Category Archives: Cool stuff

Festivus Book Pimping – Mark Lawrence

Let’s get some Festivus grimdark on, shall we? Why yes, we shall! This time I’m taking it off-shore, and pimping out Mark Lawrence (yes, I see it, let it go) and his books – trilogies, to be precise. I came late to Lawrence’s books, but that’s worked out remarkably well for me, as I’ve read five of his this year and am waiting (rather impatiently, as is my wont) for the final instalment of his latest trilogy. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s begin with The Broken Empire series, which was another recommendation from a friend –you rock, Tracy! The first, Prince of Thorns (reviewed here), was the beginning of my addiction to Lawrence’s work. Seriously, his writing’s like crack – just one more page, just one more page… just one more… Many a night I sat up reading to the wee hours, forsaking sleep for story.

The Broken Empire trilogy follows Prince Jorg Ancrath, heir to the kingdom of Ancrath and all-round immoral character. Jorg is both personally driven and nudged along the way by outside forces, but ultimately he’s a character who is incredibly self-aware and unapologetically so. I loved him. It’s a book beautifully told in its barbarity, but it’s a violent, chaotic world filled with magic, monsters, and mayhem. It’s Jorg’s world and he’ll be its king – no matter who he needs to step on, kill, maim, or sacrifice in that endeavour.

broken empire

I read King of Thorns (reviewed here), as quickly as I read the first – I couldn’t get enough of the characters or the world-building, let alone the political manoeuvrings from those vying for the role of emperor. It’s a ‘broken empire’ and there are those who want to see it whole and rule it accordingly, and then there’s the Dead King, slowly working his way into the world of the living.  There’s death on a grand-scale here, so if you’re of the more… delicate reading sensibilities… take a leap into the honesty of the brutalities of war.

I began Empire of Thorns (reviewed here), with a little trepidation, not because I thought it wouldn’t stand up to the grandeur of the first two, but because it was the final in the series – it was coming to an end. I devoured this book (not literally, books aren’t for eating – you should know this), and simultaneously tried to draw it out. It was a battle of epic proportions, as are the battles contained in this last instalment of the trilogy, but no less satisfying when it came to its end. Did I want more? You bet I did. Was I disappointed with the ending? Hell no.

This series is told in the first person point of view, which keeps the reader close, and Lawrence has a gift for wordsmithing that is beautiful and poignant. Oft times a phrase would stop me, and I’d have to read it again purely for the beauty of it. Oh, and when you figure out what this world is… that’s pretty awesome. There are those who call Jorg an ‘anti-hero’ or ‘villainous-hero’, but I disagree – he’s determined, driven, and doesn’t take shit from anyone. I kinda like that.

Prince of Fools

Lawrence’s current trilogy, The Red Queen’s War, is set within the same world of The Broken Empire series, but with completely different characters – and I mean different in every way. It runs concurrently with Jorg’s quest, but in Prince of Fools (reviewed here), it is Prince Jalan Kendeth we follow. Jal is, in his own words: a coward, a cheat and a womaniser… and tenth in line to the throne. He’s a wholly different beast to Jorg, and he should be – this is a different story. We’re also introduced to the very cool Norseman Snorri ver Snagason. Magic has bound the two and they must set off for Snorri’s homeland to undo that magic. Again, nothing is ever what it seems with Lawrence’s storytelling, and the clues and tid-bits he leaves the reader only make you read for longer and again sacrifice sleep.

This continues with The Liar’s Key, which is being lauded as one of the best fantasy books of 2015, and with good reason. I haven’t yet got around to reviewing this book, but… tough call that it is, I’d put it in my top three of all the books I’ve read this year. There’s a criss-crossing of timelines and some characters from The Broken Empire series, but that only cements the ‘realness’ of this story within the large, large world Lawrence has created. For world-building alone, you can’t go past either series.

The Liar's Key

I can’t recommend these books enough. So if you’ve loved ones who like to read fantasy, especially of the dark, unapologetic kind, then The Broken Empire and Red Queen’s War trilogies are one’s you can’t go past. Or buy them for yourself – everyone needs to treat themselves to some dark stuff every once in a while!

And if you’re wondering if these books are as good as I say they are, I sacrificed so much sleep to finish these books, I’m sure I unwittingly sold parts of my soul. I also gave the man a handle:

Mark Lawrence – thief of slumber, time trafficker, broker of the dawn.

Festivus Book Pimping – Rowena Cory Daniells

Festivus Book Pimping, come on down! Sticking with the current theme, it’s Aussie author time once more.  Please welcome to the stage, Brisbane-based novelist, Rowena Cory Daniells! If it’s high fantasy of the darker kind you’re after, then you really can’t go past the The Outcast Chronicles.

This series was recommended to me by a friend, and I’ll be forever grateful to him (thanks, Ash!) for putting Daniells work onto my radar. Not only that, but Daniells has become one of my favourite authors – her imagination, creativity and wordsmithing truly dragged me into her worlds.

There are three books in the series: Besieged (reviewed here), Exile, and Sanctuary. It’s only now that I’ve realised I haven’t reviewed the other two books in the trilogy, but I absolutely loved the series, the magic, and the characters were so fully-fleshed out they most certainly had to be real.

Besieged

The Outcast Chronicles are told from different view-points, with each of those characters immersing the reader further into the races that make up this world, and how they all interact (sometimes in so not a good way). There’s an honesty in this storytelling – it doesn’t apologise for the violence or barbarity of its ways, or the culture in which those within find themselves, or the rules that oft appear unfair and unkind, but have (so far) managed to keep the peace between all.

But the magic, oh, the magic is a beast all its own… for those who have it. There’s a great diversity in the dynamics between the different races, and magic binds some, terrifies others, and also has a class-system all its own. It’s an intricate world Daniells has created, and I think that’s part of the reason I loved this series – there’s always something new to discover, all of which is relevant to the plot and/or story-arcs of the characters.

Exile

These are books with a good chunk of wordage in them as well (as fantasy books are wont to be), so there’s much meat to sink your teeth into – who doesn’t love a big ol’ book? With the promise of two more big ol’ books to come.

These books are seriously good Festivus stocking-stuffers. And if you’re only looking at getting someone a single book, that’s fine. Start with Besieged, then wait for your loved one to demand the rest in the series.

Oh, and as a bonus? (And believe me, after finishing the trilogy, the reader will want more.) The Fall of Fair Isle is the omnibus set 600 years before the trilogy (which is on my ‘to read’ mountain).

And if all of the above isn’t enough to get you buying her work, Daniells is one hell of a nice lady who happily engages with her readers.

Sanctuary

Recommended for those readers who enjoy fantasy, dark fantasy, epics, sagas. Hell, anyone you know will love these books.

Festivus Book Pimping – Greig Beck

Happy Festivus Book Pimping Day! Or night… depending on which side of the world you call home. So with most of the stuff I create, it tends to grow organically, and this series (yes, I’m calling it a series), has also done so. While it will be books I’m pimping, it’s also authors… I’m pimping. Yeah, that sounded better in my head than it reads on the page, but hey, it’s Festivus, let’s roll with it!

Next up on the Festivus catwalk is another Aussie author and best-selling novelist, Greig Beck. Greg has a great number of novels on his backlist, but the two I’m presenting (see what I did there?) today are two books of his I’ve read this year – both of which I gave five stars on Goodreads. I absolutely loved both of these books, and read them far quicker than I wanted. It’s those books I love, the ones where you just have to know how it all ties up but you so don’t want them to end.

Okey-dokey, first up on the catwalk is Return of the Ancients (Valkeryn Chronicles #1), wearing a wonderful red ensemble with a touch of horror and most wonderful splash of Norse mythos. I’ve reviewed the book here, but this is from the website:

Return of the Ancients is the first of a two-part series and tells the story of a future world of great beauty and great horrors, and of two races who fought a war for an eternity. Arnold ‘Arn’ Singer, an average teenager living in Illinois is thrown forward into this world and finds he is the last human alive. The land is populated with mysterious and bloodthirsty creatures – some want him dead, while others see him as their only hope for survival – a return of one of the mysterious and all-powerful ‘Ancients’.

Return of the Ancients

I was enamoured with this story, with Arn and with the ‘creatures’ and world Beck created. I’m a sucker for Norse mythology, and there’s a great deal of it here, blended so beautifully with Beck’s imagination, so much so I earned sunburn from not putting the book down when reading while on holiday.

Now, with as much military flourish as Return of the Ancients can muster, it marches back off the catwalk and prepares for war.

In perfect response, please welcome Valkeryn 2: The Dark Lands to the catwalk in a pretty damn awesome fur and armour piece. War has come to the Wolfen, and the past has waged war on the future. I haven’t yet reviewed this book on my blog (time restraints and all), but it lived up to then surpassed my hopes. Here’s a little something from the website:

The mighty Wolfen of Valkeryn, descendants of the canines of the era of man, have ruled for many millennia. But now their kingdom has fallen to the monstrous hordes and the remaining Wolfen scattered. Arn Singer, perhaps the last human alive on the planet, finds himself cast into this maelstrom of chaos and horror. He seeks answers to the missing Ancients – mankind itself. But back in his time the world continues to destabilise – the portal through which he fell is destroying the plant and must be closed. Special Operations soldiers have been sent, fully armed, into the distant future to bring back Arn… or his body.

Valkeryn 2

I read this book in two sittings, forcing myself to slow as I neared the end – yes, I wanted to know what would happen, but this is a two-book series, so it would end when I so didn’t want it to. And that is the true representation of storytelling.

I thoroughly enjoyed both books, and insisted my children read them as both my kids have a love of mythology, and there’s much of that in here. My son grabbed the first book before my daughter could, and with a teenage protagonist, they will both identify. Yes, there’s some horror, but as a horror writer myself, my kids have kinda grown up around things that go bump in the night. Oh, my son is almost a teenager, and my daughter is a few years in on the teenage years. Me? I’m significantly past my teenage years (phew!), and I loved the books.

As a gift? Well you can’t go past it. The covers are evocative, and will really tease the imagination of the one tearing off the wrapping paper.

Recommended for those who enjoy fantasy, horror, mythology (Norse to be specific), YA (12 and up).

Festivus Book Pimping – Jason Franks

Ah, the decision to choose which book to pimp first for your festive-season consideration was far more difficult than I thought it would be. So many great books, and I’m the worst decision-maker when it comes to selecting which book to read next, let alone which book to pimp next. So, as an Aussie, I’m going to start with an Australian author. You really should be reading Aussie authors – we’re awesome.

So, today I’m going to reintroduce you to Melbourne-based author, Jason Franks. Jason is a novelist and comic book/graphic novel author and illustrator, and this year I read his novel Bloody Waters (reviewed here), and the first in the comic series, Left Hand Path (reviewed here).

Bloody Waters

Bloody Waters is an action-packed, supernatural black-comedy that follows the life and times of guitar virtuoso Clarice Marnier. Clarice is a singularly-focused, no-nonsense, quick-witted protagonist you can’t help but love – she does what needs to be done to achieve her goals. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and recommend it to anyone who has a bent for supernatural horror with more than a sprinkling of dark comedy, witty repartee, and a hell of a twist at the end. I read well into the wee-morning hours to finish this book.

Left Hand Path is also quite a dark comic – we’re talking horror here. I picked up my signed copy at Melbourne ComicCon this year, and this is one seriously cool comic, with fantastic (and explicit – yay!) artwork. In book one (the only issue out at the moment) we’re introduced to the Unconventional Incidents Unit (UIU), who are called to a bloody massacre perpetrated by a demon that’s now loose on the streets of Los Angeles. Very much looking forward to the next issue.

Left Hand Path

While those are the two books of Franks I’ve read, there’s so much more on offer at his website, including the comic series McBlack (think Noir) and The Sixsmiths ­– a family of suburban Satanists who’ve fallen prey to the recession.

What I’ve found with Franks’ work is a delightfully dark satire that makes him stand out from the wonderfully diverse range of books, comics and graphic novels on the market. If you haven’t given his stories a read, then it’s something you really must change. Go. Now. And fill a Christmas stocking with some deliciously dark work. Dare ya.

Recommended for horror lovers, comic connoisseurs, adult audience.

bloody bauble

Weaponised Darwinism – SNAFU: Survival of the Fittest

I have many hats, both real and virtual, and today I’m wearing a pretty swish fedora with sparklers for added flair, and for very good reason.  *dons promotion hat*

SNAFU: Survival of the Fittest (the fourth in the series), hit the shelves the other day and it’s going great guns, as well it should. Sure, as one of the editors of this awesome tome, I’m biased but I’ve every right to be – *points to promotion hat* – the hat says I can.

As of this afternoon, the anthology sits at #3 on Amazon’s horror short stories, behind two of Stephen King’s books. NUMBER THREE! *does snoopy dance* (which looks spectacular with the sparkler-laden promotion hat, I gotta say.)

SNAFU Survival

The title of this anthology says it all – this is military horror at its most primal. Live or die. We’re not talking that peaceful slip into the abyss but, you know, flayed of flesh annihilation. We’ve got some of the best writers in the genre penning their soldiers and breathing life into their monsters. And oh what monsters they have for you! Think re-animation, demon and devilry, alien and elder creatures, mythos, and those birthed from nightmare’s bowels. What stands between you and these horrors are elite forces, para-military, mercenaries, and the (not-so) ordinary grunt from battles both modern and historical.

And lets not forget the art. The amazing cover is the creation of the ultra-talented Dean Samed, and each story has internal art by the genius that is Monty Borror.

As  co-editor of this kick-arse anthology with the equally kick-arse, Geoff Brown of Cohesion Press,  I’m immensely honoured and privileged to work with authors of this calibre – without them, SNAFU: Survival of the Fittest, wouldn’t be the book that it is.

To say I’m proud of this band of SNAFU authors is an understatement. So do yourself a favour, and check out these amazing authors and the monsters they’ve unleashed upon the world.

Table of Contents:

Badlands ­– S.D. Perry

Of Storms and Flame Tim Marquitz & J.M. Martin

In Vaulted Halls Entombed Alan Baxter

They Own the Night ­– B. Michael Radburn

Fallen Lion Jack Hanson

Sucker of Souls Kirsten Cross

Cold War Gothic II: The Bohemian Grove Weston Ochse

After the Red Rain Fell Matt Hilton

The Slog Neal F. Litherland

Show of Force Jeremy Robinson & Kane Gilmour

(Available in ebook, paperback and limited-edition hardcover with signature pages.)

Now I’m off to put out the sparklers before I set myself on fire…