Tag Archives: jim butcher

End of one chapter…and the start of another

So, this week Chaosmage comes out. Book 3 of 3 in the Age of Darkness trilogy. The last book in my first trilogy from Orbit books.

A quick aside…

Chaosmage Stephen AryanFor all of you out there waiting for the series to finish before picking it up in case a) I died in the middle of writing it or b) not believing it would actually come out every six months and there would be a sudden 2-5 year gap between books, well, you were wrong on both counts. I’m still alive and the trilogy is done. So now you can pick up all 3 books in one go. They’re all here on Barnes and Noble if you’re in the USA, or Waterstones if you’re in the UK. And there’s always Amazon of course.

Second quick aside, I’m at a big fantasy panel on Wednesday 12th October at Waterstones Piccadilly in London at 7pm, alongside 4 other awesome fantasy authors. They are Den Patrick, Jen Williams, Francesca Haig and Peter Newman. So please do come along and say hi. We’re doing a talk and then a signing. It’s free but you have to book a seat.

Anyway, so back in 2013, which both seems like only yesterday and also a long time ago, I wasn’t sure I’d really get to this point. Quite suddenly an agent had just said she was interested in representing my first book and then we were off, and I was editing book 1, writing book 2 and then what followed was two frantically busy years of editing book 1 with my publisher, while writing book 2 and planning book 3. Then once book 1 was completely done, I sunk deeper into book 2 and made more notes on book 3 and so on….which brings me to today where I’m done with my first trilogy.

Battlemage - Stephen Aryan

Three years ago getting one book published was just the dream of an aspiring author. Battlemage was just another book in a long line of novels for me. I’d been trying to get an agent and then a publisher, doing it the traditional way, for many years. In some ways it was no different from some of the previous books I’d written. In other ways it was totally different, as it was a return to my favourite genre after dabbling in other areas and my desire to write a fantasy book that was full of the fantastic (magic, being set on another world, non-human races) which seemed to be lacking at the time. I wanted to both pay my respects to those who had come before, upon whose shoulders I was standing, while blending that with something new. Somehow, through some weird alchemy, I did enough things right for it to catch an agent’s attention.

Bloodmage Stephen AryanWith Bloodmage I did something completely different. I wrote a more intimate story in terms of scope and I wanted to pay homage to many of my crime influences, from Dexter to Columbo*, to Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden and Mike Carey’s Felix Caster, to all of the cop shows I’ve watched over the last 30 years and loved. It was a more challenging book to write in some ways and I think it’s currently my favourite, although my opinion may change tomorrow. I’m incredibly proud of it and I accomplished everything I set out to do with it, which is rare. Sometimes you write a story and the end result is close. Sometimes it’s not what you wanted and perhaps that means you can explore the same theme again in another book.

With Chaosmage, I went in a different direction again. I pulled through some of the threads from the first two books, tying the stories together, while also paying my respects to some of my thriller and horror influences, such as Dean Koontz and Stephen King. I set out to create something chilling and disturbing in a horrific and deserted city on the edge of the world. I never want to repeat myself or write the same thing twice and so far I believe I’ve achieved it as each book has a very distinctive flavour.

And now I’m looking ahead to the next story. It’s going to be something different again and it will hopefully challenge me in new ways and also prove interesting to the readers.

One final thing. If you have enjoyed any of my books, please post a review on Amazon or Goodreads, even a short one, as it helps other people find the book and helps spread the word. And nothing helps sell a book faster than word of mouth.

 

* – Bonus points if you spot the Columbo reference in Bloodmage. Send me a note if you do find it.

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What happened at Eastercon 2015

This was my first convention of the year and it was a relatively quiet one. Despite that, and coming home before the convention ended, I was still shattered by the end of it. A painful journey down on Friday meant I arrived late but just in time to see the last half of the opening ceremony. As bad as my journey was, the guests of honour coming from America had a much worse trip. This involved having their plane return to the airport as they didn’t have enough fuel to fly around a storm. As a result they arrived late and had been awake for a very long time. At the end of his first panel, when Jim Butcher was asked for any closing thoughts it consisted of ‘I’m very tired’ which was fair enough after being awake for 30 hours!

The rest of the weekend seemed to pass in a blur. I spent it hanging out and catching up with old friends, such as my stalwart convention buddy Adrian Faulkner, plus I had a chance to catch up with Mr Gav Reads, as I like to call him. The always lovely CE Murphy was over from Ireland and it was so great to see her and put the world to rights. I met a couple of likely lads in the form of Rob Adams and Cameron Johnston and we shared writing stories over a pint of real ale from the bar on Friday night. I briefly ran into the award winning Ruth Booth, who picked up a BSFA award for a short story, so many congratulations to her.

Even though we’d met briefly in the past I was properly introduced to Lucy Hounsom by Jen Williams and we had dinner together in the pub with Adrian, my agent-buddy Pete Newman and his good lady wife Milady Emma Newman. They were both nominated for a Hugo don’t you know for their podcast. I’m not going to get into the Hugo controversy as others have done that elsewhere and with more clarity. See George RR Martin’s blog post about it for more info. I also met the friendly Ed Cox and we shared a manly hug, and Catie introduced me to Charlie Stross at one point too. I also ran into the always kind and generous Gillian Redfearn several times over the weekend, in a corridor, in the pub, during a panel, although at one point I’m sure I saw that she’s grown some horns (see her twitter feed for photos).

So a lot of names and faces, old and new to me over the course of the weekend. As ever, this more than the panels and even the guests of honour, are what the conventions are all about for me. Connecting with like-minded, creative and clever people and being able to completely relax and mention something tangentially connected and not receive a blank stare. At one point someone mentioned Star Wars and Spaced, and that set me off quoting Simon Pegg’s character as he berates a small child in a comic shop for wanting some Jar Jar Binks merchandise.

Saturday consisted of more panels and also hearing Jim Butcher speak on a few panels during his first convention in the UK. It was great to meet him in person and get a book signed. As well as being over here for Eastercon, he is also going on a mini signing tour of the UK this week. Saturday night was a fairly late one where myself, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Peter Newman and David Tallerman put the Marvel film universe to rights. I think we got it all sorted out in the end but don’t ask me what we ultimately decided.

Amazingly I only managed to buy two books at the event, but I did receive one in my bag, The Seventh Miss Hatfield by Anna Caltabiano who I met last year on a panel at Nine Worlds Geekfest. I’m also feeling briefly smug as just after Eastercon they announced the Clarke Award Finalists and I’ve already read two of them and picked up another, Station Eleven, at the weekend. I’ll attempt to read the others but I won’t make a promise as my to read pile is already hideous.

I left just after breakfast on Sunday so I missed Adrian’s talk on storm chasing, but I’ve heard very good things about it. Check out photos from it on his blog. So now there’s a big break for me between events and the next one will be Nine Worlds Geekfest in August. I’m helping out with the Podcasting track again, but don’t expect to be on any panels. In theory, this leaves me with several uninterrupted months where there’s nothing going on and I’m going to focus on chipping away at book 3. That’s the plan anyway so we’ll see how it goes. As ever I came away from the convention tired but also happy and re-energised. Being around those kind of creative people buoys me up and makes me keen to get back to the keyboard and turn out another chapter. So that’s what I’m going to do, starting….now.

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Eastercon – Dysprosium

This bank holiday weekend I’ll be at Eastercon or, Dysprosium, as it is called this year, the 66th annual event where SFF fans gather to drink, I mean, talk about books and stuff.

This year there are some exciting and interesting guests of honour that I’m looking forward to meeting, but I’m actually more excited about meeting up with friends. These are people I only get to see maybe once or twice a year. You can’t choose who you work with and I have often ended up in an environment for my day job where I’m lucky if one person shares even one of my passions and most often the number is zero. At a convention I have something in common with almost everyone and it’s a great place to just geek out, relax in good company and have all of those important conversations like, why Batman is so much cooler than Superman. It means I can get into the nitty gritty on certain characters or novels, and rake over stuff with a fine toothed comb if I want and no one will suddenly switch the conversation to their children, or pensions, or football, because they can’t join in and have no clue what I’m on about. Conventions are a great place to belong and find your tribe. They are a great place to relax where I can be myself and I don’t have to hide what I enjoy as there’s no mockery.

I can’t choose who I work with, but I can choose who I spend my free time with and, geek conversations aside, I find the people at these conventions are always well read, thoughtful and intelligent. Sadly there are always a few bad apples, and the convention organisers work very hard to prevent issues so that everyone can have a good time, but generally the atmosphere is relaxed.

So if you’ve not been to one of these events before I would encourage you to do so, as you’ll probably meet a lot of like-minded people who share your passions, and you’ll come away with some new friends. If you see me at Eastercon at the weekend, come over and say hi and we’ll sort out once and for all which is better, Marvel or DC comics.

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Get Involved in 2014

I’m not one for making new year resolutions, but what I am doing starting from January is rewatching and rereading a few things together with some friends. This is your invitation to take part and then join in with the discussion. I should quickly mention, that I know how life (and by that I’m including work, family, the unexpected) can stall a great idea like this, which is why I’m doing all of them at a reasonable pace. So if you want to join in on one of them, then please do, but there’s no pressure and we’re going at a steady pace so no one gets left behind.

g4The Dresden Files reread – First up, I’m an enormous fan of the writer Jim Butcher and I think he is a very talented guy. The Dresden Files are one of my favourite series of books, ever really, but there are quite a few of them out now, and although I know what’s going on in the story now, I am sure I have forgotten some of the smaller details. I’ve forgotten character moments, seeing the clues that led to greater things and dooms to come, and there are seeds planted along the way. So overall I’m very excited about starting from the beginning and reliving all of the amazing moments and witnessing the growth of Harry. My reading buddy on this is Stacey Whittle, she of the Small Press Big Mouth (small press comics podcast), the Whittle Waffle podcast (solo podcast where she talks comics, TV, film, geek stuff and of course knitting!). Both podcasts are on iTunes and she is @Stace_W on Twitter. We are reading one Dresden Files book a month. As I said, it gives us time, just in case.

Beauty and the BeastBeauty and The Beast rewatch – Through talking to some friends at conventions and also on Twitter, I quickly realised that one of my childhood cornerstones, and slightly guilty pleasures, is the Beauty and The Beast TV series that ran from 1987-1990 starring Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton. It was awesome. There’s been a TV remake in name, and what little I saw, I thought was megacrap. The Beast, is a pretty boy with gel in his hair and a scar. Enough said.

The original and still the best from the 1980s, is slightly smushy, but also very moving TV show, with opening music and credits that still give me chills to this day. I just loved it back then and still do. Catherine was a tough woman who as an assistant district attorney, sometimes got into a fair amount of trouble. And there to help her, was the intelligent, sensitive but also very angry and powerful Vincent, played by Perlman. This would be the first of many roles in which I think Perlman to be far more attractive with heavy make-up than without. He’s not a bad looking guy at all, but he’s also got that in common with Andreas Katsulas, who as G’Kar in B5 was mesmerising and women were instantly drawn to him, but less so when himself. It’s an interesting idea I might revisit in another post.

Anyway, another lesser known fact is that a certain George Martin worked on the show as a writer and executive producer. Yes, the George RR Martin of Game of Thrones fame as he is now known.

So, CE Murphy, Liz de Jager, and I will be rewatching the whole show, from episode 1, at the reasonable pace of one episode a week starting in January. It’s available to buy on DVD and is also available to stream from various online sources. We’re going to have a Twitter hashtag, and we’ll all chat about our second, third or tenth impressions of the show, somewhere online at a place to be decided. So, follow them both on Twitter, and I’ll post on here again when we start watching so you can join in if you want.

Babylon 5 rewatch – This is something I’m not doing at a set pace, but I have started rewatching the whole show from the start. Given the chance I can and will talk your ear off about this TV show for hours at a stretch. Put very succinctly, it is my favourite SF TV show ever. It’s not perfect, and the CGI and make-up is not up to today’s standard, but there’s a reason Star Trek The Original Series and old Doctor Who are still revered today by many fans. It’s because if you can look at it with slightly historic eyes and ignore the old tech, the shows were groundbreaking at the time and are still great shows with fantastic stories.

B5 is like that. To me it’s a masterpiece in writing and character development, and is a TV show with individual seasonal arcs and an overall story arc, long before such things were common. It led the way for this sort of thing on TV, which a lot of people don’t realise. It’s a 5 year story done right. None of this making it up as we go along and hoping we can sort it out in the end (Lost). It’s one big story, with seeds planted from day one. So, I’ll be posting here periodically with my thoughts and impressions, so feel free to join in on the rewatch.

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My Top 5 Books from 2013

Recently I recorded another episode of the geek culture and comics podcast I co-host, Comic Book Outsiders. We looked back at 2013 and talked about our favourite films, TV shows and other geek moments. I didn’t get around to talking about comics or books. So this is a list of my favourite 5 books I’ve read this year. Some weren’t published this year and they are not in order of preference.

The Public of Thieves by Scott  LynchThe Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch – This was probably my most anticipated book of 2013. It’s been a long time coming and when it was published I dedicated a good chunk of time to reading it before I went to the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton. This is because Scott Lynch was attending the convention and even with the best intentions, someone usually manages to spoil a couple of things, so I made sure I was up to date. I also re-read the first two books as it had been a while since I’d read them and my previous impression was, the first book was excellent, the second not as good. This time around I thought the second book was actually really good. It had to be different from the first book for lots of reasons and there again The Republic of Thieves was different again, but very enjoyable for many reasons which I won’t spoil. Meeting Scott at a coffee get together thing he did at a local coffee shop, along with thirty other people, as well as hearing him speak on a panel, was also a highlight of the event. The book showed he had not lost his touch and even better is the news recently announced, that the 4th book in the series will be out next year. Two new books in two years. Fantastic. This novel gives us more detail about the main characters, the adventure is full of delicious duplicity, dodgy deals and as ever nothing goes according to plan. Apart from that I won’t say anymore but it’s a cracking good read and I highly recommend it.

The Big Reap Chris F. HolmThe Big Reap by Chris F. Holm – I’m very picky and fussy about my urban fantasy and supernatural noir, and unfortunately I just don’t enjoy most of it. It’s totally a personal thing. So I always approach a new author with a lot of trepidation. The Collector series by Holm, is probably best described as supernatural noir, as it’s set in our world, and there are demons and angels creeping around, but most people have no idea what’s going on. This is the third and final book in the Collector series (for now at least) and it was probably my favourite, although that’s splitting hairs as the series is excellent overall. The prose is incredibly tight, and sharp enough to cut you like a razor, it’s trimmed down to the bone with no fat or unnecessary exposition, and yet I never felt as if it was just three hundred plus pages of conversation which is what can sometimes happen. Dark, moody and rich, the series is tense, exciting, creepy and it always leaves me guessing. Plenty of twists that I didn’t see coming. There was an ending to this series, and if Holm and Angry Robot never do any more Collector books then I would be satisfied, but the door is open for more and I hope he’s able to revisit the series in the future. Other points of reference that I would pair it with, to give you an idea of what to expect, would be the Felix Castor novels by Mike Carey, as this is definitely a close kissing cousin, and the novels of Justin Gustainis, which both veer on the darker side.

Exit Kingdom by Alden Bell – This is the second book Exit Kingdom Alden Bellby Bell in his post apocalyptic world where zombies destroyed the earth many years ago. I should preface this by saying I’m not really a fan of horror, or zombie books in general. They’re just not my cup of tea. I don’t like zombie films at all and am not a fan of horror films either. So, when I first read The Reapers Are The Angels, I went into it cold, knowing nothing about it, except that it was the story of a girl named Temple. The book is amazing. It was my favourite book of the year when it came out and when I heard Bell was doing another I was very nervous. Then I found out it was a prequel, so I unclenched and bought a copy to savour during my summer holiday. The story follows the earlier life of Moses Todd, a character from Reapers and once again Bell has captured something wonderful in the pages. Moses is such a big character, a big man, and the story has a real southern gothic feel to it. The language used has a real poetry to it and the characters have a particular way of speaking that fits within that world, but would sound unusual in the modern world. This is an excellent prequel but you should definitely read Reapers first and then this second. I sort of hope Bell does more stories set within this world but I guess we’ll wait and see.

The Wise Man's FearThe Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss – I re-read The Name of the Wind before starting this, as it had been a couple of years and I’d forgotten some of the smaller details. A friend has recently started reading The Name of the Wind for the first time and she described it as a delicious meal, something you want to savour. The prose is almost poetic, it flows incredibly well, has fantastic rhythm and pace, and the story is very intriguing, full of mystery, suspense, magic and unexpected twists and turns. It’s not a spoiler to say the story follows the main character telling a scribe about his life and adventures, and he’s narrating the tale and during the first book I had suspicions that he wasn’t a reliable narrator. People exaggerate, they lie, they conceal details they don’t want to share, and I think we’re getting a version of the truth. The main character is a figure of myth, he’s a folk tale most people don’t even believe was ever real, but we see him in the present, and then in the past as he retells his adventures. It’s an interesting storytelling device, one I’ve not read before in a long running fantasy series. The second book builds very well on the first, Kvothe the main character goes into some very unexpected areas and we experience some of the stories that created the legend others talk about. Rothfuss is spinning a lot of plates in the story, but he’s also playing with the idea of story, expectation, myths and legends and how they are built, and I think how a story is told, hence lies mixed in with the truth. It’s an adventure story about a boy with red hair who grows up to be remarkable renaissance man and how he impacts the world around him. A wonderful read and I’m looking forward to the third and final book when it arrives.

Cold Days Jim ButcherCold Days by Jim Butcher – This book came out in late 2012 but I read it this year after holding on to the book for 3 months. That was all I could manage. I tried really hard not to blot out all other activities, work, food, sleep, and blast through a book in one sitting from the moment I received it as a present. Even though I would have enjoyed doing it. Because I knew the next book would not be publishing for at least a couple of years. So, Harry Dresden, we meet again. I won’t spoil the series and what’s happened up to now, but I will say that this is a series that never stands still. The Dresden Files is a long running series of standalone chronological stories that build on one another, all focused around the same central character. For me, it’s urban fantasy done the right way. The characters feel so incredibly real, despite the weird and magic, and after 13 books and several short stories, I feel as if I have a fairly good grip on who they are. However, I’ve no clue about the wizard behind the curtain, because he continually surprises me and the story is full of twists and turns. Time has moved on, Harry has changed, the world has changed and he can either start running and try to keep up or fall behind and curl up into a ball. If you know anything about Harry, you know he’s a fighter who never quits. Even when the odds are hideously stacked against him as they have been many times in the past. I’m dancing around the subject very carefully, but suffice to say, something goes wrong and Harry must once more fight to protect his city and the people that he loves. Overall I loved this story and it was another excellent addition to the series. Without a doubt this is one of my favourite series, maybe ever, so I can’t wait to see what Butcher does next and where the story goes.

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Books That Changed My Life – Part 2

This has slightly morphed into authors that changed my life more than particular books, but it’s still appropriate as I do mention specific titles by each of the authors.

g1Legend by David Gemmell – Gemmell was an enormous influence on me growing up, and together with Eddings and Brooks, he is partially responsible for my continuing love of the fantasy genre. Long before someone coined the phrase grim fantasy, or the more recent mocking term, grimdark fantasy, several writers were telling stories about grey characters. People who walked the line between good and evil. Those who stepped over the line in one direction and then the other, so that you were never certain of their loyalty. Starting with Druss, Gemmell showed me a world of very human men and women who were able to achieve the impossible when caught up in extraordinary circumstances. But there was always a cost. Even when magic was involved, which some people say gives you the ultimate mcguffin to get out of any trouble, there were consequences and the piper had to be paid. His characters lived by their own moral code and while some were to be admired, others were definitely disturbed individuals who believed they were doing the right thing. A couple of years ago I wrote a short article about why you should read Gemmell over at Fantasy Literature and I still believe he is required reading. Fantasy has even more striations and sub-genres than a few years ago, but he covered several of them over the course of his career and his audience went with him because of the strength of his writing. I hope some modern fantasy writers will also spread their wings in the same manner rather than continually mine the same sub-genre for the entirety of their career. Many modern fantasy writers are walking in Gemmell’s shadow and some may not even realise it, but long before they came up with it, he’d done it a few times and done it well. After the almost antiseptic feel of Eddings and early Brooks (I say early as his later novels were murkier), where good characters were nice people who fought the good fight, and the bad people all wore hoods and were born in darkness, Gemmell showed me that it doesn’t matter where you come from, it what’s you do that defines you. A hero can be  cut-throat who saves an old woman from being mugged or a villain is a warrior who’s fallen from grace or has a moment of weakness. Redemption, loyalty, honour and protecting the weak. These themes were common in Gemmell’s stories and while some people find them archaic and quaint, I think they’re incredibly important and apt, now more than ever in our busy modern lives.

g2I Am Legend by Richard Matheson – This is an incredible book. It’s short, and as I mention below with Le Guin, Matheson tells you a great deal with very few words. I’ve read this novel several times and I’m never bored of it. It’s truly horrifying, it’s disturbing, it’s worrying and it’s a story that has sat in the back of my mind for many years, lurking in the shadows like a patient toad. It’s one of the main influences on my comic series, Empyre, and there again Matheson showed me the power of having a good ending that really pays off. I’m not going to spoil it, but the end of this book is a real gut puncher. It makes you look back at everything you’ve just read and reassess it from a different angle. None of the film adaptations have done it justice and the ending is never loyal to the heart of the novel, which is a shame as it is incredibly powerful. One day a ballsy film-maker might do it right but we’ll see. This book also showed me how thin the veneer of modern society is and how quickly people can revert to something more primordial when a few modern comforts are taken away. It’s also a novel about the human spirit, about hope, about faith in humanity and struggling against seemingly impossible odds. There are so many things to discover in this novel and, depending on what you bring to the table when you read it, you can get something different from it every time. A remarkable novel by a master storyteller.

g3A Wizard or Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin – I borrowed this book, and then the sequels, from my local library when I was a boy and the stories stuck with me for years. A couple of decades later I bought my own copy of the trilogy (there was no quadrology in my day!) and re-read them. Le Guin taught me about the power of words and how you can use the reader’s imagination to fill in the blanks. She taught me about how being frugal with your word count can force you to shape a sentence or paragraph so that it creates a very clear picture in the mind of the reader. You don’t need to ramble on and on, filling pages with endless details and world building, in order to make a character, race, city, or object appear convincing or realistic. In fact some of the most powerful books I’ve ever read are very slim volumes and some, not all, of the modern fantasy novels that are huge doorsteps are extremely padded with fluff. As a boy these novels fired my imagination and that is exactly what should be happening, especially in more fantastical novels. Your mind should help shape the world and characters and be partially responsible for transporting you there. In my opinion putting every single little detail on the page is a bad idea and it can have a negative effect. It can make the reader lazy, it can make the reading experience more passive than engaging, and no matter how exciting the story is, it can appear dull and flat, because the reader is observing it from a distance. Simplicity can beautiful and leave the audience wanting.

g4Storm Front by Jim Butcher – I’ve put Storm Front but in reality the whole Dresden Files series has had a massive impact on me. To date this is the longest series of books I’ve ever read by a single author. I’ve read more books by Stephen King and some other writers, but they’ve not been parts of a much larger story. In my opinion Jim Butcher is the best architect I’ve ever read. He spends a lot of time planning his novels and he’s done lots of interviews online if you want more info about how he does this. But in short he lays out the structure, works out the ebb and flow and the character arcs so that he knows exactly where he is going with the story. From speaking to some writers I know this approach horrifies them as there is less spontaneous creativity and no veering off down side streets to explore unexpected ideas that crop up during the writing process. The flip side of that is all of his novels have several pay-offs that are really well executed and extremely satisfying for the reader, and when you read the novels one after another, they hang together as a cohesive whole. Despite each novel in the series being a standalone story, each builds on the last as it follows the life of the main character, the wizard Harry Dresden. Butcher has taught me about the benefits of planning a story ahead of time, how subtle foreshadowing can pay off further down the line. He’s also taught me to trust the reader and to respect them. If you start to build towards something then you’d better do it right when the time comes and don’t wimp out or you’ll lose your audience if they can’t trust you. If that means wiping out a favourite character, and it is fitting with the story, then you should do it.

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Urban Fantasy

I’ve written about this a couple of other times in the past on other blogs, but after a few new discoveries I thought it was worth writing about it again. I really struggle to find good urban fantasy. I should clarify, by good urban fantasy I mean books within that specific sub-genre that I enjoy. I didn’t think I was particularly picky, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that perhaps I am because I’ve been underwhelmed or very disappointed by several high profile authors. I’ll come on to character in a bit, but for me there needs to be the right balance of humour in a book. If it doesn’t take itself too seriously, if it is written for laughs then I’m just not interested, I won’t connect or care about the characters and their fate. Equally if it is the most depressing and horrific read ever with no levity, I won’t read it as that isn’t why I read urban fantasy.

There are a lot of UF books out there and it is a genre that definitely seems to be growing, which is great, as it means it becomes increasingly likely that with every year I will find another author or two that I can add to my list of people to follow. I’m not going to name any authors or books in particular that I didn’t enjoy because it would be petty and pointless as many other people enjoy those books. Some of the books are so popular that there are several in the series, so people are buying, reading and enjoying them. My opinion is no more valid than anyone else’s and I think the internet is already choking with too much negativity. So, I’m going to try to make this a positive post about good urban fantasy books and why I enjoy them.

The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
This series is one of my favourites of all time across all genres. It is also the longest series of books I have ever read. I know there are series of novels out there with more books than the Dresden Files, but I’ve not read them or enjoyed them enough that I felt compelled to keep reading. Writing one great book is hard. Writing twelve is actually kind of a miracle. I’m not going to claim that all of them are perfect, but I had a lot of fun reading every single one of them. I’ve also read and listened to interviews where Butcher talks about his process for building the stories and I respect the amount of effort he puts into each. The Dresden Files started from a very small corner and over the course of the series it has grown it into a rich supernatural world that is full of remarkable wonders and terrors. His characterisation is also incredibly strong which makes it easier to buy into some of the amazing things that happen because there is always a seed of disbelief or shock. This is still my favourite urban fantasy series and for once I really don’t want it to end. I know it has to but I’m dreading the day when Butcher announces that his next Dresden Files will be the last.

Felix Castor series by Mike Carey
These books are much darker than the Dresden Files and are set in London rather than Chicago. They’re almost gothic horror in some places and although there is magic and supernatural beings, it’s all handled in such a no-nonsense British fashion, it somehow seems more realistic. They have a real dirty, seedy feel to them and part of this comes from the main character who is very grey and definitely not a white hat. I’m not someone who needs or wants every aspect of magic explained to me, but Carey has done something quite unique and special with how it is handled in this series. Finding out about the mechanics was interesting but I would not have complained if he had not included this. There are five books in the series so far and I believe a sixth to wrap it up is planned. Something larger has been building behind the scenes for some time and the final book will go partway to explaining the mystery. I’m eagerly awaiting the conclusion of this series and really enjoy the broodiness and dark humour that prevent it from being a depressing read.

Morris and Chastain series by Justin Gustainis
Unlike the previous two this series has several links to real world events as well as fictional historic events and characters from literature. This gives the series and characters a very different taste and feel. Without giving away too much, I only need to mention Salem and Van Helsing and you get an idea about part of it. The magic in the series is also less overt than Dresden. It is also in keeping with the principal of magic being a force than can be used for good or bad by the practitioner, which is inline with ‘real’ magic, if you believe in such things. There is also a certain bluntness to the books that I enjoy. The style of writing is pared down, it’s tight and fast, but the author does not sacrifice character moments for pace and plot. Also his peripheral characters feel very real and distinct from one another so you always know who is speaking.

As with the other two series the decisions characters make are not always the right ones, but they are realistic. I’ve previously thrown books across the room for being ridiculous where people suddenly act out of character in order to serve the plot or to titillate. I don’t have to agree with a character’s decisions and choices, but if can’t understand them, respect or relate to them in some way, especially if they are the main character, I will put a book down and never go back. I don’t have to like every aspect of a character, but personally I have to find something in them that I can relate to or understand. Dexter, by Jeff Lindsay, is a serial killer. He is a brutal murderer which is something I just can’t get my head around or relate to, but I can understand a little of what made the character the way he is, such as his upbringing, scars from his childhood, sibling relationships, and so on.

I’ve gone off on a bit of a rant, but I think this is one of the critical elements about why I’ve really disliked some urban fantasy series. Some readers are fine with reading about awful people with whom they have nothing in common, but I’m not one of them. I can’t read a story about a character who is a wet flanel with no backbone. Someone who is used and abused  by everyone in the story as they stumble from one disaster to another and yet somehow I’m supposed to support and like this person. Equally I can’t read about a murdering psychopath who carves up people for fun or his own amusement, twirling his moustache as he goes. The story might be very strong, but I need more than that, or else I will put it down and walk away.

Courts of the Feyre by Mike Shevdon
I’ve come to this series late but have been very pleasantly surprised and I really enjoyed it. So far I’ve only read Sixty-One Nails, the first in the series from Angry Robot, and it is steeped in a blend of real world history, ritual, English customs and folklore. There was a lovely freshness to this series, which sounds odd, but when you read a couple of UF novels in a year, even a few months apart, they can sometimes feel very similar. Shevdon’s approach to UF is as unique as all of the others I’ve mentioned which meant I couldn’t be a lazy reader. Lazy reading breeds odd and pointless questions and comments such as ‘That’s not what an elf/faerie/troll etc looks or acts like.’ or ‘How does the magic system work?’. It’s perfectly natural to want to know more about an aspect of a story, be it magic or the Feyre Courts, but it is something else to expect or demand the author to explain every detail just because in another UF book it was laid out in great detail.

Reading Sixty One Nails meant I had to slouch off my preconceptions about what an UF book should be. Anything I was carrying in my head from other series about magic, wizards, Fey, and so on had to be shoved to one side and ignored. This initially makes it more challenging but equally more rewarding when I did find out about magic and the Feyre in this series. It shouldn’t be compared like for like because it’s a totally different world and is not connected in any way to a UF novel by a different author. I’ll stop there because that’s a much bigger discussion and a bigger rant.

New stuff – Fated
A new book that was just released this March is Fated by Benedict Jacka from Orbit Books. As I mentioned I’m always keen to try new urban fantasy authors and this has a cover quote from Jim Butcher, so now I have two reasons to read it. Butcher also provided a quote for Gustainis, so it is an encouraging sign that I might like it.

What else is good?
So, given all of the above, the tone of the stories, the style of the writing, characterisation and so on, can anyone recommend something similar I might enjoy but might have missed?

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