight Archive series by Brandon Sanderson. While this information is no big deal, Sanderson didn't simply reveal the title, he also explains why is the book called so and offer some tidbits about the whole series. Here's a glimpse:

One of my goals for the Stormlight Archive, which you may have heard me discuss, is to focus each book on a specific character through a series of flashbacks. In a large series like this (the Stormlight Archive is two five-book sequences), it can be difficult to give each volume its own identity. By devoting a sequence of flashbacks in each book to a specific character, I can better separate the volumes in my mind—and therefore make them more distinctive to readers. 
(By the way, the fact that Book Three will be Szeth’s book and Book Five Dalinar’s should not lead you to relax and take for granted that they will survive until those books. They might indeed; but I decided early on in the plotting that I was fine with having a flashback sequence at any point for a character who had died in a previous book. Just saying...) 
The Way of Kings was Kaladin’s book. He will have a lot to do in Book Two, of course, and you can expect some great sequences within his viewpoint. However, the flashback sequences in Book Two belong to Shallan. In my notes for the series, I had planned for Shallan’s book to be named after the tome she is given at the end of the first novel: The Book of Endless Pages. On Roshar, that is a book of knowledge that can never be completed—because people should always be learning, studying, and adding what they’ve learned to it.

Abercrombie's The Heroes limited art

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Joe presented on his blog the wraparound cover art for the Subterranean Press limited edition of his novel The Heroes.  The illustration is by the hand of the talented Raymond Swanland (who I mentioned in my AFR Top list for best Fantasy cover artists).  The result is brilliant and Joe has the best comment:
I love that moment when I can once again step back and let Raymond Swanland kick your ass.

Game of Thrones season 3 trailer

If  March 31st wasn't already marked on your calendar, here's the reason it should!  Looks amazing!

Forge of Darkness review

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Forge of Darkness is the first novel in a new trilogy by Steven Erikson. The Kharnakas Trilogy is set many years in the past from the events of the Malazan Book of the Fallen at the time when the Tiste were one people and where Anomander Rake didn't wear the burden of his people. The second book in the series, Fall of Light should be out in 2014 and the final book, Walk in Shadows some years later. Erikson is also said to be working on another trilogy catching up with Karsa's storyline.
Now is the time to tell the story of an ancient realm, a tragic tale that sets the stage for all the tales yet to come and all those already told...It's a conflicted time in Kurald Galain, the realm of Darkness, where Mother Dark reigns. But this ancient land was once home to many a power...and even death is not quite eternal. The commoners' great hero, Vatha Urusander, is being promoted by his followers to take Mother Dark's hand in marriage, but her Consort, Lord Draconus, stands in the way of such ambitions. The impending clash sends fissures throughout the realm, and as the rumors of civil war burn through the masses, an ancient power emerges from the long dead seas. Caught in the middle of it all are the First Sons of Darkness, Anomander, Andarist, and Silchas Ruin of the Purake Hold...
For the Malazan Book of the Fallen readers, it would be easy to assume that Erikson's new book would follow the same kind of structure as the gargantuan series.  However, as you can gather by reading Steven Erikson's introduction to the book, it's clearly not what he aimed at.  That doesn't mean that MBotF fans won't enjoy the book but it means that it can't be considered a prequel in the same essence as the series and it clearly doesn't follow the convergence arrangement we are used to see.  Moreover, if you consider the timeline and historical imperfections between this book and the MBotF, it ought to frustrate some scrutinous readers.

Anomander Rake and the whole Tiste race stand among the most interesting characters in the MBotF.  Since he his supposedly 300 000 years old and was present when Mother Dark decided to turn her back on her Tiste Andii children, it was only fitting to give him the origin treatment.  However, that focus on Anomander alone is a misconception, meaning that I probably wasn't the only one to think so but it's The Kharkanas Trilogy and not strictly Anomander's trilogy. His importance isn't questioned, he's just not at the center of the tale, as I was lead to believe.

From the outset, several elements of the book surfaced, leaving a distinctive mark throughout the reading. I could summarize them with "Why so serious?", "A rhetoric feast", "Perspective galore" and "Nice, he's here!".

You might consider one or all of these elements as inherent to the author's previous writing but the dosage is quite different for the first two.  MBotF was grim, emotional and forbidding at its core but it was counter balanced by lighter elements.  You'll find no marines, necromancer duos or contrasting dialogues relating to funny workings of the human mind.  There may be a slight exception with one of the godlike Azathanai, Grizzin Farl but with a civil war looming on the horizon for the Tiste and the schism of their religion, grave times are coming and everyone can feel it. The tone accompanying that is sorrowful but emotional moments are aplenty.

Forge of Darkness is not really the Malazan Silmarillion, but it tries to recount, with a story seen through the eyes of so many protagonist, the genesis but mostly the unfolding of the Tiste races, the warrens, the elder gods, dragon soletakens, Jaghut individuality and more without focusing on any of these particular features. Several quite different introspections take place, occasionally too much of them, but at the end of the day, it's the story of war veterans would can't find purpose in peace and the usual reach for power. Although in this story, we already know that the consequences are world shattering. Lots of fascinating prospects are created for the follow-up with the Azathanai actions and Urusander legion re-establishment.

If you have read Malazan books, the characters and the lore presented in Forge of Darkness will feel satisfying but also troublesome. The pleasure of reading about Draconus, Caladan Brood, Osserc, Spinnock, Malice or Gothos in the time period Erikson put them in is amazing but for quite a few of them, history seem to have twisted their origin. New readers won't mind and Steven said to have keep faith in him.  We will see with the next two books if he's right but simply putting the narration in the hands of poets who have their own interpretation of the events is somewhat perplexing. Anyway, if the tale and characters are compelling, is rectitude really necessary?

If you ask yourself if you should pick up the book, the answer will be simple.  Do you really want to miss on a good plot with action set in a distinct setting where the cast is the cream of the Malazan history and they are jousting for their place in Kurald Galain, reveal secrets and create myths? Certainly not but as is the case with Erikson previous writing, there may be times when the choice of point of view is arguable, philosophical tirades are within the reach of every character and the well-versed prose can be complicated at times. Still,  Forge of Darkness is rich Epic Fantasy, less wide in scope than its predecessor but ambitious, loaded with insightful wit.

Technically, I'm not a fan of the cover art for the the Bantam Press hardcover edition (although the color scheme is nice). Several maps are present, from Kurald Galain to the city of Kharkanas and you can also find a Tiste family tree and a dramatis personae as usual. The hardcover edition stands at 760 pages.

Forge of Darkness review score :

World building
Magic system 

Overall (not an average)


Malazan empire page
Toll the Hounds review

Excerpts, samples, extracts and maps!!!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

You want to get acquainted with the books you're still hesitating to pick up?  You want to get some taste of them before buying them?  Look no further, here's a list of excerpts, samples or extracts from the Fantasy novels currently generating hype or coming soon.  Moreover, here's the maps for A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan.

Fade to Black
by Francis Knight
Chapter one from Orbit
Chapter two from My Bookish Ways

The Daylight War
by Peter V. Brett
Part of chapter four from Tor

River of Stars
by Guy Gabriel Kay
Chapter one from Far Beyond Reality

Trinity Rising
by Elspeth Cooper
Chapter one and two from Tor

Promise of Blood
by Brian McClellan
Chapter one from Brian's The Powder Mage Trilogy Facebook page (you have to 'like it' to read it)

Blood and Bone
by Ian C. Esslemont
Chapter one from Tor

A Natural History of Dragons
by Marie Brennan
Preface and Chapter one from Tor

Maps for A Natural History of Dragons:

The Daylight War review

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Daylight War is the third book in the Demon Cycle series by Peter V. Brett. It hardly needs an introduction, as I'm convinced that this novel was one of the most expected releases of 2013 for many Fantasy readers.  The author still has two more books in mind to finish the story.
On the night of the new moon, the demons rise in force, seeking the deaths of two men both of whom have the potential to become the fabled Deliverer, the man prophesied to reunite the scattered remnants of humanity in a final push to destroy the demon corelings once and for all. 
Arlen Bales was once an ordinary man, but now he has become something more—the Warded Man, tattooed with eldritch wards so powerful they make him a match for any demon. Arlen denies he is the Deliverer at every turn, but the more he tries to be one with the common folk, the more fervently they believe. Many would follow him, but Arlen’s path threatens to lead him to a dark place he alone can travel to, and from which there may be no returning. 
The only one with hope of keeping Arlen in the world of men, or joining him in his descent into the world of demons, is Renna Tanner, a fierce young woman in danger of losing herself to the power of demon magic. 
Ahmann Jardir has forged the warlike desert tribes of Krasia into a demon-killing army and proclaimed himself Shar’Dama Ka, the Deliverer. He carries ancient weapons—a spear and a crown—that give credence to his claim, and already vast swaths of the green lands bow to his control. 
But Jardir did not come to power on his own. His rise was engineered by his First Wife, Inevera, a cunning and powerful priestess whose formidable demon bone magic gives her the ability to glimpse the future. Inevera’s motives and past are shrouded in mystery, and even Jardir does not entirely trust her. 
Once Arlen and Jardir were as close as brothers. Now they are the bitterest of rivals. As humanity’s enemies rise, the only two men capable of defeating them are divided against each other by the most deadly demons of all—those lurking in the human heart.
In The Desert Spear, we were witness to the back-story of Jardir.  It covered almost the first half of the book and created a significant dichotomy in tone, pace and perspective.  In The Daylight War, the same kind of pattern is used.  This time, it's Jardir's wife, Inevera, who gets the spotlight from her young days as a basket weaver to the head of the Krasian matriarchy.  The Shar'Dama Ka's first wife earlier days are insightful, they give us yet another perspective of the Krasian society, but for several parts of it, it's the third time we hear about the same account.  Variation on the same theme has its limits and its cost even if Inevera is now a more elaborate protagonist.

In some measure, for the third book, that return to the past isn't the longest part of the story and the switch to present day is less sharp.  The complete main cast eventually get the center stage and the story evolves slowly but steadily toward the next waning since the last attack from coreling princes. Most of the time is spent on preparing the defenses for the dreaded coreling invasion while some events lead to a sizing up of the enemy armies for the Daylight War as the Krasian put it. However, I'm not sure why the author kept The Daylight War title for the book, aside from the return ride of the Hollow representatives from Everam's Bounty and the plans being elaborated for the next target for Jardir's army, the focus is more on Sharak Ka, the First War with the demonkind.

My feelings toward some characters changed in The Daylight War.  Rojer finally woke up and stopped being the unsuccessful boy with complexes focusing on his failures, about time. His storyline starts with a bang and he rides on it throughout the book, creating an arc with an interesting blend of humor and gravity. On the other hand, it's now Leesha who's becoming kind of annoying.  After Jardir's account in The Desert Spear, she and Abban became the most compelling characters.  However, her frustration, her insecurity and mostly the way she deals with those felt somewhat wrong.  Maybe I misjudged her character before.

With the narrative concentrated around the two would-be Deliverers, gone are the 'good old tales of farmer wives'.  Finally, Renna is now an active member of the cast without all the disturbed family bickering and unhealthy behavior.  She ought to be the character needed to confront Arlen and falls just short of doing it. However, alongside Rojer and Leesha decisions, she creates an interesting situation in term of love affairs.  Things couldn't be more complicated now and the time spent on each relationship as they clash together while the world is at the mercy of monsters or global warfare is intriguing enough.  Humans will always be humans.

In my review of The Desert Spear, I mentioned: "With both the deliverers getting stronger and stronger with the help of all those new wards, they ought to have more terrific foes to fight, and they have. I would have hoped to have a glimpse of them earlier but they send a signal that a glorious challenge is coming.".  In The Daylight War, the two heroes are now at the top of their game, their powers transcending the balance that ought to be present if we want to continue to believe in their struggle.  The corelings may try new tricks and offer a substantial challenge for a time, in the end, both Deliverers deals with them with too much ease. It was hard to believe in their possible demise.

While choreographic combats between good and evil or men and coreling if you prefer are still present, I think that the real battle now is between the ego, personality, tactic, friendship and resolve defining the two men.  The duality between their realities and the way they face the same kind of predicament is the core element driving the whole tale forward and keeping it captivating.  Sadly, for both of them, the point of view they deserve is seldom used.

Warding is now a natural element of the world Brett created. With the insights from the princes, even the corelings don't sound so much out of this world. The variety of drones now found in the book is testament enough of the author's work on his particular species of demon.  Combine all this with the rich society of the Krasians, which more than ever feels unique, not simply an imaginative substitute of the Muslim world and you get a nice accomplishment in term of world building.  The cohesion the author achieves in this third book is a palpable amelioration from The Warded Man.

The Daylight War still has a bridging/middle novel feel but that's not an absolute problem when I think about the evolution of the meta story. Parts of it could be considered as an unnecessary stretch, the result of switching from a trilogy to a longer series. By the way, the conclusion feels rushed but I can only applause the cliffhanger ending. There you have it. I think that Brett's latest book is probably his best work so far, showing good writing skills but still not without diverse lacks that can be improved in the future.  However, if the previous novels in the series didn't charm you, this book won't do much to make you care more.  All things considered, I still gave the book the same score as Brett previous novels.

Technically, I love the cover with Inevera casting the dices, the work of the talented Larry Rostant. The Del Rey hardcover edition of the novel stands at 768 pages, a simple map is included and a useful Krasian Dictionary is present for reference at the end of the book.

The Daylight War
 review score :

World building
Magic system 

Overall (not an average)


Peter V. Brett page
The Warded Man review
The Desert Spear review

New poll - Genre mixing

Monday, February 11, 2013

The last poll was a slightly more personal when I asked you which series you would like me to finish/review. As I try to do every year, in 2013, I will read some books from the past and not just the new releases.  I offered you several choices from the series I had already started and two of them stood out from the crowd:

The Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson (I still have to read the final volume)
The Twilight Reign by Tom Lloyd (I have only read book one so far)
The Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks (still one to go)

I will still try to finish all the series I included in the poll, the those three will be at the top of my list.


My next poll will return to my favorite subject matter, the definition of the Fantasy reader, the exploration of his preferences.  This time, let's talk about some genre mixing!

As a basis, let's assume that the Fantasy genre I will be talking about is Epic Fantasy and its usual sub-genre acolytes.  So we're talking about Epic, High, Heroic, Traditional or even Sword and Sorcery.  The Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Moorcock and friends evolution of the Fantasy fiction branch, the genre usually set in a medieval culture and society, be it in another world or a parallel universe to ours.

There are still many authors who choose to write in a specific genre but we are seeing more and more genre mixing.  The Fantasy writers seem to impose themselves less limitation or are simply doing it naturally. Creativity is at the heart of it, so why should anyone limit himself when you can create new combinations full of potential. The end result may be the formation of even more new sub-sub-sub genre of Speculative fiction but I feel that this genre mixing is an interesting opportunity for authors to create really original pieces.

Joe Abercrombie mixed the Western with his Fantasy setting. Steampunk elements found their way into books like Farlander by Col Buchanan or The Last Page by Anthony Huso (this one is probably more steampunk that epic...).  Richard Morgan and R. Scott Bakker included some Sci-fi elements in their series like the aliens from other worlds. Crime noir is infused into Mark Charan Newton's Legends of the Red Sun series. Steven Erikson and Glen Cook series could be labelled as Epic-Military Fantasy. Alex Bledsoe mixed mystery and sword and sorcery with his Eddie LaCrosse books.

The list could go on and on.  Some genre could be better natural fit than others but it's the end result that counts.  Even if all that genre and sub-genre classification may be an abstraction that doesn't deserve such a big fuss, for the sake of the discussion, let's pretend it has more meaning than helping us choose the books we want to read.

Which genre creates the best mix with Epic Fantasy?

Dark Fantasy
Military Fantasy
Crime (noir)

Red Country review

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Red Country is the third stand-alone novel by Joe Abercrombie, all of them set in the same world as his First Law trilogy but some years later. It should be the last one before a new trilogy, of which the details are scarce.  It was released in October 2012.
They burned her home.
They stole her brother and sister.
But vengeance is following. 
Shy South hoped to bury her bloody past and ride away smiling, but she'll have to sharpen up some bad old ways to get her family back, and she's not a woman to flinch from what needs doing. She sets off in pursuit with only a pair of oxen and her cowardly old step father Lamb for company. But it turns out Lamb's buried a bloody past of his own. And out in the lawless Far Country the past never stays buried. 
Their journey will take them across the barren plains to a frontier town gripped by gold fever, through feud, duel and massacre, high into the unmapped mountains to a reckoning with the Ghosts. Even worse, it will force them into alliance with Nicomo Cosca, infamous soldier of fortune, and his feckless lawyer Temple, two men no one should ever have to trust . . .
Westerns. They are the portrayal of a time when everything seemed to be possible, to reach for new opportunities in a harsh new land full of pioneers.  Gold digging, colonization, fame or hunting and preaching the savages.  They also represent a specific period in the American history where morality was questionable and the open plain unforgiving.  However, what we like in them is certainly not simply the setting but the opportunities, the solitary heroism and the conflicts it creates for uncommon folks to tackle.  That's what Mr. Abercrombie is wrapping this new story around.  And when Westerns are concerned, grit is usually about... what a perfect fit for the author!

The setting/worldbuilding conceived for Red Country by Joe is amazing.  Mostly so because at times, while I was skimming through the pages, I imagined the classic main road with the wooden boardwalk of a small town with the cowboys standing on their steads, women on a balcony with a plunging neckline, the dusty plains and the native menace to white man.  I almost imagined that the heroes didn't have swords but guns.  Putting that into perspective with the world the author has already created and in which he incorporated a region fit for the genre, even if he pushed the idea too far in small occurrences by using many clichés, I would say that the feat wasn't easy but it was masterfully accomplished.

The long wandering of colonists is also at the heart of the book but it creates a sluggish motion in term of pace.  The story is slow to pick up and seems to struggle to find the right rhythm but it's dead on in several scenes, when action is involved or when protagonists have discussions requiring biting remarks. However, with everything set in place, the characters step into play and the multiple switches of point of view makes the book a crowded place but full of interesting voices.  They come in new flavors and with several good old returnees, as we are now accustomed to see from Joe with his previous stand-alone.

From the well-known crowd, a favorite of everyone is reappearing at long last (I don't think I need to name him...) as Lamb,  the famed soldier of fortune Nicomo Cosca is back in force and good old Shivers adds his grain of salt. The return of this drunkard mercenary leader of dubious conscience and honor is a blessing for the book, both because of the deeper character development he gets and the black humor tone he surrounds himself with. We see him in a new light, a true incarnation of Joe's writing style as he roams the land in search of rebels.  As for the protagonist we were all waiting for, at first, it was a deception to see that I cared less about his new-found life but in the end, his choices became legitimate and the prospect of his past came back to make him act, to the benefit of us readers. We should always trust Joe!

As for the new crowd, above all, we discover Shy and Temple, the characters at the heart of the story­. Shy is an ex thief who now has people to look for, her brother and sister, who by being kidnapped, trigger the run around the Far Country, Lamb in tow.  The dedicated girl will soon meet with Temple, Cosca's lawyer who has been a Jack-Of-All-Trades for most of his life and is trying to find his own way for the first time.  He comes as a comic relief at times but his point of view and lack of backbone in this business is quite refreshing, clashing with Shy's resourcefulness.  They both bring something fresh to this dark tale.

With everything I have said so far, you must think that Red Country is simply amazing.  Well, there was something that nagged at me throughout the book and it's casting a bit of a shadow on the book.  I didn't feel that the purpose of the main protagonist Shy and her entourage is one of huge interest.  You might say that the journey one takes is more important than the destination but that destination ought to have a compelling aspect whatsoever.  Moreover, at the end of the road of the Red Country, we find people who are not really developed, the Dragon People (neither are the ghosts, the native equivalent). This was a surprise for me coming from Abercrombie.

There is enough struggles, mischief and opportunism between the different factions to get over that fact but it doesn't feel like a story written with a decisive plan in mind. It seems to flow with the situation, to discover itself.  Hopefully, there's still a significant dose of the author's trademark to keep the novel a thrilling reading experience.  There's less gore than usual (not that it matters that much) but witty talk, engrossing characters and even more importantly, a vivid, cunning and stunning writing style keeps it all together.

Joe Abercrombie is a seasoned writer acquainted with greatness and even if Red Country is still a very good book, I don't think it's Joe's best.  The book will still be a blast for any fan and I think that it can be read alone (but you'll miss on the cameos/returning cast).

Technically, Red Country's cover was my favorite of 2012.  The covers of Abercrombie's three last books with maps on the background, weapons and some blood always charm me. That awesome map can be found in the book and at my index. The quotes at the start of each section are still present and the Gollancz paperback edition of the book stands at 451 pages.

Red Country review score :

Characterization............. 9 /10
World building............... 9.5 / 10
Magic system................. 7.5 /10
Story.............................. 8/ 10
Writing........................... 9 / 10

Overall (not an average) 8.5 / 10


Joe Abercrombie page
Best Served Cold review
The Heroes review

''Are the Worms Really Big?'' by Robert V.S. Redick

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Robert V.S. Redick, author of The Chathrand Voyage Quartet contacted me recently with an idea for a guest post/essay on the art and challenge of making the fantastic believable.  I found the idea more than interesting and today I share it with you.


Are the Worms Really Big?
Creating a Texture of Belief in the Fantastic
by Robert V.S. Redick

Why yes; they are big, rather. But then, even people who haven’t read Dune know that much. Here’s a better question: how on earth did Frank Herbert ever make us believe in his giant sandworms, these most improbable of monsters, to begin with?

A confession, first: on beginning this essay, I found to my shock that the worm/size question never directly appears in Dune. The line I half-recalled is, “Are the guild ships really big?” (Yes, they are). It’s a question young Paul Atriedes asks in the opening chapters of the book. There are others: “Why don’t they have weather control?”, “Have you ever seen the Fremen?”, “How did you trick my mother into leaving me alone with you?”, “Did my father send you up to test me?”, “What’s in the box?”, “What’s a gom jabbar?”, “Why are we walking into this?”

And on and on. The ratio of questions to total sentences in the first ten percent of Dune is roughly on par with Green Eggs and Ham. And not without reason: Paul is only crudely informed about the fascinating hell into which his family is about to plunge. As such, he’s a great vehicle for the reader’s own foray into Arrakis. He wants to know. His very survival depends on knowing. And he has a gift that brings him glimpses of the world he will inherit: glimpses  precisely engineered to spur our own interest along.

But about the most famous single feature of the novel, his question is strangely offhand:
"And the worms?" Paul asked. 
"I'd like to study more about the sandworms." 
"Ah-h-h-h, to be sure. I've a filmbook on a small specimen, only one hundred and ten meters long  and twenty-two meters in diameter. It was taken in the northern latitudes. Worms of more than four hundred meters in length have been recorded by reliable witnesses, and there's reason to believe even larger ones exist."
It’s a curious scene--because for once, Paul doesn’t show much curiosity. Indeed he pays little attention to his interlocutor, Dr Yueh (Herbert has more than one reason for that), and Yueh, for his part, is the most pedantic of the six elders who whirl about our hero in the course of some forty pages.

What’s going on? Is Paul a clod? Why isn’t he leaping up and down, all but out of his mind at the thought of going to a world where carnivores four hundred meters long rule over a sea of sand?

A major reason is because it wouldn’t help us believe. In fact, any “Wow, Geeze, OMFG” behavior would likely do the opposite, and fix our attention on the improbability of such an animal. And that would be narrative poison. We need, rather, any help the author can give us to suspend our disbelief. And Herbert delivers, by quietly transmitting the cold fact (four hundred meters) and moving us immediately on.

The same tactic occurs again and again: brief, glancing mention of the monsters, a determined withholding:
They say you can’t drill in the desert--storms and sandtides destroy equipment faster than it can be installed, if the worms don’t get you first.

So many new things to learn about. The spice. And the sandworms. 
“Ah-h, the worms,” the Duke said. “I must see one sometime.”
As it happens, the Duke sees one in a matter of hours after expressing that wish--and so, for the first time does Paul:
The wormsign had broken off…and now there appeared to be turbulence in the sand around the factory…. Flecks of dust shadowed the sand around the crawler. The big machine began to tip down and to the right. A gigantic sand whirlpool began forming there to the right of the crawler. Sand and dust now filled the air for hundreds of meters around. 
Then he saw it! 
A wide hole emerged from the sand. Sunlight flashed from glistening white spokes within it. The hole’s diameter was at least twice the length of the crawler, Paul estimated. He watched as the machine slid into the opening in a billow of dust and sand. The hole pulled back.
I’m not here to comment on Herbert’s prose style, or his fondness for exclamation points. But notice than even now, the veil on the beast is but partly lifted. The worm’s just swallowed a machine the size of a castle: we see what it can do, but we barely see it.

And how much better this way. Herbert not only sneaks up on us with his great, grotesque monster, but leaves much of the canvas blank, for our mind’s eye to fill. The terrors with which we fill those gaps nearly always enhance the experience. As readers, we are participants dreamers, guided rather than controlled by the author’s spell.

But back to selling the impossible. Here’s good old Gandalf, at ease in the Shire on a quiet morning, setting the stage for the looming apocalypse that will shape the Trilogy:
But last night I told you of Sauron the Great, the Dark Lord.

Did you, now? And where were we? Why in God’s name wasn’t that included in the text, alongside Bilbo’s birthday antics?

Because once again, we’re in the realm of the ultra-fantastic, the extreme supernatural. And with this dexterous maneuver, Tolkien helps us believe by suggesting that we already know. Gandalf continues:
The rumors you have heard are true: he has indeed arisen again and left his hold in Mirkwood...
What rumors? Oh yes, um, those rumors. The ones “we’ve heard,” which are nowhere in the text. Of course.
…and returned to his ancient fastness in the Dark Tower of Mordor. That name even you hobbits have heard of, like a shadow on the border of old stories.
You see? (Tolkien tells us). You know about Mordor already: it’s the nightmare place you’ve always been afraid of. The very question of its reality is sidestepped: we are already afraid that The Worst Place Imaginable is about reach out and lay its withering hand on Hobbiton.

Remember Orwell? “You know what’s in Room 101, Winston. Everyone knows what’s in Room 101.”

Herbert aids us with the utmost generosity. By the time a sandworm looms in plain sight over Paul and Jessica (blind, thrashing, drowning them in the reek of spice), we have long since subscribed to their reality.

In The Chathrand Voyage Quartet, the epic fantasy series that concludes February 5 with The Night of the Swarm, I try to practice what I’ve just been preaching. My world of Alifros fairly overflows with the strange—miniature warriors in the holds of ships, demi-spirits in the clouds, giant evangelical rats beneath a nation’s capital. But I rarely just hurl these grotesques into a scene. Rumor precedes them, and sounds, and other traces of their reality. Above all the effect of their reality on everyday people precedes them.

The horrid rats, for example, are mutation of woken animals: relatively unassuming creatures afflicted by acquired intelligence. By the time the rat plague erupts, we’ve had a gradual, 500-page induction into the reality of woken animals. We know them. We’re ready to believe in their hideous cousins. Even then, we hear them long before they take the stage. When the fatal moment comes, they attack in total darkness, and the old man trapped with them underground must glean their nature from other clues:
The wriggling stopped, and he heard a creature scrabbling from the pit. His hand groped for the axe-shaped stone. But where had he left it? By the kiln, Rin spare him, he’d dropped his weapon by the kiln!  
“Penny for a colonel’s widow?” 
The creature loped into the room. From the sound of its breath Isiq pictured an animal roughly the size of a sheepdog. Every few yards it would stop talking and take a sharp, deliberate sniff. Isiq raised the metal tray and held his breath. 
From the pit came a sudden crescendo of digging, and a muted sound, as of many voices shouting behind an earthen wall. Isiq heard the creature paw at the locked door of the chamber.  
“Penny for a colonel’s—” 
The creature broke off, snuffling again. Then it gave an ear-splitting caterwaul and lunged straight at him.
When we write of the overly familiar (taxes, teachers, office politics, a surly spouse), our job is often to make them less familiar: to find the colors and the meaning that’s been lost to overexposure. When we write of the fantastic, our job is to help it become irresistibly real. Naturalistic, photo-realistic description is one path to doing so, but it is not a safe or sufficient path. Indeed it often backfires, precisely because the reader has not been aided in her desire to believe in the spectacle.

Readers need so much more than sharp images. We need to be seduced into accepting them, we need help to sink, unsuspecting, into their world. Call it a texture of belief, if you like. It’s what the committed fantasist struggles to create on every page.

Robert V.S. Redick’s naval-epic fantasy series The Chathrand Voyage begins with The Red Wolf Conspiracy and concludes February 5 with The Night of the Swarm. A former international development worker, he lives in Western Massachusetts. 

Robert V.S. Redick page

Maps you say?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Back in 2009 when I started the blog, I created an index for the Fantasy maps of the books I was reading, mostly to have them in easy reach when I wanted to consult them. Eventually, I found out that this index was more popular than I anticipated.  When I posted a poll about maps, eight out of ten of the respondents answered with a yes.

I never claimed that the index would ever be complete but judging by the recent wave of interest in my map index, it seems that I can put more time into it and make it more thorough.  Saladin Ahmed and Blake Charlton twitted about the index, Aidan at A Dribble of Ink posted an aside about it, Tor linked it on Facebook and io9 talked about it with a "This is awesome" label.

So, even if some comments were a bit dubious (the 'no female authors'... which is just a happenstance, not voluntary... and the incompleteness of it...), I will take some of them into consideration and I will add more maps to the index, including the various list of female authors that io9 user falseprophecy offered.  I will keep you updated as I always do when I discover new maps of interest.

If you doubt my love of them, here's what I'm looking at when I write a post:

If you have some suggestions feel free to speak up!

February releases

Sunday, February 3, 2013

February is bringing us one of the biggest release of the year, Peter V. Brett third book which I'm currently reading, and one of the most anticipated (in the blogosphere) Fantasy debut of the year in the form Francis Knight first book.  Should be interesting.

In the US, The Night of the Swarm (The Chathrand Voyage book 4) by Robert V.S. Redick will be released on February 5th and Trinity Rising (Wild Hunt book 2) by Elspeth Cooper will be out on February 25th.


A Natural History of Dragons
Marie Brennan
February 5

You, dear reader, continue at your own risk. It is not for the faint of heart—no more so than the study of dragons itself. But such study offers rewards beyond compare: to stand in a dragon’s presence, even for the briefest of moments—even at the risk of one’s life—is a delight that, once experienced, can never be forgotten. . . .
All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, know Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. She is the remarkable woman who brought the study of dragons out of the misty shadows of myth and misunderstanding into the clear light of modern science. But before she became the illustrious figure we know today, there was a bookish young woman whose passion for learning, natural history, and, yes, dragons defied the stifling conventions of her day.

Here at last, in her own words, is the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, her prospects, and her fragile flesh and bone to satisfy her scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love and happiness despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the perilous mountains of Vystrana, where she made the first of many historic discoveries that would change the world forever.


The Daylight War
Demon Cycle book 3
Peter V. Brett
February 12
On the night of the new moon, the demons rise in force, seeking the deaths of two men both of whom have the potential to become the fabled Deliverer, the man prophesied to reunite the scattered remnants of humanity in a final push to destroy the demon corelings once and for all. 
Arlen Bales was once an ordinary man, but now he has become something more—the Warded Man, tattooed with eldritch wards so powerful they make him a match for any demon. Arlen denies he is the Deliverer at every turn, but the more he tries to be one with the common folk, the more fervently they believe. Many would follow him, but Arlen’s path threatens to lead him to a dark place he alone can travel to, and from which there may be no returning. 
The only one with hope of keeping Arlen in the world of men, or joining him in his descent into the world of demons, is Renna Tanner, a fierce young woman in danger of losing herself to the power of demon magic. 
Ahmann Jardir has forged the warlike desert tribes of Krasia into a demon-killing army and proclaimed himself Shar’Dama Ka, the Deliverer. He carries ancient weapons—a spear and a crown—that give credence to his claim, and already vast swaths of the green lands bow to his control. 
But Jardir did not come to power on his own. His rise was engineered by his First Wife, Inevera, a cunning and powerful priestess whose formidable demon bone magic gives her the ability to glimpse the future. Inevera’s motives and past are shrouded in mystery, and even Jardir does not entirely trust her. 
Once Arlen and Jardir were as close as brothers. Now they are the bitterest of rivals. As humanity’s enemies rise, the only two men capable of defeating them are divided against each other by the most deadly demons of all—those lurking in the human heart.


Fade to Black
Rojan Dizon book 1
Francis Knight
February 26
Mahala: a city built in the dark depths of a valley. A city built up in layers, not across – where streets are built upon streets, buildings balance precariously upon buildings. A city that the Ministry rules from its lofty perch at the sunlit summit & where the forsaken lurk in the shadowy depths of the Pit. 
Rojan is a bounty hunter trying to make his way in the city. Everyone knows he’s a womaniser, a shirker of all responsibility, but they don’t know he’s also a pain-mage: able to draw magic from his own & other people’s pain. He’s not keen on using it (not least because it’s outlawed), but when his niece is abducted and taken to the dark depths of the Pit, he may just be forced to unleash his power...

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