Coming up for air

Or ‘Having a Lunch Break’…

Oh dear. I’ve been very boring haven’t I? No reviews, no news. Nothing.

Well I have been busy. We had a large signing last Thursday night with Kate Elliott, Karen Miller and Charles Stross. And it was awesome!

I have also been getting ready to go to World Con. That should be a fun thing, but truthfully it has been diabolical.

If my writing doesn’t pan out and I still happen to be the manager of Galaxy when next it comes to town – or rather Melbourne –  we will not be bothering with a table in the Dealers Room.

So while I hope to have a good time down there, at present I am not feeling very positive about it at all.

I have also been busy reading the Sanderson tome ‘The Way of Kings’. I am currently at the halfway mark and I am enjoying it which really surprises me because I have never read a book by Sanderson previously that I have liked. I am actually recommending this one to people and regular customers have given me some very surprised looks when I have.

In other news I have hit the last quarter of my first draft – and for some reason it feels like it’s getting harder and harder to write. I haven’t had as much time to dedicate to it as I did before I became manager so that might be part of it. I am also coming to the conclusion that I might actually need to do more in the way of detailed plotting. I have up till now written in a way that I know that beginning, middle and end of a story and kinda of just let the bits inbetween flow… that has become problematical at this end of my draft. So I will be looking at plotting more closely for the next draft AND for future installments.

I think.

I have also set up a goodreads account, feel free to add me if you do too. I should be finished the Sanderson in the next day or so – yes I will most likely be lugging it to Melbourne with me. I had hoped to have received the manuscript of Steel Queen by Karen Azinger by today to also take with me (I love working in a Bookshop and being able to ask publishers for a manuscript! :-D) but it hasn’t arrived yet. Not that I am expecting to to heaps of reading but I must always have a book ready to go. Always.

Pushing the Edge

of my comfort zone.

Now on my shelf:

AMBERJACK
By Terry Dowling


Terry is the author I read when I want to challenge myself. He is a brilliant writer but is writing is not the sort that is found in regular mass market works, in fact I’d probably go so far as to say his writing, while still genre,  has more of the feel you’d find in books shelved in the ‘literature’ section of a bookshop.

I won’t read it all in one go, but I will read it. I might even learn something too.

Meanwhile

I’ve put my ‘secret’ book down and am launching myself head long into Sanderson’s The Way of Kings, and I am finding myself pleasantly surprised. I am not very far into it as yet (hopefully I’ll be able to spend sometime over the weekend reading solidly) but what I have read I am quite enjoying.

A Sheep in Wolfs clothing

is often very disappointing.

Victoria over at Speculative Book Reviews has written a great post on How Do You Judge a Book? For me style of prose, strength and depth of setting (world building) and characterisation are huge things, so is the level the author is writing for.

While I have no issue with Young Adult fiction, I am coming across more and more fantasy titles presented as Adult that are – when you get down to it – thinly veiled YA books. They might very well have grusome battle scenes and references to sex -if not sex itself – but the plot is nothing less than ‘simple’. And I don’t mean that negatively, I mean that literally.

I often come across this when the author presents figures of authority or power (political) – especially when a main character is involved or is that figure themselves. And here – for me – the world building that the author has done, which can be quite inventive just falls apart.

It’s baffling to me that so much time and effort can be spent creating a world, honing ideas, and then so little attention gets paid to detail. That the author will present to us a character as a leader of a land, or an all powerful magic-user, and then forgets all the trappings of position they get or regulated to contemporary standards. Unfortunately at this point – unless the actual writing is really, really good, the entire thing becomes prosaic and bland – for me.

The author has created a world with Kings and Queens, paupers and Princes, Ambassador’s and nobles – not to mention the history of kingdoms and all the wars and bloodshed that they can represent – but can’t follow through on the setting. When we get down to the details the king/queen or prince/princess (or whatever this particular character might be) is on first name basis with all of his/her subjects, the guards play jokes on him or she sneaks out of the castle whenever she can to visit the markets. (I realise this is a specific example, but you get my point?)

If I wanted to read YA fine. And I am not being derogatory to YA fiction here. When I know that is what I have picked up then I have no issue, I don’t expect more and often enjoy the story for its own sake. It’s when I am expecting more only to get YA that I am irritated beyond measure.

One of the biggest draw cards to speculative fiction is exploring another world. I know that can sound strange given that a lot the infrastructure often used is built around our own past. But hey! I don’t live in that world on a daily basis.

I don’t understand what the problem is, and I think this is one of the reasons mainstream publishing looks down on genre fiction (and it does, believe me). They look at the books and box them up as ‘for kids’, and when I come across this sort of thing I understand why.

– End rant.

Beautiful Prose

From an award wining New Zealand poet.

THE HEIR OF NIGHT
Wall of Night Book 1
By Helen Lowe 
Buy it

The violence of an age-old war casts a long shadow. It falls on a world where mercy is weakness and conflict is a way of life. Young Malian is being trained to rule. Her people garrison the mountain range known as the Wall of Night against an ancient enemy, keeping a tide of shadow from the rest of their world. Malian is expected to uphold this tradition, yet she’s known little of real danger until the enemy launches a direct attack upon her fortress home. In the darkest part of the night, the Keep of Winds becomes a bloodbath. Women and children, warriors and priests, are slain by creatures with twisted magic flowing in their veins. And as the castle wakes to chaos, Malian flees deep into the Old Keep, her life at stake. Then when the danger is greatest, her own hidden magic flares into life. But this untapped potential is a two-edged blade. If she accepts its power, she must prepare to pay the price. 

Robin Hobb says ‘The Heir of Night by Helen Lowe is a richly told tale of strange magic, dark treachery and conflicting loyalties, set in a well realised world’.

And she is quite right, it is. 

It is a beautifully crafted novel, the world is vibrant and so are the characters, although I must admit the characterisation sometimes left me scratching my head. I had a lot of questions as to maturity – in Malian’s case – and what seemed to me to be leaps of logic. But this didn’t spoil my enjoyment of what promises to be a very exciting new series.

Old wars, lost powers, blood feuds, prophecies and the rising of an ancient evil makes (on paper) a pretty regular book of standard fantasy fare – but I don’t care if I have read a similar premise over and over again as long as the writing is good and the author does something different with it. And Lowe’s writing is very good and the story is original enough in nuance to be fresh. The one thing i will nit-pick over is the Naming of things, particular creatures and powers and the like. I mean the ‘Raptor of Darkness’? I was disappointed that Lowe did create a name in place of a title, she has the chops for it as the rest of her writing shows.

That being said I did read it all the way through to the end, and I will pick up the next book to see how things progress. There were some wonderfully rendered scenes, especially as Malian is trying to escape those who hunt her in underbelly of the Keep, and good use of pacing and some very interesting worldbuilding from a very talent new voice in the Epic fantasy field.


A Master Class in Worldbuilding

But not quite as good as Book 1 and 2

KING’S SHIELD
Inda Book 3
By Sherwood Smith
Buy it

In the third book of the Inda quartet, Inda, on the verge of adulthood, is at last coming home. His best friend from his academy days, Evred, is now king. But instead of befriending and welcoming Inda, he puts him in charge of defending the kingdom. In saving his homeland from attack, Inda must prove himself-or lose everything he holds dear.

“The world creation and characterization within Inda have the complexity and depth and inventiveness that mark a first-rate fantasy novel… This is the mark of a major work of fiction…you owe it to yourself to read Inda.” – Orson Scott Card

The first book introduces the reader to a complex world – steeped brilliantly in as much history and diversity as our own – and to Inda, the title and main character of the quartet. He goes to military school as all aristocratic sons of the Marlovians do and build friendships with other boys his own age – ties that will last a lifetime. Here we see the beginnings of the military prodigy he becomes and  get caught up in the tragedy that befalls him and the exile he must endure, while at the same time cheering him on as he takes what he’s been given and does better than ever expected.

In book two the genius that was hinted at blossoms and we really get to see Inda shine. There is action and excitement aplenty – and although I love magic, magic, magic and characters who learn how to use it I had no problem that there is barely any at all Inda’s part of the world. There is some but it’s not a huge part of the story. This book builds on the first beautiful as a study in character development, action and politics with real complexity.

Then we have book three.
 
King’s Shield is a home coming tale and it has all the joy and poignancy you might expect without being cloying or superficial. Sherwood breathes life into these characters. But for me, the overall feel I got from this book was (I imagine) what some people get when they talk about ‘middle book syndrome’. This is not a middle book per se but it is the hinge on which a major thread hangs – Inda Exiled, Inda homecoming, and to come, Inda at home. And that’s fine.
 
These are huge books (just the way I like them) but I felt a lot this books battles where boring – unlike the sea battles Inda fought in Fox (perhaps because those seemed to happen faster and where more intimate).  I found myself more interested in the economics of the Marlovian kingdom, it’s trade and infrastructure, and the internal politics than what was going on with the fighting. But that probably says more about me than the writing of the book 😀 That being said there a lot of characters (most of whom are known by more than one name) and it does become confusing without a character list or a glossary in book. But, these are peripheral characters and as long as you retain the mains and their direct counter parts you’ll do okay.
 
Sherwood Smith’s imagination is captivating – and the background info on her site (for this story/world) is mind blowing – her characters are vibrant individuals and her grasp of history is epic. My biggest regret with this series is not buying Inda in hardback because this series (although I have yet to read book four) is going on my shelves as a keeper!
 
I can’t wait to read more about this world, it is very, very exciting.