Category Archives: Reading

Deadlines vs Goals vs Real-life

Deadline: (n) the time by which something must be finished or submitted; the latest time for finishing something.

Goal: (n) the result of achievement toward which effort is directed; aim; end.

Real-life: (interjection) the little demon that laughs maniacally at the deadlines and goals you set.

Deadlines. I work to them all the time. Sometimes I impose them on authors, sometimes authors impose them on me, and other times it is publishers dropping those deadlines – all of which is good. Deadlines give us that extra kick up the bum to get shit done, especially if those deadlines are given by others.

I work well to external deadlines – my business and reputation depend on it. And I love my work, so while sometimes it can be stressful when I have a lot of different projects on my plate, I tend to thrive under the pressure.

Goals. I set myself two (which stepped to three) this year with regard to writing and reading – two things I don’t get anywhere near enough time to do as I’d like. I’d finished the first draft of my novel in February this year as part of my Black Friday Wager; of which there’s about 10-15% I’ll keep, build upon. It set my characters and their motivations firmly in my mind, and levered the world in greater detail, but man did it need a serious rewrite… or greater focus.

So that was one goal met, which transitioned to my next goal: the second draft of the novel, which was to be completed by November 13, 2015 (yes, a Black Friday Wager). I did not meet this goal. Oh, I started and restarted and restarted the novel eleventy-hundred times, but could not get the starting point right.

imagination

Work and real-life had a part to play in me not meeting this goal. I’m not just a writer and editor; I’m a mother, wife, sister, daughter, aunt, friend, keeper of pets. I have bills to pay, groceries to buy, meals to cook, and a seemingly interminable amount of clothes to wash. I have homework to help with (you suck, high school math!), the kids’ sporting events (and training) to cheer at, and all the while remember that I must leave the house wearing pants.  I don’t begrudge any of that – it’s my life and I wouldn’t change it (okay, maybe the bit about wearing pants in the outside world, but… oh the joys of working from home!).

Often, something’s gotta give, and that something tends to be writing time (made easier, of course, when you’re sitting on your eleventy-hundred-and-first draft of draft two of your novel).  I did write three short stories this year, all of which made short-listings but no actual publication. But that’s okay – stories were written, and they’ll be tweaked and sent back out in the world. It’s the creating that’s the goal; publication is that cherry atop a cake. And one of the big cherries this year was the publication of my comic, The Road to Golgotha, launched at Melbourne ComicCon, so not a bad year on the publishing front at all.

The Road to Golgotha

What I didn’t skimp on this year (as I had done previous years), was reading time. As an editor, I do a lot of reading, and by the end of the day, my eyes can sometimes be pretty shot. So reading for pleasure doesn’t feel like pleasure at all. Last year, I read 14 books – not too many when you’re looking at just the number, but at least one a month, isn’t bad considering. This year, I set myself a goal of 20 books. I hit that goal last week with Greig Beck’s The Dark Lands (The Valkeryn Chronicles #2), which was brilliant, and one of those stories you wish didn’t have an end (review to come).

I surpassed that goal last night, finishing book two in a James A Moore trilogy. Yes, there were times I read into the wee hours of the morn, sacrificing sleep (and the next day’s sanity) to read just one more chapter…okay, just one more chapter…one more… but that’s more testament to the book(s) I was reading than my quest to meet my goal. I’ve chosen well the books I’ve read this year, and the authors who’ve penned them.

So I met two of my three goals, and yes, there was some angst and frustration around not meeting the goal of the second draft, but not anywhere near as much I’d have doled out a couple of years back. You see, I’ve learned to be kinder to myself, to understand that sometimes life has different ideas to the ones you set yourself, and that’s okay too. With age comes wisdom perhaps.

My life is good. No, actually, my life is great. I have an amazing family, two of the coolest kids on the planet, a kick-arse job, and the want and desire to wreak havoc in created worlds. And I get to read with impunity.

The point of this post (yes, there is one, you miscreants!), is that no matter the personal goals and/or deadlines you set, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t meet them – real-life always has your back.

Deadline: a date for things that may or may not get done (depending on who sets said deadline), but hey, we’re all huma– ooh, look, a kitty! 

Goal: something you wish to achieve but doesn’t hold your self-worth if not met  (may also be cake).

Real-life: fucking awesome.

 

Review: Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence

I don’t get anywhere near the amount of time to read for pleasure as I’d like. This hasn’t in any way curbed my book buying – that’s a joy in and of itself; it does mean the reading time I do have is so damn precious the book better be good. And by ‘good’ I mean convince me I can absolutely function as an adulting adult on two hours sleep.

Enter Mark Lawrence – thief of slumber, time trafficker, broker of the dawn. That’s him there, sauntering in with Prince of Fools in hand. Words, he offered, places brutal and beautiful. So I sold my sleep, my ability to reason, and any resemblance to something remotely human when the alarm screamed at me to wake up, dammit!

I should have known; enamoured as I was with Lawrence’s first offering of Jorg Ancrath in the Broken Empire trilogy. While Prince of Fools is told in the same first-person point of view, it travels (mostly) within a single timeline. There are flashbacks of a kind, moments of reminisce and rediscovery, but there is no real time-jumping as those from the Broken Empire.

Prince of Fools

Prince of Fools is the first in the Red Queen’s War series, and while it’s set within the Broken Empire (and runs parallel to Jorg’s story, with a nice little crossover that kept this reader happy), don’t for a minute think you’re in for the same thing. Here, it’s Prince Jalan Kendeth, womaniser, gambler, coward, and tenth in line to the throne who tells the story. While he’s not a ‘likeable’ character in the true sense of the word, I couldn’t help but like him and his wit (he has some of the best pieces of dialogue I’ve ever read).

When you add the huge Norseman, Snorri ver Snagason, with whom Jalan’s fate is tied, you’ve got two sides to the one coin. Light and dark, coward and hero, honourless and honour-bound. The Silent Sister’s magic has bound the two and set them on a path across the empire to the Bitter Ice, to the place Snorri lost his family to one of the Dead King’s minions, to where both hope to break the magic that binds them, and be rid of the ‘angel’ and ‘demon’ that ride the magic with them.

At the beginning of their journey, it’s clear Snorri is Jalan’s conscience (despite the ‘dark’ side of the magic he holds) – he instructs him in the ‘right’ of things, lures him with the honour of familial bonds that transcend death, and dig into that part of Jalan that is good, despite Jal’s thick veneer of shallowness rooted in self-preservation (oft in the form of running away). The closer the two get to the north, however, the more Snorri retreats into silence and the darkness of his magic, and the less Jal is able to resist the pull of the ‘light’ side of the magic he carries. He’s resistant, of course – doing the right thing often ends in losing more than Jal’s willing to give. Both hold magic, and both can use it, although neither tends to do this well, or with any true understanding of what it is and how it works.

There’s so much more at play here – and a game it is. Jalan and Snorri are both pawn and player, each drawn to their own paths, but so intrinsically entwined, there has to be stronger forces chipping out those paths.  Simpering though Jalan is, and a self-confessed coward (and happily so), when push comes to shove (despite his ‘better’ judgement), he becomes quite the warrior… although much of it within an almost fugue-like state.

jalan

Prince of Fools is very much a character-driven story, and Lawrence delivers two vastly different, fully-fleshed out two in Jalan and Snorri. But there’s no phoning-it-in when it comes to the secondary characters either, and I was especially taken with the characters of the North (I’m a sucker for Vikings). But it’s moving through these lands, that we see not only Lawrence’s ability to weave lands and peoples with an almost ease of believability, but both Jal and Snorri’s understanding that this is the long-game. Paths again diverge with Snorri now hunting for Loki’s Key, the only thing that will open the door (any door, anywhere) to Hel, and to his murdered family. Jal just wants to be rid of the magic and to go home to the warmth of the Red March.

Loki’s key is… well, key. It’s the driving force behind all the players in this game – those who’ve been in the long-game and those who’ve just sat down at the table. Jal and Snorri’s isn’t an easy journey, not by any stretch of the imagination. The Dead King wants them (and Loki’s key), and sets monsters, Unborn, mercenaries and necromancer on their tail. (Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write.) There are battles and skirmishes pretty much the whole way to the Bitter Ice, but those pale in comparison to the combat at the Black Fort. It’s all or nothing here, and while this is Snorri’s way, it sure ain’t Jal’s but… nah, you’re just going to have to sell your own sleep to Lawrence to find out.

Lawrence has interwoven many a sub-plot, but take note of the word ‘interwoven’ – the foreshadowing for future… events is often a subtle nudge but it all comes together nicely, and there’s no doubt some of these will be continued in the next book. The Red Queen’s War is the long game, and so too is Lawrence plotting – there’s… stuff to be resolved, big stuff, and questions that need answering and secrets to be divulged. There’s magic, both dark and light, and not all is as it seems… at least I think not… or maybe I do…

All I know is that Mark Lawrence is waiting in the wings, a copy of The Liar’s Key in one hand and my hours of sleep in his other.

On a Goodreads scale, I give this five stars (and my supposed sanity).

five stars

Review: Return of the Ancients (Valkeryn Chronicles #1) by Greig Beck

So I’m back from my week away; well rested and slightly sunburned. One of the many things I love about visiting my father’s farm is the amount of time I get to read while the kids race quadbikes around 300-acres of pristine countryside and scaring the crap out of the wildlife.

farm

I powered through Australian author, Greig Beck’s first book in the Valkeryn Chronicles, Return of the Ancients. I’d been sitting on this book awhile; had read about 50 pages but with the amount of work I had on, by the time I got to bed, my eyes refused to focus on any more words. But when I picked up the book and lounged on the back porch in the sun, I couldn’t put it down (hence the sunburn).

Now it’s time for the requisite spoiler alert:

*POINTS* HERE THERE BE SPOILERS. *POINTS* THERE, THERE BE SPOILERS. AND IF YOU DON’T MIND YOUR FEET, YOU’LL TRIP OVER THOSE ANNOYING LITTLE SPOILERS…AND THE BIG-ASS SPOILER IN THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH – YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Return of the Ancients

Return of the Ancients is a story about fifteen-year-old Arnold Singer who, while on a school excursion to watch the test firing of a particle accelerator, gets transported to a new world. And what a world it is. The reader is gifted a glimpse into this world via the prologue, and I was very much looking forward to Arn reaching this destination.

Beck’s world is laden with Norse mythology, but don’t go thinking this is the brilliant stuff of Vikings, but rather the descendants of the great Fenrir. (For those unfamiliar with the Norse mythos, Fenrir is the giant wolf born of Loki and the giantess, Angrboda.) Yes, we’re talking a race of Wolfen – warrior-wolves beholden to Odin and fighting for their place in Valhalla.

Pitted against their long-standing foes, the Panterran, and a legion of monsters borne right out of nightmares, an epic battle looms. And in the middle is Arn. You see, this isn’t a new world at all, rather one far into the future in which human’s no longer exist. Arn’s arrival, however, has been foretold. And the portents aren’t good; Ragnarok looms.

Beck’s new world is beautifully and horrifically described, the Wolfen with whom Arn finally finds himself amongst wonderfully fleshed out (as are the enemy). So much so that the death of one Wolfen in particular, hit hard. It’s an honourable death, worthy of Valhalla, but… dammit.

Fenrir

Arn, though enamoured with this new world and the Wolfen, does want to get home. Those at home (or rather those at the lab), are on a quest to get Arn back via the wormhole that now sits open and ready.  Beck moves the reader back and forth between one world and the other, and it soon becomes apparent that not all are looking at this as a rescue mission.

Return of the Ancients is a fast-paced, action-packed story that grips the reader and doesn’t let go. It’s all leading toward the battle-of-battles that will determine the fate of the Wolfen and Valkeryn, and Arn is sent on one last quest by the Wolfen king. But this won’t just be a battle of forces within this world, but the clash of cultures old and new. More ancients are coming, and there’s absolutely no doubt they’re bringing a reckoning.

Beck’s done an amazing job drawing the reader in, and keeping them on tenterhooks before leaving them wanting more. ‘More’ will be arriving in the next couple of days in the form of ‘The Dead Lands’ (The Valkeryn Chronicles #2) via Cohesion Press.

Do yourself a favour, peeps, read this book ­– I can’t recommend it enough.

On a Goodreads scale, I give the Return of the Ancients five stars.

five stars

Review: Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

I’ve been meaning to write this review for a while, and as I’m heading away to the glorious countryside for a week (and some much needed rest and writing time), I figured I should get my arse in gear…………….sorry, I was already imagining myself away.

Ahem. Okay. Emperor of Thorns, the last in Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire trilogy is… well, damn, this ride is over.

noooo

Yes. It’s true.

I was definitely late to the party with the trilogy, but Lawrence made me a fan pretty much from book one. So when it came to picking up the last book, I vowed to take my time and savour. Seems Lawrence’s storytelling had other ideas. *shakes fist*

Now my previous reviews have been quite a bit on the spoilery side, and while I’m not going to give away those most excellent, gob-smacking moments that make you gasp and/or swear (both of which I did), here’s the relevant housekeeping…with orange warning lights:

SPOILERS AHEAD, KEEP TO YOUR LEFT… KEEP TO YOUR LEFT. I SAID LEFT! AH, GEEZ…. CLEAN-UP IN AISLE FOUR!

Emperor of Thorns

Well here we are, the back cover is closed on King Jorg of Ancrath’s crusade, and with it the fates of those who’ve tied their lot with him (that includes the reader, don’t ever doubt that). And there’s no messing about here either; with each of the ‘Thorns’ books, Lawrence doesn’t treat the reader a fool and recap; it’s straight into the story, which is great when you’ve got them stockpiled near your bed, just waiting for you to finish one then move onto the next.

This book doesn’t disappoint… only it does in that it’s the end of the trilogy. It’s not often I come across a series of characters I could continue to read, with Jorg being one I could follow through many a slaughterhouse. And slaughterhouse it oft is. Jorg kills on both small and large scale, and though not without forethought, death does come to all who stand in his way.

There’s a lot going on in this third book, as well there should. There are threads to be woven and tied, character stories to be continued and ended, and more beautiful word-smithing to be done by Lawrence. Seriously, the man knows how to make a writer feel inadequate. Lawrence’s world-building is magnificent, and there’s so much more of the world and its people we see in this book. So much more of the magic that permeates here, which only reinforces the ‘realness’ of this world.

EoT quote

The storytelling takes place both in the present and the past, with those times soon to converge. And with that convergence comes the biggest battle of Jorg’s life: the Dead King. Of course nothing is ever simple, and there are some fantastic death scenes here, but the focus is on this battle – the Dead King is coming, and he’s coming for Jorg. It’s more than just the empire at stake here, as the arrival of a certain someone (see? That’s me not spoilering), throws a bit of a spanner in the works, but ultimately gives him more clarity than he’s seen in his tumultuous life. While not a game-changer, as the end-game remains the same, it’s a slight refocus of the why, and this does play enormously into the final battle scene.

While I’d figured out who the Dead King was about halfway through (kudos to Lawrence on that subtle foreshadowing throughout all the books), it doesn’t take away from the final reveal at all. If anything, it really drives it home. And even knowing who’s coming, and knowing it’s going to be achingly, bloody and poignantly painful, I devoured those words, those emotions, that whole shitty, gritty, wonderful scene.

There are so many things I want to tell you about this book; about how it’s all tied beautifully together with the previous two; about what happens to Jorg, Brother Makin, Gorgoth, Katherine, Miana, and all those who’ve trailed in Jorg’s wake (both willingly and not so), but the last thing I’d ever want to do is spoil what is a brilliant trilogy.

BE

Yes, Jorg may come across as unsympathetic to a lot of readers (I’m not one of them); he may come across as self-centered and arrogant (huzzah, I say!), and the amount of bodies he leaves behind is staggering, BUT (of course there’s a but, there always is), there’s an intensity to Jorg’s storytelling that pulls you in, that has you root for him, that has you forgive him his transgressions to see him take that throne.

There aren’t many books (trilogies/series) that have left a lingering impression on me, that have had me want to wish there was more, oh so much more. The Broken Empire trilogy sits at the top of my list. It’s made me a fan of Lawrence’s work. Hell, I’d read the man’s grocery list. Instead, I have Prince of Fools and The Liars Key at the top of my ‘to read’ mountain, and I can’t wait to be immersed.

If there’s one thing I can leave you with, it’s this: go out now and buy The Broken Empire trilogy. Do it. Do. It. Now.

Why are you still here?

Oh, yeah. On a Goodreads scale, I give this five stars.

five stars

Now get off my lawn, I’ve packing to do.

Confessions of a Book Hoarder

Hello, my name’s AJ, and I’m a book hoarder.

They say the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem, but I don’t have a problem, I have books. I have worlds and characters and cultures and magic, and if you go near them I’ll cut you.

Seriously.

Back up.

Now.

So books I have. Lots of them. What I lack is space… and bookshelves. (That faint stream of cursing is from my husband as he trips over yet another pile of books in our home.) I read. A lot. Always have done.  And print is my go to. Why? Well there’s nothing quite like the feel and smell of a print book; that tangible feel of pages beneath your fingers, the anticipation of what’s to come as you slowly, slowly turn that next page… it’s book porn. There, I said it.

imagination

And bookstores are the bastion of imagination – there dwells magic. I have my favourite stores of course: Kinokuniya (the pantheon of bookstores), Galaxy Bookshop (amazing genre floor), and Kings Comics (nuff said) – all of which are in Sydney’s CBD. But for those quick fixes, it’s my local Gleebooks, which has a reading nook at the back of the store; or Berkelouw Books. Hours I can spend trolling these stores, new and used books an intoxicating perfume.

The middle of the year is also when the cons arrive, and I hit Supanova and ComicCon Melbourne this year, where not only did I buy more books, I could get them signed by the authors. And while I was an exhibitor at ComicCon, it in no way stopped me from buying books (it just meant a mad dash from stall to stall – easy as).

I’ve just finished a two-books fantasy series from Donna Maree Hanson, which I picked up at Supanova in Sydney (review of book one here; review of book two to come), and it was decision time for the next book. Easier said than done. I scoured the ‘to read’ mountain beside my bed, then the ‘to read’ stacks beside my desk, the ‘to read’ pile on the floor near one of my bookcases…

books

Panic set in: which one? Do I pick a trilogy? A collection? A stand-alone? Graphic novel? *wrings hands* What about genre? Fantasy, horror, grimdark… Ah, spoiled for choice. So many books… some of which have been in the pile for a while, watching, waiting, as others are chosen before them, their covers screaming: pick me, pick me!

My husband’s suggestion is to not purchase any more books until I finish reading what I already have, but I’m not buying into his kind of crazy. He’s long given up trying to get me to rid myself (and our house) of some of my old books, but I just can’t. I’ve tried. I’ll pick up a book and remember where I was when I read it, what time of my life it was when I journeyed into those pages, and I know they’re not going anywhere. Some are packed away, sure; carefully and lovingly bundled to ensure they’re safe (and easily moved from one house to the next).

So yes, I’m a book hoarder, and I’m okay with that. I’m more than okay, I’m freakin’ great. I’m surrounded by books, by words and worlds, characters and creatures, monsters and mayhem – my happy places. You can’t ask for more than that.

Oh, and the winner of the ‘what to read next’ dilemma? Return of the Ancients (The Valkeryn Chronicles) by Greig Beck.

 

Review: Shatterwing by Donna Maree Hanson

Well it’s the first of the month here (those of you in the northern hemisphere will catch up soon enough), and I’ll be leading August off with a review. Yes, it’s review time!

Today (tonight) it’s Australian author, Donna Maree Hanson, and her book Shatterwingbook one of her Dragon Wine series. I met Donna at Sydney Supanova when I was trawling for books. Now the only thing better than books, is signed books; as an author, I know there’s not much better than having someone ask to sign the book you wrote – so it was a win-win on both sides of the table.

It was great to have a chat about the books, too, as I really had only a vague idea about their content, although the cover does point you in the general direction.

dragon_wine_1_dev06

Now before I move on, it’s requisite spoiler-alert time:

THE SHIFTING OF AIR UNDER WING WARNS OF INCOMING SPOILERS. RUN. NOW. LEST YOU BE BURNED BY THE RUINATION THAT IS THE SPOILER.

Okay, so yes, from the cover, Shatterwing is a book with dragons, but dragons form only part of this story. At its essence, this is a story about a world on the brink and how society (or what’s left of it), deals with an apocalyptic world – not well, I have to say. The white cover and golden wings are a great juxtaposition for a tale that firmly sits on the grim-dark side of things.

The book is divided into two parts, and in the first we’re introduced to the major players: Salinda, Brill, Danton and the Inspector. The Inspector runs the winery, which is more prison than lush vineyard, and from the beginning the reader is left in little doubt the Inspector is a cruel, sadistic son-of-a-bitch.  The scenes underground with both Brill and Salinda are brutal – not at all for the faint-hearted, you’ve been warned.

The vineyard is where they make Dragon Wine, which is vital to those of Margra for not only its healing powers, but as a source of currency and political power.

The story is told mostly from Salinda and Brill’s point of view, but even so, I found it difficult to connect with either of them. It wasn’t until under-dweller, Nils, is introduced that I felt that connection. I slowly warmed to Brill and Danton (Danton especially), and it took longer to really connect with Salinda, which was a shame as she’s quite vital to the story.

Now there are dragons, but they are creatures to be feared, especially by those working the vineyard. Run and hide or become a meal. All but one dragon – Plu – a fledgling Salinda briefly raised and to whom she can call on when needed.

Shatterwing, however, isn’t a dragon as I’d first thought, but one of the moons that orbits Margra. Only Shatterwing is a fragmented moon, and those fragments are continually falling to the earth. There’s a lot going on with this world, and Hanson does a great job of drip-feeding the world and its culture through her storytelling rather than the laborious info-dumps I’ve found in other books (authors take note!).

It’s a slow piecing together of what’s happened to bring the world to the brink, and how the different cultures within this world interact and try to survive – some for purely selfish reasons, and others for the good of all. And I have to say, there isn’t a lot of good in this world.

blood spatter

There are those, however, who have magic. Salinda is one, although she doesn’t quite know its power or how to harness it. The ‘cadre’ (a collection of memories and untapped power) was passed to her via her mentor. Another with power we discover in the second part of this book.

Here, we’re introduced to Thurdon (rather briefly), and to his apprentice, Laidan. Thurdon has the cadre, which he passes to Laidan before his death. Of course she has no idea what’s happened or what it is that she now possesses. Held prisoner by the fratricidal prince, Lenk, she has a rather fortuitous rescue from a childhood friend, Garan who has the cool job-moniker of ‘Skywatcher’ (note: this is the title of book 2 in the series).

Fortuitous might be the wrong word, as things really don’t go well for the pair. At all. This really is a fucked-up world, and that Hanson doesn’t shy from the brutality humanity can bestow on one another is to be commended.

This is a desperate world made up of desperate people, which makes the journey of Salinda, Brill, Danton, Laidan and Garan all the more treacherous and desperate. It’s Nils, though, who sees the world and its people for whom and what they truly are – he’s almost the conscience of Margra. It’s to him, though, I believe the fate of this world rests.

I liked this book, and it was an easy read as well. I would have liked to have found that connection with the characters a lot sooner, and I think a lot of that has to do with being unable to find something within each of them that resonated with me. It came, just later than I wanted.

I’m looking forward to reading the second instalment, as the book really did pick up the pace from about the halfway mark. I’m invested now, and that’s all a reader (and writer) wants.

I’ll repeat my warning here that this isn’t a high-fantasy book about dragons, but rather a grimdark, brutal fantasy that delves right into the depths of inhumanity. For me, it’s these types of books that show humanity at its best. Small band though they may be.

On a Goodreads scale, I give Shatterwing 3.5 stars.

stars

Review: Left Hand Path by Jason Franks, Paul Abstruse & Eddy Swan

You bet I’m on a roll with posting, but as tomorrow I’m heading away to the country for a week, I thought I’d get this review done. That’s right; it’s review time again!  Today I’m looking at a one of the horror comics from the super-talented Jason FranksLeft Hand Path. I picked this copy up at ComicCon Melbourne – and the last copy at that! Both Jason and artist, Paul Abstruse happily signed it for me, and there really isn’t a lot better than having signed comics and books, I gotta say.

For those who have even a passing association with anything horror-related will have an understanding that the ‘left hand path’ refers to dark magic and Satanism – the path toward evil (yes, that’s a rather simplistic explanation, but I’m not writing a dissertation here). And from page one, we’re thrown right into the mix with a summoning of the Horned One himself.

Left Hand Path

As with any first book in a series, there’s a lot of setting up and introduction of characters (no introduction really needed for Satan, but I can see the same black humour and wit Franks used in his novel Bloody Waters, come through here), and the beginning of plots and sub-plots between said characters.

You can probably guess that Satan gets his kicks on right from the get-go, which pulls in other characters ­– cops Livia and Danik – who have a snarky, gritty dynamic that fits perfectly with the almost noir feel of this side of the comic.

Like I said, this is comic #1 in the series, so here we’re exploring the building of plot and characters, but Franks doesn’t over-dwell on backstory – you can’t with a comic; it has to come through via dialogue and captions, and Left Hand Path shows us Franks is a master at what he does. It’s little wonder this comic was an Aurealis Award finalist.

aurealis

Artwork… ah, artwork, how I love thee! Here, both Paul Abstruse (pencils & inks) and Eddy Swan (colours) really bring this comic to life. The illustrations are beautifully detailed from background to foreground, and Swan has used a perfect dichotomy between muted and vivid colour to really draw the eye. This is especially good when it comes to the gruesome scenes – very visceral in their display, which always makes me smile (hey, each to their own, right?).

Published by Winter City Productions, this is going to be a very cool series to get into, and I’m itching to see what Satan gets up now he’s been unleashed upon the unsuspecting citizens of the city. And more snark from the cops and intolerant (and totally cool) ‘specialist’ sent to stop the big guy tells me this is going to be a lot of fun!

I’ll also make a note here for language and gruesome horror – some of my favourite things, but for others… mebbe not. J

On a Goodreads scale (even though it’s not up on Goodreads – get on that Jason!), I’m giving it 4 stars.

4 stars

Review: King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

As I’m powering through the final book, I thought it best to get onto the review of King of Thornsbook two in Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire trilogy. Second books are tricky beasts, and on more than one occasion I’ve been burned by slow pacing, plot meandering, and character veering, so I tend to enter into that second book with a little trepidation (please be good, oh *please* be good).

But… Ah, King Jorg, such a gloriously grey character. Such defiance, such cunning, such dark fun.

Now before I get into the nitty-gritty of this book, there’s some housekeeping that needs doing. So in keeping with the grimdark and me writing reviews any way I please, let’s make this bloody:

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS. THERE, THERE BE SPOILERS. AND IF YOU’RE NOT WATCHING YOUR BACK, A SPOILER WILL SNEAK UP BEHIND YOU AND SLIT YOUR THROAT EASY AS YOU PLEASE. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

King of Thorns

I’m usually a little wary when beginning the read of the second book in a trilogy, especially when I’ve so enjoyed the first. What I tend to find is a rebuilding of the world, a rehashing of previous events and mansplaining the crap out of everything (totally unnecessary – give your reader credit, they have a surprising tendency to remember what happened, with like memory and stuff), not so with King of Thorns. Can I get a hallelujah? No? Too much?

We’re thrown right back into the mix; into the words of Katherine, to be precise – the woman/aunt with whom Jorg is obsessed before making our way to his wedding to child-bride Miana. But with the Prince of Arrow’s legion now marshalled at the castle gate, this isn’t a happy day by any stretch of the imagination. Happy isn’t something Jorg is at all familiar with – happiness would be a weakness, and weakness is something King Jorg will not tolerate.

jorg

A hasty marriage ceremony is on the cards, and given Jorg’s distaste for bedding someone who is essentially a child, an even hastier ruse is contrived to show Jorg’s subjects the deed has been done. This is also where we get the first glimpse of Miana’s mind and strength, and with each of her appearances throughout the book, Lawrence unveils a little more of that intellect and crafty perception she holds – she’s quite the tactician. Something Jorg will soon come to value.

This book also keeps to the format of moving from past to present and back again in its storytelling. While it took me a wee bit to get into the gist of this with the first book, I slipped seamlessly into the rhythm this time round. This type of storytelling is difficult to pull-off, let alone successfully, but Lawrence manages it remarkably well – it forces (allows?) the reader to think, to wonder why Jorg does the things he does in the present before taking you back to give you clues and scenes to decipher. It’s something I value when reading. I don’t want to be hand-held down a garden path with the writer pointing out all I need to know and why – let me do some lifting as well, it creates the connection with characters I’m wanting.

Connection is something I’ve noticed some readers find difficult when it comes to Jorg. Not me. I have about as much empathy for Jorg as he has for himself, but I like the way he forges ahead with his goals, how he sacrifices much to achieve them. There’s something to be said for writer who creates a character that has little with which to empathise but with whom I find myself cheering on. Yes, even when committing deeds that seem totally sociopathic. Is Jorg a sociopath? There’s definitely evidence to suggest as much. Doesn’t make me like him less.

jorg 1

Jorg is again joined by Sir Makin and his Brothers (who are slowly and violently dwindling) and the monsters he’s collected along his travels – Gog and Gorgoth. Gog, ever the fire-child, does hold a special place with Jorg, but would you call it love? No. Gog is a kindred, while I believe Gorgoth is the conscious Jorg struggles to find. Both will suffer because of this, Gog more so, but that demise powerfully links the two, and Jorg will always have that puckered reminder staring back at him.

One of my favourite scenes is that within the marshes – the rising of the dead, all of them, and the confrontation with the necromancer, Chella. Here Jorg and the Brothers fight those they’ve killed, those who died with the Builder’s sun and even fellow brothers in various states of decomposition – it’s hard, brutal and unforgiving. I loved it!

(Psst! You gotta love a review where I get to use the words: monster, necromancer, decomposition and sociopath.) Here’s where we find out a little more of the Dead King, and that’s a showdown I’m very much looking forward to.

But Jorg is first moving steadily toward a showdown with the Prince of Arrow – the light to Jorg’s darkness. We’re taken back to their first meeting, and we’re shown the allure the Prince has; so much so that even Jorg questions his motivations to take on a man who even he would follow. The Prince of Arrow is a man of the people, looking to unite the empire and bring peace and bounty to all within. He’s a forward-thinker, and also the one who will marry Katherine. The two set up for a mighty future battle (yes, the one that take place on Jorg’s wedding day), but first, Jorg makes for the family he knows little about – his mother’s.

It’s here, upon meeting his uncle and grandparents (and ghost Fexler), that plans for this upcoming battle really do start to fall into place (while creating a new foe). And that’s one thing a reader cannot doubt – Jorg’s ability and determination to see things through, no matter the outcome, no matter the cost. Jorg gets the information and [redacted for spoilery moment] that will have him win this war. It’s also where we learn more about the Jorg’s world and the Builders that makes Lawrence’s Broken Empire so damn awesome (this is a revelation future readers need to make, and something I won’t spoil for them).

bloody handprint

We see the return of Jorg’s memory from that copper box he carries with him, and how madness really does ride side-saddle with him. But through it all, Jorg is a tactician’s tactician. And despite the shenanigans of dream-witch Sageous, Jorg remains true to his path to the throne, albeit sometimes wandering off-path to deal with those who threaten his rise or to find… stuff… that will aid him in that battle.

Katherine plays a far greater part in this book, although most of what we discover about her is told through journal entries. We see her develop some interesting yet dangerous talents with regard to accessing her dreams and moving through them. We’re given greater understanding of the Prince of Arrow (Orrin) and his sullen brother Egan, and slowly, slowly the layers are peeled away and all are shown the truth.

It’s this final scene, this final battle between King Jorg and the Prince of Arrow (will not spoil this revelation either) and Jorg’s ensuing internal battle where Lawrence really delivers some killer blows. While I saw that spoilery bit coming just moments prior, it didn’t lesson the appreciation of the delivery; same with the big burn baby burn!

Lawrence didn’t take the easy way out here with this second book and use it to solely set up the final book. There are twists and turns; a subtle leading and plot punches to the face; there’s death on the tiniest but most powerful of scales (that’s a hint, not a real spoiler) and deaths bordering genocide. All of it woven with a delicate hand that drags you in and makes you see life in this world for what it is – not at all pretty. That this is told from Jorg’s point-of-view, one who doesn’t pretty-up the world, its people and their action, only makes this a more compelling read.

We’re introduced to new characters and we watch others die, usually violently, but anyone who says that’s a surprise is kidding themselves. This is as dark a book as was the first, which makes me a happy reader and more eager than ever to get stuck into the final book.

On a Goodreads scale, I give King of Thorns 4.5 stars.

Four and half stars

 

Review: Besieged by Rowena Cory Daniells

I should be writing, I should, but I’m starting to get ridiculously behind on my book reviews, which isn’t a bad thing really – it means I’m reading faster than I can write reviews… or someone’s seriously messing with time (if so – STOP IT!).

Aaaanyway… it’s book review time! Today we’re venturing into the fantastical world of Rowena Cory Daniells’ Outcast Chronicles. While I’ve read the trilogy in its entirety, here I’ll be chatting about the first in the series – Besieged. (Oh, and a special shout out to Ashely Capes for putting me onto this trilogy, too! Thanks, buddy!)

Now before we go any further, I have a marching band mustering stage right with the requisite spoiler alert, and they’re getting antsy…

<Enter marching band to the strains of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Master Blaster’ – because Stevie>

EVERYONE’S SEEING SPOILERS! IT’S A SPOILER IN JUNE! THOUGH THE WORLD’S FULL OF SPOILERS, THEY COULDN’T SPOIL US EVEN IF THEY TRIED!

Well technically you could be spoiled if you continue reading. So as the marching band exits stage left, either take your seat and continue reading (ignoring my dancing) or follow the band out to the parking lot…

Besieged

Alrighty, let’s get to this, shall we?

Imagine a world split definitively between those with differing physical attributes. Daniells’ world is ruled by ‘True-Men’, perfectly-formed and pure of blood, they believe themselves better than those unlike them. On the other side is the T’En, white-haired, blue-eyed, six-fingered people with mind-bending abilities that strike fear (and superstition) into the hearts of True-Men everywhere. Caught somewhat between are the Malajune (Wyrds), copper-haired, purple-eyed, six fingered men and women born into the service of the T’En – honoured they believe themselves to be, this indoctrination is hard-wired into them through history.

But the above is just the main structure, the loom if you will, of a rich tapestry of lives and loves, culture and magic that hold this world together. Daniells weaves her world with care and precision, but one tug at those threads and it all unravels, as we will come to see.

At times the precision of Daniells’ world-building worked against the forwarding of the story, especially within the first one-hundred and fifty or so pages. I understand the need for this world-building at the beginning of a trilogy, but there was a lot of information I felt could have been drip-fed through the story, not spelled out so completely with those early chapters.

It’s all about balance, and that Daniells’ storylines for the characters were so compelling, it was sometimes frustrating to feel bogged down in some of her descriptions when I wanted to follow the characters through their stories.

Besieged is told from several points of view, and works well to give us a taste of the different people that make up this world. While Imoshen takes somewhat centre stage for the trilogy, it’s the character of Sorne, the disavowed son of the mad king, Charald, to whom we are first introduced as a babe – I’m talking straight from the womb and (almost) directly to his father’s blade.

It’s with Sorne we spend the beginning of the book; saved (and raised) by former High Priest Oskane – for purely selfish reasons, mind – he is an experiment in the abilities of the Malanjune to find a way to defeat them. Tortured and indoctrinated into subservience, Sorne’s is a pitiful, yet strangely happy childhood, until he becomes aware of who he really is. Things really go from bad to worse when he delves into the higher planes where monsters dwell, and becomes an even greater pawn in Oskane’s plans for revenge.

besieged banner

Running concurrently with Sorne’s story is that of Imoshen. The T’En’s are also a divided race – the Sisterhood and Brotherhoods (yes, men and women split with power-plays happening all the time). History has the Sisterhoods raising all children, with the boys moving to a Brotherhood when they come of age. It’s an interesting dynamic Daniells plays out here – each Brother and Sisterhood has its own standing, but each also vies for greater standing and power with the T’En. Each T’En also has their own gift, which can range from being a Warrior, Healer, and taster of truth to communing with animals (which is so low on the scale, it’s considered tainted).

Those within the Brotherhood usually have children with Malanjune, and Imoshen was not handed over to the Sisterhood as per law but raised by men. Though loved by her father, she too, is a pawn in bringing prestige to the Brotherhood but the pact was broken and… well, all hell breaks loose when Imoshen arrives at the Sisterhood after escaping a murder-plot.

Besieged is the set-up book for Daniells’ created world, characters and the story arcs of said characters. It’s a bloody, in-your-face world that doesn’t shy from the harsh reality of a world that is bound by rules and laws that at times seem unfair, but so far have worked to keep the peace. Of course you know that the peace is going to be broken, that there are those within the book who will set out alone to make their own destinies, even when they are tied so tightly to the people they’re meant to be guiding and protecting.

It’s no secret that the Mad King Charald wants the city the T’En occupy – beautiful and bountiful that it is. He’s determined, ruthless and uses the magic and history of the gods to further his cause while taking wife after wife in an attempt to sire the perfect True-Man son.

There are parts of the book I’d like to mention here, but they’re also parts as a reader you should discover yourself. Daniells has woven an intricate world and characters that are wholly likeable and unlikeable, but there’s an honesty to this world that I really enjoyed.

While it sits squarely within the fantasy genre, there’s a darkness and brutality to it that won’t appeal to all fans of fantasy. For me, though, I liked that unashamed storytelling. Lives aren’t all pristine and happy unicorns, that if you look hard enough, you’ll see the cracks in those veneers and the dirt that hides beneath.

As I said earlier, there were times where I felt the story suffered a little under the weight of the world-building, but that’s a personal preference. Daniells’ world is extremely well constructed, the magic systems and culture, though unique to each race, they’re cleverly entwined and deftly delivered. There’s political and religious power-plays, revenge, betrayal, love and horror all finding their place here — a little something for everyone.

It’s difficult to express within a thousand-or-so words how good this book is (without it turning into a dissertation), but I’d highly, highly recommend this series. Daniells said she wanted to write a trilogy that had the reader wanting more, and she definitely delivered with Besieged. I finished the book (which is 672 pages) in about five days because I wanted to spend more time with the characters in this beautifully fucked-up world.

On a Goodreads scale, I give this 3.5 stars

stars

 

Feeding the Soul

Saturday night I ventured into the heart of the best city in the world for the Sydney Writers’ Festival, which was set to the backdrop of the festival of lights – Vivid. It was a fantastic night that all started with a forty-five minute walk, and what a walk it was!

Streets were closed from the middle of the city all the way to Circular Quay and around The Rocks, and I can’t explain how much I enjoyed walking down the middle of George Street, surrounded by so many but revelling in the solitary exploration of my home town lit up like magic. Those forty-five minutes, free to walk and explore and indulge on my lonesome was food for the soul.

opera house

Sydney Opera House under lights

I’m not sure how many writers’ festivals have a light, music and ideas festival running concurrently, but more need to. The Sydney foreshore, which is always beautiful, was transformed into a city of the fantastique. There were so many things that drew my attention… and probably why I made it to the auditorium by the skin of my teeth.

I was in the audience for the ‘5 x 15’ – five speakers chat for 15 minutes a piece. No scripts allowed! It was an eclectic lineup, too. A cook, crime writer, investigative journalist, rapper/poet/novelist, and violinist. Something for everyone, I thought, but not everything for all.

I’m happy to say I was wrong.

We began with cook (and MasterChef winner) Adam Liaw. Now I’m not a cook, not by any stretch of the imagination, so I wasn’t quite sure how Adam’s words would apply to me, but… he was great! Sure, a lot of what he spoke about was food related, about breaking food down to its main elements and drawing from there. Pretty much like you do for fiction. Adam was engaging, amusing and more insightful than I imagined.

baking

Next up was US crime writer Michael Connelly. Aah, fiction writer! I admit I haven’t read any of Michael’s books, but that will soon be rectified. He told us about his first novels (ones that will never see the light of day, which is always great to have in common), but I was most impressed with the research he undertook that turned his “crappy” novels into best-sellers. It’s the little things that count, the nuances of character, the attention to detail (no matter how small), that make a story. It’s this kind of information that’s invaluable to a writer, and I thank him for it.

Then came Kate McClymont. I’ve read a lot of her investigative pieces, especially with regard to the political shenanigans of our government – she’s very, very good, but I had no idea how funny she was. I’m sure she ran over time, but it didn’t matter. She had the auditorium in fits of laughter and entertained like a true show-woman. She was definitely going to be a hard act to follow.

Enter Omar Musa. Another Australian novelist/poet/rapper not on my radar. Now Omar had cheat cards, of which he readily confessed (but rarely looked at). Against the rules? Maybe. Did any of us care? Nah-ah. Omar is a finalist for the Miles Franklin Award for his novel Here Come The Dogs, and what he gave us was amazing. Part poetry slam, part biography, it was a feast of rhythm and verse and lyrical beauty told with an honesty that had me buy his book (and have it signed – he’s humble and happily chatted to all who came to him). It was brilliant. Just brilliant.

Here Come the Dogs

When the last speaker, concert violinist Richard Tognetti took the stage, he told us his 12-year-old son told him he’d better be funny as the previous speakers were amazing. Pressure much? Richard is one of the top violinists in Australia, and boy can he talk a million miles a minute! Nerves were definitely there, and at times, so fast did he speak it was difficult to keep track of where he was taking us. He had with him an extremely rare violin that was hundreds of years old – the history behind it (rapid though it was), was interesting, but when he put that instrument to his chin and played for us all… magic. He was transposed from this almost manic dialogue into a virtuoso of calm and beauty as he seemed to romance music from the violin. Such a fitting end to an incredible panel of speakers.

A special shout-out to the always lovely and quick-witted Diana Jenkins who emceed the event – amazing job!

After having my newly-purchased book signed by Omar Musa, it was off for drinks until there was only two of us left – me and my mate, Deb. We had a great (if not cold) stroll around the harbour foreshore, taking in the sights of Vivid, discussing the speakers and just generally laughing our arses off (as we tend to do when together).

peacock feathersfaces

The Argyle Cut and Martin Place Faces

For those of you who haven’t attended The Sydney Writers’ Festival, you don’t know what you’re missing. It’s a week-long event, with days and nights chock-full of panels and discussions, book launches, culture and heritage… there really is something for everyone. If you’re a reader, it’s a chance to connect with favourite authors and discover new. For writers, who really do tend to be solitary creatures, it’s a place to revel in your passion, to talk about stories and the realness of your characters (without those strange looks you sometimes get from non-writerly peeps), and connect with those who love what they do as much as you do.

For me? Well I got all of the above, and so much more. I’m inspired, determined and I learned – something a writer never stops doing. And I can’t wait to do it all again next year.

pyschedelic building

Now get thee to a writers’ festival!