Tag Archives: mike shevdon

Recharged

I’m back from my holiday, feeling refreshed and recharged and ready to face the second half of the year. I saved up some favourite books I’d been holding onto for months, and a couple of new ones, and then spent most of the week lying by a pool, drinking cold beer and reading in the Portuguese sunshine. I’m not the fastest reader but still managed to get through four and a half in a week, which is pretty good for me. There is an earlier post about which books I took with me and below are my initial thoughts.

This was my second time reading The Name of the Wind, and actually, it was more satisfying this time. It must be two years since I first read it, and although I had an idea of the overall arc of the story, I had forgotten so much. So many details, so many little clues and nuances, and now, with the whole story fresh in my mind I am ready to dive into The Wise Man’s Fear. It’s a monster of a book, plus I have the weighty hardback, but apart from it being a tax on my wrists, I can’t wait to start it.

Small side note. It was recently announced that The Kingkiller Chronicle has been optioned for a TV series. In the wake of the enormous, galactic success, of Game of Thrones, it was inevitable that TV execs and others would be looking for another fantasy series they could adapt. I’m really not sure about this. It’s far too early to be worried, it may never actually happen and could get stuck in development hell, but my initial gut reaction was not one of celebration. Now, I love Game of Thrones, and I read the books before the TV series, and am also a fan of the TV series. The Kingkiller Chronicle is not even remotely like Game of Thrones, it’s so very different, maybe more so than some people might realise. It’s definitely a wait and see. I could be proven totally wrong and the TV show might be amazing, so for now I’ll say no more and just stay quiet.

The Eighth Court was the final book in The Courts of the Feyre series by Mike Shevdon and although I really enjoyed it, so much so that I read the whole thing in one day, I was left feeling a little sad because there will no more tales of Blackbird and Dogstar. I feel that Shevdon has barely scratched the surface with some of the characters and the world he has created but it’s not my book or my world, or my story for that matter. I’d love to see more stories set in this world and I guess only time well tell if Shevdon comes back to it. As I’ve mentioned before I’ve very picky about my urban fantasy, and this is a brilliant series that I highly recommend. So if you’ve never read them, savour the books and don’t race through them, as four is all you are getting.

I gobbled up Exit Kingdom in a day as well. This is the second book by Alden Bell, set in the same world he created with The Reapers are the Angels. It’s a prequel, of sorts, but it also references a few events in Reapers, but without spoiling anything. So in theory you could read this first and then Reapers and it would not spoil the story. The dialogue is glorious and overly dramatic at times, but it is also very in keeping with the world Bell has created and I found myself loving the rhythms and sound of it. The story is dark, twisted, unpredictable and bleak at times and once again it is a story not about zombies, but about humanity. In my opinion, this and Reapers are far superior to some of the other zombie material out there at the moment that is flooding the comic book world, our TV screens and even the cinemas. A fantastic read and I am keen to read more by Bell, whether set in this world, or something completely new.

Ack-Ack Macaque is just a giant bag of fun, wrapped up in a monkey shaped blanket. Ok, I admit that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but suffice to say there are a lot of ideas thrown onto the page and they all gel and come together nicely in the end. Powell has a lot of fun with the story and dialogue in particular and it really translates into making it an enjoyable experience for the reader. I know that this is only the beginning as there is still a lot to explore in this strange new world Powell has created with its own alternate history. Hive Monkey, the second book featuring AAM is due out next year and after reading this I am really looking forward to seeing where he goes next.

Can’t really comment on the fifth book, Ice Forged, as I’m still reading it, but so far it’s a down and dirty fantasy series with several likeable characters and some rather hideous villains.

Next up will be The Wise Man’s Fear, and then Rebellion, the second Blood and Feathers book by Lou Morgan.

So what have you been reading over the summer? Can you recommend any new urban fantasy series I might not have heard about before?

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Holiday Reads

It’s almost time for my summer holiday so I thought I’d do a quick post on what I’m going to be reading while relaxing by the pool. I’m not a fast reader at all, but when on holiday with few distractions, I can get through about four or five books in a week. So I often save up special books and also add books from authors who are new to me into the mix. I’m also taking a few trade paperbacks I’ve been saving up from my to read pile.

The Eigth Court Mike ShevdonThe Eighth Court by Mike Shevdon from Angry Robot Books.
I have very particular tastes when it comes to urban fantasy, and just can’t get on with some series, so finding something that I really like is tricky. Shevdon’s books are one of my favourites and this is the fourth and final book in the series which is set in modern day in the UK. There are some scenes in London, but it is not London-centric, and throughout the course of the series we get to explore all sorts of places and buildings with historic resonance. I’m being very vague on purpose to avoid spoilers because he mixes real world history with the fantastical. We follow an everyman into this bizarre world hidden in plain sight and delve into the world of the feyre and a secret history of the world.

Exit Kingdom Alden BellExit Kingdom by Alden Bell from Panmacmillan. This is the second book by Alden Bell set in a post apocalyptic world where zombies have overrun the world. The first book, The Reapers are the Angels, is one of my favourite books, probably ever. I’ve also read it twice already and it only came out maybe two years ago. Yeah, it’s that good. I came to his first book completely cold, I knew nothing about it, and absolutely loved it. In a review I compared it to I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, but with zombies instead of vampires, so it’s really about the people, the situation and coping, it’s about isolation and humanity and not so much about running away from shambling ghouls. It’s also set many years after the fall, so it is not a world where everything has just fallen apart. The first book focused on a young girl called Temple and along the way she came into contact with an interesting character called Moses Todd. This book is set before the events of Reapers and this time Moses is the main character, along with his brother. I’ve been holding on to my copy of this since March when it came out and saving it. I’m really looking forward to it.

Ice Forged Gail Z MartinIce Forged by Gail Z. Martin from Orbit books. Martin is an author I’ve been aware of for a while, but I’ve not managed to find time to read something by her until now. The blurb for this book sounded exactly like my kind of thing, and it is a nice dash of fantasy, which is different enough from the other two books on my list so far. So I’ve avoided reading any reviews or interviews about this and am going to come to it, and her writing, completely cold and see what happens.

This is also the first book in a new series by Martin, so if I enjoy her work I can back and pick up some of her other novels in the interim until the next book in this series comes out! Discovering a debut author is always brilliant, but coming to a more well established one that I’ve just missed out on until now for whatever reason is a real treat as there is a lot more to read with no waiting.

Ack-Ack Macaque by Gareth L. Powell from Solaris BooksAck-Ack Macaque by Gareth L Powell from Solaris Books.
The first time I heard anything about this book was at Eastercon this year where Gareth was doing a reading. The reading was funny, crazy, full of action and very exciting. After investigating a little further and reading the blurb on the back I immediately picked up a copy at the convention. What’s not to love? A one-eyed cigar smoking monkey who was a Spitfire pilot in WW II. I’m sold on that sentence alone. From what I’ve read in reviews and from overhearing other people talking it, I think the book is going to be jam packed full of action and humour, making it another very different book to the others I am taking with me.

The Name of the Wind Patrick RothfussThe Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss from Gollancz.
It’s easy to assume everyone knows what this book is about and who Rothfuss is, but I’m also aware other people will be horrified that I’d never read a book by Gail Z. Martin until now as she is not a new author. The fact is there are a lot of authors out there, the fantasy market is more crowded than twenty years ago, and all of us only have so much time and varying levels of awareness via our various media channels. I’m very aware of who Brandon Sanderson is, and I have one of his books on my pile to read, but so far haven’t got around to it. Once again it comes down to too many books and not enough time.

So, The Name of the Wind is the first book in the Kingkiller Chronicle, an epic fantasy tale by Rothfuss who I would describe as a storyteller. By that I mean he creates a wonderfully dynamic and rich world without bogging the reader down in pages and pages of detail. His story in some ways feels like an urban folk tale, about someone who actually lived, or it’s a parable that has been told down through the generations. It’s also very hard to describe the book as it doesn’t fit into any pigeon hole and is hard to put it alongside other books for comparison. It tells the story of Kvothe, a figure of legend almost, a man feared and loathed by some and respected and loved by others. The story begins with him as a grown man telling a scribe his version of events, starting with his childhood and gradually bringing him up to the present. But there are also chapters set in the present so it’s not just a look back at another time. Kvothe is also a renaissance man, and again you can’t say he’s a wizard, or warrior, or mage etc, he’s just a man who has adventures, gets caught up in weird and wonderful events, gets in to lots of trouble, goes through some terrible and awful moments, but also makes some amazing discoveries full of wonder and maybe even a touch of magic. There is a lot to tell, there’s no doubt, as Kvothe has lived a very interesting life and this first book is pretty weighty, and is one of at least three. The second book is even bigger I think but again, this is not because Rothfuss spends ten pages describing the smoke coming out of the chimney.

This book has sold a lot of copies, I mean hundreds of thousands, maybe even a few million. It’s incredibly popular and rightly so in my opinion. It’s one of those lightning rod books in the genre like Lynch’s Lies of Locke Lamora or The Painted Man by PV Brett, or The Blade Itself by Abercrombie. It’s an incredibly unique book, something that is not perfect, and there are some bits I didn’t like, but overall it marks Rothfuss as an incredibly talented writer and someone who is forging ahead and doing his own thing, which others will then seek to imitate.

This is the second time I’ve read Name of the Wind, because it was quite a while since I read it, and now I have a copy of the second volume staring at me. I’ve also forgotten quite a bit from the first time around so I want to sink back into this rich world, rediscover the nuances of the character and get myself up to speed in readiness for reading book 2, The Wise Man’s Fear.

Comics
Reading comics is a very different experience for me compared to novels. It takes me a bit of time to sink back into a book, but with a comic I can read for five or ten minutes, read an issue and I’m in the story almost straight away and can be completely satisfied. So I always take a few trades to read for those smaller gaps of time when I want to read something.

Danger Club Image ComicsDanger Club by Landry Walker and Eric Jones from Image comics.
I read the first issue of this when it came out a while ago, thought the premise was very interesting, thought the artwork was amazing and the colours very vibrant. Briefly put, all of the worlds superheroes go off into space to fight a very serious threat and then they never come back. So, suddenly all that’s left are lots of sidekicks and kids with powers. So it’s a bit Lord of the Flies, and it focuses very much on the next generation of heroes and villains. What do you do when your mentor is taken away from you? Are the junior heroes ready to cope? And if not, what will they do? What effect will the responsibility have on them? Likewise for the junior villains. Are they really capable of carrying out some terrible acts?

Manhattan Projects Vol 2. Image ComicsManhattan Projects Vol. 2 by Jonathan Hickman from Image comics.
Simply put, what if the Manhattan Project that we know about was simply one of many strange, weird and wonderful scientific projects that were being worked on by the best minds at that time in history. This twisted science fact meets science fiction book focuses on a group of very weird almost mirror universe versions of well known historic scientists getting up to all sorts of stuff. It involves portals to other worlds, alien invasions and lots of other weird science. Hickman writes for Marvel comics and is known for writing very big stories, and by that I mean long term, big sky, complex but not convoluted stories which are structured into chapters almost like a novel, with rewarding endings. He did a great run on Fantastic Four that was planned out years in advance and now he is doing the same on Avengers. This comic is a breeding ground for all sorts of ideas he probably can’t fit in other places and for some stuff that is too weird to go into a mainstream comic.

Peter Panzerfaust Vol. 1 Image comicsPeter Panzerfaust Vol. 1 by Kurtis J. Wiebe from Image comics.
Peter Pan, and the Lost Boys, in World War II. That’s pretty much it. I read the first issue a long time ago, then lost touch with the series for some reason, but now I’m trying to catch up in trade. It begins with an almost Band of Brothers storytelling device, where an old man is talking about his experiences during the war, and it then flashes back to him as a young boy meeting a heroic and dashing and strange young man named Peter. The scope is vast, the twist on characters is only limited by imagination and this series has been picked up by the BBC to be adapted first into a digital motion comic (for some reason) and then later a live action TV series. I can see the latter working very well, not sure what the point of the former is, given that motion comics are the new dodo, and the real evolution in digital comics is coming from Thrillbent.com. Check out the website for free digital only comics where they are pushing the boundary of digital. Anyway, this series looks like a lot of fun and I really enjoyed the first issue.

Fatale Volume 2. Image comicsA possibly sneaky fourth trade, if I get time, is Fatale Vol. 2 by Brubaker and Phillips.
It’s crime meets Lovecraftian horror. Meta fiction within fiction, weird people who don’t appear to be quite human, strange cults, immortals, demons, random chaos that actually points towards something else. Lots of ideas thrown onto the page and you have to hold on to your seat and just enjoy the ride.

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Eastercon Report

Eastercon is done for another year. This was my second year at the event and despite only being there for only a couple of days due to family commitments, I had an excellent time and met some wonderful people.

So I attended on Friday and Saturday, took part in one comics related panel on Friday night, where a panel and I recommended some of our favourite comics to demonstrate the diversity of the medium. On the panel were Alys Sterling, CE Murphy, and David Tallerman. Despite the timing of the panel it was fairly well attended and there was a good spread of comics. My recommendations were Sweet Tooth by Jeff Lemire from Vertigo comics, Sleeper by Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips from Wildstorm, Chew from John Layman and Rob Guillory and Rachel Rising by Terry Moore. I took a little perverse pleasure from the expressions in the crowd whilst describing Chew and I think it was the one title that generated the most questions. After that I could relax and I spent the first evening relaxing in the bar and taking it fairly easy as there was another long day ahead. The snow is still stubbornly sticking to the pavements and piles of it lie around being obstanate, but thankfully the weather did not have any adverse effects on travel to the event.

Earlier in the day on Friday, I also attended two talks where my friend and all round good egg, Adrian Faulker, was a panelist. The first was Games in Fiction, which was interesting, however, because there was another panel on a very similar subject on Saturday, it meant the area of discussion was very narrow so it sort of trundled along. The second panel was probably one of my favourites of the weekend, Debut Authors’ Panel, where Bella Pagan from Tor UK moderated a diverse group of new writers. The panelists included Adrian Faulkner, Emma Newman, Francis Knight, Naomi Foyle and Stephanie Saulter. It was a great panel and each author had a very different story to tell about how they went from aspiring writer to being an author in print. Bella Pagan was an excellent moderator, including everyone, keeping the conversation going and it was also a lot of fun.

Debut Author panel

On Friday I also attended a Clarion Publishing launch in the frosty conservatory and later met up with head honcho, Colin Tate, whom I met at Eastercon last year. This sort of event is always great for catching up with people who I normally only see once or twice a year. At the bar (big surprise!) I also caught up with and chatted to Andrew Reid, Mike Shevdon, Anne Lyle and Ruth Booth. I was also introduced to Gillian Redfearn, of the mighty red pen, at Gollancz. I’m sure I’ve missed someone and am now feeling guilty. It will come to me!

I’m still getting over a nasty bout of man flu that is clinging to my chest, so as well as a cough I also lost my voice in the latter part of my panel. Thankfully I only had one panel, so I called it a night fairly early on Friday and gracefully skated to my car across the ice. Well, what actually happened was I rushed towards my car, slipped on the ice, nearly did the splits, and yet managed to stay upright due to waving my arms about. I took it as a sign that it was definitely time to call it a night.

Saturday went a lot more smoothly. With my voice varying between a squeak and a Barry White’s imitator, I watched several panels including Reinventing Urban Fantasy. This was probably my favourite panel of the weekend. All of the panelists were really engaging, there was a lot of back and forth between them and the time just flew by. They discussed magic, tropes and archetypes in fantasy, Harry Potter, their favourite authors and all sorts of other stuff. It could easily have continued for another hour without anyone noticing.

urban fantasy

Edit: other stuff I forgot to add the first time I posted this. I also attended an excellent reading by Gareth L. Powell, who read from his second Ack Ack Macaque book, and Stephanie Saulter, who read from Gemsigns. Adrian and I visited the art gallery and we were both transfixed by the amazing paintings of Guest of Honour, Anne Sudworth. I’m notoriously picky about art and I know what I like and don’t like. Her landscapes were gorgeous, rich, vibrant and quite remarkable. While an original is out of my price range, a framed print is not and I shall be investing.

Later that evening, whilst everyone was watching Doctor Who in the main hall or were drinking at the bar, a few friends and I snuck off to the secret American style diner for dinner. When we got back we had more drinks and spent time chatting to new and old friends including CE Murphy, Adrian Faulkner, Mike Shevdon and comedian and master magician John Lenahan, who later entertained everyone in the main hall. His act was so funny my sides ached and everyone came away with a smile on their face. After that I spent the rest of the evening chatting with people in the bar and it was a wonderfully relaxing end to my Eastercon weekend. From seeing a few other posts, and from listening to feedback from other people, it seems as if they also had a great event. I’m really looking forward to the next one and also to the next big event on my calendar which is World Fantasy Con in Brighton.

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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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