A book that matches the hype

I love this guys writing. Just love it.

The Painted Man
Demon War #01
By Peter V Brett

Sometimes there is very good reason to be afraid of the dark…

As dusk falls upon Arlan’s world, a strange mist rises from the ground, a mist carrying nightmares to the surface. A mist that promises a violent death to any foolish enough to brave the coming darkness, for hungry corelings – demons that cannot be harmed by mortal weapons – materialize from the vapours to feed on the living. As the sun sets, people have no choice but to take shelter behind magical wards and pray that their protection holds until the creatures dissolve with the first signs of dawn.

Late 2008 brought us the debut novel of Peter V Brett, The Painted Man, and brought me a new author to add to my ‘must read’ list. The novel received a great deal of hype but it took me a while before I jumped on the band wagon – but that had the added bonus of not having to wait quite so long for the sequel, Desert Spear, which was released early last year. This is a novel of vibrant characters and a driving story in a world of unique magic and a deadly enemy.

In the world of The Painted Man mankind only has dominion over the earth during the day, as the sun sets he retreats to shelter for fear of the coreling – elemental demons – that rise from the center of the earth and prey on humanity without quarter. Three centuries ago the corelings brought civilization to its knees and now humans live behind walled cities and towns, desperately seeking safety from an enemy they cannot fight or defeat, their only protection are the ancients runes that form ‘wards’. These are painted, drawn (and in some cases carved) on all buildings, fences and walls, creating geometric barriers of energy that are the only thing that will stop the demons and keep mankind safe. There are legends of wards that where once in mankind’s possession that allowed them to wage war on the corelings but these were lost centuries ago and are relegated to the status of myth and the superstitious belief that one day a Deliverer will come to save them.

There are no massive info-dump’s in Brett’s writing; he cleverly reveals the world and its history through his characters that are fleshed out with real emotion and real issues, relatable to many people regardless of how they are dressed up to fit the ‘stage’ of the tale. Grief and rage cause Arlen to run heedlessly from the safety of shelter and get caught outdoors as night falls – the tale of his journey from boy to man is filled with danger and discovery; of himself and the world he lives in. Leesha’s journey to self-discovery is one that takes place within the confines of the town in which she lives. She is forced to wade against the tide of expectation and convention and blaze a trail that leads her to come upon an understanding of wards that has been forgotten centuries ago; while Rojer, orphaned by a coreling attack grows up an outcast in the ‘care’ of a drunken Jongleur, he takes refuge from the world in a prodigious musical talent and inadvertently discovers more about the corelings than anyone had ever guessed.

Brett weaves these three separate stories with a consummate skill that belies his tag as a first-time writer. Slowly he tightens the strands, bringing each thread together to form a strong and exciting whole. This is a brilliant debut of a fresh and compelling new voice in fantasy fiction; and where once I waited with anticipation for the next Jordan book I now do so for the next one by Brett.

The Art of Making Something New

Have you ever read any Eberron books? You should – being someone who LOVES worldbuilding I really get into the Eberron stuff.

I am not ALWAYS a fan of shared world stuff, but Wizards have been doing an excellent job of find really good writers these days and the Eberron world setting has quickly become the sort of world I wish I had thought up myself.

Draconic Prophecies #01
by James Wyatt

(From the Archives:)

The Prophecies were old when humans first began to forge their civilisation. Said to give meaning to the past, guidance to the present and to predict the future – a future of the world’s remaking – a future in which Gaven d’Lyrander has unwillingly become the most important player.

Scion to one of the great Dragonmark Houses, whose heirs have the chance to manifest a dragon-like birthmark of great power at puberty, Gaven spent most of his time exploring dark caves looking for valuable dragonshards in the depths of the earth. But in one dragonshard he found more then he or his House were looking for and it invaded his mind, filling him with the most intimate knowledge of the Prophecies a human had ever held. His resulting delirium escalated to all-out madness, and his ravings lead to exile from his House and a life sentence in the island prison of Dreadhold, where he manifested the highest and rarest potential of all Dragonmark Houses, a Siberys Mark.

While Gaven is all but lost in his own mind, a daring rescue springs both himself and his cell neighbour out to a higher calling. Now on the run, the verses of the Prophecies begin to find fulfilment and sanity begins to reclaim its hold on Gaven’s mind. Now he must try to make sense of the visions that plague him waking and sleeping, and figure out the true intentions of his so called ‘rescuers’. For Haldren, a general from the Last War and Gaven’s former inmate, has joined forces with a Dragon who wishes to use the draconic prophecy to attain godhood.

The world of Eberron has been overlooked by most as just another generic medieval fantasy world made for players of Dungeons & Dragons. This is unfortunate because I have found it is much more than that. Eberron is a world that pushes the boundaries of the traditional settings that its sibling Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms tend to embrace. In this world, a world almost bordering on ‘steam-punk’, arcane magic has been applied like science and massive, towering cities defy gravity and elemental-powered airships cross the skies. Its history has been marked by extra-planar incursions, some of which have caused massive devastation and others that are as accepted and as frequent as the seasons. The books explore vibrant, diverse cultures that are scarred by a cataclysmic ‘Last War’ and united in a commitment to keep history from repeating itself, while various organisations and Great Houses look to the ruins of Goblin and Giant empires for powerful secrets and forgotten magic, and one of the greatest mysteries of the world are the Draconic Prophecies.

The books carry a contemporary, yet distinctly fantasy, feel to them and are packed with adventure and mysticism that is the hallmark of entertaining and fast-paced writing. I really enjoyed this book and am slowly exploring others.

Breaking the Fourth Wall

Where is all the ‘really good’ epic fantasy going?

There is a lot of fantasy out there, and many of it wears the trapping of ‘epic’ but when you get down to it’s just bland – and often ‘breaks the fourth wall’. Honestly I am beginning to think that many authors these days are just lazy. I mean I know they are not – I know the effort required to finish a first draft, let alone the re-writes, but come on… you know what I mean?

This is becoming an regular rant of mine, but here I am trawling through my over flowing bookshelves (at home, not in the store) looking for something to read and coming up short.
An example. It really pisses me off when I get a book that has great world building, really epic and original stuff – inventive, fully formed and unique – and then they lift what is essentially a model of the Catholic Church and dump it into their fantasy world with only the smallest of tweaks to make it fit. But it doesn’t fit. It sticks out like a sore thumb. And it’s really frustrating. The author has gone to so much trouble building their world only to drop the ball with this?
Yeah, I know there is some great stuff coming (Michelle West’s new one is out next week, and Rothfuss’ is due in March etc) but I’m looking for something now.

It’s just disappointing. And it’s also annoying when you get ‘reviewers’ reading books by writers like Scott Lynch who a brilliant job (for the most part) and snidely make comments like ‘but where is the fantasy?’ because it’s not dripping in magic – um, ever read GRRM?

There was a time that the market was awash in true epic fantasy – what happened? Is it publisher pressure or is this all they are being offered? Is it the market or marketing?
I am sure as hell going make sure that I don’t go that route with my own work.

– end rant.

A New Beginning

For many years now we’ve had people come into the store and ask after the Chung Kuo books by David Wingrove. Nearly as many people ask after them as they do Patrick Tilley’s (also Out-of-Print) Amtrak Wars books.

Well Wingrove’s epic is returning to print as of February this year.

Chung Kuo Book 1
David Wingrove
2065, two decades after the great economic collapse that destroyed Western civilization, life continues only in scattered communities.
In rural Dorset Jake Reed lives with his 14-year-old son and memories of the Fall. Back in ’43, Jake was a dynamic young futures broker, immersed in the datascape of the world’s financial markets. He saw what was coming – and who was behind it. Forewarned, he was one of the few to escape.
For 22 years he has lived in fear of the future, and finally it is coming – quite literally – across the plain towards him. Chinese airships are in the skies and a strange, glacial structure looms on the horizon.
Jake finds himself forcibly incorporated into the ever-expanding ‘World of Levels’: a global city of some 40 billion souls, where social status is reflected by how far above the ground you live.
Here, under the rule of the mighty Tsao Ch’un, a resurgent China is seeking to abolish the past and bring about world peace through rigidly enforced order. But civil war looms, and Jake will find himself at the heart of the struggle for the future.

Here’s the press release:

‘This is a major publishing event. Over twenty years in the making, the Chung Kuo series is a 2.5 million word, 20-book epic that brilliantly fuses Shogun and Blade Runner to rival the scope of Frank Herbert’s Dune or Isaac Asimov’s Foundation. In a genre of big ideas and even bigger books, this is one of the biggest and most ambitious of them all – we’re all going to need bigger bookshelves.’

Set 200 years in the future, the Chung Kuo sequence introduces a world dominated by China. History has been rewritten, the West’s great four-century-long experiment of Enlightenment erased and utterly forgotten. There is no official record of Shakespeare or Mozart, DaVinci or Einstein, any reminders of the past having been quite literally buried beneath the Han’s mile-high, continent-spanning cities. Within those cities, an ornate, hierarchical society of 34 billion souls is maintained only by unremitting repression. Revolution seems inevitable but in such an overpopulated world any change could spell the end of humanity.

Chung Kuo has been in development for over two decades. Eight books were published between 1988 and 1998, and the series was hailed as ‘one of the masterpieces of the decade’ [Washington Post]. The series is now being recast in nineteen volumes, including a new prequel and an entirely different ending, with over 500,000 additional words of new story. David Wingrove said ‘This is no Director’s Cut, but a total revision, giving the last few volumes the power and breadth of vision they were always meant to have. In the prequel I depict a world in the throes of violent change, a world in which all that is now familiar is about to pass. As the two great empires of our age clash there can only be one winner, that victory effectively ending the centuries-long rule of the West.’

Corvus will publish the new series prequel, Son of Heaven, in September 2010 and embark on an ambitious, multi-format (including special collector’s editions and e-books) publishing programme that will see all twenty volumes available by 2014.

[ this schedule seems to have been amended since it was first released, here’s an update from the author:  In late-autumn 2011, Corvus will publish volume 2, Daylight on Iron Mountain, before beginning a sixbook-a-year publication programme in 2012 that will see all remaining 18 volumes available by June 2015]
I tried the Chung Kuo books many years ago and just couldn’t get into them. But my awesome rep from Allen & Unwin (who are distributing Corvus in Australia) sent me a reading copy of Son of Heaven: Chung Kuo Book 1 and having started it last ight I am now 2/3 of the the way through it.
Its not bad at all. I think – and this is all a vague memory – that I never liked the technology (or what I felt was it’s lack) in the original books. Thats not to say it isn’t there, but whereas authors like Peter F Hamilton and Hannu Rajaniemi infuse their story telling with it I didn’t feel that Wingrove used it much at all and I was unhappy with the lack because the story didn’t grab me as it was – and I was sorry to say that I thought this new book was heading in the same direction.
I really enjoyed his work in the second part of the book (the story is told over 3 parts) where he goes back to tell the story of the Collapse, and how he used technology in it. As I said it was many years ago (nearly 20 I guess) that I first tried the original book one and my memories of it are vague and most likely uninformed. I am pleased to say that this time around I am very much looking forward to what is to come  – and should be finished Book one tomorrow.