Thursday, April 24, 2014

Tough Traveling: Assassins, Guild of...


The Thursday feature "Tough Traveling" is the brainchild of Nathan of Review Barn, who has come up with the excellent idea of making a new list each week based on the most common tropes in fantasy, as seen in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynn Jones. Nathan has invited anyone who is interested to come play along, so be sure to check out the first link for more information. Compulsive list-maker that I am, I'm very excited to take part!

This week's tour topic is: Assassins, Guild of...

The second most frequent guild after the Thieves Guild. Indeed, it is possible that these are the only two, and that in Fantasyland crime is the sole organized activity. They are said to be very good at their job, which is of course killing people for money, and to proceed on all occasions with strict regard for laws and protocol.

Holy crap, this one is actually tougher than I thought. I can come up with books I've read about individual assassins aplenty, but a whole guild of assassins? That's going to take some thinking to get to five (my own personal goal for these lists).

Death Sworn by Leah Cypess - I went digging into my recently read pile and this was the first example I came across. The assassins in this book are a secret guild, and they live and train in caves their whole lives. Their leader is a real nasty guy, but his men are loyal. If he orders any of them to jump to their deaths, you bet they will. Death isn't anything to them. Assassinations are not murder, merely tools because each kill presumably serves a greater purpose.

The Assassin's Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke - This book is about pirates and assassins (insert joke about a meme here). A young pirate abandons her parents and her ship to avoid being married off to another clan, and the jilted suitor's family puts out a hit on her. She then winds up binding herself and the assassin Naji together by accidentally saving his life. If I remember correctly, Naji is a member of a notorious sect of assassins, so even though the story mainly focuses on him, I'm going to count it.

Blades of the Old Empire by Anna Kashina - Let's get away from YA for a second. This book features a group called the Majat Guild. Their member ranks are named after gemstones, with Diamond denoting a warrior as the best of the best, but all of them are extremely skilled in the deadly arts. I'm actually not sure they count strictly as assassins -- more like mercenaries, perhaps -- but because they can be hired out to do anything from bodyguard work to killing someone, I'm going to count it. And hey, the second book is actually called "The Guild of Assassins", so there!

Jhereg by Steven Brust - Actually, when I read the title of this topic, my mind immediately went to these Vlad Taltos books. Vlad is a hired killer, member of House of Jhereg, a house whose membership is not based on bloodline or tribe like all the other houses. You can even buy yourself into it if you have the money. Despite being noble house, it's known to be associated with shady characters and even shadier crimes. Think of them as the mafia of the fantasy world. Need an assassin? Look up a Jhereg boss.

Midnight Thief by Livia Blackburne - I'm actually going to cheat a little here, since this book won't come out until the summer and even though I have the ARC I haven't formally read it yet. But I've read the prequel novella Poison Dance (which stars James, an assassin in a guild called Assassin's Guild!) so I think I have a pretty good idea what to expect in this one too. Even though the the story will shift focus to different characters, I know the guild will appear again in Midnight Thief for sure.

Whew! And that's five. Like I said I'm limiting myself to only books I've read or at least I've more intimate knowledge of, but I'm sure there are a lot more I'm missing or forgetting. Now I wish I've been more diligent with tagging my books with appropriate labels on my Goodreads shelves.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Book Review: Written in Red by Anne Bishop

Written in Red by Anne Bishop

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of The Others

Publisher: NAL (March 5, 2013)

Author Information: Website

Mogsy's Rating: 4 of 5 stars
 

I’m glad I gave this book a shot. I have to admit, I've not had the best experience when it comes to Anne Bishop (I really wanted to like Daughter of the Blood in her Black Jewels series, but just couldn’t seem to get into it) so I initially shied away from Written in Red. However, after multiple recommendations and even an assurance or two that it is very different from Bishop’s epic fantasy, I was finally convinced to pick it up.

I was also told that this series should be right up my alley, based on the type of urban fantasy I enjoy. I daresay that was a good call. I love the genre for its focus on interesting characters and unique worlds, and Written in Red certainly delivers on those fronts. Not only that, Anne Bishop also introduces UF elements in this book that are at once brand new and yet all too familiar. Given my mixed feelings in the past with her other work, it felt reassuring to find this book settled nicely in my comfort zone.

Despite my tepid feelings towards Daughter of the Blood, even I can't deny that Bishop has a knack for creating worlds. Her talent and creativity is evident everywhere in her work, and that is true of The Others series as well, where the mundane and the supernatural coexist in a fragile balance…so to speak. Namely, it’s the unearthly creatures who are in charge, and so long as we puny humans keep in line, they will tolerate sharing the living space with us. It’s different, but makes a lot of sense. Why should “The Others” hide and live in secret when they are so powerful and there are so many of them? And thus people are prey, and they are put in their place.

Written in Red also features a world with more than just vampires and werewolves. Granted, there are shapeshifters aplenty, but they come in many other forms, such as crows, owls, etc. Here you will encounter all kinds of creatures and races of powerful humans, never seen or heard of before. Take the protagonist Meg Corbyn, a blood prophet who has the ability to see the future when her skin is cut. Kind of a morbid power, if you ask me, but it's intriguing. It's simply Bishop working up her gift for creating and describing magic. For me, that dark and vaguely-disturbing but enchanting quality is what I remember of her style. I really like how she's applied it here, to a world so very different from what I’ve previously read from her.

Speaking of which, Bishop’s also not the first epic/high fantasy author I’ve read who has taken the leap into urban fantasy in recent years. In several cases, I felt the pacing was a mild issue with storytelling, and I couldn’t help but feel it here as well. Check out the page count, for one thing. Written in Red is relatively lengthy for an urban fantasy novel, especially a series starter, and I don’t know if it really needed to be so long. Looking back, I can think of quite a few scenes that probably weren’t required. World building is important, sure, but at times I felt it came at the expense of the story's momentum.

Still, I liked the cohesiveness of the plot. So many urban fantasy novels seem to be crammed to the brim with action and a whole lot of ideas and things going on these days, all in about 300 pages. Written in Red may be longer than most, but at least it gives Meg’s plight and her relationships with The Others the full attention it deserves. As a main protagonist, she’s a bit too timid for my tastes, but the writing is very effective at making the reader feel protective of her and invested in her success. As a result, the tension was palpable throughout the novel even without a billion things happening all at once.

As a parting thought, cheers and thank you to those who recommended this to me and told me to read it. This was a fun one! If I’d continued staying away, I would have missed out on a refreshing new urban fantasy series. No need to remind me to put the next book Murder of Crows on my reading list – it’s already there, I promise.


Waiting of Wednesday 04/23/14

"Waiting On Wednesday" is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine that lets us feature upcoming releases that we can't wait to get our hands on!

Mogsy's Pick: 

 Firefight by Brandon Sanderson: January 6, 2015 (Delacorte)

I've actually been meaning to feature Firefight in a Waiting on Wednesday post for a while now, but then it wasn't until earlier this week that the sequel to the amazing Steelheart finally got a cover reveal.

I'm also quite disappointed to see that it has apparently been pushed back to 2015, which I only just discovered as I was putting together this post! ARRGH! Oh well. That the release date is in fact farther out than I'd expected notwithstanding, it's still my WoW because nothing can diminish my excitement, not even a longer wait. After all, even a writing machine like Brandon Sanderson needs a few extra months every now and then.

"They told David it was impossible--that even the Reckoners had never killed a High Epic. Yet, Steelheart--invincible, immortal, unconquerable--is dead. And he died by David's hand.

Eliminating Steelheart was supposed to make life more simple. Instead, it only made David realize he has questions. Big ones. And there's no one in Newcago who can give him the answers he needs.

Babylon Restored, the old borough of Manhattan, has possibilities, though. Ruled by the mysterious High Epic, Regalia, David is sure Babylon Restored will lead him to what he needs to find. And while entering another city oppressed by a High Epic despot is a gamble, David's willing to risk it. Because killing Steelheart left a hole in David's heart. A hole where his thirst for vengeance once lived. Somehow, he filled that hole with another Epic--Firefight. And he's willing to go on a quest darker, and more dangerous even, than the fight against Steelheart to find her, and to get his answers."

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Book Review: Murder by Sarah Pinborough


Murder by Sarah Pinborough

Genre: Horror, Fantasy

Series: Book 2 of Mayhem

Publisher: Jo Fletcher (April 24, 2014)

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Mogsy's Rating: 5 of 5 stars
 

One of the most common things you'll hear about books these days is that everything seems to be a series. I know I myself have talked about series burnout on more than a few occasions and expressed a desire to see more stand-alones. However! Every once in a while the news of an unexpected sequel will make me jump up and down for joy! And this is most definitely one of those times.

Murder can be seen as the follow-up to Mayhem, the chilling paranormal horror novel by Sarah Pinborough that was published last year from Jo Fletcher Books. Sort-of-but-not-really about Jack the Ripper, the book and its clever combination of historical fact and fiction intermixed with supernatural elements quickly vaulted it onto my list of all-time favorites.

I should probably mention too that Mayhem works perfectly well as a stand-alone, but that I was also thrilled when I found out about Murder for reasons beyond the fact I am such a fan of its forerunner. Sarah Pinborough clearly had a lot more in store for Dr. Thomas Bond, the protagonist in these books. It should be noted that the real Dr. Thomas Bond was a very important figure in British crime history, best known for his work as the police surgeon on a lot of the Whitechapel murder investigations between 1887-1891. I’ve always believed that the best horror stories are rooted in reality, and being aware of the shocking turns in Bond’s career and later years also made me really excited to see what the author would do next.

Once again, Sarah Pinborough succeeds in bringing life and depth to her characters, several of whom were figures from history. A lot of the gruesome events described in this novel also actually happened, even the line in the description about bodies of children being pulled from the Thames (see the Victorian England baby farm murders). Pinborough flawlessly weaves a thread of supernatural into the story, but even then things can sometimes get too real. I think that’s why historical horrors are often so effective at terrifying me!

So now I’ll try my best to explain why I simply adored this book without giving away any spoilers for Mayhem: First, I love how these books aren’t about any one killer or murder case. Rather, all that serves as a backdrop in order to focus on something a lot more otherworldly and evil. Malevolence has settled upon London, and Dr. Thomas Bond is inextricably linked to it. Try as he might, he can’t escape the pull of the past. Because of this, Bond becomes an increasingly unreliable narrator, and having been familiar with his steadfast pragmatism up until this point, his downward spiral only makes the situation even more disconcerting. Like in Mayhem, Bond’s chapters are the only ones written in the first person, while others are in the third person. This point-of-view switching allows us to see a fuller picture, and it works even better here since our main protagonist’s credibility has been severely compromised.

Ms. Pinborough doesn’t hold anything back. Despite the kind of person Bond becomes, I felt for him; I really did. But clearly the author knows what needs to happen, and she carries out the plot with a cold eye and sees it all through mercilessly. And honestly? It made for an amazing book. There were some truly unexpected turns in the plot. At times, I couldn’t even believe it. You’ll be appalled and filled with hatred. Your heart will break. And you’ll also marvel at the amazing things the author has  accomplished here with character development.

This book was just so good. Dark, disturbing, and full of tension -- just the way I like my horror. It was not a fast-paced book, and yet...the story had this way of worming into my mind. This is definitely the kind of book you'll find yourself thinking about even when you’re not reading, and hoping that it won’t be long until you can pick it up again.


A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Jo Fletcher Books

Monday, April 21, 2014

Book Review: The Oversight by Charlie Fletcher

The Oversight by Charlie Fletcher

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of The Oversight Trilogy

Publisher: Orbit (May 6, 2014)

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Mogsy's Rating: 5 of 5 stars 


I love books that keep me guessing, books like The Oversight which had me hanging on every word. It had me wondering from the start: Just who or what is The Oversight? Are they the good guys or the bad guys? Who are their enemies, and their enemies' enemies for that matter, and why is it that every time I think I’ve got a bead on what’s happening the book decides to drop a bombshell on my head and look out, it's a trap!? It's all plot twists and hidden agendas galore with this one!

Accomplished children's/YA author Charlie Fletcher takes readers on a journey steeped in magic and mystery in his first adult novel, offering a wonderful and genuinely captivating tale which historical urban fantasy fans will surely adore. Headquartered in a Neo-Gothic Victorian-like version of London, the Oversight is a secret society that has since dwindled down to a mere five members after a tragedy devastated their numbers thirty years ago. But five, being a sacred number, is enough. Five is all The Oversight needs to keep things running, guarding the borders between the magical and the mundane and protecting the unsuspecting public from the nasty things that go bump in the night.

But creatures from the Otherworld aren’t the only threats. Danger comes in the form of more earthly foes as well, from sinister factions to witch-hunters who won’t rest until they see the last remnants of the Oversight destroyed. When a young girl with special abilities shows up at the Oversight safehouse, Sara Falk wants badly to believe she has found a fellow Glint and potential new recruit in Lucy Harker. However, it soon becomes clear that Lucy’s appearance is part of a more sinister and unsettling plot to strike at the Oversight. The question is…just whose plot is it?

Stick with this book, and sooner or later you will find out. Admittedly slower to start because this is the kind of story requiring plenty of time to build itself up, the setting will nonetheless pull you in straight away with its incredible atmosphere. I reveled in this dark, magical side of London. Anything can happen, so prepare to see some truly bizarre and uncanny sights. Fletcher’s prose will put a spell on you, wickedly leading you down twists and turns with his artful storytelling. He made me think I knew what was going on, only to surprise and humble me by showing me just how little I knew. I was very impressed with the way he revealed his secrets, meticulously setting up the stages of the plot so that one revelation always led to another, and things are never as they appear.

From the city streets to the countryside with a traveling circus, this book will also take you to all sorts of places and introduce you to a host of interesting people (and creatures). Even now, I can’t decide what I liked better, the characters or the setting. The world was what originally made me fall in love with the book, but I was also taken with the group of personalities making up the Oversight. Fletcher didn’t have to resort to any overloading of background information to convey the weight of the history and connections between the five members – Sarah, Cook, Mr. Sharp, Hodge and The Smith. Strange creatures from folklore also lend their nightmarish presence to this world, but even they were hard pressed to be less creepy than some of the truly disturbing human antagonists.

I haven’t enjoyed myself this much in a long time. I was also quite satisfied with the ending, which caught me unawares considering how dire and heartbreaking some of the events were. A major conflict was resolved but the path is paved for so much more, which is the way I like my series starters. Remember: “When they fall, so do we all”, and the future looks quite desperate for our characters. Fortunately, there’s also hope for this steadfast group of friends. With such high stakes, I just can’t wait to find out what happens next.


A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Orbit Books!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Book Review: The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

Genre: Epic Fantasy

Series: The Stormlight Archives #2

Publisher: Gollancz

Publication Date: March 2014

Author Info: www.brandonsanderson.com

Wendy's rating: 4 of 5 stars
"Want what you need. Embrace it. Desire it.
And bring it to you."
I am giving this epic fantasy a grudging four stars. I gave the previous book the same, teetering towards five stars because of the exciting finale, but this book is a much slower burn and there were many elements that I did not enjoy.

First of all, I will remind you that I am not a fan of epic fantasy for the sake of epic fantasy. This book is HUGE. The previous book was HUGE. And I expect the next books to be—wait for it—HUGE. I have no idea how Sanderson fits all of his worlds, theologies and magics in his head. Each of his realms are richly detailed and complete, to the point of perfectionism, and Sanderson works hard to deliver ALL of that information to the reader. It goes against the “show, don’t tell” writing policy, especially when pages are spent on things like how-to magic, back story, or the tiniest bug is described in detail. Once again, I mostly listened to this as an audiobook, narrated by Michael Kramer and Kate Reading, and I believe that helped me get through what may well have been too much for me to handle, what with my constant distractions of late.

Words of Radiance follows directly on the heels of The Way of Kings, with Kalladin and Bridge Four now firmly in place as the bodyguards of Dalinar Kholin and his family, including the whiny king of Alethcar. Dalinar’s former BFF continues to harry Dalinar’s efforts to unify Alethcar against the Parshendi, bringing an end to the greedy squabbles between the highprinces and ultimately ending the war that was originally intended to avenge the death of their previous king, Dalinar’s brother.

While I enjoyed some aspects of the internal politics, a lot more of it was just annoying because of how childlike it was. I certainly understand that it is intended to be so, as the nobility fight over baubles and pride, but this became most disappointing when it came to Sadeaus using such childish means to undermine Dalinar. I felt that Sadeaus’ character was done a great disservice in this book. He went from a stalwart general, fighting alongside Dalinar, and eloquently expressing his grievances when they did not see eye-to-eye, to a man who didn’t want to share. That can be an understandable transition for many reasons, but I felt that his stubborn refusal to consider Dalinar’s proposal and his juvenile attempts to discredit Dalinar were not well portrayed in a character that initially was better written and seemed above such pettiness. I suppose that is a true enough reflection of reality, but, as with many things in the book, the repetition of Sadeaus’ foils grew tedious and ultimately disappointing.

I will also add Shallan’s tongue to my collection of annoyances. She is a young woman with a sharp mind who, against protocol, tends to speak it, often in witty commentary. Only, her commentary is not particularly amusing, and as she keeps pointedly using it to spar, it just became an irritation, especially when dealing with Kalladin, who seems to have been set up as a potential second love interest for Shallan, as they bicker in true kindergarten playground fashion.

I also got tired of Shallan’s back story. I didn’t enjoy this form of interjecting pieces of the life altering moments of Kalladin’s life in The Way of Kings, and I liked Shallan’s back story even less as it dragged on and on. It is meant to give the characters depth, and help us understand why they come to certain pivotal decisions, or undertake certain actions, but I find this storytelling process tedious. More so because the climax of these past events had become glaringly obvious several hundred pages earlier.

I ought to be subtracting points for what I want to proclaim are extra pages, but damn it, I can’t. Because, while there is more than necessary and it does bog the book down, all the detail comes back around to serve a purpose. Nothing is forgotten. There are no loose threads left dangling in the storm, and no meandering subplots to be excised when the author (looking at you, GRRM) can’t figure out what to do with them. Sanderson seems to know exactly where everything is going, and has everything neatly packaged in his mind. For this reason, I am cautiously willing to forgive all of the things I complained about above, and even the introduction of a few characters over the course of the two books, who appear and seem to be of importance, but are not mentioned again for a long time, if at all. I’m sure they will return, but perhaps their introduction would have been better served later. Ultimately, I’m sure that in the next however many books the Stormlight Archives will take, Sanderson will unravel and connect everything for us.

Plus, any of the blah blah blah is balanced by these rich characters and plots. I particularly loved being able to see this war from the side of the Parshendi in this book and to better understand why they are fighting against the humans. There is still much to be revealed there, but I was pleasantly surprised to be offered the opportunity to meet the “enemy” so soon, and I loved the insight into their sing-song forms of communication (which, incidentally, reminds me of elcor—because Bioware ruins everything…).


Mogsy's Book Haul

This is the problem with waiting every two weeks to do a Book Haul post; sometimes a lot of books come in and the shelves just explode...


Murder -  I was so excited when I first found out there was going to be a follow-up to Sarah Pinborough's Mayhem! I couldn't wait and already read and devoured this yummy novel, so keep an eye out for the review in the coming days. My thanks to Jo Fletcher Books.

Earth Star - this is the sequel to Earth Girl, which I've heard such awesome things about. I'm curious about this series, since I'm always on the lookout for YA that's a little different. Thanks Pyr Books!

Gemsigns - I'd originally feared it lost, but after spending nearly two months in transit, the physical review copy finally made it across the Atlantic and rose triumphant from the deep dark depths of customs to make it safely into my hands! Good thing too, because I'm really looking forward to it.

Return of the Discontinued Man - I hadn't heard much about this series, but the cover on this ARC looks amazing. I learned it's the fifth installment of the Burton & Swinburne books, so maybe I'll check it out.

Silver Mirrors - coming out at the end of this month is the sequel to Bronze Gods which has been on my TBR forever. It's also on my book list for this spring! So I'll definitely be reading both soon.

The Ophelia Prophecy - this book had me at "interspecies love". Wonderful to see a science fiction romance! My thanks to Tabitha at NotYetRead for passing along her ARC copy so I can experience the brilliance of this book for myself!

The Forbidden Library - I purchased this for myself on the release date earlier this week. One downside of having the ARC copy is that the illustrations aren't always in them yet! With this finished copy I can finally see all the pictures in them in their full glory, and I will also be setting this one aside for my daughter to give her when she is older. I loved this book! Check out my review if you haven't yet, as well as an interview with the author.

Lords and Ladies - I was at a book sale and saw this lovely hardcover of Terry Pratchett's Lords and Ladies for $2! For a used copy that was originally published in the 90s, it was in surprisingly great shape. I just couldn't resist adding it to my library, because 1) Pratchett and 2) it was such a beautiful book.

A couple weeks I also binged at BookOutlet. I know, I know, I said I was going to stay far far away from that place. But I fell off the wagon, okay? A support group doesn't seem to help. In fact, it's become somewhat of a tradition here at The BiblioSanctum for me and my co-blogger Wendy to blame each other whenever we forget our self-imposed bans and splurge at that evil (wonderful!) place. But anyway, here's the books I ended up with. Hey, I'd say I showed extraordinary self-restraint.

But it's still your fault, Wendy.



And now the digital pile...


Midnight Thief - from Netgalley, I've been waiting for this one a long time. I received the prequel novella Poison Dance from the author last year and it made me very excited for Midnight Thief!

Night Terrors - another Netgalley ARC, I've never actually read anything from Tim Waggoner but I've heard he's quite good. And look at that creeptastic cover! Hope no one here is afraid of clowns...

Assault or Attrition - Blake Northcott does it again! The Kickstarter-backed Arena Mode was so successful that she crowdfunded the sequel as well and it also reached its goal lightning quick. The e-versions were ready first and I was sent them recently.

Black Dog - for a while now, I've been waffling on whether or not I should get this book. But then I saw it as a US Kindle teen daily deal earlier this week and that made the decision for me! I love seeing Angry Robot/Strange Chemistry titles as daily deals, let's hope they keep coming.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

YA Weekend: Antigoddess by Kendare Blake


Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of The Goddess War

Publisher: Tor Teen (September 10, 2013)

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Mogsy's Rating: 4 of 5 stars
 

Antigoddess is the second book I have read by Kendare Blake, after the fun times I had with Anna Dressed in Blood earlier this year. And as much as I appreciate a good ghost story, I have to say Antigoddess was more up my alley.

Funny story, though: When I first added this book to my reading list, I only saw the cover and thought it was going to be a story about angels. Damn feather threw me off. It wasn’t until I read the description that I realized I was wrong, but that it was actually about something even better! Not angels, but gods. Greek gods. The mythology buff in me was tickled pink. And that feather on the cover which originally misled me turned out to be a symbol for something much more sinister…

At the heart of this novel and series is an ancient conflict stemming from the events of the Trojan War. So before reading this, it might be a good idea to brush up on your Greek Mythology 101. Or rent Troy. It’s all good! In any case, you don’t have to be an expert on all the details to enjoy this, as Blake uses her prerogative to do some very cool and unique things to the legend and the characters involved. For one, the gods themselves are dying – and in the most bizarre ways. We learn of their plight through mainly Athena and Hermes’ perspectives, the former experiencing impending death by way of random feathers sprouting in her body like a cancer. This is making all the gods a little desperate, and some are driven to insanity.

Even from the very start, we’re presented a mystery. What do the gods have to do with a teenage girl named Cassandra from Kincade, New York? Granted, she appears to have some freaky psychic powers, but the character perspectives going back and forth between Athena and Cassandra cannot be any more different. The latter’s chapters show life in your typical small town high school, while Athena and Hermes’ chapters (at least in the beginning) have an almost abstract, dream-like quality to them which I really enjoyed. While the characters’ connections are revealed early on, the plot doesn’t explode until gods and mortals meet. And then the revelations are even more mind-blowing and unexpected.

The book’s greatest strength is its characters. I suppose if you’re a god you can choose to be whoever you want to be. I liked how Blake gave her gods all different and interesting identities – from Athena’s stern demeanor to Apollo’s loyalty or Hermes’ fun-loving personality and fondness for pop culture.

Most obvious weakness? This had the feel of “first book of a series” all over it. In other words, it read like one big long introduction. Voracious readers of YA fiction will probably know exactly what I’m talking about, and probably won’t find this all that surprising. It’s not hard to guess whether a book will have a satisfying ending or leave things wide open for the sequel; once it became clear that there was no way any of the conflicts would be settled by the end the novel, I admit my interest waned a little as that “let’s just bring on book two” attitude settled in.

That said, I am on board for book two. It’ll probably be one of my higher-priority sequels too, because let’s face it – how often does a book with a good Greek mythology angle come along?


Friday, April 18, 2014

Book Review: Nightmare Ink by Marcella Burnard

Nightmare Ink by Marcella Burnard

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of Living Ink

Publisher: InterMix (April 15, 2014)

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Mogsy's Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars


Whenever I encounter cool, interesting new concepts in urban fantasy, it's always like a breath of fresh air. I mean, I love vampires, werewolves, wizards and such, but it's also nice to see something different every once in a while. And with this book, the idea of magical tattoos most definitely fits into the "that's not something I see every day" category.

The unique properties of "Live Ink" is what serves as the foundation for the magic system in Marcella Burnard's newest novel, in a world where tattoos are more than just body art. If integrated well, a Live Ink tattoo can enhance a person's life and augment their skills. But when things go wrong, they can also turn on their wearers and even wind up killing them.

Protagonist Isa Romanchzyk and others like her who have the ability to manipulate Live Ink can either use that power to create or destroy, making her tattoo shop a destination for both the cops and the mob alike -- or anyone who needs to get rid of a Live Ink tattoo gone bad. Isa's approach has always involved "binding" the tattoo, effectively killing it in order to save the life of the victim. Until one day a desperate friend turns to her for help, and for the first time in years Isa works Live Ink, fixing the tattoo instead of destroying it. But what she doesn't realize is that by interfering, she might as well have just painted a target on her back.

It goes without saying, when you take an interesting idea and throw in compelling characters, you get a winning combination. Nightmare Ink has this going for it. Isa's enigmatic past and her connections with both the law and the gangs of Seattle make her interesting to me. I thought I'd seen and heard it all when it comes to urban fantasy protagonists and their shady backgrounds, but I guess not! Information about Isa's history is doled out sparingly so you don't get to learn everything about her straight away, and I found myself being surprised by the darker revelations of her past even once I was well into the final chapters of the book.

However, the uneven way details are revealed also presents a bit of an issue. I noticed the introductory chapters are heavier on the info-dumps, going so far as to have a character ask Isa about Live Ink so that she can not-so-subtly explain all the ins-and-outs. But information becomes sparser after this, leaving me with a lot of questions about tattoo magic. For example, why does Live Ink only take to certain people and not others? There's also not much about the "etheric" world where a lot of Isa's interactions with Live Ink tattoos take place. It makes some of the later scenes in the novel involving her relationship with her own Live Ink very confusing. It is also implied that the Living Tattoos come from another realm, but again we don't get a lot of detail on that. There are many instances like this, and while it's a very interesting world I only wish I knew more about it!

At the time of reading, I wasn't sure if this was going to be a series, but I see now that there is at least one future book planned. In any case, Nightmare Ink works very well as a stand alone. Isa and her friends are a fantastic group of people I wouldn't hesitate to read about again, and the concept of Live Ink magic could definitely do with some expanding, fine-turning and polish that another book could provide. Despite some holes in the world building, this was overall a very entertaining read.


  A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to InterMix/Penguin Group!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Interview with Django Wexler: Exploring The Forbidden Library

We've got a great interview for you today. Please welcome Django Wexler, whose middle grade fantasy novel The Forbidden Library hit the shelves this week!

So you've already seen my review and heard me sing my praises, and now you want to know more about the author and the book? Look no further, as it is with great pleasure that I present to you my fun chat with Django about The Forbidden Library as well as his love for writing and fantasy fiction. Oh, and there will be cats. Mustn't forget the cats!
 * * *

Mogsy: Hello, Django! First of all, thanks so much for this interview! 

Django Wexler: Happy to do it! 

Mogsy: So tell us about The Forbidden Library. Pitch the book! What can readers expect to find in it, and why might fans of your adult fantasy be interested to read it too?

Django Wexler: The Forbidden Library is about a girl named Alice who sneaks down to the kitchen one night to find her father arguing with a nasty-looking fairy. When he mysteriously disappears a few days later, she’s sent to live with an uncle she didn’t know she had, in his odd old house with a giant library she absolutely must not go into. When she (of course) does, she finds out that both her uncle and his library are a lot stranger than they appear!

US Cover
Other things that are in the story: talking cats, dragons, The Swarm, strange maps, needle-elves, Ending, and books that suck you in. (Literally!)

I had a great time writing it. Even as an adult, I love well-written children’s fiction, especially fantasy – I’m a huge fan of authors like Phillip Pullman, Jonathon Stroud, J. K. Rowling (of course), Phillip Reeve, and so on. I hope that anyone else who understands that fantasy for young readers doesn’t have to be bland will enjoy it! There’s also a meta-level, if you’ve read a lot of this sort of thing. The original inspiration for the story was based on observations about the normal course of events in the Chosen One fantasy.

Mogsy: Well said. But I've been wondering and I think a lot of people will want to know too, why a Middle Grade novel? With your fond memories and love for well-written children's fiction, did you start off having plans to write a book for this age group or did the idea for the story fit the category?

Django Wexler: It’s actually kind of a funny story – when I started, I didn’t know that there was such a thing as “middle grade” as a category. I had this vague idea that I was writing a children’s book, but that was it. What I wanted was something *short*, compared to The Thousand Names. I had a problem with everything I wrote ballooning out to become epic, and I knew I couldn’t commit to writing more than one book that size a year. So if I wanted to start another series, it had to be slim by comparison. (Forbidden Library is about 75,000 words, compared to Thousand Names’ 200,000.) Once I started writing it, it just felt right as a children’s book, although I didn’t change very much about my writing style. (I thought of it as leaving out sex, swearing, and gore.)

Then I sent it to my agent Seth, who thought it would work really well as a middle grade. We made a few changes – Alice’s age was adjusted a little, for example – and he sent it off to see if Penguin liked the look of it.

UK Cover
Mogsy: Actually, I've always been curious if there were special "rules" to writing Middle Grade (and you coming from writing adult fantasy might be in a unique position to answer). So like you said, no sex, no swearing and no gore, but really how how far could you go those and did you encounter any other limitations? Like maybe the story couldn't be too dark?

Django Wexler: If there are special rules, nobody ever told me about them! Honestly, I didn’t think about it that much while I was writing it. I made a few decisions at the outset to keep things easy – a single point of view in a simple third-person past, no fancy mucking about with experimental narrative structure – and that helped keep the story on a pretty straightforward path. Other than that, I hoped that my editor would let me know if I’d done anything wrong! She did end up flagging a few things, mostly some vocabulary that was a little too much of a stretch, but on the whole we changed remarkably little. (At least, for that reason. We did plenty of edits for other reasons!) Certainly nobody ever told me it couldn’t be dark. I loved dark fiction when I was that age, so I really couldn’t go any other direction.

Mogsy: Clearly you are a lover of cats! They feature prominently in The Forbidden Library, and one of the most memorable characters for me is the talking cat Ashes. I also know from Twitter that you are a proud owner of two kitties! Did your draw much from your experience with them when writing Ashes?

Django Wexler: Everything is better with cats! I definitely did draw from my own personal cats. Anyone who has spent time with cats knows that they have a wide variety of weird little behavioral tics – the head-butt, the tail slap, the standing-in-front-of-you-to-trip-you-on-the-stairs, and so on. While Ashes talks, I wanted to make sure he also felt like a cat in terms of his behavior, rather than a tiny cat-shaped human.


Author's cats: Sakaki and The Tomoes

Mogsy: So in The Forbidden Library, people like Alice who are called “Readers” have the special power to enter books, defeat the creatures imprisoned inside and in doing so gain access to their abilities. Now, if you could do the same, with any book at all, what would it be?

Django Wexler: So, that’s a really tough question. The problem, which poor Alice has to deal with, is that you have to be able to defeat the creature inside the book in order to a) gain their powers and b) escape from the book at all! While I’d love to have the abilities of, say, Jonathon Stroud’s Bartimaeus, the chance of my beating him in a fight is pretty much nil. I would have to start with something really wimpy and work my way up. Maybe Terry Pratchett’s Bromeliad trilogy. I might be able to hold my own against people only a few inches high. (But what powers would they give me?)

Mogsy: Come on, I'm sure you can handle more than Nomes! But on that note, from Swarmers to a many-legged dragon, the book features a ton of very unique and unrestrainedly fantastical creatures. At the risk of sounding corny, but I just have to know, where do you get some of these wild but awesome ideas for them?

Django Wexler: It’s often hard to answer that question, of course. The rule I made going into the book was that I wasn’t going to use any “stock” fantasy creatures, in terms of dragons, elves, orcs or whatnot – it never sits well with me when everyone’s fantastic worlds all look kind of the same. So when I needed a creature of a familiar type, I put some thought into how I might be able to “twist” it a little, so that it would look or behave differently from the familiar presentation. So, for example, Vespidian is a fairy, but a very strange-looking and threatening one, rather than the twinkly, kindly things you might see elsewhere. (He also has the coloring of something poisonous, and his name is a reference to wasps!) The Dragon has no wings, so it looks very reptilian, but the multiple legs and horizontal rows of eyes are insectoid features to give it an alien touch.

Comissioned art of the Dragon by Nicole Cardiff (http://www.artofnicolecardiff.com)

Some things I can’t explain, though. The Swarm looks like a flock of little black Kiwi birds, but sharing a single mind and purpose, a bit like a colony of insects. No idea where that came from!

Mogsy: Speaking of pretty pictures...what was it like to work on a book with an illustrator? What was your reaction when you saw some of the art?

Django Wexler: I love love love having illustrators work with my stuff. It’s really an amazing feeling to see someone else’s view of what you’re describing, in spite of (or maybe because of) the fact that it doesn’t look like what you were picturing. It made me really happy when they told me we were going to have internal illustrations in The Forbidden Library, and the results I think are amazing. The best part is the UK edition has a DIFFERENT set of illustrations, so I get to see ANOTHER artist’s cool take on the characters and monsters! Double the fun! (I’m hoping to have all the art up in a gallery on my website around the time of the release.)

In terms of actually working with the illustrator, the book was finished long before the art was arranged, so I didn’t actually have much interaction. In a couple of places where my descriptions were a bit unclear, they asked me for clarifications, but otherwise it was a matter of seeing what he came up with based on the text. I did make a few comments for historical accuracy, though!

Mogsy: So in the last year you’ve published an epic fantasy novel, the first of an urban fantasy novella series, and now a middle grade novel. One of the most impressive things I’ve discovered by reading your books is your flexibility in writing and storytelling. Do you just go where your ideas take you, or are there genres you’ve always known you want to dive into? 


Publisher image from UK Edition
Django Wexler: I think mostly the former. I get ideas (so many ideas – I have an “Idea File” that’s now like thirty pages long) and try to plot out a story that seems like it works, then think about what genre it is. Sometimes I know from the idea what that ought to be – I have some stuff I want to write that’s definitely YA, for example. But genre in general is something that should be looked at as descriptive rather than proscriptive: it should be a useful tool for helping readers talk about books, and booksellers organize them on shelves, rather than something authors should feel bound by. So basically, I do what seems fun!

Mogsy: Great to hear that! So to wrap things up then, what's next for Django Wexler? What's occupying your time these days, both writing or non-writing related? Any exciting projects you're working on currently or in the near future that you'd like to share?

Django Wexler: It’s going to be kind of a crazy year for me. In addition to the release of The Forbidden Library, I’ve got my novella John Golden, Freelance Debugger out now, and then The Shadow Throne, sequel to The Thousand Names, releasing at the beginning of July. That also means a ton of cons, including a trip to England for LonCon in August! I’m very excited.

As far as future projects go, I’ve got some fun stuff coming up. So far this year I’ve been finishing up editing on The Shadow Throne and working on the sequel to The Forbidden Library, along with a bunch of short fiction projects that will turn up in various anthologies. One I can already talk about is the BLACKGUARDS anthology coming soon from Ragnarok Publications, in which I’ll have a new Shadow Campaigns story. Next on the list is the first draft of the third Shadow Campaigns book, which still needs a title. After that … probably Forbidden Library #3! Non-writing-wise it’s just the usual: video games (Diablo III!), miniature painting, and anime. I’ve been writing a column on the latter over on SF Signal at Lost in Animeland.

Thanks for having me on!

For more information on Django Wexler, be sure to check out his website at http://djangowexler.com!