Thursday, 7 December 2017

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Wednesday, 6 December 2017

#2 Chapter 1 critique

To understand what we're doing here check out Chapter Critique Corner.

To reiterate a key point - this process depends on audience participation. I'm just hosting, not taking part in the critique.

I converted this one from the original pdf so some formatting oddities may have found their way into the mix for which the author is not responsible. 

You can offer your thoughts in the comments - these are moderated and I will pass "tough love" but not anything that I feel crosses the line into meanness or mockery. So, rather than waste your efforts, do bear in mind that the object of the exercise here is to help. That said, robust critiques are encouraged and I guess we will just have to find our level as we go.

You can also email critiques to me and I will see if they can be transferred to the blog post in a way that preserves their editing markups.


Chapter 1
The cold of death touched Isabel first. Icy tendrils that crept along her alabaster skin, raising goose bumps despite the cool humidity of the tomb. She suppressed a shudder and continued the incantation without distraction.
The body on the stone slab before her twitched a fraction. A finger, then a leg, then the entire muscular torso of the newly deceased guardsman’s body. The sight sent a thrill coursing through Isabel’s mind. Again, she suppressed her emotions, her physiological responses. The ritual was too important. The slightest distraction could be disastrous.
The guards naked body writhed on the cold stone until Isabel thought he might fall from the slab completely. As the incantation came to an end however, he stilled. The body remained motionless for a long time, limbs twisted at odd angles. Isabel held back, her breath still. For a long time the young guards body was frozen. Then she felt it.
A familiar connection blossomed within Isabel’s mind. She sensed the dead man’s thoughts, still fresh from living. A hint of who he had been, his desires, his ambitions. And then there was the hunger. It came in a rush. A desire for living flesh, for warm flowing blood. Perhaps born of a memory of what it was to be truly alive, twisted into a keen hunger for these things he no longer possessed.
“Can you hear me?” Isabel whispered into the darkness of the mausoleum. The eyes of the corpse flickered open. Pale blue witch-light glimmered faintly in the half light. He turned to her, watching from under long strands of mouse brown hair. Waiting.
“Get up,” Isabel commanded.
The corpse sat up, like a puppet on a string, he simply folded at the waist, spine as straight as a rod. He moved mechanically, not with the fluid motions of the living, his limbs stiff as he swung his legs over the end of the slab and rose to stand still and silent before Isabel. Strangely his eyes fixed on her own. It was difficult for Isabel to return that cold unblinking stare. When she did, the ravenous hunger she saw there terrified her.
“Why do you watch me like that?” She asked, cursing the quiver she failed to keep from her voice.
The thing did not answer. It just stared.
“Look away,” she hissed, her nerve giving way beneath those cold eyes. The dead man obeyed, looking beyond her at the darkness.

“Deadwood, about a mile to the west of here. Do you remember it?” If the undead thing recognised the name, it did not show it. “You used to live there.”
An agonising drone filled the chamber. It was like the grinding of old bones, whispering together in the darkness. Dread filled Isabel as she realised what it was. “Not I.” It spoke with the lips of the dead man, but the voice was otherworldly. It carried the promise of the grave.
The voice unnerved her, but Isabel refused to allow it to show in front of this new aberration.
“But you know of where I speak.”
A nod. The eyes returned to watch her.
“I want you to go there. Avoid being seen. If you are discovered, make sure they don’t live to tell about it.” No answer. Isabel continued. “Go to the tower on the hill. Von Dinkler’s lair.”
Mention of the name drew a response. The guards eyes flickered, the pale blue light growing bright for a moment, the hunger replaced momentarily by rage, then it was gone. “You know of where I speak?” A slight nod. “Good. Go there, don’t get caught, bring me the stone there.
A large green rock, the size of a fist.” She held her hand up for emphasis. “It will be guarded.
Do you understand?” Another nod. “Then go. Be back tonight. If you are not, I will terminate our connection, and you will return to wherever it was you came from.”
The undead guard moved at her command. The piercing cold stabbed at her arm as it brushed past her toward the crumbling arch that led from the mausoleum. Isabel clenched her teeth against the terrible presence she felt from the brief contact. She ignored the sensation and turned to watch the creature go.
She allowed herself a grim smile of satisfaction when the thing disappeared into the shadowed halls, then began preparation for her servant’s victorious return.
Several hours passed. Isabel remained in the dark, a scattering of candles holding the shadows back. She kept to the edges of the candlelight, eyes on the black archway, waiting.
The shuffling steps of the undead thing preceded it’s return to the mausoleum. It emerged into the half-light more broken than it had left. Its right arm was missing, the stump a torn and bloodied mess, congealed blood oozing down the remains of a guard’s shirt. Interesting that it had thought to cover its nakedness. Shame was not a concern for the unliving. But Isabel supposed enough of the guardsmen’s own mind remained to know a naked man is more conspicuous than a clothed one.
Its left arm was whole, though its shirt here was torn also. In its hand it carried the stone, casting a green and ominous glow across the walls of the crypt.
The broken thing shambled to the centre of the room and stopped. It watched Isabel with that same tormented hunger. She thought it looked different somehow. Something had gone dramatically wrong, that much was obvious from the damage to the corpse, but the eyes were different. They held a cunning beneath the hunger. Something Isabel had not imbued the creature with.
She emerged from the shadows, drawing alongside the broken monster. “What happened to you?” She asked herself more than the creature. The intelligence to form proper sentences another trait she had not imbued it with.
But then it spoke. That same broken voice that came from another place.
“Von Dinkler sends his regards.” The stone fell to the floor as the creatures one good arm shot forward, its hand encircling her throat with a speed and strength Isabel could scarcely believe.
The frozen grasp of the undead stilled the blood in her arteries. Pain shot through her skull, blurring her vision, wiping all thought from her mind. As she slipped into oblivion, sheer instinct drove her hand to draw the double-barrelled pistol from beneath her inner jacket. Both barrels unleashed a torrent of flame and metal against her traitorous creations sternum, blowing bits of bone and blackened organs across the opposite wall. The force of the blast blew the dead guard backwards across the stone slab of its resurrection. It rolled backwards onto the floor, where it struggled with little success to rise once more.
Isabel gasped for breath, rubbing her aching throat tenderly, attempting to return some blood flow to the ice damaged flesh.
The dead guard gave up trying to rise, and decided to simply crawl using its one remaining arm, toward Isabel.
With a flick of her wrist, Isabel cracked open the pistol. Two expended cartridges ejected automatically, and she slid two more in their place.
Her throat still ached, but she straightened, rounded the stone slab, and unloaded one more round into her servant’s skull. Isabel dropped the pistol, clamping her hands to ringing ears.
“Fuck!” she screamed. Her voice didn’t penetrate the ringing in her ears.
Eyes clamped against blurred vision, ears ringing from gunshot, Isabel felt her way to the stone slab and slumped against it. The cold stone soothed her head, but she knew she needed to keep moving. She didn’t have long before…
clack… Clack… CLACK…
Slowly she registered the strange noise. A cold knot forming in her gut, Isabel’s head snapped up to see two very tall, very skinny figures enter through the decrepit arch. They wore long black robes that reached to their booted calves. Hoods hung low to cover their faces, but their long skeletal hands protruded from the end of loose sleeves, and betrayed the illusion of mortality. Skeletons. Held together by magic and sheer will. They were conspicuous, but more effective, full of dark magic, and wicked intellect.
They were clapping. Their fleshless hands sounding more like two bunches of dried sticks beating against each other. Following the two bone men was another, shorter fellow. This one was alive, and quite covered in flesh. It hung from him in rolls, expensive materials straining across a round stomach, thick thighs, and flabby arms. His bald head balanced precariously upon roll after roll of chin that connected without passing along a neck, directly to his shoulders.
Von Dinkler.
He wasn’t clapping. He saved the ironic gesture for his skeletal goons.
“Well done, I must say.” He looked rather like a toad, Isabel thought. Even his skin held a faint green tinge, perhaps from his years of studying the rotting flesh of his subjects.
Isabel backed further into the dank crypt, until she felt the slick stone wall press into her back.
Though no signal was given, the two robed skeletons moved forward, circling the stone slab in the centre of the room, cutting off Isabel’s movement. Von Dinkler stood between Isabel and the entrance, placing his fat arse on the stone slab with considerable effort.
“It took me forty years to raise my first subject,” he spoke dispassionately, as if recalling what he had for breakfast. “I had to put that one down, too. Though through my own inability rather than any loss of control to another summoner.”
“Are you trying to console me, Von Dinkler?” The pistol was heavy in Isabel’s hand, but not heavy enough. She was painfully aware of the single remaining shot in the twin barrels. Von Dinkler’s gaze twitched to her left hand uncomfortably.
“I am impressed. Though I am also rather disappointed a newcomer to our profession decided to try out their formidable skills to burgle me. But you knew I would come, didn’t you? You are aware of who I am, after all.” It wasn’t a question.
“I know.” Isabel fingered the dual triggers, deciding which of the targets before her she could bring down before they were on top of her.
“And yet, here we are.” Silence stretched between them for an uncomfortably long time. Von Dinkler watched her with an unreadable expression. The two bodyguards remained motionless, depthless sockets staring into oblivion.
“You may live.” Isabel jerked at the sudden statement, surprised. “I have been searching for an apprentice, and I think you will serve me well.” Isabel quirked a single brow. “Your powers may prove useful. There are many tasks which have become tedious to one such as I. But it would be good practice for the likes of you. If you can behave yourself.” Von Dinkler hopped off the stone slab, and motioned for Isabel to follow. He moved passed his guards, who remained as still as stone, waiting.
“Crendal.” Isabel whispered. The word dropped to the chamber floor like a stone in the dark.
Von Dinkler stopped. He breathed a great sigh, and he seemed to deflate as the air left him. He grabbed the arch of the mausoleum, leaning heavily against crumbling old stone. “So you’re not here looking for a master?” He sounded disappointed. “No matter how fast I run, my past always seems to catch up with me.” When he turned, he seemed to have aged a dozen years in an instant. “How do you know about Crendal?”
Isabel started shaking. Not fear. It was something else. Memories of her home, her family, came pouring back after more than a decade of pushing them away. “It was my home.”
“Impossible!” Von Dinkler snapped. “Everybody was killed…” He seemed to realise what he was admitting to, and stopped himself. He paced back passed the stone slab, coming to stand a few feet from Isabel. “You were not there,” he hissed.
Isabel held Von Dinkler’s gaze. A torrent of rage, and sorrow, and fear washed over her. A flood of old memories. Of her mother, her sisters, her baby brother. Memories that had lived in a corner of her mind, buried behind a mound of grief and denial for over a decade.
She lifted the pistol.
Faster than she thought possible, Von Dinklers two bodyguards rushed forward. The one on the left grabbed the Necromancer, and thrust him sideways. The one on the right reached for
Isabel’s hand, so she fired.
The imperfect shot tore into Von Dinklers body. It shredded his jacket, and exposed the flesh beneath his fat belly. In the instant before the second guard bore her to the ground, Isabel thought she saw bone.
The skeleton wrestled the gun out of her hand. Every touch from the evil thing stabbed her with grave-cold, leaving her limbs numb, sluggish. Fortunately, the skeleton was literally a bag of bones. Beneath the heavy robe were bones, and nothing more. Isabel placed her boot against the skeletons hips, and thrust the thing over her head. It landed on its crooked, between wall and floor, and collapsed into an odd shaped pile.
With a grunt, Isabel pulled herself onto her backside. Von Dinkler’s remaining bodyguard was rising from the crumpled form of its master. She cracked the pistol, reloaded two shells, and flicked it closed.
As skeletal hands reached for her throat, Isabel unleashed a torrent of flame and lead that tore the monstrous collection of bones apart before her eyes.
Isabel reloaded her twin barrels and advanced on the prone Von Dinkler.
“Please! I’m not that man anymore. That wasn’t me!” His flabby arms beat the cold stone ineffectually as he tried to crawl away from her. A trail of blood followed him across the floor.
Isabel knelt down, putting her knee into the old Necromancers lower back. He stopped crawling. “You killed my family. My baby brother.”
Von Dinkler whimpered. The rolls of fat that spilled above his collar quivered with terror.
“This is the great Necromancer?” Isabel couldn’t believe this wobbly mass of flesh was the same man who brought the Empire to its knees a decade ago. “What happened to you?”
Von Dinkler snivelled into the dirt. Isabel dug her weight further into his back, waiting for an answer.
“Please!” He groaned. “I’ll tell you. Just let me up, please.” He was crying now. Isabel rolled her eyes, and lifted her weight off him. Von Dinkler grunted as her knee lifted from his back. He rolled over, and for the first time Isabel noticed he was holding a smooth wooden rod, about a foot long, topped with a green metal cylinder. He unscrewed the bottom, and grabbed the ceramic bauble that emerged, attached to a cord that disappeared into the rod.
“Do you know what this is?” Von Dinkler puffed. He grinned maniacally, a sinister glint penetrating the fear in his eyes.
“I’ve heard about them.” Isabel backed away from the Necromancer. But if he held what she thought, there was not enough room in the chamber to escape the blast.
“Precisely. Now, I think you’re going to tell me just what you know about Crendal. The truth this time.”
“You’re mad. You wouldn’t set that thing off in here.” Isabel doubted her words.
“I’m not about to be taken by the likes of you, girl. Now talk!” He snapped into the gloom of the crypt.
Pistol still pointed at the Necromancer, Isabel’s hand trembled once more. She couldn’t think of that day without the cloud of pain and suffering she suppressed emerging, threatening to wash away all reason, everything that she was.
“I told you the truth,” Isabel ground from between clenched teeth. “It was my home. I was there when your dead men arrived. I was there when the living followed them. I saw men slaughtered, women and children violated and then following husbands and fathers to the grave.” Isabel dropped her head, loose hair falling to cover wet eyes.
“I saw my mother, my sisters…”
“Stop!” Von Dinkler shouted. “Please, no more. I don’t want to remember. I don’t want to remember anything from that terrible war.”
Bloodshot eyes shot up, almost glowing with rage. Isabel shouted, “You don’t want to remember. You don’t want to remember? What about your victims? What about the countless thousands who suffered at your hands?” She was screaming now. “It is the least you can do, you vile shell of a man, to relive the violence of your most horrendous crimes. Because we had to live through them. We had to lose friends and family in the most horrific way possible!” She spat on him. She didn’t mean to, but she couldn’t control herself. The rage blinded her to everything else but showing him how completely pathetic he had become.
“You fucking bitch.” He wiped the spittle from his straining vest with the sleeve of one arm that still held the grenade. “You have no idea the trials have suffered. What I have sacrificed for you, for everyone in this good forsaken town. In the whole fucking Kingdom!” He pulled the ceramic bauble from the wooden rod. There was a metallic click from within the green cylinder, and Von Dinkler smiled, dropping the grenade on the ground between his legs.
“It’s over,” Von Dinkler let out a great sigh, but Isabel was already moving across the room, diving behind the stone slab in the centre of the room.
She couldn’t be sure of much in those last instants before the explosion, but she thought something emerged from Von Dinkler. A fine mist erupted from between sagging lips, rising up into the room, faster than mist had any right to be moving. As she fell behind the stone slab, she thought she saw it shift, change direction, move her way. Almost like an animal, sniffing its prey, hunting something out in the cold crypt.
But then the explosion wiped it all away. Pain preceded darkness and so much noise she thought she would die, then she might have.
Grinding. Like the earth being split asunder. It tore through dreams of Crendal. Of times her family had played together in the waters of the Quad River.
“Come on, Izzy. Wake up!” A hand slapped her. Hard.
She reached for the offending hand, but found a piercing pain made it unbearable to move.
“You don’t look so good.” George. She recognised his voice now. Sleep was releasing its grip, but with awareness came pain.
“Ugh...” Isabel found her mouth full of dirt, and coughed up what felt like a vital organ before she could talk. “What happened?” The darkness was all encompassing. The explosion had clearly doused all light. What damage it had caused, Isabel could only guess. The sound of earth moving overhead was not a good sign.
“Come on,” George pulled Isabel into a sitting position.
“Fuck!” Her hip felt like it was full of broken glass. Isabel shoved her brother away, falling back on the debris strewn floor. “I can’t,” she panted, tasting blood.
The sound of George rummaging in the darkness, then the flicking of a kerosene lighter. Black smoke curled from the end of the flame when it sprang into life.
Her brother had been with Isabel for a decade. He had travelled with her across the breadth and width of a continent in their search for Von Dinkler. Together they had pieced together the mystery of the powerful Necromancer, and traced him to Deadwood. But in the darkness of the crypt, the flame spreading long shadows across his rotten flesh, Isabel found she was still scared shitless of George’s dead face.
The room was in worse shape than Isabel could have imagined. The roof had collapsed in the centre of the room, coming to rest on the solid stone slab there. Cracks in the stone radiated out, and through them dirt, rock and bones poured onto the floor. The piles in places nearly reached the caved ceiling, and in others it still ran like water to fill the empty spaces.
“Where is he?” Isabel struggled against the pain in her hip, rising onto her one good elbow. The other was a mess of blood and twisting parts that didn’t look all that familiar.
George ducked under hanging stone to circle the slab. “There’s a bit of a red smudge over here. It kind of covers the floor,” he looked around, “and the wall. And the bits of the ceiling that aren’t destroyed.”
“Show me.” Isabel struggled to rise. Her twisted arm screamed at her, and she in turn screamed at the darkness in pain and frustration. “Help me up!” She snapped.
“I thought you said you can’t?” George glided around the debris to stand over her. His charming smile that had endeared him to her so much in life, seemed a mocking simulacrum in death. Much of her brother had changed through the transition of living boy to undead soldier of vengeance.
Isabel held out her good hand and George took it graciously. His kindness grating on her more than it should.
The glass in her hip had not abated. It tore muscle and flesh, and made loud popping sounds as she stood. Isabel was beyond caring about the pain anymore. If Von Dinkler was dead, nothing else mattered. She just had to be sure.
George mostly carried his little sister around the slab. They stood looking down at the ample mass of Von Dinkler’s bloody remains. A leg lay crushed under a large piece of the ceiling. Much of his blood was congealing amongst the pooling sand. Some of the larger chunks of flesh wobbled in a rather undignified manner beneath the dull glow of the kerosene lighter.
“He’s dead.” A whisper. Barely heard above the sound of creaking stone and running sand.
“We really did it. It’s finally over.”
“No, sister,” George squeezed her hand gently. “It’s not over yet.”
Isabel looked up through raven hair turned grey from dust. “Yeah. Not yet.”
They walked, Isabel’s arm around her brother’s waist. His slung around her shoulders, carrying her with an ease borne of unnatural magics.
Isabel stopped at the archway. “Wait. The stone. The green rock. We need it.”
“Why?” George left her leaning heavily against the ancient stone arch. It took him a moment to find the stone, glowing eerily beneath some broken support timbers.
“It’s important,” was all Isabel would say. George shrugged. He pocketed the stone, then they resumed their egress from Deadwood’s collapsing mausoleum.



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Tuesday, 5 December 2017

My reading in 2017

Some book bloggers can devour four books a week. I struggle to read a book a month, and this year I've reverted to that average from last year's bonanza.

Since my post this time last year I've managed to read 12 books (I'm choosing my 13th).
As is my wont I have reviewed all of these books on Goodreads and you can reach those reviews by clicking on the titles below the covers. The main list is chronological order of reading.

Some great reads this year but of all of these I have to say Master Assassins was my best read, a really excellent book that you must try when it's published in March 2018. Priest of Bones and A Time of Dread were very good books, exciting page-turners, that are also both due for 2018 publication. I had three fine reads courtesy of the SPFBO contest, year 1 winner The Thief Who Pulled On Trouble's Braids, year 2 winner The Grey Bastards, and year 2 runner up Path of Flames. And of course Assassin's Fate was a great and emotional novel capping off a story that has occupied Robin Hobb for two decades.

I enjoyed all of the books listed below, though Wild Cards, being a themed short story anthology was a mixed bag. A bag that I will be entering, since GRRM invited me to contribute to the most recent and upcoming Knaves Over Queens which is something like #30 in the long-running shared world superhero series (out in 2018).

Danse Macabre was the best novella I read all year. I only read one though. But it was very good.

I also read my first Brandon Sanderson book!


(in the order I read them, most recent at the top)

Master Assassins (The Fire Sacraments, #1)
Master Assassins - Robert Reddick

Blank 133x176
Priest of Bones - Peter McLean

The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble's Braids (Amra Thetys, #1)

A Time Of Dread (Of Blood and Bone #1)
A Time of Dread - John Gwynne

The Court of Broken Knives (Empires of Dust, #1)
The Court of Broken Knives - Anna Spark Smith

Wild Cards (Wild Cards, #1)
Wild Cards - edited by George RR Martin

Court of Lions
Court of Lions - Jane Johnson

36605041
Danse Macabre - Laura M. Hughes

Assassin's Fate (The Fitz and the Fool, #3)
Assassin's Fate - Robin Hobb

The Grey Bastards by Jonathan  French
The Grey Bastards - Jonathan French

The Final Empire (Mistborn, #1)
The Final Empire - Brandon Sanderson

The Medusa's Daughter (The Mask of the Medusa #1)
Medusa's Daughter - T.O Munro

The Path of Flames (Chronicles of the Black Gate, #1)

Sunday, 3 December 2017

REVIEW: Old Man's War



This is, for me, a pretty short review as the key novel element here is one that it is fun to discover in the book, and not spoiling that severely limits what I can discuss.

I really enjoyed Old Man's War and think you should read it. For me it was a 5* first half and a 3* second half (I liked the 2nd half but it wasn't 5* 'amazing'). Scalzi can write! He opens with excellent characterization, touching and real. This skill at bringing the POV character to life, at catching the vibe of a vital individual grown old and isolated, combines with a great plot hook. It's vivid modern almost literary writing unfolding a fascinating take on future earth.

The first half felt modern with a gentle touch on characterization, a fresh idea, diversity, a book of its time. The second half felt more like 60's/70's sci-fi - blasting bad guys in space. EE Doc Smith could have written it. That's by no means a bad thing. I enjoyed it. You may well too. But the transition from a very personal earth-bound story to a space romp didn't quite gell for me.

From the "hard" scifi point of view this also felt old fashioned in a Star Wars sense. Star Wars serves us WWI biplane aerial combat in the guise of space warfare. X-Wing pilots literally look out of their cockpit windows for the enemy. It's enjoyable nonsense. Old Man's War is similar, serving up a mix between WWI and Trojan war combat for infantry, ignoring much of the current and likely future developments in technology that would radically change this, probably make it redundant (and likely make it much more boring). Think Starship Troopers, where they fly across light years to die in droves machine gunning alien bugs. 


These minor nits aside, this is a fun, interesting, exciting, funny book. Read it.



You can go 'like' my review on Goodreads if you like!






An index of my reviews.





Saturday, 18 November 2017

Unfinished series - the backlash.

There's nothing more annoying than an unfinished



Well, actually there are many things more annoying than an unfinished sentence, or an unfinished series. But both can certainly be irritating. We don't like to be left hanging.

Plenty has been said on the subject of whether an author owes their readers the end of a series just because they sold them the start. I'm not going to talk about that here. What I am going to consider is what impact the delays to certain high profile fantasy series have on the fantasy book market more generally.

I was sparked to blog by this thread on Goodreads: I'll never, ever ever, start reading an unfinished series, how about you?


It's not unique. I've seen the sentiment expressed many times before.

Again, what I'm considering here has nothing to do with the authors commonly brought up in these discussions. There are many reasons why books can be delayed, some of them that only other writers can appreciate, some of them that may be heavily compounded by high levels of success.

What I'm interested in is the idea that sizable numbers of readers might genuinely resolve not to start unfinished series.

This would be both very unfortunate for many authors, and misguided since the vast majority of series are completed to the publisher's deadlines or within a reasonable period. Many authors produce a book a year ... so to swear off anything new until it is finished would be punishing the many for the misfortunes of the few. The trouble is that the high profile of these delayed series casts into the shadows the fact that the statistical likelihood of any given series being delayed is very small.

All but the most wildly successful authors need readers to buy into their series / trilogies early. Without good sales out of the gate the rest of the series can be in jeopardy. It could lead to a decline in the publishing effort put behind the remaining books, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of commercial failure. At worst it can lead to publishers bailing on series, leaving them unfinished, which is exactly what the readers not buying the books were scared of ... they have caused the thing they were worried about ... they have become the thing they hate!

The phenomenon of series being dumped by publishers is much more common in the translation market where the overheads of translating say Prince of Thorns into Spanish mean that each book is more of a financial gamble for the publisher. With translated series if the first book or first two books do not do well ... there will be no more books ... which means readers don't buy series until they are complete ... which means sales are poor and series are cancelled. This particular vicious circle rolls amok through many overseas markets.

You can buy Prince of Thorns in Spanish, but neither of the other two books. You can buy Prince of Thorns and King of Thorns in Dutch, but not Emperor of Thorns. The trilogy will not be completed in either country.


If the mindset that lead to the thread linked above becomes more prevalent in the English language market then the same vicious circle will start to gather momentum there too.

It's hard to bring it to a halt though. The series where this has happened are few and far between, but they are also series that in terms of sales stand head and shoulders above the rest of the epic fantasy market, and so their impact on readers' psyche and buying habits is big and grows year by year.

The big question is was this just chance or did the success of these series cause the delays, maybe through the pressure of expectation, maybe by changing the lives of the authors beyond recognition? Or was it just chance that this issue hit our most popular authors?



All we can do as individuals is to decide whether we want to "live in fear" and choose our fiction cautiously from older, complete series, or whether we will shrug it off, decide to join in at the leading edge and support new talent entering the fray.

And of course, whatever negative impact might be speculated upon as a result of the delays in question, the chances are that by raising the profile of fantasy as a whole, and by bringing more readers to the shelves, those series have actually done other authors far more good than harm.












Tuesday, 14 November 2017

SPFBO 2017 -- the finals!

300 contestants will be narrowed to 10 finalists.
Image result for war of undoing18660656Image result for devil's night dawning


The Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off finalists will be listed and scored on this page

The process of selection is ongoing and documented here.


Here's the scoreboard. The reviews, the books, and the blogs are all linked on this table. (click scores to get reviews)


* = Blogger chose this finalist
*= Blogger's top book.






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REVIEW: The Warded Man

Image result for the warded man cover

A rather brief review since I read the book very nearly 5 years ago.

I came to this book with no expectations, finding it on the shelves in my house. Both sons recommended it, but that's not always a recommendation!

There are fantasy books that are all about the plot, fantasy books that are all about the characters, and fantasy books that are all about the world-building. This one manages to be all about all of that.

The 'big idea' is the demons and it's a good one. I'd not seen demons done this way and the partitioning of them into the night, combined with the system of wards, really works to create a very interesting dynamic.

The wards themselves are not only interesting in the sense of a magic system but also in a meta-sense as they are a marketeer's dream. They provide for the fandom almost limitless fuel for fan art, cos play, and branding (not in the literal sense). I've seen a line of wards as jewelry, warding as body art ... it goes on.


The main character (first introduce, driving force) is Arlen and although he's a 'farm-boy-rises-to-hero' he manages to overcome the trope and be an interesting character, primarily through his combination inventiveness, down-to-earth morality, and bravery. The other point-of-view characters are also engaging and offer complete a diverse set of windows onto the world Brett's made for us.

Arlen's chosen vocation involves a lot of traveling which is great for covering the map and colouring in the detail.

The plot works too. Ostensibly the book is about defeating (or surviving) the demon threat, and it has more of that in this first book than the later ones, but even here the politics and character interactions are a major focus. Brett gives us a complex world full of interesting people, and the demons act as a constant source of pressure to drive the characters to extremes. 

In many ways The Warded Man is old school fantasy, but it's written in a modern style that I found refreshing. A really good read. 


You can go 'like' my review on Goodreads if you like!





An index of my reviews.





Thursday, 9 November 2017

Anatomy of a burglary - a four-act play.

This isn't really anything to do with writing, other than that it has largely stopped me doing any for three days.

But it is to do with me and mine, so I may as well put it on the blog since much to my amazement it has been in newspapers, first local then national, on several radio stations, and also both major TV channels.

Act 1

On Monday morning I got up and got Celyn ready for school. I wheeled her out of her downstairs bedroom and was struck by how remarkably cold the house was.

I got her medicines ready and gave them to her along with her milk through a tube that goes through her stomach wall into her stomach. Celyn is, as you will have gathered by now, severely physically disabled.


She can't use her limbs, talk, or eat. She has a number of other issues that would be headlines for most other children, but those are our headlines. Her enforced silence is perhaps the saddest of those as she has a lively brain, is curious, fond of stories, and has a good sense of humour.

As I wheeled her from the kitchen I noticed that the house was in a mess, even more of a mess than one might expect with just me and my grown sons at home. My wife had only left to visit our eldest daughter the day before.

Drawers were open, papers scattered, my coat on the floor, pockets turned inside out. The back door was open, hence the bitter cold.

Even then I thought maybe a son had been searching for something ... left the door open? In my defence I was still half asleep and I've lived 50 years without having been burgled. It wasn't what I was expecting.

The truth though began to dawn. Still, I needed to get Celyn ready for the car that was coming to take her to school. I could assess the damage later. I didn't want to upset her and her eyesight is poor so she didn't notice the chaos.

Wobble at the scene of the crime. The cat flap was used to access the door beside it.
Note: fingerprint dust is also used to look for shoe-prints and being semi-toxic must be cleaned up before stupid cats lick it.

I went into the living room where two very obvious piece of disabled seating sit beneath a ceiling hoist. I was expecting to get Celyn's suction pump, which is used to clear her airways when she chokes or vomits, and her communication device ready to send with her in the car.

Both were missing. The thief had left the iPad that the school provides to let us know what Celyn has done in school. He had the presence of mind to identify it and know that Apple products can be tracked. So it wasn't that he wasn't thinking. He saw equipment clearly important for a disabled child ... and took them on the off chance he could make a few notes from them.

After I had sent Celyn off I checked the rest of the house. Two laptops (one ancient and one bought the week before to replace it) had gone, a chrome book, the contents of a charity box, and who knows what else ... I don't remember everything in my drawers. Did he take the paperwork needed for identity theft ... who knows.

The shitbag had gone through the house after 2.30 AM when my eldest boy went to bed, and before 6:30 AM when I got Celyn up. He must have looked in on her while she slept in her hospital bed connected to a heart rate and oxygen monitor and a machine for supplying her with extra oxygen as she sleeps ... then stolen her stuff.

The eyegaze communication device Celyn has is her voice and she had been learning to use it over the past couple of years. It's specialist equipment and the software on it has been built up over time to meet her needs. It costs around £8000 (which since our BREXIT vote is about the same number of dollars).

So, I called the police, then vented on Twitter.

That tweet went viral. At the time of writing it has 22,731 retweets and 2,826,788 impressions ... whatever they are.

I discovered what it must be like to be someone famous on Twitter. There was no way I could see, let alone acknowledge, even a small fraction of the replies.

I had no idea that the tweet would spread beyond the more observant portion of my own followers. The viral tweet brought press interest and although I hate speaking on the phone I fielded 50+ calls, spoke on radio and TV, all in the simple hope that the eyegaze machine, having no resale value, would be dumped, and the more people in the area who knew the story the bigger the chance it would be recognised and returned to us.

Celyn using an eyegaze machine.

The eyegaze machine has a bar at the bottom that detects where Celyn looks on the screen. If she stares at a word or symbol for long enough it activates and the word is spoken for her, or she is taken to another screen where the type of words she wants are located. With the machine Celyn is learning to ask questions, tell us about problems or pain, share her thoughts ... the things we all take for granted.

The state is not very good about providing this equipment. If you injured your throat and couldn't speak the NHS would undertake an expensive operation to restore your speech. For children who cannot speak to start with ... funds are more jealously guarded.

The stolen eyegaze was on loan from Celyn's school but we are liable for it while it is at home, and we are in the process of buying her her own since she hasn't shown herself as capable with it as the authorities require her to be in order to fund it.

I rang the insurance company and they told me that when we moved house recently and I moved our insurance across somehow the eyegaze had ceased to be listed as a noted valuable item and was therefore subject to a £1000 limit.

I was under-impressed and asked them to find the phone call where this moving of insurance had happened.

The police (Avon & Somerset) turned out to be magnificent throughout. An hour after I called the incident in a police officer came to the house and took all the details. It was at this point my eldest son drifted by wanting a cigarette and noted that thief had also taken his tobacco ... a fact that got noted in all the press reports much to my non-smoking annoyance.

An hour or so after the police officer's visit a Crime Scenes Investigator arrived to do forensics, looking for fingerprints on some wine bottles that had been moved and in other likely spots. I got fingerprinted so that my prints could be removed from consideration. A first for me. Protip, use sugar and washing-up liquid to remove fingerprinting ink,



Act 2

Although in my viral tweet I had neither asked for help or mentioned the surprising value of the equipment stolen, and at no point subsequently did I ever ask for financial help, I very soon found myself showered with generous offers to fundraise for a replacement.

I made this tweet about donating to charity instead. As soon as any Gofundme pages etc were brought to my attention I thanked the organizers effusively and asked that they give any money collected to the Sequal Trust, a charity that provides communication equipment to disabled children and adults unable to fund the devices themselves.

I made an angry tweet shortly after being burgled and aimed at friends and followers. It was never about fundraising. Though it did become about raising public awareness so that if the equipment was dumped it might get back to us.

The incident obviously struck a nerve and many good people were keen to put some points back in humanity's plus column. It was a wonderful reaction and quickly restored my faith in mankind. It was also a sensible reaction as many parents of disabled children have to give up work to care for their kids and find themselves in dire financial straits, especially when it comes to funding equipment.

You might think that equipment is provided for free in the UK. The truth is that much of it is, and the NHS have a lot to be proud of. But there are areas where provision is less good. Access to power-chairs and communication devices is complicated and there is a hurdle to overcome. To get the equipment you have to demonstrate you can use it ... but that takes practice, and how do you practice without the equipment, and how good do you have to be? ... it gets complicated.

Anyway, day 2 is when the TV crews come.

While they were filming the call came in that an arrest had been made. It seemed likely that the publicity had helped in bringing the suspect to light.

I have been told a lot of interesting things about the arrest but sadly I can't share any of the information without risking prejudicing possible future prosecution.

Celyn greatly enjoyed the TV interest. By the fifth take of the second visit she was giggling her head off as the presenter fluffed lines, failing to look the distraught child robbed of her voice.


Act 3

Celyn had a bad day. She may well have been missing her voice. We couldn't really ask her. Her voice had been stolen. Celyn can't nod or shake her head.

We had good news though. Celyn's eyegaze machine had been found in a public bin and handed in to police. Another case of the publicity helping?

We couldn't celebrate just then though - a street bin on a day when it rained almost non stop? The laptop I'm typing on doesn't have a working "p",":","0", or ")" because a year ago I spilled a very small amount of water on it. Would the eyegaze still work when we got it back?

The police needed to conduct forensic tests on it before we could have it returned but promised to get it to us the next day.


Act 4

Late this afternoon a detective from the Avon and Somerset police brought the eyegaze machine to our house, AND the suction machine which had been found by a member of the public in a nearby park...

... AND THEY BOTH WORK!!

So, Celyn has her voice back, all her equipment has been returned, and the police and public have together done a remarkable thing!

Also, the Sequal Trust charity should be getting over £6,000 from a JustGiving and a GoFundMe page along with many other promised donations.

And after all that the insurers said they would cover the eyegaze ... possibly another win for the publicity, though of course we will only now be claiming for the things that remain lost.

It has been a traumatic experience but also uplifting in a variety of ways, showing the worst of one person and the best of a great many others.

We will be improving our security and moving on.

A huge thanks to all.

Stay safe.