Friday, 23 September 2016

Book Expo Australia - 8th - 9th October

Hey Everyone! 

The Book Expo Australia is coming up, and I thought I bring everyone up to speed regarding my schedule and appearances at it. 

For those of you who don't know the expo will be held at Rosehill Showgrounds on the 8th and 9th of October, and each day will be packed with panels, events, and plenty of author signings and appearances. 

I've heard a lot of good things about the expo, so I am absolutely delighted to be participating in it this year both as a guest and a master of ceremonies. 

As it stands my schedule is as follows:

Saturday 8th October: 

10:30 - 11:30

Confronting Issues - Authors who have written about death, murder, suicide and grief. Guests include Kaaron Warren, John Larkin, and Amanda Howard. Hosted by Matthew Summers. (Venue to be announced) 

11:30 - 12:30 

Evil is a Matter of Perspective - Authors and editors will debate that antagonists are only evil from one perspective. Take another angle and they aren't so evil after all. Come along and offer points of view and ask questions to add to the debate. Guests include Adrian Collins from Grimdark Magazine, award winning authors Lee Murray and Kaaron Warren, and yours truly! (Venue to be announced) 

Sunday 9th October:

11:00 - 11:30 

The Art of Being a Good Reviewer - While the number of book bloggers flourish their success is still dominated by the quality of the review. A good review will gain attention of the publisher and may be quoted on the book and during the publicity campaign. What makes a good review? Should you post a bad review? Should you stick to one genre or read widely? Hosted by Simon and Schuster's Anable Pandiella. (Venue to be announced) 

12:30 - 13:30 

Better Reads? Anthology Collection vs Collaborative Writing

What book makes the better read? An anthology collection of short stories or story written by a collaboration of a number of authors? Would the different style and tone of the anthology be interesting or would you enjoy the changing tone and pace of the collaborative piece? A debate featuring authors from the Refuge Collection and Northern Beaches Writing Group. Come along and hear Lee Murray, Kaaron Warren, Steve Dillon, Zena Shapter, Chris Lake, Tony McFadden and Kylie Pfeiffer debate the different methods of producing and readable book. 

Moderated by Matthew Summers. (Venue to be announced) 

I will by lurking about the show ground when I'm not at these events. You'll probably find me mostly around the Cohesion Press exhibitor stand, buying books and helping out if need be. Swing by and buy some of the amazing Cohesion titles on offer (Fathomless by Greig Beck, Primordial by David Wood and Alan Baxter, SNAFU anthologies and so much more). I'll also be on the look out for Lee... as we battle for a coveted ARC copy of Greig Beck's Fathomless. I've heard she cheats... so I will have stay frosty and ready to make a dive for the pile at the stand before she does. Don't be alarmed if you see two grown adults tangling over a book! 

So yeah, make sure you get along to the Expo. It will be a great event filled to the brim with amazing events and discussion. To sweeten the deal I'm chuffed to be able to offer you a discount on tickets. Simply go here and enter the coupon code EBTickets (use both upper and lower case) when making your purchases. 

I hope to see you all there! 

Excerpt - Red Tide by Marc Turner.

Hello Everyone!

I'm delighted to be able to bring you this exclusive excerpt from the Marc Turner's upcoming book Red Tide. If you haven't read any of Marc's books you're missing out. They combine the wide breadth and scope of epic fantasy with scintillating and swashbuckling action more reminiscent of pulpy sword and sorcery stories. 

I love them, and I suspect you will too. Read on for Marc's introduction to this scene, and then dive on into to the action itself!

Excerpt - 

Much of Red Tide is set in a place called the Rubyholt Isles, a shattered nation of pirate-infested islands and treacherous waterways. In the following passage, one of the protagonists of the book, Galantas, is fleeing in a boat from a ship commanded by a race of people called the Augerans (also known as the stone-skins). With the enemy closing fast, Galantas seeks to escape by sailing through a notorious waterway called the Dragon’s Boneyard. Here is the beginning of the scene.

The channel had now narrowed to the length of three ships. In the water ahead were threads of what appeared to be fireweed, but Galantas knew them to be the strands of a vast underwater web spun by the creature that dwelled there—the Weaver, it had come to be called, after the spiders of the same name that infested Bezzle’s underground aqueduct. 

Its lair was at the foot of the southern heights, so Barnick steered the boat toward the cliff on the north side. As he did so, he let the wave beneath the craft recede. The slower pace would allow the stone-skins to get closer, but it would also reduce the Islanders’ chances of catching the Weaver’s eye.

The water seemed unnaturally still. Beneath the surface, Galantas could make out two towers that might once have guarded a road between the cliffs. To the west, the skeletons of four more dragons jutted from the water, while at the base of the southern bluff was a patch of shimmering blackness that marked the portal between this world and whatever hellhole the Weaver called home. 

As the boat drew level, Galantas held his breath. These were the critical moments, he knew. If the beast remained in its lair until the stone-skins arrived, its attention would surely be drawn to the larger ship.

Assuming it wasn’t already lying in wait somewhere ahead.

Time crawled. The channel was in shadow, and the air had an unmistakable chill to it. Qinta frowned at a flock of starbeaks overhead, but when he opened his mouth to explain the birds’ import, Galantas forestalled him with a raised finger. The boat crept forward. In keeping close to the northern cliffs, Barnick was forced to take the craft through the partly submerged rib cage of one of the dragons. Each bone was as thick as the trunk of a ketar tree. The boat was traveling toward the head of the creature, and as it cleared the chest cavity, Galantas glanced down to locate the beast’s skull in the water.

Only to find it was missing, the bones of the neck bitten through.

Suppressing a shudder, he looked back the way they had come. The Augerans were still following, but the wave of water-magic under their vessel had subsided just as Barnick’s had. They couldn’t know what awaited them in the channel, yet the warning in the dragons’ bones was clear. One set would have been a curiosity, two, a coincidence. Five, though . . .

The Augerans’ caution was understandable, but it stood to play into Galantas’s hands, because the lower their ship rode in the water, the greater the chance that their keel would tangle in the Weaver’s threads.

Nearly there.

“Galantas!” Qinta said, pointing toward the rent.

Something moved in the darkness, spreading through the water like a bruise. Coming for Galantas’s boat? The stone-skins couldn’t be the Weaver’s target because their ship hadn’t yet entered the strait. Nor was that likely to change if they had seen the creature too.

Time to be going.

“Barnick!” Galantas yelled. “Go, go, go!”

You can buy Red Tide online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble and at all other good book retailers. Be sure to check out Marc's other books in this series as well, and stay abreast of all his news by checking out his website. He is, as Starburst Magazine said, one of the best newcomers in fantasy right now. 

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Marc Turner was born in Toronto, Canada, but grew up in England. He graduated from Lincoln College, Oxford University, in 1996 with a BA (Hons) in law, and subsequently joined a top ten law firm in the City of London. After realising that working there did not mix well with simple pleasures such as having a life, he fled north first to Leeds and then to Durham in search of a better work-life balance. Unfortunately it proved elusive, and so in 2007, rather than take the next step and move to Scotland, he began working part time so he could devote more time to his writing. Following the sale of his debut epic fantasy novel, When the Heavens Fall, he started writing full time.

Why writing? Because it is the only work he knows where daydreaming isn't frowned upon, and because he has learned from bitter experience that he cannot not write.

The authors whose work has most influenced him are Steven Erikson and Joe Abercrombie. Consequently he writes fast-paced, multi-threaded novels with a liberal sprinkling of humour; novels written on a panoramic scale, peopled by characters that stay in the memory. Or at least that's the theory.

He lives in Durham, England, with his wife and son.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Review - Tallwood by Amanda Kool

One of the greatest pleasures I have in life is when, as a reader, I discover someone new who blows me away. It doesn't happen all that often, but when it does it is truly an exciting and exhilarating.

 When I stumbled upon Tallwood I was intrigued. I love post apocalyptic fiction, and the blurb on the back of the back sounded like it would be something that I would enjoy. The added bonus was that Amanda Kool, its author, was a fellow Australian like me. So as I sat down that afternoon to start reading it questions floated into my head. Would the world collapse in a blaze of nuclear fire? Or would zombies rise up and destroy humanity and all that we hold dear? Little did I know that I was about to start a book that would not only surprise me, but also floor me with its imagination and creativity. 

Tallwood tells the story of the end of the world. A mysterious event destroys humanity over a period of a fortnight, and the survivors flee underground. Over generations those survivors evolve and adapt to their new circumstances, as they stay hidden from the other worldly beings (I won't spoil things for you, but they aren't aliens) who prowl on the surface. Now one of their underground cities faces a new threat from within, and in order to survive they must do what they have been taught not to do for generations. Go back up the surface. 

I loved everything about Tallwood. Kool has not only constructed a story of epic proportions, she has taken everything I adore about post apocalyptic fiction and made it better! The world building is, to put it bluntly, superb. I was enthralled by the quiet world Kool built in Tallwood, with the permeating silence and minimal use of prose (most of the dwellers underground use sign language) really underlining the chilling and alien tone that dominates the book. This unobtrusive world, where humanity does it utmost to stay hidden and silent, really made those moments where the shit hits the fan all the more jarring and thrilling, and had me on edge of my seat as I read. I also adored how each underground enclave felt unique and had its own identity, and the new culture that had developed underground over generations was interesting and very well thought out. The surface was also as I imagined it would be. Dangerous and riddled with looming threats, the constantly changing relationship between the two environments really added a captivating layer to an already enthralling universe  

The characterisation was also impressive throughout Tallwood. I loved all of the protagonists in this book, and I was constantly amazed by Kool's ability to depict layered and complex individuals with little or no dialogue at all. Gestures, facial expressions, and other non-verbal means of communication become extremely important in a story where any dialogue can bring in death, and Kool does a magnificent job making each individual unique and fascinating to the reader. All of the humans felt realistic and normal, and I immediately felt a bond with them as they tried to survive and eek out an existence in a constantly dangerous environment. Tallwood is not a coming of age story (as a lot of post apocalyptic stories are), with Kool focusing on a cast of individuals whose paths all cross over as the story unfolds. Where Kool really hits a home run however is with her depiction of the 'Johns', those other worldly beings on the surface. The 'Johns' are malevolent (well, for the most part), creepy, and incredibly dangerous. I adored her depiction of Jared, a 'John' who struggles with being part man and part monster. Jared's alienation from both humanity and the other 'Johns' was an interesting dynamic that really left me wanting to know more and more about him as the story raced to its conclusion. 

Another impressive aspect of Tallwood was its pacing. After a strange start, where the reader needs to persevere in order to find their feet, the book really takes off and sucks you into its quiet strangeness. Some readers have found Tallwood a little dense in parts, but I never felt this as the book seamlessly ran its course and unfolded with a conclusion that was both satisfying and open ended (I hope Kool writes a sequel). In fact, if I had one small criticism it would be that at times I would have liked a little more detail and description at times. 

Tallwood is one of the most unique books I've ever read. It is also one of the best post apocalyptic stories I've come across in recent years. Combining a strange and incredibly enchanting universe with authentic and exciting characterisation and action, Tallwood is storytelling at its absolute finest. A must read for fans of speculative fiction everywhere!

5 out of 5 stars.  

Friday, 2 September 2016

Review - Cthulhu: Deep Down Under ed. by Steve Proposch, Christopher Sequeira, and Bryce Stevens.

Australia. 

The lucky country.

Land of the Southern Cross. 

The nation where everything is venomous, poisonous, or just plain freaky looking. An ancient land filled with fictional possibility and hidden terrors that lurk just beneath its dusty plains.

So what do you get when you combine all of this with the mythos of H. P. Lovecraft? A brilliant and thrilling tome, that's what. 

I've been on a bit of a Lovecraftian and Cosmic Horror adventure this year. I've snapped up every story that I could find, consuming them with glee and gusto into the early hours of every morning. So when I first stumbled across Cthulhu: Deep Down Under I was beside myself. A Lovecraftian anthology focused entirely on Australia and its neighbours... holy shit... take all of my money!

I obtained a copy, jumped right in, and lost myself in a haze of eldritch violence, thrilling plots, and other worldly weirdness. And did I mention the amazing artworks that accompany every single story in the anthology? Pure... fucking... awesome. 

Cthulhu: Deep Down Under literally has everything. Scintillating action, mysterious locations and events that defy explanation, and a raft of protagonists and antagonists that will suck you down into the deep dark holes of the Australian landscape. Every single story (there are 24.. I won't mention them all in this review) stands out, and every single one of them enhances the anthology in unique and wonderful ways. Aaron Sterns opens the book with 'Vanguard', a tale that wouldn't look out of place on the big screen. Imagine SOG (Australian version of SWAT) operatives going toe to toe with cultists, troubled detectives trying to protect their only witness, and a ball clenching cultist assault on a safe house and you've only just scratched the surface. Sterns sets the bar high, and every story that follows reaches it. I adored Jason Fischer's 'The Dog Pit', with its nods to Australian history and its great protagonist (The Dutchman), and I was enthralled by Kaaron Warren's 'In the Drawback', a mysterious and creepy tale exploring what happens when the tide recedes and never comes back in. Jason Nahrung's 'An Incident at Portsea, 1967' also impressed me, creepily reimagining what happened to Harold Holt when he went for that fateful swim and I also loved G. N. Braun's dark and terrifying tale 'Depth Lurker', where after a mining accident a rescue party uncovers a monster of cosmic proportions. 

Some of the other notable stories in this anthology include 'Where the Madmen Meet' by T. S. P. Sweeny, a dark and terrifying story of soldiers returning from war changed and under the influence of something sinister, and 'Darkness Beyond' by Jason Franks, a fantastically moody and creepy piece about a Port Arthur prisoner and his encounter with a strange beast. I also loved the short piece 'Dreamgirl' by Stephen Dedman, where an indigenous woman gets her revenge on the son of a mining magnate by stranding him in another dimension, and it was also wonderful to see David Conyers at his best with 'Impossible Object'. Robert Hood once again proved how talented he is with 'The Black Lake's Fatal Flood', a tale that delighted and freaked me out at the same time. In fact I can't think of any stories in this anthology that disappointed me. The editors have done an outstanding job in assembling a cast of writers and artists who not only fulfil the brief, but smash it out of the park. Every single contributor not only brings a distinctly Lovecraftian feel to their work, but also a wonderful touch of Australia. The inclusion of Australian history, locations, and vernacular into the Lovecraftian mythos added an incredibly fascinating layer to what is already a detailed and vivid universe, and I was enthralled by the nods that were made towards issues such as land rights and the impact of mining on the environment. 

I mentioned the artwork earlier, but I have to mention it again. It is, to put it simply, jaw dropping. Talented artists such as Greg Chapman, Andrew J. McKiernan, Lindsay C. Walker, and Macelo Baez all delight and terrify with their pieces, and each sets the tone for the story to come. I was over the moon to see every story has a piece of art to accompany it, and it made my reading experience so much more special seeing the stories come to life in wonderful pieces of art. 

If I had one small criticism it would be that there are a number of editing and spelling oversights throughout the anthology. I can, however, overlook this issue as it's only a small amount. 

Cthulhu: Deep Down Under is a special anthology. It is special because it not only entertains you, but also takes you on a terrifying and thrilling journey into the darkness. All of the stories are riveting, and all of the artwork is outstanding. Mixing the ancient and burnt landscape of Australia into a melting pot filled to the brim with Old Ones, cultists, dark tomes and strange creatures not only works well, it works brilliantly. There are some amazing Lovecraftian anthologies out there, and Cthulhu: Deep Down Under ranks up there with the best of them.

A truly superb anthology, and one that I am stoked to have sitting on my shelves.  

5 out of 5 stars. 

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

A Shattered Empire by Mitchell Hogan

Hello Peeps!

Finally... A Shattered Empire is here! IT'S HERE!

I have waited for this moment since finishing Blood of Innocents... and NOW IT'S HERE!!!

Ok... so I'm excited.

In my defence I have every reason to be. Hogan is one of the most exciting fantasy writers on the scene right now, and his Sorcery Ascendent books are like crack cocaine to fantasy fans. They include swords and sorcery, murder and mayhem, quests, and the end of the world. What more could you ask for?!? 

Don't believe me? Read on. The amazing folks at Harper Voyager have graciously invited me to participate in their sneak peek blog tour, and they have sent me an amazing excerpt to share with you all!

So lap it up... wet your whistle... and let the celebrations begin!

This is an extract from A Shattered Empire by Mitchell Hogan which is published by Harper Voyager and available in all good book stores and online now.

Chapter 1

Horns resounded through the air. Regiments of Quivers called to arms, woken from fitful camps surrounded by their dead comrades. Caldan watched as hurried breakfasts of cornmeal bread and cheap red wine were consumed before armor was donned and weapons checked. He hadn’t slept much himself, just a few brief spurts in between worrying over his encounter with the emperor and what would happen to him now that he was in the hands of the warlocks.

Long lines of soldiers snaked in from the front ranks, exhausted from battling the jukari in the darkness and holding them off until dawn broke. There had been dozens of isolated pitched battles, both sides hampered by the lack of light, which was mercifully clear of the lurid taint of destructive sorcery. The vormag, and it seemed the warlocks, were content to wait.

Or perhaps they were also exhausted.

The returning soldiers passed formations of fresh troops, dirt- and blood- splattered armor contrasting with gleaming hauberks, to collapse at the rear of the army in relative safety. Wounded Quivers were dragged or carried to the physikers, who were set up in lines— implements still dirty from being used throughout the night. There would be no rest for the physikers and their assistants for some time.

Now, hundreds of horsemen were saddled and waiting on the edges of the emperor’s main forces. Commanders rode among the cavalry and foot- troops— bowmen and spear carriers— while the warlocks split into small groups and placed themselves in scattered locations among the forces.

From the river, hundreds of soldiers were swarming out of the recently docked ships. They formed up in ranks, bearing great round shields and broadswords, while those behind them wielded twohanded axes or long spears. Who they were still puzzled Caldan, but it seemed safe to assume they were reinforcements the emperor had arranged.

Except, of course, Devenish had been surprised at their arrival. But maybe the emperor hadn’t felt the need to inform the warlocks of his plan.

One of the Quivers guarding the warlocks’ tents came up to Caldan and handed him a wooden plate filled with cornbread and cheese, along with dried fruit and nuts. He also gave Caldan a steaming mug of honeyed and salted coffee. Caldan ate the food absentmindedly, keeping his eyes on what was happening.

To one side were the walls of Riversedge, and to the other they relied on a series of hills to offer some protection. And then there was the river itself, stretching mirror- bright to the east as they looked into the sun, and pale upstream to the west. A massive stretch of water, a barrier to the jukari— one they’d already shown kept them at bay.

Quivers formed up— as large a force as any the Mahruse Empire had gathered in centuries. The Noble Houses amassed their troops and assembled behind the Quivers. Having followed the emperor and his army— expecting to merely attend the fighting in name only, to be recognized in the honor rolls when the Indryallans were pushed back into the sea— the nobles now found themselves in the middle of a fight against a monstrous horde of creatures from the Shattering.

It wasn’t clear to Caldan if they were more afraid of the jukari or of disobeying the emperor.

All around the army, warriors and nobles alike made familial gestures and mumbled prayers to their ancestors to keep them from harm. Some burned offerings, and along with the campfires, smoke hung thick above the host, obscuring the standards flapping in the breeze.

From Caldan’s position close to Devenish’s tent, the army seemed composed of chaos with only a few pockets of order.

There was movement in the front ranks, and shouts broke out. Caldan stood and looked past the human army. Farther away, he saw streams of jukari approaching, far less orderly than the Quivers. They stopped a few hundred yards away, the tips of their lines swelling like water pooling, until their numbers grew past his counting. They bellowed and snarled, a terrible, animal sound.

Commands roared throughout the emperor’s army, along with curses and battle songs.

The Quivers marched out to answer the jukari, armor and weapons flashing in the sun. Drums pounded, horns pealed, booted feet stamped. Commanders dispersed among their troops, though Caldan noted that most led from the rear.

The jukari came on.

Heavy thumps sounded from Riversedge, and at first Caldan couldn’t work out what was happening. Then he saw specks arcing into the sky: missiles thrown from counterweighted trebuchets. He squinted as they reached their zenith and began plummeting to the earth. A low rumbling sounded. Clouds of dust and clods of dirt erupted where the stones landed— but nowhere near the jukari. All the missiles fell short by hundreds of yards, with more following in the air.

Hoots and barking came from the jukari, who stood their ground, attention on the falling rocks.

Overeager? wondered Caldan. They had to know their shots would fall short.

Then he saw that while the jukari’s attention was on the siege engine missiles, groups of Quivers had run to the front of their ranks, using the gaps between cohorts. They dropped baskets of arrows, raised their bows, and began firing. Missiles streaked into the sky, a dark rain ascending to the heavens, only to fall. Their shafts plunged into the jukari— failing, as far as Caldan could see, to do much damage. But some jukari did fall: tiny figures in their front lines stumbled.

The holes opened up by wounded or dead jukari were quickly filled.

Thunder rumbled, and Caldan frowned. He glanced to the sky, fearing sorcery, of which there was no sign— but there was movement on the hills. He squinted . . . 

And let out a gasp.

___________________________________________________________________

If you want to know more about A Shattered Empire head on over to Harper Voyager. Purchase information for a variety of retailers is also available from that link.

To read more cracking excerpts go back to the start here at Harper Voyager. Dark Matter Zine will also continue the party tomorrow, so remember to head on over to that site for more awesome reveals!   

A Shattered Empire Blurb:

In the epic conclusion to the series that began with the award-winning A Crucible of Souls, Mitchell Hogan combines the wonder of classic sword-and-sorcery fantasy with the grit of the modern masters.

In a battle of armies and sorcerers, empires will fall.

After young Caldan's parents were slain, a group of monks raised the boy and initiated him into the arcane mysteries of sorcery. But when the Mahruse Empire was attacked, and the lives of his friends hung in the balance, he was forced to make a dangerous choice.

Now, as two mighty empires face off in a deadly game of supremacy, potent sorcery and creatures from legend have been unleashed. To turn the tide of war and prevent annihilation, Caldan must learn to harness his fearsome and forbidden magic. But as he grows into his powers, the young sorcerer realizes that not all the monsters are on the other side.

And though traps and pitfalls lie ahead, and countless lives are at stake, one thing is certain: to save his life, his friends, and his world, Caldan must risk all to defeat a sorcerer of immense power.

Failure will doom the world. Success will doom Caldan.

About the Author:

When he was eleven, Mitchell Hogan was given The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings to read, and a love of fantasy novels was born.

When he couldn’t stand putting off his dream anymore, Mitchell quit his job and finished the first draft of A Crucible of Souls. It won the 2013 Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Novel and was listed as one of the Best New Series by Audible for 2014. Mitchell lives in Sydney, Australia, with his wife and daughter.

You can find out more about Mitch at his website: http://mitchellhogan.com





Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Review - The Stars Askew by Rjurik Davidson

Sequels are a funny beast. 

Sometimes they soar and exceed all of our wildest expectations.

And sometimes they fall so flat that you start to wonder why you even bothered picking them up in the first place. 

So when I heard about The Stars Askew I was cautious.

I wondered if Davidson replicate what worked so well in Unwrapped Sky? Could he build upon all of the fascinating themes he touched on in the first book? Would he be able to recapture and further explore that wonderful and strange tone that he excelled at? Or would The Stars Askew fall by the wayside, like so many other sequels that have come before it? 

Well, after finishing it I'm happy to say that The Star Askew not only lives up to its predecessor, it surpasses it. 

The Stars Askew brings to the table what Davidson does so well. You have a riveting and vibrant world that pulses with imagination, a successful and increasingly violent revolution standing on tenuous legs, and a raft of enthralling and fascinating characters who each bring something different to the story. 

What separates The Stars Askew from Unwrapped Sky however is that it is tighter and more controlled. At times in Unwrapped Sky it felt like Davidson had too much going on. There was philosophical discussion, a magic system to explain, political economy to unpack, and a steampunk and fantasy story to explore. The Stars Askew is cleaner and more streamlined, with a clear direction and enthralling plot that culminates in what is arguably one of the best conclusions to a book that I've read in many years. 

Told mainly from the perspective of three points of view (Kata, Maximillian, and Armand), The Stars Askew begins a few weeks after the successful (and bloody) revolt of the people of Caeli-Amur. From this starting point Davidson takes you on a fascinating journey of what occurs in the aftermath of a revolution. What happens when services that you take for granted break down in the power vacuum? What do you do when the new rulers begin hoarding and resorting to violence and purges to maintain their tenuous grip on power? Both of these questions are explored deeply, and I was stunned by just how riveting I found it. Davidson obviously draws from a deep understanding of revolutionary theory and political economy, but he never resorts to bland extrapolations or dry political discourse. The story is vibrant, fast-paced, and often bloody and violent. Murder investigations take place, assassinations and counter revolutions are planned, and gods and other beings interfere and use us as play things. Amidst all of this the people and creatures of Caeli-Amur struggle to survive, and are constantly torn between sides and factions that change their spots and evolve with every day that passes (for example the growing violent extremism of a faction of the seditionists). The Stars Askew asks hard questions, and it is confronting reading at times (Camp X for example). But it is also thoughtful and delightfully weird, blending elements of fantasy, steampunk, noir and horror into a mash that challenged and entertained me at the same time. Davidson reminds me a lot of China MiĆ©ville in that regard. He also has that uncanny ability, like MiĆ©ville, to weave serious philosophical and political discussion into a book that has, to be frank, has freakin' minotaurs in it! 

The action is yet again impressively choreographed, and the world building rich and wonderfully played out. I delighted in placing where Davidson had drawn his ideas from (the Reign of Terror in revolutionary France for example, or the system of concentration and labour camps in Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia), and I felt as though I was caught up amidst the chaos as I read. And as a magic systems geek Davidson's use of Thaumaturgy, with all of its risks, still blows my mind.

If I had one small criticism it would be that the three main characters never really cross paths, with each taking their own directions (despite all of their goals concerning the fate of Caeli-Amur) in the story. Although I understand why Davidson did this, I would have liked to have seen a little more interaction between them. 

In combining revolutionary theory with bursts of thaumaturgical power and political intrigue Davidson has, once again, written a story that both delights and challenges your thinking. Powerful, gripping, and utterly addictive. The Stars Askew is the type of story I'd happily take with me to a deserted island. 

5 out of 5 stars. 

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Review - Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones

I know what you're thinking. 

Werewolves. Again? Surely that's a joke?

They've been done to death. Howls in the night. Silver bullets. Full moons. All that jazz. Thousands of interpretations drowning us all in the same thing. 

Over and over again. 

But please, bear with me and read on... because Mongrels may well be one of the finest werewolf stories I've ever read. 

Stephen Graham Jones is no stranger to me as a reader. I've read many of his short stories in the past, and adored their scintillating and often brutal tones and realism. In fact I'd probably argue that he is one of the most exciting genre writers in the game right now. So when I heard about this novel I was excited. 

Then I realised it was a novel about werewolves, and my excitement dissipated rapidly. 

Like a lot of people, I'm over them. You see one too many Underworld movies, or hear someone in your family declare themselves for Team Jacob (please kill me now), and the gloss on our lupine friends loses some of its shine. 

So when Mongrels was released I passed on picking up a copy. 

I moved onto the next book in my TBR pile, and didn't give it a second thought until I noticed a copy of it sitting at the library a week or so later. I had time to kill before I picked up my daughter from school, so on a whim I decided to read a couple of chapters. Fifty pages later, I borrowed the book and raced to collect my daughter before I was late. I never looked back from that moment on. 

Mongrels is a coming-of-age story told by an unnamed narrator living with his Aunt Libby and Uncle Darren as they shift from place to place across the southern states of America. They only have each other, and a secret. Theirs is a family of werewolves. Following this revelation Jones takes you on a masterful, and at times brutally realistic journey that touches on a raft of themes such as self esteem, adolescence, poverty, family dysfunction, and a world that is incredibly hostile and dangerous to their kind. Compounding this is the fact that the narrator is also 'late bloomer', and as such he finds himself alienated within his own dysfunctional little family even as he wrestles with adolescent problems such as starting a new school every few weeks as his family runs from the law (and other threats). 

Jones' take on werewolves, told with his distinct and wonderful voice, is enthralling. They are drifters who essentially scrape through by living on the edges of society. Jones brings them down to a more realistic level, and removes all of the supernatural mystique that usually surrounds them. They aren't legendary creatures springing out of our folklore and chasing overweight and tasty campers in the woods... they just are werewolves. Many familiar elements are explored, such as where all the fur goes when they revert back to human form, and some are even dismissed outright (no more fucking full moons needed people!). There is even an explanation provided about why werewolves hunger so much (and a discussion had about calorie intakes that had me snorting with laughter), and a running theme about werewolves needing to be careful about what was around them when they transformed (they get hungry... and some things just aren't... edible). In fact one of the most impressive things about this book was how Jones takes what is a legendary creature, and recasts it wonderfully via his characters. I loved Darren, whose idiotic and humorous behaviour had me either choking with laughter or shaking my fist, and Libby, who reminded me of my grandma (a beautiful soul focused on looking after the family no matter what... and with the ability to kick the living shit out of you if you stepped out of line and crossed her). However the unnamed narrator is what takes this book to a whole new level. Poignant, thoughtful, and at times incredibly sad, the narrator is the glue that holds this story together and propels it to places I never imagined could be explored. 

I was also awestruck by the direction that Jones took the story in. Darren's antics, cast alongside the terrifying situations that the family often finds themselves in, makes for fascinating reading. The melancholic mood that also lingers around adds a real tension to the story that both the reader and the characters can't escape from. They can't form relationships (for obvious reasons... spanner in the works if you violently kill and eat your neighbour), and they know that every day may well be their last. There are curious hunters, the law, and even other threats to worry about. All they have is each other, and even then that bond is under constant pressure from forces both external and internal. Whilst Mongrels is not a horror story, there are moments of violence and horror that keep you on the edge of your seat as you read. Jones manages to pace things wonderfully, and the final pages left me both moved and deeply satisfied. 

This is the type of story I live for, and I am incredibly grateful that I had some time on my hands that stormy afternoon at the library (I've since purchased my own copy for my shelves). 

Masterful and enthralling, Mongrels dusts off a legendary creature, recasts it brilliantly, and shoves it howling down your throat. 

Stunning, absolutely stunning. 

5 out of 5 stars. 

You can buy Mongrels at all good book retailers. For more information (and purchase details from Amazon) go here. You can also keep track of Stephen (preferably in a non-stalker kinda way) by checking out his site.